Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the southern magnolia or bull
bay, is a tree of the family
Magnoliaceae native to the southeastern
United States, from coastal
North Carolina to central Florida, and
west to East Texas. Reaching 27.5 m (90 ft) in height, it is
a large, striking evergreen tree, with large dark green leaves up to
20 cm (7 3⁄4 in) long and 12 cm
(4 3⁄4 in) wide, and large, white, fragrant flowers up to
30 cm (12 in) in diameter.
Although endemic to the lowland subtropical forests on the Gulf and
south Atlantic coastal plain, magnolia grandiflora is widely
cultivated in warmer areas around the world. The timber is hard and
heavy, and has been used commercially to make furniture, pallets, and
3 Distribution and habitat
5 Cultivation and uses
6 United States cultivation
9.1 Cited texts
10 External links
Flower and foliage of M. grandiflora
Magnolia grandiflora is a medium to large evergreen tree which may
grow 120 ft (37 m) tall. It typically has a single stem
(or trunk) and a pyramidal shape.
The leaves are simple and broadly ovate, 12–20 cm
(4 3⁄4–7 3⁄4 in) long and 6–12 cm
(2 1⁄4–4 3⁄4 in) broad, with smooth margins.
They are dark green, stiff and leathery, and often scurfy underneath
with yellow-brown pubescence.
The large, showy, lemon citronella-scented flowers are white, up to
30 cm (11 3⁄4 in) across and fragrant, with six to 12
petals with a waxy texture, emerging from the tips of twigs on mature
trees in late spring.
Flowering is followed by the rose-coloured fruit, ovoid polyfollicle,
7.5–10 cm (3–3 7⁄8 in) long, and 3–5 cm
(1 1⁄4–2 in) wide.
Exceptionally large trees have been reported in the far southern
United States. The national champion is a specimen in Smith County,
Mississippi, that stands an incredible 37 m (121 ft).
Another record includes a 35-m-high specimen from the Chickasawhay
District, De Soto National Forest, in Mississippi, which measured
17.75 ft in circumference at breast height, from 1961, and a
30-m-tall tree from Baton Rouge, which reached 18 ft in
circumference at breast height.
Magnolia grandiflora was one of the many species first described by
Linnaeus in the 10th edition of his
Systema Naturae in 1759, basing
his description on the earlier notes of Miller. He did not select a
type specimen. Its specific epithet is derived from the
grandis "big", and flor- "flower".
M. grandiflora is most commonly known as southern magnolia, a name
derived from its range in the Southern United States. Many broadleaved
evergreen trees are known as bays for their resemblance to the leaves
of the red bay (Persea borbonia), with this species known as the bull
bay for its huge size or alternatively because cattle have been
reported eating its leaves. Laurel magnolia, evergreen magnolia,
large-flower magnolia or big laurel are alternative names. The
timber is known simply as magnolia.
M. grandiflora fruit
Distribution and habitat
Southern magnolias are native to the Southeastern United States, from
North Carolina south to central Florida, and then west to East
Texas. It is found on the edges of bodies of water and swamps, in
association with sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), water oak
(Quercus nigra), and black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). In more sheltered
habitats, it grows as a large tree, but can be a low shrub when found
on coastal dunes. It is killed by summer fires, and is missing from
habitats that undergo regular burning.
In Florida, it is found in a number of different ecological areas that
are typically shady and have well-draining soils; it is also found in
hummocks, along ravines, on slopes, and in wooded floodplains.
Despite preferring sites with increased moisture, it does not tolerate
inundation. It grows on sand-hills in maritime forests, where it is
found growing with live oaks and saw palmetto. In the eastern
United States, it has become an escape, and has become naturalized in
the tidewater area of Virginia, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area
and locally in other areas outside of its historically natural
Magnolia grandiflora can produce seed by 10 years of age, although
peak seed production is achieved closer to 25 years of age. Around 50%
of seeds can germinate, and they are spread by birds and mammals.
Squirrels, opossums, quail, and turkey are known to eat the seeds.
