Magnolia flowers are among the oldest flowering plants still in existence. There are fossils of magnolias which we’ve managed to date back 95 million years.
To put this into perspective, the genus Magnolia is older than the existence of bees, when these gorgeous plants were pollinated by beetles.
You can still see some of that history today within the flowers, as they are very robust, and have evolved to stop the beetles from damaging the carpels in the flowers.
Here’s everything you need to know about the magnolia, including types you should grow yourself, where to place them, how to care for them, and more.
At a Glance: What You Should Know About the Magnolia Tree
All magnolia plants belong to the Magnoliaceae plant family, and there are no prizes for guessing the common name.
Magnolias are highly adaptable plants, and while they are tough, they also produce some of the most fantastic flower displays.
While there are more than 200 species of magnolias within the genus, the defining characteristic across all of these plants is their stunning flowers.
In the deciduous types, these flowers appear on the bare stems. The glossy, ovate leaves only emerge after the flowers have finished.
These flowers are usually quite large, sometimes larger than the leaves, and depending on the type of magnolia, they can take a bowl-shape, or take a star-like appearance. The color varies from white, soft pink, deep pink, yellow, deep purple, or green.
These flowers don’t have petals or sepals, but they are made up of tepals, which is what we call these parts of the flower when we cannot distinguish if they are one or the other.
As if their plethora of color wasn’t enough, some magnolia blooms are also highly scented.
The Curious History Behind The Magnolia Tree
The magnolia is one of the oldest surviving flowering trees still in existence today, having lived longer, well before bees as we know them today have existed on earth.
This means that the flowers have no nectar, as they aren’t a food source for bees.
So what was the purpose of the flowers, if there were no bees to pollinate them? Well, they were still used for reproduction as they produce pollen, but instead of being pollinated by bees, they were pollinated by beetles.
When you think about it, it makes sense that the flowers are so robust, as bees are very gentle with flowers, but beetles are not.
The name Magnolia honors Pierre Magnol, a French botanist who invented the concept of classifying plants by plant families, which allows, even today, some plants to be instantly recognizable.
Types of Magnolia You Should Consider Growing in Your Own Garden
With so many species of magnolia, it can be overwhelming to try to start somewhere when you want to grow your own.
Here is just a snapshot of the many types you can grow in your own green oasis to add a sea of color and a little history into your own garden, to help get you started.
Magnolia acuminata ‘Cucumber Tree’
The Cucumber tree, or Magnolia acuminata, is a unique magnolia known for producing unusual fruit, as well as being one of the biggest magnolias, and among the most cold-resistant.
The leaves are more ornamentally prized than the flowers, as these petite, yellow-green blooms tend to get lost among the glossy foliage.
It’s a great option if you want a substitute for a walnut tree, as it features a very large trunk, which can get to an impressive size of 5 feet wide once mature.
It produces a fruit which resembles a small cucumber until it ripens, deepening into a lovely shade of crimson.
The cucumber tree is often used to provide shade during the summer months, and it drops all of its leaves in the winter, helping to keep light levels in your garden relatively high.
Magnolia ashei ‘Ashes Magnolia’
The ashes magnolia is renowned for its striking white flowers, speckled with purple at the base, and these fabulous blooms are highly fragranced. Some liken the smell to jasmine or citrus.
This is a perfect magnolia to have near seating areas, pathways, or entrances to your home, to really maximize on these beautiful flowers and their heavy perfume.
Each flower can grow up to 25cm in diameter, and it loves warm weather.
Magnolia champaca ‘Champak Magnolia’
The Champak magnolia thrives in humidity, so while it’s not a good choice for colder climates, it’s a perfect choice for subtropical or tropical gardens.
This particular magnolia produces brilliant orange flowers, contrasting well against the glossy foliage.
It’s not a good magnolia to try and grow from seed – hardly any magnolias are easy to grow from seed at all – so make sure you get at least a juvenile plant.
The Champak magnolia is, unfortunately, a little more high maintenance than other magnolias on this list. It needs a warm environment, frequent watering, and protection from cold temperatures. It also requires excellent drainage.
Magnolia denudata ‘Forrest’s Pink’
This lovely magnolia is one of the prettiest as well as being incredibly hardy. It produces fantastic baby pink flowers, the color deepening at the base of each bloom.
Gradually, the cup-shaped flowers open when they get older, allowing them to resemble lilies.
Magnolia denudata ‘Yellow River Magnolia’
If you’re after a fragrant magnolia in an unusual color, the yellow river magnolia is a good option.
