Content Detail

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 of wet sites, such as pond edges and low areas in a landscape.

  • Family (English) Magnolia
  • Family (botanic) Magnoliaceae
  • Planting site Residential and parks, Under utility lines
  • Tree or plant type Tree
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale North America
  • Size range Large shrub (more than 8 feet), Compact tree (10-15 feet), Small tree (15-25 feet)
  • Mature height 10-20 feet
  • Mature width 10-20 feet
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest late spring, early summer, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, White
  • Shape or form Irregular, Multi-stemmed, Pyramidal, Upright
  • Growth rate Moderate
  • Transplants well No
  • Wildlife Small mammals
  • Has cultivars Yes

Native geographic location and habitat: 

Sweetbay magnolia is native to the eastern United States and is 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: 

The simple, alternate leaves are 5 inches long and oblong in shape. The leaves are medium to dark green above and silvery underneath. Fall color is yellow-brown.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Sparse, 2 to 3 inch diameter flowers are creamy white and held singly on the branch. The tree flowers in mid-June. Flowers are lemon-scented, and often hidden by the foliage.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions: 

The fruit is a 2 inch long, pickle-shaped structure (aggregate fruit)  that matures from green to pink, then turns red. When mature, the structure splits open to reveal bright red seeds.

Plant Care:

Sweetbay magnolia requires a moist site in full sun to part shade. It may need some winter protection, avoiding sites that are windswept in winter. Extremely tolerant of wet conditions and may need supplemental water in dry periods.

List of pests, diseases, and tolerances: 

Magnolia scale is a possible pest. Chlorosis (yellowing) may occur in high pH soils.

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. Cold hardy to zone 4.


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