Sweet bay magnolia trees

Sweetbay Magnolia Tree

Title :
Category: Deciduous Trees

Facts about Sweetbay Magnolia Tree, “Scientific name for Sweetbay Magnolia is Magnolia virginiana”. Sweetbay Magnolia Tree is also referred to as beaver tree, swampbay, whitebay, or swamp magnolia. It is a member of Magnoliaceae family and genus Magnolia. Sweetbay Magnolia is a deciduous or evergreen tree that is native to swamps and lowlands of the south eastern and east-central United States.
Characteristics of Sweetbay Magnolia Tree
This species of magnolia grows to a height of 10 to 35 feet (3.04 to 10.66 meter) and a spread that ranges from 10 to 35 feet (3.04 to 10.66 meters). The deciduous or evergreen nature of Magnolia virginiana is determined by the climate. In south areas where there is milder winters, these magnolias are evergreen but further north as the climate changes, they are deciduous or semi-green. Sweetbay Magnolia Trees bark is smooth and gray while the inner bark is mildly scented. The leaves are not pinnate or lobed but just simple with margins measuring 2 3/8 to 4 3/4 inches (6 to 12 cm) long and 1 3/16 to 2 inches (3 to 5 cm) wide.
Sweetbay Magnolia flowers are creamy white with 6 to 15 petal-like tepals. These flowers have a very strong vanilla scent. Its fruits are pinkish-red in color when mature and when the follicles split open, they release seeds that are about 3/8 inches (1 cm) long. These seeds are black in color but covered by a thinly red coat that attracts fruit-eating birds. It blooms in mid-spring as from May to June.
Growing Conditions for Sweetbay Magnolia Tree
The Sweetbay Magnolia Tree grows best in organically rich and moist soils in full morning sun to part shade. Unlike other species of magnolia, the Sweetbay Magnolia Tree is tolerant to wet, boggy soils and air pollution. They can also do well in heavy clay soils. Requires medium to wet water to grow well and also requires very little maintenance.
Problems with Sweetbay Magnolia Tree
These magnolias are prone to chlorosis in highly alkaline soils. They are also not winter hardy but no serious disease or insect problems that have been reported in regard to Sweetbay Magnolia Tree.
Uses of Sweetbay Magnolia Tree
A Full grown Sweetbay Magnolia Tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds (21.77 kg) of carbon dioxide a year. The same Sweetbay Magnolia Tree could also produce enough oxygen in a day for two people. In a single day, a large Tree can drink up to 100 gallons (378.5 liter) of water from the ground and discharge it into the air.
You can tell a Sweetbay Magnolia Trees age by the number of growth rings. Growth rings size shows what kind of conditions accrued that year, the temperature and if it was a dry or wet year.
Bark of the Sweetbay Magnolia Tree protects it from the elements and is made up of dead cells.
Sweetbay Magnolia Tree roots usually grow two to three times the width of the tree branches. The ideal time to fertilize your Tree is in late fall or early spring. If you want to transplant a Sweetbay Magnolia Tree do it in fall, this is ideal for most trees.
Sweetbay Magnolia Tree is an amazing tree for lawns and yards. It is also planted in parks, near patios as well as on the periphery of woodland areas. You can also plant this species of magnolia near streams or ponds.
Sweetbay Magnolia Tree growth is referred to as Meristem (The undifferentiated embryonic plant tissue from which new cells are created, as that at the tip of a root or stem). This tissue can be found at the tips of shoots and leaves. Inside the stem growth in thickness occurs at the vascular cambium.
Sweetbay Magnolia Trees make their own food from sunlight, carbon dioxide, water, and nutrients from the soil.
Sweetbay Magnolia Tree leaves are made up of many colored pigments, green chlorophyll hides the colors during the growing season of spring and summer. As days get Shorter and cooler temperatures come in the fall, it cause the chlorophyll to break down and than the other color pigments can be seen.

