Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 66 Magnolia grandiflora

Common Names: southern magnolia, bull bay Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia Family)
Image Gallery

southern magnolia tree
A stately southern magnolia decorates the lawn of Florida's historic Capital Building in Tallahassee.


Southern magnolia is a large, broad-leafed evergreen tree that can grow 60-90 ft (18-27 m) in height with a trunk up to 2-3 ft (0.6-0.9 m) in diameter. It's trunk is typically straight and erect with spreading branches that form a dense, broadly pyramidal crown. The evergreen leaves are large 5-8 in (13-20 cm) long, leathery and dark glossy green above with rusty, velveteen undersides. Southern magnolia has large, showy white flowers that are 8-12 in (20-30 cm) in diameter. These have a pleasant fragrance and appear throughout the spring and summer. The fruits are reddish-brown conelike structures, 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long, with bright red kidney shaped seeds that hang from little threads when fully mature in autumn.

There are more than 100 cultivars listed, some possibly no longer available. 'Edith Bogue' is conical and more cold hardy than most; 'Little Gem' is compact and small, to 20 ft (6 m) with 4 in (10 cm) leaves and 6 in (15 cm) flowers; 'Samuel Sommer' has flowers to 14 in (36 cm) across; 'Bracken's brown beauty' is compact and bushy with smaller leaves and flowers.

southern magnolia blossom
A magnificent magnolia blossom stirs a lemony scent into the soft summer breezes.


This native American tree occurs on the coastal plain from North Carolina, south to central Florida, and west to east Texas. Magnolia grandiflora grows best along streams and near swamp margins in moist, fertile soils, in association with American beech (Fagus grandiflora), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and various oaks. This spectacular tree is beloved by gardeners and planted all over the world wherever it can be grown.


Light: Full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Southern magnolia is extremely drought tolerant. It does best, however, in rich, well-drained, acidic soils. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Newer cultivars have extended the range in which the southern magnolia can be grown northward into Zone 5! Propagation: Southern magnolia grows rapidly from seed. Cultivars are grafted onto seedlings of the species or started from cuttings.


One of the south’s premier landscape trees. Yankees must eat their hearts out! The magnolia is used as a street tree, a free standing specimen, a framing tree, or shade tree. It has some limited use in the forest products trade where its wood is made into veneer for plywood and wooden crates to transport vegetables.

Be forewarned that this southern giant needs plenty of room. Don't expect grass or anything else to grow underneath a magnolia. The old leaves that accumulate under the tree seem to take forever to decompose.

magnolia burr
This is the immature fruit or "burr" of the southern magnolia. Forming within are bright red seeds that will be released in late autumn once the fruit has ripened.


A distinctive evergreen tree with large, showy, fragrant flowers, the southern magnolia is the State Flower of Mississippi and Louisiana, and itself a southern tradition. Southern magnolia should be a part of every cultivated landscape in zones 7-9 that is large enough for a full-size tree (folks farther north to Zone 5 should be able to find hardy cultivars for their areas too). Those with less space can plant magnolia cultivars like 'Little Gem' that are slower growing and smaller in stature.

Steve Christman 3/23/00, 11/11/00, 7/05/01, 4/23/03, 6/3/06

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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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