Notable Natives: Sweet Bay Magnolia

Notable Natives: Sweet Bay Magnolia

Let me sing the praises of our native magnolia, Magnolia virginiana. This is a tree that has so many great qualities that it’s surprising that more aren’t planted on the Cape and Islands. Here are just some of the reasons to plant this lovely tree.

  • Magnolia virginiana grows 15 to 25 feet tall in this area. It usually forms multiple trunks, which create a lovely rounded shape. These can be pruned away for a single trunk, or you can leave a group of 3 or 5 to create a pleasing multi-stemmed plant.
  • The sweet bay magnolia is semi-evergreen in this area. See the photo below of how my tree looks this week…about half of the leaves remain on the tree all winter, finally falling in the early spring as the new foliage breaks dormancy.
  • This tree has white, fragrant flowers in late May into early June. As the flowers age they turn an antique tan-white color that is also quite lovely.
  • The leaves on this tree are a bright green on top and silver underneath. When our Cape Cod sea breeze moves this foliage, you see the flashes of the silver undersides.
  • Magnolia virginiana grows well in average to moist garden soil, in full sun to part shade. Other than the optional removal of extra trunks, this tree requires no pruning and isn’t prone to any particular pests or diseases.
  • Grow this tree in acidic soil.
Here is how a multi-stemmed sweet bay magnolia looks in the fall. As you can see, the shrubs around it have lost their leaves, but the Magnolia retains the green and silver foliage.
This flower bud hasn’t yet opened fully. You can see the silver underside of the leaves on the right side of this picture.
Here is a young Magnolia virginiana growing among other native plants on Martha’s Vineyard. Don’t be afraid to plant small plants; this tree grows quickly!
The white flowers are fragrant, especially in the evening and early morning.
Here is how my sweet bay magnolia looks this week. Although the remaining leaves are a bit winter-worn, they remain on the tree until the new foliage begins to flush out in April.
Here are two leaves in March – still green and silver after a cold winter.

Hyannis Country Garden will be stocking some 2 gallon pots of this notable native tree this year. This is the perfect size for homeowners to plant themselves, and since this tree grows quickly, there is no reason not to start with a small plant. Place Magnolia virginiana in a place where it can grow up to 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

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