What is a Magnolia Virginiana?

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  • Written By: Karen Carter
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2019
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A Magnolia virginiana is a small evergreen tree or shrub that belongs to the Magnoliaceae or magnolia family and is native to the southern and eastern United States. This perennial reaches a height of 60 feet (18 m) and spreads to a width of 20 feet (6 m). The multi-stemmed trunk has smooth bark and a spicy scent. The light gray-green leaves are glossy on top and bluish-white underneath. The Magnolia virginiana produces cream-colored flowers with a lemon scent in the late spring and summer and cone-like green fruit when the blossoms fade.

Among the other names for the Magnolia virginiana are sweetbay, swampbay, whitebay, beaver tree, swamp magnolia or sweetbay magnolia. This tree is propagated through seeds or rooted stem cuttings. Plants of the magnolia family are not afflicted by many diseases or pests. The main issue affecting this tree is that alkaline soils can cause leaf discoloration.

This tree is semi-evergreen in areas with freezing weather. Cold temperatures cause the evergreen leaves to drop. Cooler climates cause the tree to grow slowly, and warm climates cause a rapid growth rate. Magnolia virginiana prefers full to partial sun exposure and moist soils. It grows best in acidic soils, but it does adapt to other soil types.


Magnolia virginiana seedlings are commonly available for purchase. This tree does not do well when it is transplanted in the autumn. The best time for it to be planted is in the spring, which gives the tree time to establish its shallow root system before being exposed to winter weather.

These trees are often planted as ornamental trees or large shrubs. They can be kept pruned back to form hedges to disguise building foundations. It is common to see a Magnolia virginiana as a showcase or focal point tree in a landscape.

Before a Magnolia virginiana tree is planted, the soil should be amended to increase its acidic properties. The soil should be loosened to a depth 24 inches (about 60 cm) in a circle with a diameter of about 6 feet (1.8 m). A layer of peat moss 4-8 inches (10-20 cm) deep should be mixed into the loose soil.

After the Magnolia virginiana tree is planted, it should be fertilized with 10-10-10 slow-release fertilizer through the growing season. It should not be fertilized starting in late summer, which can cause late new growth that could be vulnerable to frosts. The tree should be watered until the end of autumn, when a 4- to 6-inch (10- to 15-cm) layer of straw or sawdust mulch should be spread around it.


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