Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 1020 Magnolia liliiflora

Common Names: lily magnolia, woody orchid, mu-lan, lily-flowered magnolia Family: Magnoliaceae (magnolia Family)
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lily magnolia


This magnolia is a shrub, not a tree. Lily magnolia is a bushy, rounded deciduous shrub which gets up to 13 ft (4 m) high with a spread about the same. The leaves are large, to 8 in (20 cm) long and 4 in (10 cm) wide. The goblet shaped fragrant flowers are pink to purplish, about 3 in (8 cm) across and produced in spring and sporadically through the summer. The selection 'Gracilis' has a more slender form and more slender leaves and the flowers are rich purple. 'Nigra' is smaller, and blooms at a very young age with larger, especially dark crimson-purple flowers. A hybrid between M. liliiflora 'Nigra' and M. campbellii, known as Magnolia X 'Star Wars' is a vigorous tree with large, remarkably showy purple-pink flowers.

Several cultivars now available are the result of hybridization between M. liliiflora 'Nigra' and M. stellata 'Rosea'. These tend to be smaller and more cold hardy than lily magnolia itself. Saucer magnolia (M. X soulangeana) is a hybrid between lily magnolia and Yulan magnolia (M. heptapeta).

lily magnolias
A chorus line of lily magnolia varieties dances along a southern Ohio ridgetop in early April.


Magnolia liliiflora is originally from China. It has been reported that the species may no longer occur in the wild.


Magnolias are shallow rooted plants and one of the surest ways to retard or even kill a new specimen is to plant it too deep. The root collar should be above the soil and the shoulders of the main roots at or just barely below the soil surface. Avoid disturbing the roots after planting. Lily magnolia should be protected from strong winds. Light: Grow this shrubby mag in full sun. Moisture: Once established, lily magnolia needs no more than 20 in (50 cm) of rain per year. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 9. Magnolia liliiflora has been known to survive winter temperatures as low as -4°F (-10°C). Some of the cultivars and hybrids are hardy to zone 5. Lily magnolia does poorly in hot, dry climates. Late frosts sometimes damage early flowers. Propagation: Fast growing soft greenwood cuttings can be rooted in early summer. Such cuttings taken from juvenile plants root better than those from older specimens. Seed should be sown outside in autumn, but seed-grown plants take longer to mature and bloom, and may not closely resemble the parent.


Lily magnolia is best used as a specimen shrub. Its smallish size makes it suitable for the home landscape. Before the popularity of saucer magnolia and star magnolia, lily magnolia was considerably more common in American gardens. One of its main uses today is for hybridization with other magnolias.

lily magnolias
Lily magnolia varieties are compact enough to fit attractively into small sunny spaces.


The genus Magnolia is one of the most ancient of the angiosperm (flowering plants) genera, with fossils going back more than 100 million years to the Tertiary. Just as remarkable, the principal pollinators of magnolia flowers today are beetles in the family Nitidulidae, which also were common in the Tertiary.

Magnolia quinquepeta is an older name (botanical synonym) for this species.

Steve Christman 4/9/06

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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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