University of FloridaSolutions for Your Life

Download PDF
Publication #ENH1088

Promising New Evergreen Magnolias for Florida1

Gary Knox2

New magnolias from Asia may satisfy growers' and gardeners' demands for exciting new ornamental trees. Members of the illustrious Magnolia family already are prized everywhere as superior flowering trees. In addition to familiar Magnolia species, there are more than 200 other species, including members of Michelia and Manglietia that now are included in Magnolia. Many of these species recently were introduced from their native Asia, and outstanding trees may be lurking among them, waiting to be discovered and promoted. New evergreen magnolias could be real contenders as successful new plants, because they are familiar enough that homeowners will feel comfortable with them but exciting enough to attract gardeners' interest.

How exciting are these new evergreen magnolias? Let's talk color—some have pink or even red flowers. Others can be in flower for months at a time. Several species have buds, leaves, or stems covered with felt-like hairs (reminiscent of teddy bear fur) in colors ranging from deep brown to rust to bright copper. Finally, various forms have blue- to olive- to dark-green, evergreen foliage. Of course no single species or plant has all these characteristics, but these features highlight the ornamental potential of new evergreen magnolias.

Many of these new evergreen magnolias are being evaluated as part of over 120 magnolias planted since 2000 at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy (USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 8b). These plants are being screened for growth, ornamental characteristics, pest susceptibility, maintenance needs, and overall adaptability to Florida and the Gulf Coast. As with our native and other familiar magnolias, these new plants grow best in moist, well-drained, slightly acid soils in sites shaded from afternoon sun, although they can tolerate heavier soils and full sun. A number of the evergreen species in this planting are notable for flowering and form and deserve more widespread trial and use (Table 1). Unfortunately, all new evergreen magnolias appear equally susceptible to magnolia scale (Neolecanium cornuparvum), the primary pest of all Magnolia species.

Free-Flowering Evergreen Magnolias

Magnolia maudiae has long been lauded for its early spring display of 5- to 6-inch white flowers contrasting with dark foliage on a small, upright tree. Three forms of this plant are being evaluated at Quincy, and all are notable for their display of flowers. The foliage contrast between them—smooth blue-green vs. rugose olive-green vs. dark green leaves—indicates a wide range of characteristics and great potential for selection. Ease of propagation is probably the most important consideration for the successful introduction of these new magnolias, since new plants won't be widely available if sufficient numbers are not produced by growers and these forms can be difficult to root.

A related species, Magnolia platypetala, also is quite impressive. It produces 4- to 6-inch white flowers and repeat blooms throughout the year (as many as 28 weeks of flowers in 2003). In addition, this tree has fast growth and a narrow, almost columnar form. Magnolia maudiae and M. platypetala are hardy throughout central and north Florida (and reportedly as far north as USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 7).

Figure 1. 

Magnolia platypetala produces beautiful white flowers in flushes throughout the year.


Gary Knox

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Pink or Red Flowers on Evergreen Magnolias

Magnolia insignis is the primary evergreen species known for its pink to red flowers. The form under evaluation at Quincy has produced light pink flowers in which the outer tepals are pink and the inner tepals are white. This species grows into a small tree hardy throughout Florida (and as far north as USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 7). Many botanists and horticulturists have shared tantalizing photos of Magnolia insignis and the shrubby Magnolia delavayi with flowers that are strikingly red. These plants are now being hybridized in the United States and we anticipate these breeding programs will produce some beautiful evergreen magnolias with pink or red flowers.

Figure 2. 

This form of Magnolia insignis has bright red flowers and is being used in breeding programs.


Richard Figlar

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Evergreen Magnolias with Colorful "Teddy Bear" Buds

Several species display buds, stems, or leaves covered with colorful, felt-like hairs, or indumentum. Some forms of the familiar southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, have leaves whose undersides are coated with a felt-like covering ranging in color from light brown to a rich, dark brown. Magnolia foggii has flower buds covered with a warm brown fuzz. These buds later open in early spring into egg-shaped white flowers. Moto magnolia, Magnolia kwangtungensis, is a statuesque tree with buds and stems covered with rusty brown hairs so that the tree resembles a furry southern magnolia (without large flowers). Magnolia laevifolia is an outstanding evergreen shrub that produces buds covered with striking, copper-colored velvety hairs. Buds open to fragrant white flowers up to three inches across.

Figure 3. 

Magnolia laevifolia has fuzzy copper-brown buds that open to three-inch white flowers.