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Magnolia virginiana

  • Attributes: Genus: Magnolia Species: virginiana Family: Magnoliaceae Life Cycle: Woody Country Or Region Of Origin: Eastern United States Fire Risk Rating: low flammability Wildlife Value: Provides winter and extreme weather cover. Host plant for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Foliage and twigs are eaten by white-tailed deer in winter. Seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals. It is a favorite tree of the sap suckers. Play Value: Attractive Flowers Edible fruit Fragrance Wildlife Food Source Particularly Resistant To (Insects/Diseases/Other Problems): Resistant to fire in landscape Dimensions: Height: 15 ft. 0 in. – 100 ft. 0 in. Width: 10 ft. 0 in. – 20 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Native Plant Shrub Tree Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Semi-evergreen Habit/Form: Columnar Conical Multi-stemmed Open Rounded Spreading Growth Rate: Rapid Maintenance: Low Texture: Medium
  • Cultural Conditions: Light: Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil Texture: High Organic Matter Soil pH: Acid (<6.0) Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist Occasionally Wet Available Space To Plant: 12-24 feet 24-60 feet NC Region: Coastal Piedmont Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Brown/Copper Red/Burgundy Fruit Value To Gardener: Edible Showy Display/Harvest Time: Fall Fruit Type: Aggregate Follicle Fruit Length: 1-3 inches Fruit Description: Cone-like aggregate of follicles that are large and have many segments. They have bright red seeds that mature in fall and can be showy. The seeds dangle from the fruits by a thread and are relished by birds. They grow up 2″ long.
  • Flowers: Flower Color: Cream/Tan White Flower Inflorescence: Head Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Showy Flower Bloom Time: Spring Summer Flower Shape: Cup Flower Petals: 7 – 20 petals/rays Flower Size: 1-3 inches Flower Description: Cup-shaped, axillary, scattered, sweetly fragrant (lemony), 9-12 petaled, creamy white, waxy flowers (1.5-3″ diameter) adorn the Sweet bay magnolia in mid-spring and sometimes continue sporadically throughout the summer.
  • Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Semi-evergreen Leaf Color: Blue Gray/Silver Green White Leaf Feel: Glossy Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Shape: Elliptical Lanceolate Oblong Leaf Margin: Entire Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 3-6 inches Leaf Width: 1-3 inches Leaf Description: Leaves are alternate, laurel-like, elliptic to oblong-lanceolate, shiny, 3″-5″ long and 1″-2″ inches wide, dark green above and silvery glaucous underneath. Leaves are acute, broad cuneate, and entire. The foliage is evergreen to semi-evergreen in the South.

  • Bark: Bark Color: Light Brown Light Gray Surface/Attachment: Smooth Bark Description: Bark is a smooth brownish gray.
  • Stem: Stem Is Aromatic: Yes Stem Description: New stems have green terminal buds
  • Landscape: Landscape Location: Coastal Patio Recreational Play Area Landscape Theme: Butterfly Garden Children’s Garden Edible Garden Native Garden Pollinator Garden Rain Garden Design Feature: Border Flowering Tree Specimen Attracts: Butterflies Hummingbirds Pollinators Small Mammals Songbirds Resistance To Challenges: Deer Fire Salt Wet Soil

Sweet Bay Magnolia

Looking for an elegant tree with airy, open style to use as a specimen in your landscape? Charming native Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) has an easy care nature. This beautiful tree is a wonderful choice for many modern landscape applications.

Like many native trees, you can guess that it has several nicknames. If you live further South, you’ll likely know it by Sweetbay Magnolia or Swamp Magnolia. If you have mild winters, Sweet Bay leaves will likely remain on the tree all year long. In colder climates, the leaves are deciduous and fall off for winter. Our horticulture team calls it a semi-evergreen.

Anyway you spell it or see it – you’ll definitely smell it! All parts of the Sweet Bay Magnolia are fragrant. The roots, branches and leaves smell sweet and spicy, a bit like vanilla.

The lovely creamy flowers layer in a hint of lemon. Sweet Bay Magnolia flowers perfume your entire yard for many weeks in spring and summer.

The compact Sweet Bay Magnolia is a fast-growing showpiece with enormous ornamental appeal. It features a long blooming period. You’ll enjoy the lovely three-inch, pure-white flowers in May after all chance of frost, and sporadically throughout the early summer as well. They are infused with a fresh, citrusy scent that is never heavy or cloying.

Even the leaves are very attractive. Up to five inches long, symmetrical leaves are dark green on the top with a glossy surface. The underneath has a silvery, waxy, glaucous coating that truly shimmers in the sunlight. You will be forgiven for staring at the sophisticated effect as the slightest breeze catches them to flash that delightful underside of silvery-white.

Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree is a joy to watch no matter what the time of year. Even when the flowers have faded and the fruit is not yet obvious, you’ll be surprised by the captivating sight a simple breeze drifting through its leaves creates.