It helps that this particular magnolia is very low maintenance, and it creates an uplifting and cheerful display of sunny yellow flowers opening in spring, on the bare branches of the magnolia.
When the flowers have just opened, they can be pickled and eaten, too.
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Southern Magnolia’
If you’re someone who prefers the traditional white magnolia flowers, the Southern magnolia is perfect.
It’s an evergreen, so it will provide your garden with color and structure all year round, and during the late spring, it will produce white flowers which will repeat bloom in both summer and autumn.
The flowers themselves don’t have a long lifespan, usually about three days each. But what the blooms lack in longevity, they make up for in their abundance.
Magnolia kobus ‘Kobus Magnolia’
A close relative of Magnolia stellata, or the star magnolia, you can see the resemblance in the kobus magnolia’s flowers, which are star-shaped.
These brilliant blooms brighten up any landscape, completely covering the branches of the tree, and while it’s a slow-growing tree, the wait is definitely worth it.
In Asada, a bronze-age settlement, archeologists found a kobus magnolia seed, dated to be a couple of thousand years old. Surprisingly, it germinated, which is a testament to the tough nature of these beautiful plants.
Magnolia liliflora ‘Lily Magnolia’
If you’d like a magnolia which will thrive in a smaller garden, the lily magnolia can grow as either a shrub or a compact tree, or even as a hedge if you train it.
It puts on a fantastic display in spring, consisting of light purple flowers shaped like lilies, each composed of six or seven petals.
Magnolia macrophylla ‘Bigleaf Magnolia’
Both the leaves and the flowers of this magnolia make this plant a remarkable focal point in any large garden.
The leaves themselves can reach between 30 and 90cm long, and huge white blooms get to about 25cm in diameter.
It’s not a magnolia that’s great for smaller gardens, because of its large size, which is capable of 40 feet in the right conditions.
It adds a wonderful tropical feel to large gardens, and it’s high maintenance to match. It needs somewhere sheltered, as wind or cold temperatures damage the leaves, but it will withstand some dry spells, making it suitable for hotter climates.
Magnolia salicifolia ‘Anise Magnolia’
Also known as the willow-leaved magnolia, the anise magnolia produces white flowers in abundance on the bare branches in spring, heavily scented in notes of citrus or anise.
The leaves are much narrower than the bigleaf magnolia, with silvery undersides, and the tree has a bushy habit.
Magnolia salicifolia ‘Wada’s Memory Magnolia’
If you want the most amount of white flowers a magnolia is capable of producing, ‘Wada’s Memory’ is the perfect option. It features semi-double brilliant white blooms which are sure to create a dramatic focal point in any garden.
The foliage starts off as a lovely bronze before it matures to green, turning a buttery gold in autumn, providing color even when the flowers have finished.
It helps that this magnolia is fully hardy, resistant to nearly anything that winter can throw at it. While it is hardy, you’re better off growing it somewhere sheltered, as the wind can knock the flowers off before they are ready to drop.
If you prefer, you can also grow this magnolia as a smaller shrub rather than a tree.
Magnolia sprengeri var. diva ‘Diva Magnolia’
If pink is more your color when it comes to magnolias, ‘Diva’ features rich pink flowers in early or mid-spring, and has the added benefit of the blooms being highly scented.
These flowers can reach a maximum of 20cm in diameter in an eye-catching saucer shape, and the blossoms can feature up to 14 tepals per flower, maximizing the amount of color on the tree.
‘Diva’ flowers at a much younger age than other magnolias, which can easily take 10 years or longer to bloom.
Magnolia sprengeri var. diva ‘Copeland Court Magnolia’
‘Copeland Court Magnolia’ is a favorite of many, producing tulip-shaped, bubblegum-pink blooms during the middle of spring.
Gradually, the flowers open out, only adding to the opulent display on bare branches. It also helps that because it flowers in the middle of spring, it usually manages to avoid most frosts which would damage the flowers, unlike those magnolias that flower at the beginning of spring.
This particular variety has won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, highlighting its beauty.
You can also recognize it for its obovate foliage, which is a deep green, the undersides silvery green.
Magnolia stellata ‘Centennial’
This magnificent magnolia has won awards across the world, and it’s not difficult to see why.
It can flower in the last few weeks of winter, or the first few weeks of spring, each stunning water-lily like bloom in a cosmic white, measuring 14cm in diameter.
Magnolia stellata ‘Jane Platt’
If you love the shape of the Magnolia stellata, or the star magnolia, but you’d prefer it in pink, ‘Jane Platt’ is the cultivar for you.
Each double-form, baby pink flower is lightly scented, appearing well before the leaves either in early or mid-spring.
