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Magnolia virginiana: Sweetbay Magnolia1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean 2


Sweetbay magnolia is a graceful southern, evergreen to semi-evergreen, wide columnar tree, ideal for use as a patio tree or specimen. It can grow to a mature height of 50 feet in the north or to 60 feet in the south. Trees glimmer in the wind due to the whitish-green undersides of the leaves. They are very noticeable as you drive by them on interstates along water-logged woodlands. The tree provides excellent vertical definition in a shrub border or as a free-standing specimen and flourishes in moist, acid soil such as the swamps in the eastern U.S. and along stream banks. The creamy-white, lemon-scented flowers appear from June through September, and are followed by small red seeds which are used by a variety of wildlife. It can be trained into a multi-trunked, spreading specimen plant, or left with the central leader intact as a wide column.

Figure 1. Full Form - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Figure 1.  Full Form - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Credit: UF/IFAS

General Information

Scientific name:

Pronunciation: mag-NO-lee-uh ver-jin-ee-AY-nuh

Common name(s): sweetbay magnolia, swamp magnolia

Family: Magnoliaceae

USDA hardiness zones: 5A through 10A (Figure 2)

Origin: native to the Gulf and Atlantic Coastal Plains, from East Texas to New York

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native

Uses: deck or patio; specimen; street without sidewalk; espalier; tree lawn 4-6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; highway median

Figure 2. Range
Figure 2.  Range


Height: 40 to 50 feet

Spread: 15 to 25 feet

Crown uniformity: symmetrical

Crown shape: columnar, vase

Crown density: moderate

Growth rate: moderate

Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), oblong

Leaf venation: brachidodrome, pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: deciduous, semi-evergreen, evergreen

Leaf blade length: 2 ½ to 6 inches

Leaf color: green to dark yellow on top, silvery white underneath

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. Leaf, Top - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Figure 3.  Leaf, Top - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Credit: UF/IFAS

Figure 4. Leaf, Under - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Figure 4.  Leaf, Under - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Credit: UF/IFAS


Flower color: creamy white

Flower characteristics: very showy

Figure 5. Flower - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Figure 5.  Flower - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Credit: UF/IFAS


Fruit shape: ovoid; cone-like

Fruit length: 2 inches

Fruit covering: dry or hard

Fruit color: red to brown with maturity

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

Fruiting: late summer

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches don't droop; showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns

Bark: reddish brown to pale gray, smooth, and becoming rough with age

Pruning requirement: little required

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: green

Current year twig thickness: thin

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 6. Bark, Young - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Figure 6.  Bark, Young - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Credit: UF/IFAS
Figure 7. Bark, Mature - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Figure 7.  Bark, Mature - Magnolia virginiana: sweetbay magnolia
Credit: Gitta Hasing, UF/IFAS


Light requirement: full sun to partial shade

Soil tolerances: sand; loam; clay; acidic; wet to well-drained

Drought tolerance: low

Aerosol salt tolerance: low


Roots: not a problem

Winter interest: no

Outstanding tree: yes

Ozone sensitivity: tolerant

Verticillium wilt susceptibility: susceptible

Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases

Use and Management

Sweetbay magnolia makes an excellent tree for planting next to buildings, in narrow alleys or corridors, or in other urban areas with limited space for horizontal crown expansion. It has not been planted extensively in downtown urban areas, but its flood and drought tolerance and narrow crown combine to make it a good candidate. It usually maintains a good, straight central leader, although occasionally the trunk branches low to the ground forming a round multi-stemmed, spreading tree. It should be grown and planted more often.

Sweetbay magnolia roots easily from softwood cuttings, grows freely near coastal areas, and is happiest in southern climates. It is thriving in the Auburn Shade Tree Evaluation trials in Alabama without irrigation. However, in the confined soil spaces typical of some urban areas, occasional irrigation is recommended.

The species is deciduous in USDA hardiness zones 7 and 8 (evergreen farther south), but the variety australis and cultivar 'Henry Hicks' are evergreen. 'Havener' has larger flower petals.

Pests and Diseases

Scales sometimes infest foliage and twigs, particularly on dry sites where the tree is under stress.

Tulip-poplar weevil (sassafras weevil) feeds as a leaf miner when young and chews holes in the leaves as an adult.

Leaf spots occasionally occur on the foliage but are of little concern.


Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.


1. This document is ENH-543, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #ENH-543

Release Date:April 26, 2019

Related Collections

Part of Southern Trees Fact Sheets

    Organism ID


    • Andrew Koeser