Kenneth W. Outcalt
Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), also called evergreen magnolia, bull-bay, big-laurel, or large-flower magnolia, has large fragrant white flowers and evergreen leaves that make it one of the most splendid of forest trees and a very popular ornamental that has been planted around the world. This moderately fast-growing medium-sized tree grows best on rich, moist, well-drained soils of the bottoms and low uplands of the Coastal Plains of Southeastern United States. It grows with other hardwoods and is marketed as magnolia lumber along with other magnolia species to make furniture, pallets, and veneer. Wildlife eat the seeds, and florists prize the leathery foliage.
There are about 225 species in the magnolia family. This is one of the oldest families of flowering plants. It appeared before bees did, so almost all species are pollinated by beetles. The southern magnolia has leathery leaves and large, white flowers that smell lemony. This tree is planted in gardens. It is also used to make furniture.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Atlantic Coast to central Florida, westward through the southern half of
Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and across Louisiana into eastern
Texas [2,24]. It is cultivated in Hawaii .
Occurrence in North America
-The native range of southern magnolia.
Southern magnolia is a fast-growing, medium-sized, native evergreen tree
that grows 60 to 90 feet (18-27 m) tall [9,12]. The large, white
flowers are perfect and fragrant. The seeds are drupelike with a soft,
fleshy outer seed coat and an inner stony portion. Southern magnolia
develops a deep taproot. As trees grow the root structure changes.
Trees of sapling stage and beyond have a rather extensive root system.
Older trees develop a fluted base with the ridges corresponding to the
attachment of major lateral roots [5,12].
Habitat and Ecology
Magnolia grandiflora rarely exists alone and is associated with a variety of mesic hardwoods consisting of species such as Oak, Pine, Swamp Chestnut and Beech. It produces large white flowers between April and June and fleshy cone like fruit matures from September through the late fall. Southern magnolia is a prolific seed producer and good seed crops normally occur every year. Trees as young as 10 years old can produce seeds and optimum seed production occurs at 25 years of age. The relatively heavy seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals but some may be spread by heavy rains. Seedlings are very susceptible to frost damage and even a light freeze can cause mortality.
and near swamps in the Coastal Plain [1,21]. It grows also on mesic
upland sites where fire is rare. Although primarily a bottomland
species, southern magnolia cannot withstand prolonged inundation;
consequently, it is found mostly on alluvium and outwash sites . No
part of its range is higher than 500 feet (150 m) in elevation and most
of it is less than 200 feet (60 m). Coastal areas within its range are
less than 100 feet (30 m) above sea level. In the northern parts of its
range in Georgia and Mississippi, it is found at elevations of 300 to
400 feet (90-120 m) [5,12,24]. In additon to those listed under under
Distribution and Occurrence, common overstory associates include
American beech (Fagus grandifolia), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua),
yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), live oak (Quercus virginiana),
southern red oak (Q. falcata), white oak (Q. alba), mockernut hickory
(Carya tomentosa), and pignut hickory (C. glabra). Some common
understory associates include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), swamp
dogwood (C. stricta), strawberry-bush (Euonymus americanus), southern
bayberry (Myrica cerifera), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus
quinquefolia), greenbrier (Smilax spp.), and grape (Vitis spp.) [21,28].
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the terms: hardwood, swamp
69 Sand pine
70 Longleaf pine
71 Longleaf pine - scrub oak
72 Southern scrub oak
73 Southern redcedar
74 Cabbage palmetto
75 Shortleaf pine
76 Shortleaf pine oak
80 Loblolly pine - shortleaf pine
81 Loblolly pine
82 Loblolly pine - hardwood
83 Longleaf pine - slash pine
84 Slash pine
85 Slash pine - hardwood
87 Sweetgum - yellow-poplar
88 Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
89 Live oak
91 Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
92 Sweetgum - willow oak
96 Overcup oak - water hickory
97 Atlantic white-cedar
98 Pond pine
100 Pond cypress
102 Baldcypress - tupelo
103 Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
104 Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
111 South Florida slash pine
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES12 Longleaf - slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES16 Oak - gum - cypress
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K089 Black Belt
K090 Live oak - sea oats
K091 Cypress savanna
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
K112 Southern mixed forest
K113 Southern floodplain forest
K115 Sand pine scrub
Annual rainfall averages 1020 to 1270 mm (40 to 50 in) in the northeastern portion of the range and 1270 to 1520 mm (50 to 60 in) in other areas. A small area along the Gulf Coast receives 1520 to 2030 mm (60 to 80 in) yearly. In the Atlantic Coastal Plain, summer is usually wettest and autumn driest. Periodic summer droughts occur in the western part of the range.