The flowers fill out the branches with up to 32 tepals per bloom. ‘Jane Platt’ has also received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Magnolia stellata ‘Star Magnolia’
The starry magnolia, or Magnolia stellata features lovely white flowers, spreading up to 10cm per bloom, and flowers in early spring.
As it has a slow growth habit, this makes it perfect for small gardens. Like all magnolias, it needs a sheltered position to hold onto its flowers for as long as possible.
Magnolia tripetala ‘Umbrella Magnolia’
The leaves are something special in the umbrella magnolia. As you might expect, they are huge, getting as large as 2 feet long, offsetting the cream flowers nicely.
The flowers themselves appear from May into the first week or two of June, and you’ll also see this magnolia producing red fruit in autumn.
Magnolia virginiana ‘Sweetbay Magnolia’
Depending on where you live, the sweetbay magnolia can be evergreen, or if it’s somewhere colder, it will drop it’s lance-shaped foliage in the winter.
It’s a late-flowering magnolia, with the flowers emerging during the last two weeks of spring or the first few weeks of summer.
The blooms themselves are white, carrying a refreshing citrus scent, and they will open during the day and close when night falls.
Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird Magnolia’
The scientific name of the yellow bird magnolia references the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, where this gorgeous hybrid magnolia was introduced.
During the last few weeks of spring, this magnolia bursts into color, both the flowers and the leaves emerge pretty much at the same time, the magnificent yellow offsetting the rich green foliage.
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’
This particular magnolia provides an interesting display of light pink flowers in mid-spring, as they start off life resembling tulips, and as they mature, they open out into a starry form.
This is a classic magnolia where the flowers form on the bare branches, making them the perfect showstopper for the middle of spring.
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Loebner Magnolia’
A cross between a kobus magnolia and the starry magnolia stellata, this compact tree has gorgeous white flowers to match.
These blooms emerge in mid-spring, and while they are more petite than other types, these starry flowers are no less beautiful than the dinner-plate sized flowers.
Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill Magnolia’
If you can’t decide between magnolias which produce pink flowers, or those which produce white flowers, why not go for ‘Merrill’?
This particular variety features white, heavily-scented flowers which are white and touched with pink on bare branches during spring.
Each bloom can contain 15 petals.
Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alba Superba’
This magnolia is capable of reaching a maximum height of 7 meters tall, each flower can get as large as 20cm long if the plant is given the right conditions.
The blooms themselves are tulip-shaped, white, with a touch of purple at the base of each.
Magnolia x soulangiana ‘Saucer Magnolia’
A fairly older variety that has weathered changing tastes, the saucer magnolia grows as a shrub, and if you want it to grow into a tree, you’ll need to train it to do so.
The flowers can range from pink with white, deep pink, or even purple, depending on the cultivar.
It’s worth noting that the saucer magnolia hates extremes when it comes to soil, too dry or too wet will make the plant suffer.
One of the most pigmented-flowering magnolias out there, ‘Ann’ produces deep purple, chalice-shaped flowers, which are white or pale pink on the inside.
It flowers from mid-spring onward, which has the advantage of dodging at least some of the frosts of early spring.
Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’
One of the darkest-flowering magnolias you can get, this unique magnolia boasts rich, dark purple blooms which look like tulips, hence the name.
The unique color as well as the unusual form creates a perfectly dramatic focal point in any garden, and these flowers emerge well before the leaves, making sure they are not upstaged.
When it comes to yellow magnolias, you’ll find it difficult to source one that flowers earlier than ‘Butterflies’, in such a vivid yellow.
It helps that these gorgeous, tulip-shaped flowers emerge before the leaves have a chance to form, the bare branches providing a nice contrast to these bright flowers.
You can also grow ‘Butterflies’ as a magnificent hedge, if you prefer your garden color to help screen your green space, too.
‘Daybreak’ is a lovely magnolia which features light green foliage, and light pink flowers. Like all deciduous magnolias, this type produces its flowers before its leaves, and these blooms feature a lemony scent.
The flowers themselves can reach up to 25cm in diameter, while this magnolia is compact enough for smaller garden spaces.
A cross between Magnolia liliiflora and Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’, ‘Galaxy’ produces deep pink flowers in the middle of spring. When the buds first appear, they are a dark reddish-purple, contrasting well with the bare branches.
While the color of these blooms are certainly the star of this particular magnolia, they are also slightly scented, and the leaves are a feature in their own right, in a rich, deep green.
Magnolia ‘Hot Flash’
One of the fastest-growing yellow magnolias around, ‘Hot Flash’ lives up to its name, putting on a sunny display of lemon-yellow blooms just as the leaves begin to emerge.
