Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia, Large Flower Magnolia)

This beautiful dicot is well-known in the south (and generally in warm climates) for its wonderful blooms, shiny leaves, and unique seed pods. Branching is low and dense; Magnolia grandiflora grows pyramidal to ovular. These extravagant trees are absolutely gorgeous in spring, as their flowers produce a sweet fragrance and a lovely appearance.

Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia, Large Flower Magnolia)
Deciduous: no (colder winters may remove some leaves, making this magnolia “semi-deciduous”
Hardiness Zones: 6b-9
Height: 18-24 meters (60-80 feet)
Diameter: 9-15 meter (30-50 foot) spread
Growth Rate: moderate
Age: average 80 years old, maximum around 120
Root System: The root system extends about as wide as the canopy does. Surafce roots do not cause problems normally.
Family: Magnoliaceae
Subspecies: ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ (winter hardy to 5b), ‘Little Gem’ (small leaves and flowers, slow growing), ‘Cairo’ (longer flowering periods), ‘Charles Dickens’ (broad, blunt leaves with large flowers, seeds, and seed pods), ‘Edith Bogue’ (flowers at only a few years of age), ‘Glen St. Mary’ (slow growing, bloom early), ‘Gloriosa’ (large leaves and flowers), ‘Goliath’ (bushy growth, larger flowers, long bloom period), ‘Hasse’ (more compact and dense), ‘Lancelot’ (more lance-shaped leaves with an overall pyramidal shape), ‘Majestic Beauty’ (darker green, large leaves and abundant flowering), ‘Praecox Fastigiata’ (very vertical, upward growth), ‘Samuel Sommer’ (upright, faster growing, enormous 14 inch wide flowers), ‘Victoria’ (cold hardy, tiny flowers, a rust-red underside color instead of brown), ‘Galaxy’ and ‘Spectrum’ (excellent trunk and excellent flowers) – information from “” – ‘D.D. Blanchard’, ‘Russet’, ‘San Marino’

Tolerates: sulfur dioxide (air pollutant), mildly salt tolerant, shade when young, old and established trees are fire resistant, drought tolerant if mature trees are given enough space to root
Problems (major): Very wet or very dry soils may be fatal, magnolia scale damaging, Oleander pit scale damaging, tuliptree scale damaging, wood borer lethal, fires lethal to seedlings (although mature trees are resistant/can resprout), winter drought lethal to seedlings, intolerant of frost when young
Problems (minor): Aphids, leaf spot, Fomes and Polyporus fungi cause heartrot
Poisonous: no

Soil requirements: rich, loamy, moist soils are optimal
Air Requirements: tolerates air pollution
Watering requirement: medium
Sun requirement: full sun to part shade
Leaves: shiny, thick, dark green on top, brown (and “fuzzy”) on underside, ovate to elliptic, up to 10 inches
Flowers:  white, 6 petals, up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) in diameter, flowering occurs from late spring to early summer
Fruits: large, red, oval-shaped, spread by birds, squirrels, and quail – seed pods are up to 13 centimeters (5 inches) long, uniquely shaped (cone-like), brown, mature in September – seed production begins at 10 years, maximum fruit production begins at 25 years old
Seeds require stratification: yes
Monoecious or Dioecious: monoecious (trees are bisexual)

Notable characteristics:
The flowers are quite showy and said to have a scent similar to lemons. The foliage is a dark green and glossy on top in contrast to its “fuzzier”, brown underside. The seed pods are very peculiar in shape with several, relatively large red seeds exposed once mature.

Used commonly as a southern ornamental, specimen tree, shade tree, street or sidewalk tree, lawn tree (if the lawn is large enough), park tree, highway median. Their wondrous appearance and fragrance in spring makes this tree highly valuable in southern regions.

Sources used:

A seed pod among several leaves at Carbondale, Illinois*

A close-up of an opening flower (taken at the Missouri Botanic Gardens)

 A fully-opened flower from the Missouri Botanical Gardens

The trunk of var. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ after a rainstorm (Missouri)

Bright green top-side of the leaves (at the Missouri Botanical Garden)

An emerging flower, somewhat orange from a recent rainstorm (Missouri)


A seed pod from var. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ from SIUC


A pollinated flower in front of an emerging flower bud, var. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ in Missouri

A completely opened flower of var. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ at the Missouri Botanical Gardens

The underside of the canopy, the leaves of var. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ are brown and somewhat fuzzy (Missouri Botanical Garden)

The canopy of var. ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, with the tops of the green leaves and a few flowers/flower buds visible (Missouri)

These images were taken by me and may be used for informational or educational purposes if this article is referenced.


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