The smooth bark of the Sweet Bay has a metallic gray overcast, which adds a tremendous amount of visual appeal. Showy, red seeded fruit slowly emerges from their green casing in fall, but you’ll need to look quick. Birds love the red seeds and they can be gone as fast as you spy them.

Butterflies love this tree, too. Don’t be surprised to see many more of them in your yard when you include one or more in your planting design.

The Sweet bay Magnolia is an ornamental tree with a lot to offer. It would make a lovely addition to your landscape. Order yours now!

How to Use Sweet Bay Magnolia in the Landscape

With a nice root system, it’s ok to use the Sweet Bay Magnolia near your house. Give it at least 15 feet of room, so you can easily access your exterior.

Site one near the corner of your house to be a beautiful anchor in your foundation planting. Or, if you have the space, use one on either side of your front entrance. Prune to shape them into a marvelous arched allee to give a grand entrance and instant curb appeal.

This is not a tree that will overpower your home’s architecture. Rather, it will become an effective accent.

Use several in a long lawn planting, or in a berm planting. Make life easier for yourself! Mulch underneath, and plant them 15 feet away from concrete. You won’t have to fuss with any fallen flowers that way, although it’s easy enough to mow them up.

We love the natural look created by using 3, 5 or 7 of them in a grouping. Use near your patio, picture window, front entrance – anywhere you’ll see it from indoors and smell it outside.

A fun way to use this wispy tree is to include it in a Child’s Garden of the Senses. It provides ample shade over a play structure and can be sited to the west to block the afternoon sun. What a wonderful memory to help your children create, playing under the fragrant Sweet Bay tree.

Because they tolerate periodic flooding, you can site them in a location that gets plenty of water. Create a Rain Garden to help filter captured rainwater. Or, plant them along a water feature, creek or pond. They’ll thrive in woodland settings, as well.

#ProPlantTips for Care

With no real pests or diseases, the Sweet Bay makes a great selection for mass planting as a tall shrub border. To achieve a solid screen, plant them 8 feet on center. You’ll measure from the center of one to the center of the next.

This is a superb native tree that is widely adapted. It will take wet soil, clay soil or dry soil. This is also a tree that can take being wet or long periods. Tolerant to many soil types, the Sweet Bay does well in heavy clay soils even when in the wettest conditions.

In its wild setting, it grows in coastal wetlands in acidic loamy soils. For the best performance, give it an acid fertilizer like Dr. Earth Acid Lover’s Organic and Natural Premium Fertilizer in spring and mid-summer to maintain low soil pH.

While it will grow in partial shade, please know that it flowers best in full sun.

Give it a regular schedule of supplemental water, if rainfall isn’t sufficient. This is especially important when the plants are young.

In the colder areas of Zones 5 and 6 – or in colder winters anywhere in the United States – the Sweet Bay can lose its leaves, grandly exposing the metallic trunk. Yes, you’ll even have winter appeal with the Sweet Bay Magnolia.

Prune as either a tree with a single central leader by removing all but one of the base stems. At the nursery, we often grow them with multiple trunks and that is a wonderful look, too. You can also allow all the base stems to grow to create a large shrub.

It grows into a natural column or vase-shape. Follow the natural line of the tree while pruning for best results. Prune after the spring bloom.

When planting, be sure to study all the angles of your young tree. Carefully select the side you want to become the face of your tree. That’s the side you’ll see most often. If you’ll have help planting the tree, get out there and make your decision with your team.

Disease and deer resistant, this marvelous, ancient tree is a fabulous choice. Order yours from Nature Hills today!

Snowy White Blooms and Dense Shade

Why Sweetbay Magnolia Trees?

The Sweetbay Magnolia Tree delivers creamy-white blooms on a beautiful, dense shade tree. And this magnolia’s stunning flowers burst in late spring and early summer, giving you a blizzard of blooms.

Often grown as ornamental or showpiece trees, the Sweetbay’s beauty belies the strength within. This is one of the most pest resistant Magnolia Tree you can find. It can tolerate very moist soils and can even survive standing water. So, the glossy green leaves with a silver-tinted underside, signature for the Sweetbay, grow without much effort on your part.

Why Fast-Growing-Trees.com is Better

But the best part? Because we’ve planted, grown and shipped your Sweetbay Magnolia with absolute care, you get durable, long-lived growth. We’ve done the hard work ahead of time at our nursery so that you get a ready-to-grow Sweetbay, delivered right to your door with a healthier root system and more developed branching than you’d find at big box or other nurseries.

