A Broad-Leaved Evergreen Tree Suited to Our Climate

Southern magnolias are beautiful and majestic evergreen, broad-leaved trees that originate in the southeastern United States. They present a familiar image of the southern US but are also hardy trees that will thrive in our Pacific Northwest climate. Magnolia grandiflora have a rounded pyramidal crown and beautiful patchy gray bark.

Magnolias are in the Magnoliaceae family, which contains some of the oldest flowering plants. These plants are thought to have grown 130 million years ago. 

Characteristics of the Southern Magnolia

The Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is also known as the Evergreen magnolia, as it has very stiff, shiny, large oval-shaped evergreen leaves that consistently drop year round. The tree never drops all its leaves at once as deciduous trees do. The shiny dark green leaves are an excellent identifying feature of Magnolia grandiflora, as are the fuzzy white, orange, or brown undersides of the leaves.

There are only two species of magnolia that are evergreen – Magnolia virginiana (sweet bay) and Magnolia grandiflora, although some magnolias can be semi-deciduous, depending on the climate they’re grown in.

Image of a cream colored southern magnolia flower amongst shiny green leaves with orange undersides.

The Evergreen Magnolia has Show-Stopping Flower Displays

The blooms of the Southern magnolia or Evergreen magnolia are magnificent. They are cream or white in color and large in size, as the species name ‘grandiflora’ suggests. They bloom often and intermittently throughout the year.

The flowers are made up of  numerous petals, and at the center is the pistil (made up of spiralling parts called carpels), which is surrounded by spiraling stamens. The center of the flower turns into the seed head and looks similar to a cone. The cone has numerous follicles which open and allow the seeds to fall out. 

Close up image of a southern magnolia or Magnolia grandiflora cream colored flower with bright yellow pistil.

Care of Magnolia grandiflora

  • Plant in full sun to part sun, depending on the needs of the variety.
  • Magnolias like good drainage – amend heavy clay soil and plant on a mound.
  • Water deeply and regularly in the summer months.
  • Don’t allow roots to sit in water. They are susceptible to phytophthora root rot, which can cause dieback in the branches.
  • Prune in spring when seasonal growth begins. Too much pruning will encourage water sprouts to grow, so limit pruning to thinning and removing dead branches.

Uses of the Southern Magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora and its numerous cultivars have many uses in the landscape. They make great shade trees, screens, and accent or specimen trees. These trees are also tolerant of pollution and therefore work well in front yards and as street trees. They provide year-round interest with their shiny green leaves with orange undersides and spectacular flowers.

There aren’t many broad-leaved trees that are evergreen. The Southern magnolia is a special tree to plant in your yard so that you can appreciate a green canopy throughout the year.

Close up image of a red/yellow bud from a southern magnolia or Magnolia grandiflora, next to shiny green leaves.

Common Magnolia grandiflora Cultivars Available

Magnolia ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ is a stunning variety with large white flowers, 5-6” wide. The tree grows 30-50’ tall and 15-30’ wide. The leaves have showy brown, fuzzy undersides, giving the tree extra interest. This is a hardy variety that tolerates colder weather better than some of the other cultivars. It transplants well and does not lose quite as many leaves as other varieties.

Magnolia ‘Victoria’ is cold hardy and ideal for growing in the Pacific Northwest. It grows up to 30’ tall by 25’ wide. The large white flowers appear in midsummer and have a slight lemon fragrance. The leaves have fuzzy red undersides.

Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ is one of the smallest cultivars available, reaching 15-20’ by 7-10’. It is a great choice as a hedge or screening plant in a smaller sized yard, especially when you’re looking for something different with beautiful blooms.

Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’ is a dwarf variety of the Southern magnolia that reaches 16-20’ tall and 10-12’ wide. The tree has a pyramidal shape, similar to the plentiful conifers we have in our region, and it fits in well with the conifer garden aesthetic. ‘Teddy Bear’ can be used as an accent tree or a screening tree.

Magnolia ‘Kay Parris’ is a beautiful variety with a straight trunk and pyramidal shape, compared to the more rounded form of Magnolia grandiflora. It reaches 15-20’ tall and 8-10’ wide. It has enormous white, heavily-scented flowers, 8-10” wide, which bloom from late spring into the fall. A relatively fast grower.

Contact Frontier Landscaping to help you select and plant the perfect southern magnolia for your yard.