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Star magnolia

Flower of star magnolia.

The star magnolia is a small, compact ornamental tree grown for its early spring flowers. Opening in early spring before the leaves unfurl, the flowers are clusters of white petals sometimes touched with pink. Because they bloom so early, they are vulnerable to damage by late spring frosts in the Midwest. Star magnolia is best planted in a sheltered location such as near a patio, an entryway, or in a shrub border.

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Magnolia stellata

All common names:

star magnolia

Family (English):


Family (Botanic):


Planting Site:

  • Residential and parks,
  • Under utility lines

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub,
  • Tree


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk,
  • Specimen,
  • Utility

Size Range:

  • Small tree (15-25 feet),
  • Compact tree (10-15 feet),
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)

Mature Height:

15-20 feet

Mature Width:

10-15 feet

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil

Acid Soils:

  • Tolerant

Alkaline Soils:

  • Tolerant

Salt Spray:

  • Moderately Tolerant

Soil Salt:

  • Intolerant

Drought Conditions:

  • Tolerant

Poor Drainage:

  • Tolerant

Planting Considerations:

  • Weak wood and branch structure

Ornamental Interest:

  • Spring blossoms,
  • Fragrant flowers,
  • Showy fruit,
  • Showy flowers,
  • Attractive bark

Seasons of Interest:

  • early spring

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • Pink,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

Transplants Well:

  • Yes


  • Insect pollinators

More Information:

Tree & Plant Care

Grows best in full sun, well-drained, organic rich moist soil.
Shallow roots benefit with a layer of mulch to moderate soil temperature and conserve moisture.
Avoid extremely windy sites.
Minimal pruning required.

Disease, pests, and problems

Chlorosis in high pH soils, magnolia scale, early frost damage, powdery mildew.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to Japan.

Bark color and texture 

Young plants have a smooth, shiny chestnut brown bark turning a silvery gray with age.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, 2 to 4 inch long, elliptic leaves.
Star magnolias leaves are dense and smaller than other magnolias. 
New leaves emerge with a bronze cast turning to a medium green and yellow-brown fall color.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Very showy, fragrant white flower with a pink tinge.
Solitary, each flower has 12 to 18 petals (tepals) and is 3 to 4 inches across.
Flowers before leaves emerge.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Mature 2 inch fruit is a knobby cluster (aggregate) that opens to reveal reddish-orange seeds.

Cultivars and their differences 

Centennial star magnolia  (Magnolia stellata 'Centennial'):  Small-size, upright, pyramidal tree; has numerous, large white flowers with pink tinge.

Rosea star magnolia (Magnolia stellata 'Rosea'):  This cultivar has an oval to round shape with a dense, bushy habit.  Pink buds open to fragrant, light pink, star-like flowers.  This plant flowers in late April, a little later than the species.

Royal Star star magnolia (Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'):  oval to round shape; flowers later than species; star-shaped fragrant, white flowers.

Location of Magnolia stellata (Star magnolia) at the Arboretum