With the Sweetbay Magnolia, you get it all…full shade, vibrant flowers and disease resistance. Get your own Sweetbay Magnolia Tree today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Choose a location away from cement sidewalks or driveways. If possible, pick a spot on the Northside of your yard with a safe distance from the house. This will enable the maximum exposure to the sun, resulting in more blossoms.

Choose a site that is rich in organic matter and drains well. If desired, you can add compost into the planting hole and mix with soil. The hole should be dug slightly larger than the root system of the plant, 2 to 3 times the width and just as deep as the root ball. Position the tree in the ground and mix the soil with the compost. Hold the tree straight as you begin to back fill the hole, tamping down as you go to prevent air pockets from forming and then water to settle the soil. Apply some mulch after planting to moderate soil temperatures and moisture conditions.

2. Watering: Water the Sweetbay frequently during the root system’s early development, then periodically as necessary (in the first couple of growing seasons, water twice weekly or check the surrounding soil for dryness). Water just beyond the branch line to reach the full extent of the roots.

3. Fertilizing: You can feed your tree if new growth is noticeably slow. Use a controlled-release fertilizer formula, and be sure to follow the application instructions on the bottle for optimum effectiveness.

4. Pruning: Prune your Magnolia at the first sign of any dead leaves, branches or flowers. When pruning, remove the branch down to its base. Prune your tree to maintain the required shape as well as to keep the rapid growth of branches under control. Prune the lower branches as necessary as the tree grows.

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Sweetbay Magnolia for Sale Online 

Trees such as Sweetbay Magnolia grow best if they are fertilized lightly in the spring once frost has passed with a well-balanced, extended-release, fertilizer such as espoma Tree-tone. Fertilize Sweetbay Magnolia again 6 to 8 weeks later to encourage denser foliage or faster growth of young trees. We recommend Bio-Tone fertilizer when planting. Either chemical fertilizers or organic matter can be used successfully with Sweetbay Magnolia. Since an organic method of applying manure and/or compost around the roots, produces excellent results and also improves the condition of the soil, this would be an excellent first line of attack. Organic additions to the soil can also be combined with a shot of chemical fertilizer for maximum effect. If chemical fertilizers are used on your Sweetbay Magnolia, applying a slow-release, balanced fertilizer once a year is probably the simplest solution. There are many slow-release fertilizers on the market. If you can find a fertilizer formulated for shrubs and trees, this fertilizer would work well on Sweetbay Magnolia. However, slow-release is certainly not the only way to fertilizer trees such as the Sweetbay Magnolia . A less expensive fast release fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 will work just as well if applied twice during the early spring and early summer. If you are looking for a fertilizing routine tailored to your specific conditions, a soil sample should be taken and the fertilizer and trace elements matched to the needs of your soil. Don’t fertilize Sweetbay Magnolia after August. Fall is the time for plants to begin preparing for dormancy. Fertilizing at this time may stimulate new growth that will be too tender to withstand the winter. In the South, a late May application and another in July would be about right. More northern areas may wish to fertilize only once in June or July. The amount of chemical fertilizer used per plant will vary with the size of the plant and it’s root system. Over-fertilization can be much more detrimental than under-fertilization. “Fertilizer burn” can occur when too much fertilizer is applied, resulting in a drying out of the roots and damage or even death of the Sweetbay Magnolia Tree. It is much, much better to err on the side of too little fertilizer than too much. When roots are burned, the first sign is often scorched looking leaves. If over-fertilization is severe, the plant may just wilt and die. If you are a beginner at growing plants Sweetbay Magnolia is very easy to grow however it may be helpful to know that a very small plant which is planted in the ground will take about 1/8 – 1/4 cup of fertilizer. A very large tree in the ground will take 2 – 3 lbs spread around the drip line of the branches (not next to the trunk). This is a very loose estimate, so please read the directions on the fertilizer before applying it. Never fertilize a plant with a chemical fertilizer if the plant looks sick or wilted. If a plant is struggling due to a disease or root problems, the fertilizer will only add stress to it’s life. Try to cure the problem before adding fertilizer. When looking at most fertilizers, they are described by three numbers on the bag. An example would be 10-10-10 or 12-4-8. The first of these three numbers refers to Nitrogen, which is the primary element necessary for good, balanced growth within the Sweetbay Magnolia. Plants that are deficient in Nitrogen are usually not growing vigorously, and sometimes exhibit pale colored foliage as in the case of magnolias. Not all Nitrogen deficiencies result in stunted growth. Sometimes, the growth is taller and longer with less than desirable branching when Nitrogen is deficient. The second number in the fertilizer equation is representative of Phosphorus. A deficiency of Phosphorus may affect the energy transfer in the plant, and result in stunted growth as well. Also, plants with insufficient amounts of Phosphorus may have poorer root systems. Potassium is the element represented by the third number on the fertilizer bag. Plants that are deficient in Potassium, are usually growing more slowly than normal, have fewer flowers and seed, and are more susceptible to disease than plants with adequate levels of Potassium. Although the three elements just mentioned are the major elements necessary for good plant performance, there some minor elements that are just as important in consideration of plant nutrition. Minor elements that are not included in the three numbers listing on the front of fertilizer bags are very important considerations when choosing your magnolia fertilizer. Elements such as Magnesium, Sulfur, Calcium, Iron, Manganese, Copper, Zinc, Boron, and Molybdenum play very important roles in providing magnolias with adequate nutrition. Many times, less expensive fertilizers are sold that contain only the major elements needed, but not the minor elements. Always be sure to look on the fertilizer label on the back of the bag to see exactly what is included in the fertilizer. When you have selected your fertilizer and are ready to apply it, be sure to rake your mulch back to the drip line of each plant. Apply the fertilizer according to the label directions immediately on top of the soil, and be sure to water the plant thoroughly after the application. You can then rake the mulch back around the base of the Sweetbay Magnolia. Although it is tempting to spend less time by not raking the mulch back during fertilization, the results will be less than desirable, if the fertilizer is applied on top of the mulch. Proper fertilization of your Sweetbay Magnolia will lead to healthier and more disease resistant plants, as well as provide you with many more enjoyable blooms. Always, read the label on your fertilizer bag, and follow the instructions.

