12 Common Species of Magnolia Trees and Shrubs

Varieties of magnolia trees

The Spruce, 2018

Often considered classic trees and shrubs symbolizing the South, Magnolia is a remarkably diverse genus of plants that includes many species suitable for colder climates. Magnolias are generally known for having large, leathery leaves and impressive white or pink flowers that appear very early in spring—often before the leaves even emerge. Magnolias can be evergreen or deciduous, depending on where they are growing. Some species are multi-stemmed shrubby plants, while others are classic upright trees that are quite massive in size. Some species change their growth habits depending on climate and environment.

Magnolias are somewhat unique among flowering trees and shrubs in their tolerance for shady conditions. But if you are planning to plant a magnolia tree in your yard, make sure your soil has good drainage. These plants generally do not do well with wet feet in boggy soil.

Tip

Magnolias generally like acidic soil, and if you have neutral or alkaline soil, you can heavily amend it with peat moss to lower the pH before planting. However, you will need to continue adjusting the pH periodically by mulching around the plant with pine needles or another acidic mulch, or by feeding it with an acid fertilizer to keep the plant healthy.

  • 01 of 12

    Anise Magnolia (Magnolia salicifolia)

    Anise Magnolia
    Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane/Getty Images

    The anise magnolia has leaves that look somewhat like those of a willow tree or shrub. They are wider than willow leaves but not as wide as the usual magnolia leaf (another common name is willow-leaf magnolia). This deciduous tree will produce white flowers with strappy petals before the leaves unfurl in the spring. Fall color is a pleasing golden yellow.

    • Native Area: Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Height: up to 50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 02 of 12

    Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)

    Bigleaf Magnolia

    Wendy Cutler/ Getty Images/ CC BY-SA 2.0

    Bigleaf magnolia lives up to its name, producing leaves that can be up to 32 inches long. Like most magnolias, it is normally a deciduous tree, though it can be somewhat evergreen in the warmer zones. The blooms, which normally appear in May, are as much as 10 inches across and are white with purple petal bases.

    • Native Area: Southeastern U.S., Mexico
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 30 to 40 feet; occasionally to 60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 03 of 12

    Ashe's Magnolia (Magnolia ashei)

    Ashe's Magnolia

    MeganEHansen/ Flickr/ CC BY-SA 2.0

    Ashe's magnolia can be either a large shrub or a small tree, depending on how it is pruned. It is sometimes treated as a subspecies of the bigleaf magnolia (its leaves are as much as 2 feet long). Its name was given in honor of William Willard Ashe of the United States Forest Service. The white flowers have petals up to 1 foot long, blooming after the light-green leaves have emerged in the spring.

    • Native Area: Florida
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6 to 9
    • Height: up to 30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 04 of 12

    Cucumber Tree (Magnolia acuminata)

    Cucumber magnolia tree

     

    magicflute002 / Getty Images

    Cucumber tree magnolia is so named because the fruits look somewhat like that vegetable. This is the most cold-hardy of the magnolias, but while it has the large glossy leaves (up to 10 inches long) and large growth habit of the classic southern magnolias, the greenish, tulip-shaped flowers are much less showy— only about 2 inches across. The fruits that follow the flowers turn from green to red as they mature. This can be a good shade tree or specimen tree for colder climates, provided you willing to tolerate the mess that goes with the large leaves.

    • Native Area: Appalachian regions of U.S., southern Ontario
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Height: 60 to 80 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Lily Magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora)

    Magnolia (Magnolia liliflora nigra x veicthii) 'Raspberry Ice'
    Vicki Gardner / Getty Images

    The lily magnolia is one of the smaller species, growing as a shrub or small tree. In early spring before the leaves open, this shrub puts out a huge flush of lightly perfumed reddish purple or pink flowers shaped like lilies. A favorite cultivar, 'Nigra', is renowned for deeper-color flowers. After the flowers, dark green elliptical leaves appear. This species is one of the parents of the saucer magnolia.