Gary Knox

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Fragrant Evergreen Magnolias

All magnolias are fragrant, but some have flowers that are so powerfully fragrant that they are used to make perfumes. The fragrant magnolia most familiar to Floridians is banana shrub, Magnolia figo, widely appreciated for its strong, fruity fragrance, which is most often compared to ripe bananas. Two forms of banana shrub now are widely available for north and central Florida. Magnolia figo is the old-fashioned banana shrub long grown by southern gardeners. Recently it has been eclipsed in favor of M. figo var, skinneriana, the so-called "improved" banana shrub or Skinner's banana shrub. In north Florida, the latter form has proven to be superior in terms of vigorous growth, attractive form and longer flowering than the old-fashioned M. figo.

Flowers of white champaca, Magnolia ×alba, are alleged to be used to produce the famous perfume, Joy by Jean Patou. Although the white flowers are not as showy as those of other magnolias, they produce an intense, floral fragrance that some find overpowering. One of this plant's parents, M. champaca, produces fragrant flowers that also are used in the perfume industry because of the intense fragrance. Both species are greatly appreciated as small trees in tropical south Florida and protected gardens in central Florida. It is said that the sweet, floral scent can be noted several hundred feet away when the fragrance is at its peak on warm, humid nights.

Other Evergreen Magnolias Worth Watching

Other evergreen magnolias to watch include Magnolia tamaulipana, Magnolia martinii, and Magnolia lotungensis. Magnolia tamaulipana is from northern Mexico and has medium green leaves. Its flowers occur in late spring and early summer and are similar to but smaller than southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. Magnolia martinii (formerly Michelia martinii) has developed an attractive, compact, rounded crown of glossy, dark green leaves but has yet to produce its small yellow flowers in north Florida. Magnolia lotungensis (formerly Parakmeria lotungensis) is narrow and columnar with glossy evergreen foliage and often is used as a street tree in its native Asia.

Future Evergreen Magnolias

These species are interesting and ornamental and should be grown in Florida gardens. However, widespread landscape use and true economic impact will occur only with selections or hybrids of these species that clearly are superior or have novel characteristics that make them different and special. Nurseries, botanic gardens, and universities are collecting many different forms of these species in hopes of finding a superior plant. In addition to selection, some folks already have begun breeding programs to develop improved pink- and red-flowering evergreen magnolias (Early 2000). There will be tremendous demand for these improved magnolias, and promising results are highly anticipated.


Dirr, M. 2002. Dirr's Trees and Shrubs for Warm Climates: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Timber Press, Inc., Portland, OR.

Early, S.C. 2000. Some reflections on evergreen magnolia matings. J. Magnolia Society 67(1): 14-17.

Figlar, Richard B. 2005. Tropical magnolias. Accessed Nov,15 2005.

Flora of Pakistan. Michelia champaca Linn. Accessed Nov,15 2005.

Fox, A.M., D.R. Gordon, J.A. Dusky, L. Tyson, and R.K. Stocker. 2005. IFAS assessment of the status of non-native plants in Florida's natural areas. Accessed July, 8 2005.

L. H. Bailey Hortorium, Cornell University.1976. Hortus Third. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, NY.

McLaughlin, John. 2005. A foolproof way to brighten a dull yard. A Word or Two About Gardening XXIII: June 21, 2005. Miami-Dade County Extension.

Piroche Plants Inc. Catalogue. 2005. Piroche Plants Inc. Wholesale Nursery, Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Canada. Accessed Nov, 15 2005.

Smith, Bette. 2000. Beautiful bloomer. St. Petersburg (FL) Times, published March 18, 2000. Accessed Nov, 15 2005.

Weibang, S., K. Fancai and L. Guifen. 2000. Studies on Magnolia delavayi and its natural forms. J. Magnolia Society 67(1): 1-13


Table 1. 

Characteristics of selected new, nonnative evergreen Magnolia species as compared to native evergreen Magnolia species, southern magnolia. M. grandiflora, and sweetbay magnolia, M. virginiana var. australis.

