Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Sweetbay Magnolia, Laurel Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia

Sweetbay Magnolia, Laurel Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia

Magnolia virginiana

Full to part sun; wet to medium moisture level; tolerates a wide range of soils; acidic pH 6.8 or less.

10-35 feet height by 10-35 feet width; white flowers in May and June; cone-shaped cluster of bright red seeds in late summer.

Growth Rate:  Medium to fast

Maintenance:  Low maintenance.  No serious insect or disease problems.  Any pruning should be done after blooming because dormant magnolias do not heal easily.

Propagation:  Seed germination code C(60)

Native Region:  Limited to 3 counties:  Hardeman, McNairy, and Polk

Designated a “Threatened Species” in Tennessee.  A beautiful tree with sweetly fragrant flowers 2-3 inches in diameter, aromatic spicy leaves, and colorful red seeds.  Makes an excellent specimen tree for yards.  Can be grown as a tall tree with a rounded crown or as a shorter, suckering shrub of loose, spreading habit.  Although it prefers moist, rich organic soils, it is one of the few magnolias that does quite well on heavy clay soils.  Tolerates wet boggy soils and is native to open woodlands, shaded woods and swamps.  Alkaline soils will cause yellowing of the leaves.  Evergreen to semi-evergreen depending on winter temperatures.

Birds relish the bright red seeds.  Occasionally Spicebush Swallowtails or Tiger Swallowtails will lay eggs on the leaves.

Cultivars available.


One response to “Sweetbay Magnolia, Laurel Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia

  1. Joy Stewart July 10, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    This is a lovely native tree and reasonably fast growing. I have two of them which I planted about 13 years ago. Assuming my experience is typical, I do have some advice on them. The tree really wants to produce multiple trunks even if you start out with a single trunk. Since the wood is fairly soft, you will eventually (probably sooner than later) have problems with multiple trunks. In a bad storm, they will either break off or bend way down without breaking and not stand back up again. I currently have a tree with 3 trunks, each going off in a different direction, with one leaning almost down to the ground. Now they need to be pulled up and back together and then strapped in that position for a couple years so they can start growing upright again (per advice of my friend the horticulturist). My other tree also has multiple low-leaning trunks; no damage yet but it is like they are just waiting for the next wind storm. If you plant this species, be aggressive about trimming and try to keep it to one main trunk or at least try to control how it branches. Just when you think you have it properly trimmed, don’t stop monitoring it because it will quickly start producing more trunks as soon as you stop monitoring it.

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