Habitat & Distribution
Foodplant / feeds on
pycnidium of Diplodia coelomycetous anamorph of Diplodia magnoliae feeds on Magnolia grandiflora
Foodplant / saprobe
scattered to gregarious, covered, then lifting and piercing pycnidium of Phomopsis coelomycetous anamorph of Phomopsis magnoliicola is saprobic on dead, dry, fallen petiole of Magnolia grandiflora
Foodplant / spot causer
few, scattered pycnidium of Phyllosticta coelomycetous anamorph of Phyllosticta magnoliae causes spots on live leaf of Magnolia grandiflora
Remarks: season: 2,8
Associated Forest Cover
Understory associates include a wide variety of species. Typical examples are devils-walkingstick (Aralia spinosa), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), swamp dogwood (C. stricta), beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), strawberry-bush (Euonymus americanus), southern bayberry (Myrica cerifera), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria), greenbriers (Similax spp.), and muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia).
Diseases and Parasites
Fire Management Considerations
Where fire is surpressed or infrequent, southern magnolia and live oak
can become dominant species in the southern mixed hardwood forests. The
transition from an open, fire-dominated forest to a closed-canopy,
deciduous forest favors the Quercus-Magnolia climax community [3,6,10].
Plant Response to Fire
Immediate Effect of Fire
to bark characteristics, are quite fire resistant. Plants sprout
vigorously when top-killed by fire [10,16,18].
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2
More info for the terms: climax, hardwood, mesic
Southern magnolia is moderately tolerant of shade. It can endure
considerable shade in early life but needs more light as it becomes
older . Southern magnolia will invade pine or hardwood stands and
is able to reproduce under a closed canopy. It will not reproduce under
its own shade. Once established, it can maintain or increase its
presence in stands by sprouts and seedlings that grow up through
openings, which occur sporadically in the canopy . Southern
magnolia has been migrating onto mesic upland sites and establishing
itself, along with associated hardwoods, as part of the climax forest
usually are produced every year. Trees as young as 10 years can produce
seed, but optimum seed production does not occur until age 25. Cleaned
seeds range from 5,800 to 6,800/pound (12,800-15,000/kg). Seed
viability averages about 50 percent. The relatively heavy seeds are
disseminated by birds and mammals, but some may be spread by heavy rains
. Southern magnolia is pollinated by insects [23,30].
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the term: phanerophyte
Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (mesophanerophyte)
Undisturbed State: Phanerophyte (microphanerophyte)
Burned or Clipped State: Cryptophyte (geophtye)
relatively thin, the cork layer underneath the bark does not burn easily
and is relatively resistant to heat [15,27].
Reaction to Competition
Southern magnolia is considered to be one of the major species of the potential climax forest of the southeastern Coastal Plains (3,6,15,16,20). In the past, regular burning restricted the species to the wetter sites, as seedlings are easily killed by fire. Older trees, however, due to bark characteristics, are quite fire resistant (3,10) and even if the tops are killed, they sprout vigorously. Since the advent of improved fire control, southern magnolia has been migrating onto mesic upland sites and establishing itself, along with associated hardwoods, as part of the climax forest.
Life History and Behavior
Southern magnolia flowers between April and June; its fruit ripens from
September through late fall [6,12].
Seedlings are very susceptible to frost damage, and even a light freeze can cause mortality. Partial shade is beneficial for the first 2 years of seedling growth. Under favorable conditions growth is quite rapid. In nurseries, seedlings usually grow 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in) the first year (2).
Seed Production and Dissemination
Flowering and Fruiting
Growth and Yield
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Southern magnolia has been hybridized with sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana) and M. guatemalensis.
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Magnolia grandiflora L.
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Magnolia grandiflora
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Distributed in coastal plains of southern United States and cultivated elsewhere.
