Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Bigleaf Magnolia

Bigleaf Magnolia

Magnolia macrophylla

Full to part sun; medium moisture; organically rich, loamy soil; acidic pH.

30-40 feet height by 30-40 feet spread; creamy white flowers with purple petal bases in spring; spherical, cone-like, red fruits in late summer.

Growth Rate: Medium

Maintenance: Low maintenance. No serious disease or insect problems. Best sited in sheltered locations to protect large leaves from being shredded by heavy winds.

Propagation: Germination code C(60). Moderately easy from seed.

Native Region: Middle and East Tennessee

A round-headed, understory tree with the largest flowers and leaves of all native North American species, except for tropical palms. Leaves up to 3 feet long and 1 foot wide with showy, fragrant flowers up to 16 inches across. Flowers not always easy to see close-up because are often located far off the ground. Interesting sight in fall when leaves have fallen, and ground appears to be littered with large pieces of gray-green paper. May not be the easiest tree for the cultivated landscape due to difficulty in raking leaves, but tree is imposing and stately in appearance when open grown in a broad expanse of lawn. Tree blooms more heavily and at an earlier age in sun. Generally intolerant of wet or dry soil extremes. Rarely found in the wild, being limited mainly to a few rich wooded areas in river valleys and ravines. Cultivars available.

Limited wildlife value.


4 responses to “Bigleaf Magnolia

  1. joystewart January 26, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    This species is one of my favorite native trees. I like it because it is pretty easy to grow, pretty tolerant of clay soil, grows surprisingly fast, huge flowers, and very striking leaves. A very distinctive tree. I can see why people don’t like raking the leaves in fall because they are huge. However, I planted mine in a naturalized area with no lawn, so I never rake. I let the leaves pile up on the ground in fall and am surprised at how fast they disappear in the next growing season. Underneath the tree I have planted wild strawberries, and I thought maybe the leaves would kill the strawberries, but they seem to act more like fertilizer.

  2. joystewart September 13, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    I would like to do an update based now on 11 years experience with this tree. We started with a 3′ tall single stem and, after 11 years, we now have a beautiful, shapely, multi-trunked tree about 20+ feet tall. However, I am sad to say that the wood on these trees reminds me a bit of balsa wood—-soft, very easy to break and very easy to saw through, the last thing being good I guess when large branches break off in a strong wind. This year alone we have had a main trunk snap off at ground level in a storm and yesterday with the leftover winds of Hurricane Irma we lost a big branch. That falling branch cracked some others which will probably be next to go. That wood is so light weight that even though I am 74 years old, I have done 100% of all the sawing and clean-up all by myself in a relatively short time. Bottomline is you may want to treat this tree as a short-lived perennial, implement an aggressive trimming program to manage its shape or maybe even locate it in a spot totally protected from the wind. Such a shame as it is such an unusual, pretty tree. My buddy the horticulturalist suggested that maybe I should trim it down to the ground and let the roots start over again. Really hate that thought but after a couple more breakages I might be ready to try that.

  3. Gregg March 5, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    Are there any local nurseries in Knoxville that sell these? I know there is a nursery south of Atlanta that does, but that is so far away.

    • joystewart March 9, 2020 at 12:44 am

      That’s a tough one. I am going to guess that you won’t find it at a nursery in Knoxville. I checked out Overhill Gardens which is not far away, and I was sure that they would have it but they don’t. I checked Beaver Creek Nursery in Knoxville and they don’t have it either. The place where I bought mine is now out of business. Out of my favorite nurseries, I only found one with Big Leaf Magnolias for sale. It is mail order for you because it is in Arkansas. It is Pine Ridge Gardens. If you do find it locally, please be sure to post a comment and let us know.

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