Southern magnolia

Magnolia grandiflora
Family: Magnoliaceae

Natural Historysouthern red oak branch
Flower of southern magnolia
Photo credit: Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,

Southern magnolia, also known as bull bay or evergreen magnolia, is one of the best-known trees in the state of Florida. It occurs naturally in rich hammock soils and on the border of river swamps along with other hardwoods.

The southern magnolia is noted for its large handsome flowers that appear at intervals during the summer months. The flowers stand out with their large showy cream white petals surrounding a splash of bright purple in the center (from the stamens) and their pleasing fragrance. The "sweet magnolia" of the South well deserves the place given to it in story and song.

Habitat & Range

This member of the Magnolia family is found from eastern North Carolina to central Florida and west to eastern Texas at elevations up to 400'. It is often found in moist soils of valleys and low uplands with a mixture of other hardwoods.

Wildlife Use

Birds and small mammals eat the seeds.

Human Use

The wood is moderately heavy and hard, and of a creamy color. Principal uses for the wood are furniture, boxes, cabinetwork, and doors. The southern magnolia is commonly used as an ornamental tree in warm temperate and subtropical regions throughout the world as well as in many northern states. Florists use the dried leaves in arrangements.


Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: The southern magnolia is a moderately large tree that reaches 60' to 90' in height. It is characterized as being one of the most beautiful native trees. The crown is conical and symmetrical in shape.
Leaves: The large, persistent leaves are alternately arranged and are 5" to 8" in length. The leaves appear to be oblong and slightly turned under at the edges. Each thick leaf is a shiny dark green above with fine rust colored hairs below.
Bark: The bark on the young southern magnolia is dark gray and smooth but becomes furrowed and scaly as the tree matures.
Flowers: The large fragrant flowers are white and bloom in late spring and summer.
Fruit: The fruit is an aggregate of hairy tan to dull orange-red follicles. They mature in early autumn and the bright red seeds hang out of each follicle for a short time before falling to the ground.
Similar Trees on the Florida 4-H Forest Ecology Contest List:
  • Redbay also has alternate leaves with smooth margins.



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