Older trees, due to their bark characteristics, are quite fire resistant and even if the tops are burned can resprout. Since the advent of improved fire control this species has migrated onto mesic upland sites and established itself along with associated hardwoods as part of the climax forest. Winter droughts can cause extensive dieback and mortality. A leaf spot caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella milleri can be a problem to nursery seedlings.
magnolia. Seedlings are susceptible to frost damage; even a light
freeze can cause mortality. A number of Fomes and Polyporus fungi cause
heartrot in southern magnolia. Heavy infestations of magnolia scale
(Neolecanium cornuparyum) kill branches or entire trees [14,24].
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Other uses and values
Southern magnolia is a valuable and extensively planted ornamental. The
leaves, fruit, bark, and wood yield a variety of extracts with potential
applications as pharmaceuticals [14,24]. Southern magnolia is a good
urban landscape tree because it is resistant to acid deposition .
Southern magnolia provides cover for many small birds and mammals .
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Wood Products Value
Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the southern magnolia or bull bay, is a tree of the family Magnoliaceae native to the southeastern United States, from Virginia south to central Florida, and west to East Texas and Oklahoma. Reaching 27.5 m (90 ft) in height, it is a large, striking, evergreen tree with large, dark green leaves up to 20 cm (8 in) long and 12 cm (4.5 in) wide, and large, white, fragrant flowers up to 30 cm (12 in) in diameter. Widely cultivated in warmer areas around the world, over 50 cultivars have been bred and marketed commercially. The timber is hard and heavy, and has been used commercially to make furniture, pallets, and veneer.
Magnolia grandiflora is a medium to large evergreen tree which may grow 120 ft (36.5 m) tall. It typically has a single stem (or trunk) and a pyramidal shape. The leaves are simple and broadly ovate, 12–20 cm (5–8 in) long and 6–12 cm (2–5 in) broad, with smooth margins. They are dark green, stiff and leathery, and often scurfy underneath with yellow-brown pubescence. The large, showy, lemon citronella-scented flowers are white, up to 30 cm (12 in) across and fragrant, with six to 12 petals with a waxy texture, emerging from the tips of twigs on mature trees in late spring. Flowering is followed by the rose-coloured fruit, ovoid, 7.5–10 cm (3–4 in) long, and 3–5 cm (1.5–2 in) wide.
Exceptionally large trees have been reported in the far southern United States. The national champion is a specimen in Smith County, Mississippi, that stands an incredible 37 m (122 feet). Another record includes a 35-m-high specimen from the Chickasawhay District, De Soto National Forest, in Mississippi, which measured 17.75 ft in circumference at breast height, from 1961, and a 30-m-tall tree from Baton Rouge, which reached 18 ft in circumference at breast height.
Magnolia grandiflora was one of the many species first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1759, basing his description on the earlier notes of Miller. He did not select a type specimen. Its specific epithet is derived from the Latin words grandis "big", and flor- "flower".
M. grandiflora is most commonly known as southern magnolia, a name derived from its range in the Southern United States. Many broadleaved evergreen trees are known as bays for their resemblance to the leaves of the red bay (Persea borbonia), with this species known as the bull bay for its huge size or alternatively because cattle have been reported eating its leaves. Laurel magnolia, evergreen magnolia, large-flower magnolia or big laurel are alternative names. The timber is known simply as magnolia.
Distribution and habitat
Southern magnolias are native to the Southeastern United States, from southeast Virginia south to central Florida, and then west to East Texas and Oklahoma. It is found on the edges of bodies of water and swamps, in association with sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), water oak (Quercus nigra), and black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). In more sheltered habitats, it grows as a large tree, but can be a low shrub when found on coastal dunes. It is killed by summer fires, and is missing from habitats that undergo regular burning.
In Florida, it is found in a number of different ecological areas that are typically shady and have well-draining soils; it is also found in hummocks, along ravines, on slopes, and in wooded floodplains. Despite preferring sites with increased moisture, it does not tolerate inundation. It grows on sand-hills in maritime forests, where it is found growing with live oaks and saw palmetto. In the eastern United States, it has become an escape, and has become naturalized in the tidewater area of Virginia and locally in other areas outside of its historically natural range.