Current Scientific Name

Former Scientific Name

Common Name

Region of Floridaz

Leaf Sizey

Estimated Landscape Size

Flower Characteristicsy

Primary Season of Floweringy

Magnolia ×alba

Michelia champaca 'Alba'

White champaca

(C), S

Similar to M. champaca (Smith, 2000) and reported as 9 inches long and 2½ inches wide

15–30 feet tall

Similar to M. champaca (Smith 2000), 2–3 inches wide, white

Late spring, summer, early fall (Smith 2000)

Magnolia champaca

Michelia champaca

Fragrant champaca or orange champaca

(C), S

6 inches long and 2½ inches wide; reported to grow up to 10 inches long (Hortus Third, 1976)

Typically 10–20 and up to 30 feet tall and wide

2–3 inches wide, pale yellow to yellow-orange (Flora of Pakistan 2005)

Spring, summer, sporadically in winter (Flora of Pakistan 2005)

Magnolia delavayi


Chinese evergreen magnolia or Youtan Hua

N, C

6–8 inches long and 3–5 inches wide; reported to grow up to 14 inches long and 8 inches wide (Weibang et al., 2000)

Usually 8–10 feet tall and wide but up to 30 feet tall

6–8 inches wide, usually white and rarely pink or red (Weibang et al. 2000)


Magnolia dianica

Michelia yunnanensis

(too new to have a common name)

N, C, S

2½–3 inches long and ¾-1½ inches wide

6–12 feet tall and 6 feet wide

1–3 inches wide, white, cup-shaped


Magnolia figo

Michelia figo

Banana shrub

N, C

3 inches long and 1–2 inches wide; reported to grow up to 4 inches long (Dirr, 2002)

Usually 8–10 feet tall and wide but can grow up to 20 tall

1 inch wide and 1½ inches long, cup- or egg-shaped, creamy white to yellow, sometimes with reddish purple edges


Magnolia figo var. skinneriana

Michelia skinneriana

Skinner's banana shrub

N, C

3–4 inches long and 1–2 inches wide

10–20 feet tall and 6–15 feet wide

1 inch wide and 1½ inches long, cup- or egg-shaped, creamy white to yellow

Late winter, spring, sporadically in summer and fall

Magnolia foggii

Michelia foggii

Allspice tree

N, C

5–6 inches long and 2½ inches wide

10–20 feet tall and 6–15 feet wide

1½ inches wide and 3 inches long, egg-shaped, white to creamy white


Magnolia grandiflora


Southern magnolia

N, C

7–9 inches long and 3–4 inches wide

Up to 90 feet tall and 30–40 feet wide

8-inches wide or more, white

Late spring, summer

Magnolia grandiflora

'Little Gem'


'Little Gem' southern magnolia

N, C

4–4½ inches long and 1–2 inches wide

Usually 20–25 feet tall but up to 40 feet; 8–15 feet wide

5½–8 inches wide, white

Late spring, summer, early fall

Magnolia insignis

Manglietia insignis

Red lotus tree

N, C

5–6½ inches long and 1–2 inches wide

Up to 25 feet tall; 10–15 feet wide

3–5 inches wide, white, pink or red, cup-shaped (Figlar, 2005)

Late spring, summer (Figlar 2005)

Magnolia laevifolia

Michelia yunnanensis

(too new to have a common name)

N, C, S

2½–3 inches long and ¾–½ inches wide

6–12 feet tall and 6 feet wide

1–3 inches wide, white, cup-shaped


Magnolia kwangtungensis

Manglietia moto

Moto magnolia

N, C, S

7½–9 inches long and 2½-3½ inches wide

Up to 45 feet tall

2–3 inches in diameter, globe-shaped, white


Magnolia maudiae

Michelia maudiae

Smiling forest lily tree

N, C

5–5½ inches long and 2 inches wide

Up to 20 feet tall and wide

5–6 inches wide, white

Late winter, spring

Magnolia platypetala

Michelia platypetala

Broadpetal lily tree

N, C

5–6 inches long and 2 inches wide

Up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide

3–4 inches wide, white

Late winter, summer, fall

Magnolia virginiana var. australis


Sweetbay magnolia

N, C, (S)

5–6 inches long and 1–2 inches wide

40–60 feet tall and 15–25 feet wide

2–3 inches wide, white or creamy white

Late spring, summer

zN = area of Florida annually receiving 420 or more chill units, roughly corresponding to USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 8 and including the counties of Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Clay, Columbia, Dixie, Duval, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Nassau, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton, and Washington; C = area of Florida receiving more than 110 but fewer then 420 chill units, roughly corresponding to USDA Cold Hardiness Zone 9 and including the counties of Brevard, Citrus, De Soto, Flagler, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Manatee, Marion, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia; S = the area of Florida receiving 110 or fewer chill units, roughly corresponding to USDA Cold Hardiness Zones 10 and 11 and including the counties of Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Palm Beach, and St. Lucie (Fox et al., 2005).

yMeasurements or descriptions are from plants growing at UF/IFAS NFREC–Quincy unless otherwise referenced.



This document is ENH1088, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date January 2008. Reviewed February 2011. Revised February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Gary W. Knox, Professor, North Florida REC (Quincy) Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.