Sweetbay magnolia is a late blooming tree native to the eastern United States. It has fragrant, creamy-white flowers and glossy, dark green leaves with silvery undersides. This small tree is an excellent choice near patios, wood edges, and shrub borders. It is also tolerant to wet sites, such as pond edges and low areas in a landscape.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
All common names:
- Residential and parks,
- Under utility lines
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- North America
- Mixed border,
- Small tree (15-25 feet),
- Compact tree (10-15 feet),
- Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Acid soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil,
- Wet soil
- Wet sites,
- Occasional flooding
- Moderately Tolerant
- Spring blossoms,
- Fragrant flowers,
- Showy fruit,
- Showy flowers,
- Attractive bark
Seasons of Interest:
- late spring,
- early summer,
- early fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
- Small mammals
Tree & Plant Care
Requires a moist site in full sun to part shade.
May need some winter protection, avoid sites that are cold and windswept in winter.
Extremely tolerant of wet conditions.
Supplemental water in dry periods.
Disease, pests, and problems
Chlorosis (yellowing) may occur in high pH soils.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to Eastern U.S.; commonly found in wet or swampy sites.
Bark color and texture
Young branches are smooth and green, older bark is dark gray
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Alternate ,simple, 5 inch oblong leaves. Medium to dark green above, silvery underneath.
Fall color is yellow-brown.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Sparse, 2 to 3 inch diameter flowers.
Creamy white flowers held singly on the the branch blooms in mid-June. Lemon scented.
Often hidden by the foliage.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
The fruit is a 2-inch long, pickle-shaped structure (aggregate) that matures from green to pink, then red. When mature the structure splits open to reveal bright red seeds.
Cultivars and their differences
Moonglow® sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana 'Jim Wilson'): This cultivar is more tolerant of cold and can retain some of its semi-evergreen foliage more successfully in northern climates. The habit is more upright and flowers slightly larger than the species. Zone 4.