M. grandiflora can produce seed by 10 years of age, although peak seed production is achieved closer to 25 years of age. Around 50% of seeds can germinate, and they are spread by birds and mammals. Squirrels, opossums, quail, and turkey are known to eat the seeds.
Cultivation and uses
The plant collector Mark Catesby, the first in North America, brought M. grandiflora to Britain in 1726, where it entered cultivation and overshadowed M. virginiana, which had been collected a few years earlier. It had also come to France, the French having collected it in the vicinity of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. It was glowingly described by Philip Miller in his 1731 work The Gardeners' Dictionary. One of the earliest people to cultivate it in Europe was Sir John Colliton of Exeter in Devon; scaffolding and tubs surrounded his tree, where gardeners propagated its branches by layering, the daughter plants initially selling for five guineas each (but later falling to half a guinea).
It is often planted in university campuses and allowed to grow into a large tree, either with dependent branches, or with the lower branches removed to display the bare trunks. It is also espaliered against walls, which improves its frost-hardiness.
United States cultivation
It is a very popular ornamental tree throughout its native range in the coastal plain of the Gulf/South Atlantic states. Grown for its attractive, shiny green leaves and fragrant flowers, it has a long history in the southern United States. Many large and very old specimens found in the subtropical port cities such as New Orleans, Mobile, Savannah, Charleston, and Wilmington, NC. M. grandiflora is the state tree of Mississippi and the state flower of Louisiana.
The species is also cultivated in the warmer parts of the United States; On the East Coast, a small number of specimens can be found growing as far north as coastal areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, NY. Farther south, it is grown more widely in Delaware, much of the Chesapeake Bay region in Maryland, and much of eastern Virginia. On the West Coast, it can be grown as far north as British Columbia/Seattle area, though cooler summers on the West Coast slow growth compared to the East Coast.
In the interior of the US, some of the cold-hardy cultivars have survived north to the southern Ohio Valley (southern Ohio, Kentucky, southern Indiana). Farther north, few known long term specimens are found due to the severe winters, very cold temperatures, and/or lack of sufficient summer heat.
Magnolia grandiflora is also grown in parts of Mexico, Central America, and South America as well as parts of Asia.
It is recommended for seashore plantings in areas that are windy but have little salt spray. The foliage will bronze, blotch, and burn in severe winters at the northern limits of cultivation, especially when grown in full winter sun, but most leaves remain until they are replaced by new foliage in the spring. In climates where the ground freezes, winter sun appears to do more damage than the cold. In the Northern Hemisphere, the south side of the tree will experience more leaf damage than the north side. Two extremes are known, with leaves white underneath and with leaves brown underneath. The brown varieties are claimed to be more cold-hardy than the white varieties, but this does not appear to be proven as yet. Once established, the plants are drought tolerant, and the most drought tolerant of all the Magnolia species.
The leaves are heavy and tend to fall year round from the interior of the crown and form a dense cover over the soil surface, and they have been used in decorative floral arrangements. The leaves have a waxy coating that makes them resistant to damage from salt and air pollution.
In the United States, southern magnolia, along with sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) and cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata), is commercially harvested. Lumber from all three species is simply called magnolia, which is used in the construction of furniture, boxes, pallets, venetian blinds, sashes, and doors and used as veneers. Southern magnolia has yellowish-white sapwood and light to dark brown heartwood tinted yellow or green. The usually straight-grained wood has uniform texture with closely spaced rings. The wood is ranked moderate in heaviness, hardness, and stiffness, and moderately low in shrinkage, bending, and compression strength; it is ranked moderately high in shock resistance. Its use in the Southeastern United States has been supplanted by the availability of harder woods.
Over 50 cultivars have been developed and named in North America and Europe. Most plants in nurseries are propagated by cuttings, resulting in more consistent form in the various varieties available. Many older cultivars have been superseded by newer ones and are no longer available. Some cultivars have been found to be more cold hardy, they include:
- 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', developed by Ray Bracken of Easley, South Carolina, in the late 1960s, is a popular cultivar which has survived long-term in southern Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Long Island, NY. This cultivar grows in a dense and compact pattern, with narrow, medium-sized, glossy leaves. Flowers measure 5-6 in (12.5 - 15.0 cm).