    • Native Area: Southwest China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 10
    • Height: 8 to 12 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 06 of 12

    Kobus Magnolia (Magnolia kubos)

    Picture of the Kobus Magnolia Tree
    Georgianna Lane/ Alloy/ Getty Images

    The Kobus magnolia is a slow-growing species that exhibits many of the classic magnolia traits—fragrant white flowers tinged with pink that appear before the leaves open, and large, dark-green leaves. Also known as Japanese magnolia or northern Japanese magnolia, it is most often planted as a specimen tree where early-season flowers are desired. This species tends to form multiple trunks, but pruning it back to a central leader will give it a more traditional tree-like shape.

    Kobus magnolia is one of the parent species (Stella magnolia is the other) that together produce the Loebner magnolia.

    • Native Area: Japan, Korea
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 25 to 50 feet, occasionally 75 feet with very old trees
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 07 of 12

    Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia × loebneri)

    Loebner Magnolia

     hkuchera / Getty Images

    The Loebner magnolia is a hybrid produced by crossing Kobus magnolia and star magnolia. This small tree usually has multiple stems, but you can create a central leader by pruning. Fragrant star-shaped white flowers 4 to 6 inches wide appear in spring before the foliage emerges. The dark green oval leaves are smaller than with other magnolias, no more than 5 inches long.

    • Native Area: hybrid plant; no natural range
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 30 feet; occasionally as tall as 60 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 08 of 12

    Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana)

    Saucer magnolia

    Landscapes, Seascapes, Jewellery & Action Photographer / Getty Images 

    Created by crossing the lily magnolia and the Yulan magnolia, the saucer magnolia can either be a large shrub with multiple stems or a small tree. The white blooms with pink interiors typically appear in early spring before the leaves appear. Many cultivars are available offering different flower colors, ranging to a deep purple. This is the most commonly grown magnolia in the U.S., sometimes known as tulip tree.

    • Native Area: hybrid plant; no natural range
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Height: 20 to 25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

    Magnolia grandiflora

    Mary Shattock/ Flickr/ CC By 2.0

    When people think of magnolias or read about them in novels of the antebellum South, the southern magnolia is very likely the plant that comes to mind. This magnolia's flower is the state flower of Louisiana and Mississippi. Southern magnolia is a large evergreen tree that needs lots of space. The elliptical leaves are large and leathery, up to 10 inches long, and the white flowers appearing in late spring can be as much as 12 inches across. While most magnolias prefer full sun but tolerate some shade, this is a magnolia that actually does best in part shade.

    • Native Area: Southeastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9
    • Height: 60 to 80 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 10 of 12

    Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

    Star Magnolia
    Cyndi Monaghan/Getty Images

    Star magnolia is deciduous small tree or large shrub that produces star-shaped white flowers in later winter or early spring, before any other flowering tree and before even most spring bulbs. When possible, plant it in a sheltered location to help it flower in the spring, as the buds are easily damaged by frost.

    • Native Area: Japan
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Height: 15 to 20 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 11 of 12

    Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

    Sweet Magnolia
    Masahiro Nakano/a.collectionRF/Getty Images

    Regionally, this plant may also be known as beaver tree, swamp magnolia, or laurel magnolia. In cooler locations, the sweetbay magnolia is usually a deciduous shrubby plant with multiple stems, while in warmer zones it tends to be an upright tree that remains evergreen. It is an excellent plant for boggy locations or clay soils. Waxy white flowers appear in mid-spring; the shiny green oblong leaves have silvery undersides.

    • Native Area: Eastern U.S.
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 10
    • Height: 10 to 35 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • 12 of 12

    Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)

    Magnolia tripetala

     Joshua McCullough, PhytoPhoto / Getty Images

    The umbrella magnolia is named for the enormous shiny leaves (up to 24 inches long and 10 inches across), which droop down around the ends of the branches. This is a multi-stemmed small tree; its native habitat is the understory forests of Appalachia, so this is a plant that does very well in shady locations. The creamy white flowers, 6 to 10 inches across, appear just after the leaves emerge.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Height: 15 to 30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Magnolias are especially susceptible to fungal diseases, which generally manifest in various types of leaf spots. Trees and shrubs in wet, shady, humid locations are most likely to be affected. Keeping the tree or shrub well pruned to remove diseased or damaged branches may prevent fungal diseases; or, preventive sprays of fungicide can help. Good pruning to improve air circulation is also a good preventive measure.