Sweetbay Magnolia Care: Tips For Growing Sweetbay Magnolias

All magnolias have unusual, exotic-looking cones, but those on a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) are showier than most. Sweetbay magnolia trees feature creamy white spring and summer flowers with a sweet, lemony fragrance and leaves that flutter in the slightest breeze to flash their silvery undersides. The fruiting cones consist of a group of pinkish-colored fruit that burst open to release the seeds when ripe. These outstanding ornamental trees create less mess than other magnolia tree species.

Sweetbay Magnolia Information

Sweetbay magnolias can grow 50 feet (15 m.) tall or more in warm, southern climates, but in cool areas, it rarely exceeds 30 feet (9 m.). Its sweet fragrance and attractive shape make it an ideal specimen tree. The flowers have a sweet, lemony scent while the leaves and twigs have a spicy fragrance.

The tree benefits wildlife by providing cover and nesting sites. It is a larval host for the sweetbay silkmoth. Early American settlers called it “beaver tree” because the fleshy roots made good bait for beaver traps.

Sweetbay Magnolia Care

Plant sweetbay magnolia in narrow corridors or urban areas where you need a compact tree. They need full sun or part shade in medium-moist to wet soil. These trees are often classified as wetland plants, and even with irrigation, you won’t have any luck growing sweetbay magnolias in dry soils.

The trees survive winters in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 10a, although they may need protection during severe winters in zone 5. Surround the trees with a thick layer of organic mulch and irrigate as necessary to keep the soil from drying out.

The tree benefits from a balanced, general-purpose fertilizer for the first three years. Use one cup of fertilizer the first and second year, and two cups the third year. It doesn’t usually need fertilizer after the third year.

Maintain a slightly acid pH of between 5.5 and 6.5. In alkaline soil, the leaves turn yellow, a condition called chlorosis. Use sulfur to acidify the soil, if necessary.

Sweetbay magnolia trees are easily damaged by flying lawn debris. Always point the lawnmower debris away from the tree or use a debris shield. Allow a distance of a few inches with a string trimmer to prevent damage.

Sweetbay Magnolia

  • By Pat Chadwick
  • /
  • November 2015-Vol.1 No.11
  • /

by Pat Chadwick

With all the attention given to global warming these days, most gardeners seek out drought-tolerant plantings for their gardens and that’s a good thing. For the gardener who has wet or poor-draining soil, finding plants that don’t mind soggy feet may be a challenge. Sweetbay magnolia is one plant that comes to mind for such demanding growing conditions.


