Bigleaf Magnolia Has the Largest Leaves of Any Native Plant in North America
Magnolias are a dime a dozen in the South. Their leaves and flowers are familiar sights, and they're popularly used in landscape design. There's a particular magnolia that's been catching our eyes, and its massive, bright green leaves are a far cry from the waxy, deep green magnolia foliage that we're used to. While certain magnolias—M. grandiflora, M. x soulangeana, and M. stellata—can be found in nearly every yard in the South, bigleaf magnolia (M. macrophylla) is more rarely used in landscaping around these parts.
Bigleaf magnolia has huge leaves. In fact, it has the largest simple leaf of all native North American plants. It also has the largest single flower of the group. The oblong leaves can reach lengths of over two feet long and one foot wide. They're bright green on top and silvery beneath, and their size makes them perfect for casting shade and catching the wind. Magnolia macrophylla is a deciduous planting but can be semi-evergreen in certain areas.
The tree itself can grow to over 40 feet tall with a spread of 30 feet, however it typically reaches heights of 20 feet in favorable conditions. After its leaves appear in spring, it produces fragrant ivory flowers that can grow to 12 inches across. The blooms take some time to appear; the trees typically won't produce them until they reach 12 to 15 years old. After the flowers appear, bigleaf magnolias also produce showy, 3-inch-long red fruits shaped a bit like eggs. The fruits tend to attract birds and require some clean-up, as do most magnolias.
Once established, magnolias take moderate water. They're picky with their moisture requirements and don't like waterlogged soil or long periods of drought. They thrive in rich, moist, well-draining soils, and they require full or partial sun. In the right conditions, they grow about a foot per year.
What's your favorite kind of magnolias? Do you have any growing in your neighborhood?