Sweetbay Magnolia

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
Sweetbay magnolias are late-blooming trees that are native to the Eastern United States. They are deciduous trees that produce flowers and fruit. They also have a moderate salt tolerance, as well as fire resistance. Its high water tolerance does well in swampy, boggy habitats or near streams. They are usually around 10-30 feet tall, on some occasions, they can be 60 feet tall or, in Florida, 90 feet tall.
Tesse Okunseri, Ernestine Giahyue
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
3.70 m
Diameter at breast height: 
3.60 m

The bark type of the Sweetbay Magnolia is smooth in texture. The color of the bark is gray-brown. When the trees are young, the bark color tends to be greener but as the trees mature, the color becomes grayer. The bark is often mottled.
Twigs & branches
The branches of the trees are not thick and the twigs are very thin. They are brownish gray and some have a pale green color as well. The twigs and branches sometimes develop scales and the twigs are pubescent. The branches develop from the multi-stemmed trunk and they do not droop.
The foliage of Sweetbay Magnolia trees is alternate, elliptic, and simple. The leaves are 3-5 inches long and 1-2.5 inches wide. The color of the leaves tends to be dark green on top with a silvery green color on the underside.
Reproductive Structures
Sweetbay magnolias have white or cream-colored flowers - the smallest flowers of all native North American magnolias - that are cup-shaped and have a lemon-rose scent. They have a diameter of 2-3 inches and 9-12 petals. These flowers are also pollinated by insects. Sweetbay magnolias will spend 2-3 days with their flowers open in the morning and closed at night. In mid-spring, they start to bloom and will continue to do so sporadically until frost.
The Sweetbay Magnolia produces a 2-inch cone-like cluster of dark-red fruit, which produces red seeds. The seeds are flat and oval and they ripen during the late summer, attracting birds and other animals.
  • Winter
Natural range of distribution: 
Sweet Bay Magnolias are found in North America, specifically from the Eastern United States to near Texas and Cuba. They are usually planted in residential areas, parks, or under utility lines.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Sweetbay magnolias are part of the genus Magnolia, which was named after the 17th-century botanist Pierre Magnol. Though they are North American natives, they were introduced to European gardens in the 1600s. It was the first magnolia introduced to Great Britain. The North American colonists nicknamed them “Beaver Trees” because the colonists would use their roots as bait to trap beavers. Beavers are not the only animals that enjoy Sweetbay magnolias, though; cattle and deer eat the leaves and twigs, while squirrels, mice, turkeys, and quails eat the fruit. Additionally, Native Americans and European colonists used the bark to cure fevers and treat rheumatism. In contrast, the fruit was used for treating coughs and chest ailments. Sometimes, the wood is even used to make furniture.

Sweetbay magnolias bloom from late spring to early summer (April to July), bear fruit during the late summer and fall, and grow leaves during the spring and summer.

Friedman, W. (2015, June 19). Magnolia virginiana var. australis flower.​ Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, accession #1275-80*A​. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Magnolia_virginiana_flower_2.jpg

Kilpatrick, J. (n.d.). The best air purifying plants for your home. Home Guides | SF Gate. https://homeguides.sfgate.com/best-air-purifying-plants-13771628.html

Magnolia virginiana. (n.d.). North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/magnolia-virginiana/

MAGNOLIA VIRGINIANA (Sweetbay Magnolia). (n.d.). Pineland Nursery. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://www.pinelandsnursery.com/magnolia-virginiana-sweetbay-magnolia-2…

Sweetbay magnolia. (n.d.). The Morton Arboretum. https://mortonarb.org/plant-and-protect/trees-and-plants/sweetbay-magnolia/

sweetbay magnolia, M. virginiana var. australis. (n.d.). Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Retrieved April 16, 2023, from https://bernheim.org/learn/trees-plants/bernheim-select-urban-trees/swee…

TWC Staff. (2023, April 13). Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin. Wildflower.org. https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=mavi2