How to Grow Anise Magnolia

Close showing the tepals of an anise magnolia flower

David Dixon/Getty Images 

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Flowering ornamentals are a reminder of a new spring for so many, and Magnolias are some of the best reminders of the new season that we have. Among a genus that is known for its beauty, some species can take your breath away and others just make you want to breathe it all in. 

The stunning Japanese native, Anise Magnolia, dazzles your eyes with white, delicate, star-like blossoms that are pre-cursors to the leaves of this deciduous magnolia. The flowers themselves provide enough of a wow factor, but as you come within range of the aroma, you will be surrounded by the mixture of an anise-lemon smell that is intoxicating. Even the bark will provide you with the fragrance when scratched.

To identify anise magnolia, besides the aroma, you can look for the blooms. The flowers are six-sided “petals” called tepals, with a hint of pink at the base. Its flowers blossom from bare branches in the early spring before the leaves unfurl.

The leaves are thin and willow-like, which is where the plant gets its botanical name. Salicifolia is a Latin word meaning willow-leafed. The leaves are unlike most other magnolias, so this is another easy way to identify the tree beside the aroma.

In the late summer, it bears fruits which are interesting to look at even before they ripen to startling red seed pods. They contrast with the dark green of the tree’s leaves. Later, In the fall the leaves turn a shocking golden-yellow before they are shed in the cooler weather. This is when the warming scents of lemon are given off by a scratch and sniff session on the aromatic bark, now unhindered by foliage.

The anise magnolia is available in several cultivars and has been used to parent many hybrid magnolias, most famously Magnolia x kewensis ‘Wada’s Memory’. If lemon and anise are not your favorite scent and you prefer orange blossom, then the hybrid might be for you. The flowers are different as well, being larger, more profuse, and having a tulip shape. 

Whatever you choose, the original variety, a cultivar, or a hybrid, this tree stands out in a landscape and can provide interest all year round with the assurance that it is deer resistant and does not require frequent pruning. 

Botanical Name Magnolia salicifolia
Common Name  Anise magnolia, Willow Leaf Magnolia 
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 20-30 feet
Sun Exposure Full Sun to Part shade
Soil Type Moist,Well Drained
Soil pH 4.5 -6.5
Bloom Time Early Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4b-9a
Native Range Japan
Toxicity Non-toxic

Anise Magnolia Care

Anise magnolia are relatively easy to grow trees. The biggest concern is finding a suitable place that is somewhat shielded from wind and with moist soil that has adequate drainage.  Also, it is a very ornamental tree so consider giving it a spot of prominence that can be seen, admired, and inhaled. Once the perfect spot is selected, you are ready to get your hands dirty and get to planting.

The first thing you will do is dig a hole twice as wide as your tree’s root ball, or container, and just as deep. Gently remove the tree from its burlap or container and set it in the hole making sure to keep it in an upright position as you fill the hole and compress the soil. Lightly mulch to a depth of three inches to the dripline of the tree making sure that no mulch touches the trunk of the tree.

If the tree is far from a water source, make a berm around the mulch to retain water and moisture, and soak the tree thoroughly. Water your magnolia regularly for the first year, until established.

Light

Your anise magnolia can handle full sun if it is watered regularly or is in an area with rich moist soil. If it does not have particularly moist soil, aim to plant it in a spot that gets part shade. 

Soil

The soil you use to plant your magnolia is going to be vital to its success and its best to test it for drainage ability. 

Dig a hole 12 inches wide by 12 inches deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but, this time, see how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil, the water will go down at a rate of about one inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions. 

A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a yellow flag that you may need to improve drainage with amendments, plant in a bed, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet soil conditions.

Acidic soil is best, but that can be handled later with amendments if your soil is not up to par. But testing the soil before planting, so you are ahead of the game, might not be a bad idea.

Water

During the first year or so, water your magnolia regularly as it becomes established. After the tree has become established, it should not need extra watering unless your area is experiencing drought conditions or is especially arid.

Temperature and Humidity

Anise magnolias do not do well in particularly cold or hot weather. They are frost hardy but do not like extremes. In summer temperatures they enjoy consistently moist soil, so they thrive with the occasional rainstorm.

Fertilizer

Fertilize Anise in late winter or early spring with a slow-release shrub or tree food that contains sulfur and iron. A second application can be given in late summer.

Is the Anise Magnolia Toxic?

The anise magnolia is not toxic. The dish has fallen out of favor, but during the colonial era the petals of the magnolia flowers were once eaten. They have a very strong flavor and taste much like they smell.

The preparation was to dilute the flavor by pickling the petals in a brine that was much like a sweet and sour pickle brine. The dried leaves of the magnolia were also commonly used much like the bay leaf to flavor soups, stews, and sauces.