Sweetbay magnolia is a smaller, less majestic cousin of Magnolia grandiflora (Southern magnolia), that beloved aristocratic icon of the southern United States. One of 125 deciduous and evergreen members of the ancient Magnoliaceae genus, sweetbay magnolia was introduced into cultivation in the late 1600s and first appeared in European gardens in 1688. Its common name, sweetbay, comes from the sweet-smelling bay-like foliage, while the term magnolia honors French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715). Other names for this plant include swamp magnolia and laurel magnolia.

Sweetbay magnolias are native to the southeastern United States where they are found growing in acidic, medium to wet soils, in full sun to part shade. Their range extends north along the Atlantic coast to New York. In the more northern (USDA Zone 5) part of their range, they tend to appear as open, multi-stemmed shrubs or as small 10- to 20-foot trees. In the deep southern part of their range (USDA Zone 9), they are more likely to maintain a tree-like habit and can grow to 60 feet or more. In Virginia, they are most commonly found growing wild in coastal plain areas and are less frequently found in the Piedmont. Although not native to Albemarle County, sweetbay magnolias have reportedly been found growing wild on a single mountain site in nearby Augusta County. In this area, they typically grow 20 to 30 feet or more tall with a similar spread.


  • Habit: Sweetbay magnolias are columnar or vase-shaped. They typically grow as multi-stemmed specimens but can be found with single trunks.
  • Foliage: The glossy evergreen to semi-evergreen leaves measure three to five inches in length and are dark green on top with a silvery-looking underside. A breeze can make the tree shimmer as the silvery undersides are exposed to the sun. In this area of Virginia, the evergreen nature of its foliage depends upon the severity of our winter weather. While the tree may lose some of its foliage, it recovers nicely in spring.
  • Blossoms: The tree typically blooms in May through June and may occasionally send out random blossoms during the summer months. Because it blooms later in the spring, it is a good alternative to earlier blooming star and saucer magnolias, which are subject to damaging spring frosts. The creamy white flowers are similar to those of the Southern magnolia but much smaller, measuring approximately two to three inches in width. The blossoms are cup shaped and have 9 to 12 petals. Each blossom opens in the morning, closes at night, and lasts for two or three days. Although sweetbay magnolias will thrive in partial shade, they prefer a minimum of four hours of direct sun per day in order to produce their best flowers.
  • Fruit: The blossoms are followed in late summer by dark red aggregate fruits, appearing as cones measuring about two inches long. These cones eventually split open to expose flattened, glossy, bright orange-red seeds.

Sweetbay Magnolia Seedpods

  • Bark: The bark is smooth and green on young branches and ages to a silvery gray, adding interest to the winter landscape.
  • Cultivars: In addition to the native species, a number of cultivars are available commercially. ‘Henry Hicks’ and ‘Moonglow’ are reported to be more reliably evergreen than the species. Cultivar ‘Santa Rosa’ has larger leaves than the species.


Their preference for moist, rich, organic soils and their ability to tolerate wet, boggy conditions make sweetbay magnolias a good choice for planting near ponds, along streams, in swampy areas, or in low spots that collect water. Because they can tolerate periodic flooding, they thrive in rain gardens. Sweetbay magnolias make excellent specimen trees in the lawn, as part of a foundation planting, or at the edge of a woodland setting. The tree’s multi-stemmed shrubby form works well in a mixed shrub border. Its smallish size also makes it a good candidate for planting near a patio where it can help filter light or provide a privacy screen. Used in groupings, these trees may help to define areas, such as playgrounds or parking lots, or to hide an unsightly view. Recognized as being resistant to wind damage, sweetbay magnolia is a good choice for use as a wind break.

Despite its preference for moist soil, sweetbay magnolia is drought tolerant once established. Proof of this lies in the accompanying photo of a thriving specimen growing in a dry site south of Charlottesville. With this past summer’s drought conditions during July and August, it weathered the lack of moisture well and exhibited only mild signs of stress.

Sweetbay Magnolia Specimen South of Charlottesville

In late summer and early fall, the clusters of red fruit attract squirrels, small rodents, turkey and quail. The fruit is also popular with songbirds such as blue jays, Northern flickers, towhees, and vireos. The blossoms attract a number of butterflies and moths, including the Eastern Tiger and Zebra Swallowtail butterflies.


