What is a Southern Magnolia Tree?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2019
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A southern magnolia tree, Magnolia grandiflora, is a very tall, flowering evergreen tree in the Magnoliaceae family. It is native to the southeastern U. S. west to eastern Texas and Arkansas, but is naturalized throughout the world's warmer climates. This tree is famous for its citronella-scented flowers and large, dark green leaves. The southern magnolia tree is easy to grow from seed. The wood of the southern magnolia tree is used commercially in a limited way.

Also known as bull bay, laurel magnolia, evergreen magnolia, large-flower magnolia, and big laurel, the southern magnolia tree grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones seven through nine; some cold-hardy cultivars can be found as far north as USDA zone five, however. The southern magnolia tree prefers full sun or partial shade. This is a drought-tolerant tree, but grows best in well-drained, sandy, or loam soil with a pH range between 3.5 and 7.0, or acidic to neutral. It is frequently found near bodies of water growing alongside sweetgum, water oak, and black tupelo trees.


The southern magnolia tree ranges from 60 to 90 feet (18-27.5 m) tall with a spread of 30 to 50 feet (9-15 m). During spring and summer months, this tree produces large, fragrant white flowers that are 8 to 12 inches (20-30 cm) across. Its leather-like, glossy, dark green leaves are quite large, ranging between 5 and 8 inches (13-20 cm) long, and have a velvety underside. In the fall, the southern magnolia tree produces bright red, kidney-shaped seeds, which grow on 2 to 4 inch (5-10 cm) long structures resembling cones.

This is a very popular ornamental tree that is often found on university campuses, used as a street tree, or in the landscaping of very large yards. It is an excellent shade tree, so much so that nothing else will grow under the tree once it has reached its full height. The trees are propagated by seed, by grafting cultivars onto seedlings, or with cuttings. Most southern magnolia trees begin producing seeds about 10 years following germination. Seed production peaks when the trees are about 25 years old.

Southern magnolias are very resistant to diseases and insects. The tree itself is easy to care for and requires minimal pruning. They tend to shed leaves year-round, so clean up around the tree amounts to a continuous job.

Magnolia wood is quite hard and heavy. Wood from the southern magnolia tree is used to make furniture and plywood veneer. Vegetable crates and pallets are often made of magnolia wood as well. The tree's main use, however, is as a beautiful landscape tree.


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Post 1

Magnolia blossoms have a wonderful fragrance -- very lemony and fresh. I love the way they smell.

A magnolia produces large blossoms -- probably eight inches across when opened, and their creamy white is beautiful against the dark, glossy green leaves.

Many people in the South will cut branches from their magnolias in the winter and use them as Christmas wreaths. They last throughout the entire season and are beautiful. You also see them as spring wreaths or used in other decorative ways. The branches and leaves are thick and do well in many kinds of garlands and wreaths. Magnolia blossoms are also popular as bridal bouquets in summer weddings.

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