Southern Magnolia

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
The southern magnolia, a tree indigenous to the southeastern United States but sporadically found all along the East coast, is a broadleafed evergreen. It is relatively hardy, growing even in the colder climates of Washington, Michigan, and Maine, but fares best in the south. In fact, it is Mississippi's state tree. Southern magnolias typically grow to a height of sixty to eighty feet and a diameter of approximately forty feet. Because it can maintain its beautiful leaves year round, it is often planted as an ornamental flowering tree. It is also particularly sturdy, and as such is often used in the lumber industry to make furniture. Its alternate common names are laurel magnolia, evergreen magnolia, large-flower magnolia, and big laurel.
Juli Coraor, Hemali Shah, and Shreyas Panchagnula
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
6.45 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.15 m

Southern magnolia bark is typically gray and smooth, although it does tend to possess a number of small lenticels. Lenticels are tiny openings in the stems of plants that allows gas exchange to occur. In this way, their function is similar to that of stomata. Lenticels are features specific to dicots, and are critical to allowing gasses to reach the inner tissue layers within the stem. These gaps are created by cells within the periderm that have a particularly large intercellular space. The bark is a diaphoretic (inducing perspiration), stimulant, and tonic. It is sometimes used in the treatment of malaria and rheumatism.
Twigs & branches
Southern magnolia twigs are generally gray, brown and green. They are fairly brittle. The branches generally droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy. Its twigs are not particularly showy, but have are strong structure-wise.
Southern magnolia leaves are elliptical and pinnate with a main vein and a round, elongated, pointed body. These leaves are present year-round, and are typically dark green on top and rust colored on bottom with smooth edges. The leaves are approximately 5-10 inches long, and their shine is produced by the cuticle, a waxy coating that prevents water loss.
Reproductive Structures
As angiosperms, southern magnolias use flowers to reproduce. Southern magnolia flowers are perfect flowers, meaning they possess both male and female reproductive structures. Their creamy white flowers can grow up to a diameter of 12 inches and produce a strong fragrance that attracts pollinators, the majority of which are beetles. Its main flowering season is May through June. Southern magnolia flowers are perfect flowers, meaning they possess both male and female reproductive structures. These flowers are actually a main source of controversy among botanists, as they cause confusion regarding the classification of magnolia trees. Although southern magnolias possess a number of dicot features, most notably two cotyledons, their flowers actually have six petals, a feature usually belonging only to monocots. It is the state flower of Louisiana. Interestingly, the magnolia flower is associated with nobility, perseverance, dignity and a love of nature. The magnolia tree, in general, is a symbol of magnificence because of its impressive height and enormous flowers.
Southern magnolia possess some of the most primitive fruit among angiosperms. Their fruit are cone shaped, woody, and aggregate, and they are approximately 3-8 inches long. They are typically classified as a follicetum, an aggregate fruit composed of multiple follicles or carpels containing two or more seeds. As they mature, the flesh splits open, exposing the individual seeds covered in a red fleshy aril. These seeds are then eaten and spread by turkey, quail, opossums, and squirrels. Typically these trees can begin to produce seeds around ten years of age, and they reach peak seed production at around age twenty five.
  • Spring
  • Summer
These trees are found mostly in the southeastern United States, often at the edges of swamps or other bodies of water. Southern magnolias grow best on rich, loamy, moist soils along streams and near swamps in the Coastal Plain. They also grow on mesic upland sites where fire is rare. Additionally, in many urban areas where other species do poorly, this magnolia can grow because of its resistance to damage by sulfur dioxide. Southern Magnolias tend to coexist with other species such as sweet gum, black tupelo, and water oak. Depending upon the resources available, they can grow either as small shrubs or as large trees.
Origin, history, and uses: 

The name magnolia comes from a French botanist, Pierre Magnol, who admired the tree so much that he transplanted it to Europe 300 years ago. One famous specimen was transplanted by Andrew Jackson from his home in Nashville, Tennessee to the White House grounds in memory of his wife, Rachel. The tallest of the southern magnolias in the United States stands at 37m tall and resides in Smith County, Mississippi.

Interestingly, magnolia trees have been used for centuries in herbal remedies. The bark appears to have two main uses as a steroid and as an anti-anxiety medication. Two active ingredients have been isolated from the plant: honokiol and magnolol. Both are potent antioxidants, and honokiol has been shown to be up to five times stronger than Valium in its anti-anxiety effects. Magnolol, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the body’s production of corticosteroids, thereby reducing inflammation from autoimmune responses. As such, it has been used to treat asthma. Both compounds also appear to possess anti-microbial properties against gram positive and acid fast bacteria.

Phenology is the the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate changes. A phenophase is a distinct event in the annual life cycle. In plants, some examples of these observable events include budburst, first flower, first ripe fruit, and color change.The southern magnolia is an evergreen, and so its leaves are present year-round. Since it is an evergreen, its phenology is not very variable for the most part. However, there is some variation during the months of May-June when magnolia flowers begin to blossom. It is during these spring and summer months that southern magnolias have phenophases: first flower, full flower, first ripe fruit, and full fruiting.

Clark, A. M., F. S. El-Feraly, and W. S. Li. 1981. Antimicrobial activity of phenolic constituents of Magnolia grandiflora L. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 70(8):951-952

Davis, T. L. 1981. Chemistry of Magnolia grandiflora L. Diss. (Ph.D.) University of Florida, Gainesville. 117 p.

“Find a Vitamin or Supplement: Magnolia,” WebMD. URL:…

Guangson Pharmaceutical (GSP). 2007. Magnolia Bark Extract. Guangson Pharmaceutical. Retrieved November 21, 2007.

“Southern Magnolia,” National Arbor Day Foundation. URL:

“Magnolia Questions and Answers,” The United States National Arboretum. URL:

Other information of interest: 

A “steel magnolia” is a popular phrase used to describe the strength a Southern woman possesses. This phrase was popularized by the 1989 movie “Steel Magnolias” (see link below for the trailer, if interested!) in which six Southern women endure and rise above various hardships. The term refers to the delicate yet strong nature women have.

Media and Arts

Check out these videos for making origami magnolia flowers!


Excited for the tree presentation on this beautiful day!