  • Propagation – Sweetbay magnolia may be easily rooted from softwood cuttings.
  • Planting — For best results, plant the sweetbay magnolia in the spring in full or partial shade. It prefers evenly moist, acidic soil, but it will tolerate average garden soil provided the pH is 5.5 to 6.5. This tree grows at a medium to fast rate.
  • Pruning– Prune after the plant finishes blooming during the growing season. The plant wants to grow naturally with several trunks, but it can be trained to grow with a single trunk. It needs little pruning to develop a strong structure. Prune any diseased, broken, or dead branches all the way to their base. Thin out crowded branches to allow sunlight and air filtration to the inner limbs.


Sweetbay magnolias do not have any serious insect or disease problems. Leaf spots may occasionally appear on the foliage but treatment is not normally necessary. Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Publication 450-237 includes this plant among the problem-free trees that are recommended for Virginia landscapes.

This plant often appears on lists of plants that deer seldom browse. However, no plant is ever completely deer proof. So, if you have a deer problem, be aware that they may nibble sweet magnolia leaves and smaller twigs.


Sweetbay magnolia is a small, gracefully shaped tree that has a lot to offer throughout the year. This native ornamental bears attractive, lemon-scented flowers in spring and sporadically through the summer. Glossy green foliage persists on the tree nearly all year long. Showy red cone-like fruit provides color, interest, and food for wildlife in fall, and smooth gray bark adds beautiful color and contrast in winter.


American Horticulture Society, A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants (2008)

Dirr, Michael, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs (2011)

Mellichamp, Larry, Native Plants of the Southeast (2014)

VCE Pub. 430-026, Trees for Problem Landscape Sites — Wet and Dry Sites,

VCE Pub. 450 -237, Problem-Free Trees for Virginia Landscapes,

Weakley, Alan S.; Ludwig, J. Christopher; and Townsend, John E., Flora of Virginia (2012)

Sweetbay magnolia is an excellent native tree

By Dan Gill

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(11/17/17) Fall — November through early December — is the best time to plant hardy trees in Louisiana. Are you thinking about adding shade trees, small spring- or summer-flowering trees or trees for screening? If you are, this is time of the year to head out to local nurseries and purchase trees to plant in your landscape.

If you want a medium-sized evergreen tree, the evergreen sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana var. australis) is an excellent native tree that is not nearly as well-known as it should be. Because of its outstanding characteristics, the evergreen sweetbay magnolia was chosen to be a Louisiana Super Plants selection by the LSU AgCenter.

The Louisiana Super Plants program is an LSU AgCenter educational and marketing campaign that highlights tough and beautiful plants that perform well in Louisiana landscapes. Louisiana Super Plants are “university tested and industry approved.”

The Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is well known as a traditional tree for Louisiana landscapes. Like camellias, azaleas and crape myrtles, it is often considered essential for creating a “Southern” style garden. Unlike camellias, azaleas and crape myrtles, however, which are all native to the Far East, the Southern magnolia is native to Louisiana. But we have other native Magnolia species that are also worthy of planting.

The evergreen sweetbay magnolia reliably retains its foliage during winter. This naturally occurring variety is distinct from the standard species, Magnolia virginiana, for this reason. The standard species is deciduous to semi-deciduous and drops most or all of its leaves during winter. The evergreen form grows in the most southern parts of this species’ natural range in the eastern U.S. In the Latin name, the variety name australis means southern.

And speaking of the leaves, the foliage of the sweet bay magnolia is especially beautiful. Smaller and lighter green that the Southern magnolia and without the glossy shine, there is a surprise when you look closely. The foliage of the sweetbay is bright silver-white on the reverse. When the wind catches the canopy of these trees and flips up the leaves, the ripples of silver are a delight to the eye.

The flowers also make this tree popular. They are creamy white and about 2-3 inches in diameter. Flowers generally appear in greatest abundance beginning in late April, peaking in May and diminishing in early June. But flowering may continue sporadically through the summer. They are not as large and showy as the flowers of Southern magnolias, but they have the same rich, lemony fragrance that many Louisiana gardeners know and love so well.

The sweetbay magnolia is a medium-size tree that grows to be around 30 to 50 feet tall with a spread of 20 to 30 feet. The tree tends to be fairly narrow and columnar through much of its life, although the shape can vary. Given its potential size, make sure you do not plant them too close to buildings.

This attractive tree can be grown either multi-trunked or single-trunked. When growing a multi-trunk specimen, limit the number of trunks to three or five. Younger sweetbay magnolias may send up vigorous shoots from the lower trunk. Once you have established the desired number of trunks — one, three or five — keep these shoots pruned off.

