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Magnolia acuminata 'Variegata': 'Variegata' Cucumbertree

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, and Deborah R. Hilbert


One of the fastest growing magnolias, cucumbertree is pyramidal when young but becomes broad, oval or rounded with age, ultimately reaching 60 to 80 feet in height with a spread of 35 to 60 feet. Branches on open-grown trees eventually touch the ground if left unpruned, but when lower branches are removed, the higher branches normally will not droop to touch the ground. This provides good clearance beneath the tree for pedestrian traffic. Older trees have a stately silhouette, particularly in the winter with branches bare, sporting a number of large-diameter branches growing from a dominant central trunk. The trunk can grow to be five feet thick, and the wood has been used, along with Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), for "poorman's walnut."

Figure 1. Middle-aged Magnolia acuminata 'Variegata': 'Variegata' Cucumbertree
Figure 1.  Middle-aged Magnolia acuminata 'Variegata': 'Variegata' cucumbertree.


General Information

Scientific name: Magnolia acuminata

Pronunciation: mag-NO-lee-uh ack-yoo-mih-NAY-tuh

Common name(s): 'Variegata' cucumbertree, 'Variegata' cucumber magnolia

Family: Magnoliaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 3B through 8B (Figure 2)

Origin: native to North America

Invasive potential: native cultivar

Uses: specimen; shade

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range



Height: 60 to 80 feet

Spread: 35 to 60 feet

Crown uniformity: symmetrical

Crown shape: pyramidal, upright/erect

Crown density: dense

Growth rate: fast

Texture: coarse


Leaf arrangement: alternate (Figure 3)

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire, undulate

Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), ovate

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous

Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches, 8 to 12 inches

Leaf color: variegated

Fall color: yellow

Fall characteristic: showy

Figure 3. Foliage
Figure 3.  Foliage



Flower color: yellow

Flower characteristics: not showy


Fruit shape: elongated

Fruit length: 1 to 3 inches

Fruit covering: dry or hard

Fruit color: red

Fruit characteristics: attracts squirrels/mammals; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically one trunk; thorns

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: brown

Current year twig thickness: medium

Wood specific gravity: 0.48


Light requirement: full sun, partial sun or partial shade

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; slightly alkaline; well-drained; occasionally wet

Drought tolerance: moderate

Aerosol salt tolerance: unknown


Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: yes

Outstanding tree: yes

Ozone sensitivity: unknown

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown

Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

The large, 6- to 10-inch, yellow, variegated deciduous leaves are lighter and fuzzy underneath and cast very dense shade below, making cucumbertree ideal as a shade or specimen tree. The slightly fragrant, three-inch-wide flowers appear in May or early June, but their greenish-yellow to yellow coloring causes them to become lost among the foliage. These blooms are followed by the production of four-inch-long, deep red fruits which somewhat resemble a cucumber in shape. The seeds of cucumbertree are very popular with birds and other wildlife.

Many magnolias have a root system which spreads more than other trees. This is thought to contribute to the poor growth following transplanting magnolia from a field nursery. There is no problem planting from containers, provided adequate irrigation is given until established.

This tree is best on large estates and open-soil areas such as parks and golf courses or along either side of an entrance road with plenty of soil space for root expansion. It does not tolerate the compacted, disturbed soils of urban areas. Be sure young trees receive adequate irrigation until the root system is well-established in loose, open soil.

A North American native, cucumbertree grows in full sun or partial shade on well-drained soils, and should be protected from harsh, dry winds. In their native habitat, trees do best in slightly acidic soil along stream banks and on cool hillsides. Plants should not be exposed to prolonged flooding, drought, or too much pollution, but they will tolerate alkaline and wet soil quite well. Although trees should be allowed to grow and develop naturally except for occasional removal of upright branches, any pruning which might be necessary should be done only after flowering so the flower display can be enjoyed.

Cucumbertree was used as a parent plant along with Magnolia heptapeta to produce the hybrid 'Elizabeth' which has a pyramidal shape and clear yellow, fragrant blooms.

Propagation is by seed or cuttings.

Pests and Diseases

No pests or diseases are of major concern but occasionally bothered by scale as are many other magnolias.

Publication #ENH-529

Release Date:April 11, 2024

Related Collections

Part of Southern Trees Fact Sheets

  • Critical Issue: Agricultural and Food Systems
Organism ID

About this Publication

This document is ENH-529, one of a series of the Department of Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November1993. Revised March 2024. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.

About the Authors

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering; Ryan W. Klein, assistant professor, arboriculture; and Deborah R. Hilbert, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Department of Environmental Horticulture; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.


  • Michael Andreu
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