The twigs show alternate leaf arrangements and conspicuous terminal buds. The sweetbay magnolia typically grows as a multi-stemmed specimen but can be found with a single trunk. First-year stems are green with slightly raised leaf scars, turning from greenish-brown to gray in the second year. The tree's terminal floral or vegetative buds are much larger than the laterals, all of which are slightly pubescent, but not nearly as large or prominent as saucer, star, or hybrid magnolias. The stems are branched sympodially (several stems arise from the same point on a young branch, resembling fingers originating from an upturned hand).