Sweetbay magnolias are best planted while the weather is cool and the plants are dormant. Fall planting is particularly good because it allows the tree to grow roots and get established over the winter.

Magnolia roots are very sensitive to the depth of plantings, so it is critical that the top of the root ball be at or slightly above the surrounding soil. If planted too deeply or in a location not to their liking, magnolia trees tend to grow poorly and stay stunted. A happy young tree, on the other hand, will grow moderately fast, especially if fertilized in spring each year.

Be aware that even though they are evergreen, sweetbay magnolias drop some old leaves in fall and may drop a few more as they come into bloom. They also drop old petals when they are in bloom and seed cones in late summer and fall. But I would not consider these trees as messy as the popular Southern magnolia.

Tree-planting guidelines

Planting trees properly can make the difference between success and failure.

When preparing the hole, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball. When placed into the hole, the root ball should sit on solid, undisturbed soil.

Remove the tree from its container and place the tree gently in the hole. The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant the tree too deep.

Thoroughly pulverize the soil dug out from the hole and use this soil — without any additions — to backfill around the tree. Add soil around the tree until the hole is about half full, then firm the soil to eliminate air pockets but do not pack it tight. Finish filling the hole, firm again and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in. Generally, do not fertilize a newly planted tree.

sweet-bay magnolia, M. virginiana var. australis

Scientific Name

Magnolia honors the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715); virginiana means “of Virginia.”

Common Name

Sweetbay magnolia is named for the sweet-smelling bay-like leaves. Other names include swamp or laurel magnolia.


Sweetbay magnolia’s native range is Massachusetts to Florida, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. Trees grow in moist woodlands, along streams and swamps. The small tree is semi-evergreen to deciduous in northern latitudes, evergreen in the deep South.


Not native to Kentucky.


Growth Habit and Form

The growth habit of sweetbay magnolia varies from a single-stemmed tree to a multi-stemmed, round-headed shrub. Trees grow 10 to 20 feet in height in the northern part of its range; 60 feet or more in the southern part of its range.


The leaves are alternate, simple, and elliptic to oblong-lanceolate in shape. The 3 to 5 inch-long leaves are lustrous dark green above and glaucous (silvery) on their undersides. The leaves are semi-evergreen to deciduous in northern latitudes, evergreen in the deep South.


Flowers are solitary, creamy white and lemon-scented and have 9 to 12 petals. Flowers are 2 to 3 inches across and cup-shaped. Flowers bloom between May and June. The flowers are the smallest of the native North American magnolias. Flowers are pollinated by insects.


Fruit is a dark red, 2 inch-long cone-like cluster of seeds. Fruit ripens in August. The seeds are scattered by wildlife.


The bark is smooth and green on young trees but turns silvery gray on older trees.

Wild and Cultivated Varieties

Some twenty cultivars are recognized by authorities.

‘Henry Hicks’ has handsome evergreen foliage.

‘Santa Rosa’ is a large, lustrous, dark green evergreen leaf form from Woodlanders.

’Satellite’ was introduced by the U.S. National Arboretum. It has dark green, evergreen leaves that are blue-green below. It offers cream white, 3 inch-wide fragrant flowers.

Variety australis was first described in 1919 by Professor Charles Sprague Sargent from plants growing in North and South Carolina, Florida and Texas. This variety is more tree-like, evergreen and the branches and petioles are more pubescent than the species. There is some debate as to whether var. australis is a true variety.


Landscape Use

Sweetbay magnolia is an attractive ornamental with fragrant flowers. It makes an excellent patio or specimen tree.

Hardiness Zones

Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

Growth Rate

Medium to fast.

Cultivation and Propagation Information

Trees grow well in wet and even swampy soils in sun to partial shade. Sweetbay magnolia requires acid soils. Propagate by seed and softwood cuttings from 2- to 3-year old plants.

Diseases and Insects

None serious.

Wildlife Considerations

The leaves and twigs are eaten by deer and cattle. The seeds are a choice food of gray squirrels.

Maintenance Practices

Minimal attention given appropriate cultural conditions.


Native Americans and European settlers used a concoction from the bark to treat fevers and rheumatism.

The fruit was used to treat coughs and chest ailments.

The wood is occasionally used for veneer and furniture.

Sweetbay magnolia is an important ornamental. It was introduced into cultivation in the 1680s.

Sweetbay magnolia was the first magnolia introduced into Great Britain.

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