Saucer magnolia

Saucer magnolia, early blooms
Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
This tree is located in my backyard! It's one of my favorite trees with its lovely flowers, heavy floral perfume, and rich, leafy green canopy during the summertime.
Selena Lee
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
5.90 m
Diameter at breast height: 
0.57 m

The bark is quite smooth with a silvery-gray and mottled coloring. I particularly love the patina of lichen that blends with the color of the bark.
Twigs & branches
The branches of the magnolia are relatively thin, but sturdy, and branch out from a multi-stem tree trunk. Flowers bloom on bare branches before leaves have appeared.
The saucer magnolia has a simple leaf morphology with its organization of leaves and buds, and an alternate leaf arrangement along the branches. The leaf shape is obovate with a cuneate leaf base. The leaf margin is smooth and entire. The leaf apices seem to be either acuminate or cuspidate. The leaf venation is pinnate. Broadly, the leaves are smooth and delicate with no hair or waxy cuticle. The coloring is a vibrant green that deepens to a darker green over the course of the year. Leaves are generally around 4 inches long.
Reproductive Structures
The saucer magnolia flowers are large, cup-like, and solitary with thick, soft petals and exude a strongly floral perfume. The flowers are a purplish pink on the outside ad a creamy white on the inside. These flowers have 6-12 petals present and are bisexual with both male and female organs present. Magnolias are pollinated by insects, with beetles and flies as the main pollinators. The flowers bloom long before the first leaves appear. The buds are fuzzy with a felt-like exterior and a dark green, brown coloring.
Saucer magnolia fruits aggregate into clusters and are about 1-3 inches long all together with a knobby surface and red coloring. Generally, few fruit are produced annually. Reddish-orange seeds emerge from the fruit in late summer (August and September).
  • Saucer magnolia in late March (flowers just emerging at top)
  • Magnolia in early April (blooming flowers at top)
  • Magnolia with flowers in early April (top view)
  • Magnolia and leaves in late April (flowers slightly battered from snowstorm a week ago)
Natural range of distribution: 
The saucer magnolia is a cross of two magnolia species: the Magnolia denudata (Yulan magnnolia) and the Magnolia liliiflora. Both parent species are native to China with the Yulan magnolia native to central and eastern China, and the other parent native to southwest China (Sichuan and Yunnan provinces). The hybrid was originally created in France (see yellow dot for location on map).
Origin, history, and uses: 
The saucer magnolia is actually a hybrid plant originating in France and was initially bred by Étienne Soulange-Bodin, a cavalry officer under Napoleon. The parent species, however, are native to China and have been cultivated in China and Japan for centuries. The Yulan magnolia, one of these parent species, has a particularly interesting significance and has been cultivated since the Tang Dynasty in 618 CE. The Yulan magnolia flowers served as a symbol of purity, were planted in the emperor’s garden and outside monasteries, and were widely celebrated on embroidery, porcelain, and scrolls. The petals are a delicacy when lightly fried in flour. The Yulan magnolia was the first magnolia to be introduced to the West from Asia. Magnolias became more frequent in American landscapes around the 1940s.
Magnolia are among the most ancient of flowering plants, having existed for over 95 million years. Because they existed before many of the more complex pollinators, such as birds, butterflies, and bees, had even evolved, beetles serve as the main pollinators. Thus, magnolia trees attract beetles with their strong fragrance and bright, vibrant flowers.
Saucer magnolias are much beloved decorative trees and are widely planted throughout the United States.
The saucer magnolia is a deciduous tree with buds and blooms arriving around March-April and leaves in April. The leaves deepen in their green color over the summer, and a few fruits appear in the late summer. The leaves eventually turn yellow before falling in autumn. The branches are bare in the winter time, as the tree hibernates.
“Magnolia Denudata (Feb).” SF Botanical Garden,
“Magnolias and Pollination.” University of Illinois Extension, 5 May 2018, 
Minter, Brian. “Brian Minter: The Long History of Magnolias.” Vancouversun, Vancouver Sun, 26 Apr. 2019, 
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