Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 208 Magnolia x soulangeana

Common Names: saucer magnolia, tulip tree, Japanese magnolia Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia Family)
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saucer magnolia
This is a blossom of the 'Alexandrina' variety of saucer magnolia. Due to its tulip shape this hybrid is sometimes commonly called "tulip tree". However, this causes confusion with our other tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera - so I prefer to call it saucer magnolia which accurately reflects the flattened form of a fully opened blossom.


Often encountered as a medium to large shrub, the saucer magnolia is one of the most dramatic deciduous flowering trees when in bloom. A prolific bloomer, its flowers are large and goblet shaped and cover the naked stems of the tree just before the leaves emerge. The flower buds are big and fuzzy and about 1 in (2 cm) long. Depending on the variety, the fragrant flowers vary in color from deepest purple to lightest pink to pure white. Some have pure white interiors with exteriors of purple to pink blending with white in various patterns. Each bloom is composed of six waxy petals in a goblet arrangement that ranges in diameter from 3 - 6 in (7.6-15 cm) when fully opened into "saucer position".

The tree has a coarse texture in part due to its big and broad dark green leaves. These are 5-8 in (13-20 cm) long. Saucer magnolia usually has multiple stems that are covered in smooth, gray bark. Mature trees can reach as high as 30 ft (9 m) with a spread only somewhat less. Shape and form is dependent on variety.

saucer magnolia bud
A bud 'bout to bloom on a mid-February afternoon.


The parents of this hybrid are M. heptapeta and M. liliiflora which are both native to Japan.


Prefers excellent, rich soil with plenty of organic matter. It must be well drained but moist. Prune as needed after flowering but before setting buds for next season. Plant in protected area to delay blooming as long as possible. Light: Morning sun with filtered shade in the heat of day is ideal. Will take full sun if well mulched and moist, but such conditions often promote earlier flowering which is subject to cold damage. Moisture: Evenly moist. Pay attention to watering needs in times of drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 9. Late freezes sometimes burn the very early flowers. Propagation: Root cuttings with terminal buds in early summer.


This medium to slow growing tree makes a wonderful shade tree. Use as a free standing specimen or in a small group with plenty of space for them to stretch their stems and grow. The saucer magnolia's coarseness adds texture and interest to a mixed shrubbery border. Keep in mind that your petite little magnolia will eventually become a small tree displaying its beautiful blossoms above, not among, its shrubbier neighbors.

saucer magnolia variety 'Lennei'
This is the saucer magnolia variety 'Lennei'. It has huge 8 in (20 cm) flowers that are purple on the outside and pure white inside. A pure white version, called 'Lennei Alba' is also available.


The saucer magnolia is one of the earliest flowering trees to bloom. In the Deep South and similar mild climates, it blooms in late winter and as late as mid-spring in colder zones. Wherever it grows, the saucer magnolia is a much anticipated first sign of spring. Many cultivars are available, bred for size of plant, blooming time, and flower colors. Yulan magnolia (M. heptapeta), one of this hybrid's parents, is very similar but with white flowers. It is often grafted onto the more vigorous M. x soulangeana rootstock.

The smooth stems of a bare naked tree make an impressive sight when illuminated with floodlights. Wrapping strings of clear miniature lights around the stems and branches accentuate the trees pleasing form and makes a festive holiday decoration.

Jack Scheper 08/16/97; updated 2/19/01, 2/15/03, 10/24/03, 2/2/08

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Magnolia species profiled on Floridata:

Magnolia grandiflora

( southern magnolia, bull bay )

Magnolia heptapeta

( Yulan magnolia )

Magnolia liliiflora

( lily magnolia, woody orchid, mu-lan, lily-flowered magnolia )

Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei

( Ashe magnolia, Ashe's magnolia, big leaf magnolia )

Magnolia stellata

( star magnolia )

Magnolia tripetala

( umbrella magnolia )

Magnolia virginiana

( sweetbay, sweetbay magnolia, swamp magnolia, swampbay, white bay )

Magnolia x soulangeana

( saucer magnolia, tulip tree, Japanese magnolia )

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