- 'Edith Bogue' was brought to the coastal plain of New Jersey from Florida in the 1920s. The original tree sent to Edith A. Bogue from Florida helped to establish cold-hardy specimens in the Middle Atlantic states from Delaware to coastal Connecticut. Once established, 'Edith Bouge' has been known to have only minor spotting and margin burn on the leaf in temperatures as low as -5 °F (-20 °C). With a vigorous classic pyramidal shape, this cultivar grows to 35 ft with a 15-ft spread.
- 'Angustifolia', developed in France in 1825, has narrow, spear-shaped leaves 20 cm (8 in) long by 11 cm (4.4 in) wide, as its name suggests.
- 'Exmouth' was developed in the early 18th century by John Colliton in Devon. It is notable for its huge flowers, with up to 20 tepals, and vigorous growth. Erect in habit, it is often planted against walls. The leaves are green above and brownish underneath. The flowers are very fragrant and the leaves are narrow and leathery.
- 'Goliath' was developed by Caledonia Nurseries of Guernsey, and has a bushier habit and globular flowers of up to 30 cm (12 in) diameter. Long-flowering, it has oval leaves which lack the brownish hair underneath.
- 'Little Gem', a dwarf cultivar, is grown in more moderate climates, roughly from Maryland and the Virginias southward. Originally developed in 1952 by Steed's Nursery in Candor, North Carolina, it is a slower-growing form with a columnar shape which reaches around 4.25 m (14 ft) high and 1.2 m (4 ft) wide. Flowering heavily over an extended period in warmer climate, it bears medium-sized, cup-shaped flowers, and has elliptic leaves 12.5 cm (5 in) long by 5 cm (2 in) wide.
Other commonly grown cultivars include:
- 'Ferruginea' has dark-green leaves with rust-brown undersides.
- 'Southern Charm' has large oval leaves, bushy habit, and smaller growth. It is also known as 'Teddy Bear'.
M. grandiflora contains phenolic constituents shown to possess significant antimicrobial activity. Magnolol, honokiol, and 3,5′-diallyl-2′-hydroxy-4-methoxybiphenyl exhibited significant activity against Gram-positive and acid-fast bacteria and fungi. The leaves contain coumarins and sesquiterpene lactones. The sesquiterpenes are known to be costunolide, parthenolide, costunolide diepoxide, santamarine, and reynosin.
Magnolia grandiflora (southern magnolia) – a large tree at Hemingway, South Carolina
- Gardiner, p. 144
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- Antimicrobial activity of phenolic constituents of magnolia grandiflora L. Alice M. Clark, Arouk S. El-Feraly, Wen-Shyong Li, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, August 1981, Volume 70, Issue 8, pages 951–952, doi:10.1002/jps.2600700833
- Coumarins and sesquiterpene lactones from Magnolia grandiflora leaves. Yang MH, Blunden G, Patel AV, O'Neill MJ and Lewis JA, Planta medica, 1994, vol. 60, no 4, pages 390-390, INIST:11250251
- Isolation and characterization of the sesquiterpene lactones costunolide, parthenolide, costunolide diepoxide, santamarine, and reynosin from Magnolia grandiflora L. Farouk S. El-Feraly and Yee-Ming Chan, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, March 1978, Volume 67, Issue 3, pages 347–350, doi:10.1002/jps.2600670319
Magnolia grandiflora is an escape, and it naturalizes in the tidewater area of Virginia and locally elsewhere beyond its natural range in the southeastern United States. It ranks among the noblest of North American broadleaved trees and is cultivated widely in the United States and in many other countries. A large number of cultivars have been introduced to horticulture.
Southern magnolia ( Magnolia grandiflora ) is the state tree of both Louisiana and Mississippi.
The largest known tree of Magnolia grandiflora, 37.2m in height with a trunk diameter of 1.97m, is recorded from Smith County, Mississippi (American Forestry Association 1994).
The Choctaw and Koasati tribes used the bark of Magnolia grandiflora as dermatological and kidney aids (D.A. Moerman 1986).
Names and Taxonomy
The currently accepted scientific name for southern magnolia is Magnolia
grandiflora L. . The genus Magnolia consists of 35 species of
deciduous or evergreen trees or shrubs in North and Central America,
eastern Asia and the Himalayas; nine species are native to the United