It’s the perfect variety if you want to brighten up a space and fill it with color, as long as you give it consistently moist soil, somewhere sheltered.
Magnolia ‘Ivory Chalice’
If you’d prefer pale cream flowers, ‘Ivory Chalice’ is a good choice. The flowers nearly take over the bare branches of the tree, with only the silhouette of the stems showing through this glorious display of color.
Each bloom can reach 15cm wide, and they appear from late winter into the first few weeks of spring.
‘Pinkie’ provides a colorful show throughout the flowering season. The flowers start off as a reddish-purple, maturing to a baby pink, the inside of each flower turning completely white.
It’s a very compact magnolia, which makes it perfect for gardens that are on the small side. It’s a perfect focal point in spring, no matter what garden scheme you have in your own green space.
Magnolia ‘Star Wars’
It’s not difficult to see why ‘Star Wars’ has won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. This magnolia produces massive flowers, reaching 28cm in diameter, in shades of rose pink, during the middle of spring.
The flowers can last until the start of summer in some cases, too.
How to Make Sure a Magnolia Thrives
Now that you may have an idea of what kind of magnolia you’d like to grow in your own garden, it’s worth looking into how to care for it.
Magnolias are not very difficult to look after, though some can be more demanding than others, depending on where they’ve come from, and the conditions within your own garden.
It’s worth looking at how big a certain species of magnolia can grow (see also Guide To Magnolias), as some may not suit your space, or you might find one that fills it with color better.
Magnolias like to spread, although most are slow-growing to begin with, they’ll get bigger faster than you might think.
Soil & Position
Magnolias love rich soil which drains well. If you don’t have rich soil, you can always feed your magnolia to start with in order to encourage it to establish quicker, or you can mulch the surface around it to give it a helping hand.
They also need acidic soil in order to thrive. If that isn’t possible in your garden, you could try growing a dwarf magnolia in a container.
Magnolia trees like a sheltered position, and this will stop the wind from knocking off flowers before they are ready to drop from the tree.
You can place them either in full sunlight or partial shade, but most do their best under the most sunlight possible, where they will produce more flowers.
If you’re planting a new magnolia, you’ll need to make sure the hole you’re putting it into is twice the width of the roots. This is a lot of digging, but the roots require plenty of space.
You can either water the hole, or the magnolia itself once you’ve covered the roots with soil.
Do You Need to Feed or Water a Magnolia Tree?
Magnolias require more water when they are establishing themselves into the soil, and they should be able to take care of themselves after that. Normal rainfall should be enough to irrigate it once the roots have settled.
You don’t need to feed a magnolia tree, as it will get its nutrients from the soil.
Do You Prune a Magnolia Tree?
Not really, no. The only time you need to prune a magnolia is to take off any damaged or diseased foliage, or if the branches are growing somewhere you don’t want them to.
Make sure to prune the tree after it has finished flowering.
Pests and Disease to Watch Out For
Magnolias are very robust shrubs, and it is very unlikely that you’ll encounter any pests or disease. If your magnolia starts to look sick, the soil type may be wrong.
There are some fungal diseases that you need to be aware of. If there’s not enough ventilation, the leaves may discolor. You should always pick up any fallen leaves or flowers, as leaving them on the ground around the magnolia can invite disease.
If a branch dies all of a sudden, but the rest of the magnolia is fine, your magnolia may have canker. Take off any branches that have strange knots or peeling bark as soon as you notice them.
If part of the magnolia bark starts to leak, or the leaves wilt on only part of the tree, it’s time to contact a tree surgeon. This might sound scary, but it’s better to be safe. The tree may have wood rot.
Magnolia: Frequently Asked Questions
Do Magnolia Trees Grow Quickly?
Most magnolias are slow-growing, but that doesn’t mean they cannot get large with time. Some trees can grow up to 70 feet high, depending on the species, the conditions they’re grown in, and the space they have.
Can Magnolia Trees Bloom Twice a Year?
Some magnolia trees are capable of flowering more than once in a year. The first flush, in spring, will have a huge amount of flowers covering the branches, while the second, usually in late summer, will have fewer flowers.
Is a Magnolia a Shrub or a Tree?
Magnolias are both. They start off as small shrubs, and can grow into much larger trees given the time and space to do so.
How Long do Magnolias Live For?
Give magnolias the right conditions, and some can live for at least four hundred tears, depending on the type.
A magnolia is a plant that you’re a custodian of, rather than an owner, similar to being a caretaker of a house. Someone will have it after you.