Cultivation and uses
The plant collector Mark Catesby, the first in North America, brought
M. grandiflora to Britain in 1726, where it entered cultivation and
overshadowed M. virginiana, which had been collected a few years
earlier. It had also come to France, the French having collected it in
the vicinity of the
Mississippi River in Louisiana. It was
glowingly described by Philip Miller in his 1731 work The Gardeners'
Dictionary. One of the earliest people to cultivate it in Europe
was Sir John Colliton of
Exeter in Devon; scaffolding and tubs
surrounded his tree, where gardeners propagated its branches by
layering, the daughter plants initially selling for five guineas each
(but later falling to half a guinea).
Tree planted 1807 at Jardin des plantes in Nantes
Catesby's Laurel tree of Carolina by G.D. Ehret
It is often planted in university campuses and allowed to grow into a
large tree, either with dependent branches, or with the lower branches
removed to display the bare trunks. It is also espaliered against
walls, which improves its frost-hardiness.
United States cultivation
Magnolia grandiflora is a very popular ornamental tree throughout its
native range in the coastal plain of the Gulf/South Atlantic states.
Grown for its attractive, shiny green leaves and fragrant flowers, it
has a long history in the southern United States. Many large and very
old specimens can be found in the subtropical port cities such as
Houston, TX; New Orleans, LA; Mobile, Alabama; Jacksonville, FL;
Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and Wilmington, NC. M. grandiflora is
the state tree of
Mississippi and the state flower of Louisiana.
The species is also cultivated in the warmer parts of the United
States; on the East Coast, a small number of specimens can be found
growing as far north as coastal areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, and
Long Island, NY. Farther south, it is grown more widely in Delaware,
much of the
Chesapeake Bay region in Maryland, and much of eastern
Virginia. On the West Coast, it can be grown as far north as the
Seattle area, though cooler summers on the West Coast slow growth
compared to the East Coast.
In the interior of the US, some of the cold-hardy cultivars have
survived north to the southern
Ohio Valley (Ohio, Kentucky, southern
Indiana). Farther north, few known long term specimens are found due
to the severe winters, very cold temperatures, and/or lack of
sufficient summer heat.
Magnolia grandiflora is also grown in parts of Mexico, Central
South America as well as parts of Asia.
It is recommended for seashore plantings in areas that are windy but
have little salt spray. The foliage will bronze, blotch, and burn
in severe winters at the northern limits of cultivation, especially
when grown in full winter sun, but most leaves remain until they
are replaced by new foliage in the spring. In climates where the
ground freezes, winter sun appears to do more damage than the cold. In
the Northern Hemisphere, the south side of the tree will experience
more leaf damage than the north side. Two extremes are known, with
leaves white underneath and with leaves brown underneath. The brown
varieties are claimed to be more cold-hardy than the white varieties,
but this does not appear to be proven as yet. Once established, the
plants are drought tolerant, and the most drought tolerant of all the
The leaves are heavy and tend to fall year round from the interior of
the crown and form a dense cover over the soil surface, and they
have been used in decorative floral arrangements. The leaves have
a waxy coating that makes them resistant to damage from salt and air
In the United States, southern magnolia, along with sweetbay (Magnolia
virginiana) and cucumbertree (
Magnolia acuminata), is commercially
Lumber from all three species is simply called magnolia,
which is used in the construction of furniture, boxes, pallets,
venetian blinds, sashes, and doors and used as veneers. Southern
magnolia has yellowish-white sapwood and light to dark brown heartwood
tinted yellow or green. The usually straight-grained wood has uniform
texture with closely spaced rings. The wood is ranked moderate in
heaviness, hardness, and stiffness, and moderately low in shrinkage,
bending, and compression strength; it is ranked moderately high in
shock resistance. Its use in the
Southeastern United States
Southeastern United States has
been supplanted by the availability of harder woods.
Over 50 cultivars have been developed and named in North America and
Europe. Most plants in nurseries are propagated by cuttings, resulting
in more consistent form in the various varieties available. Many
older cultivars have been superseded by newer ones and are no longer
available. Some cultivars have been found to be more cold hardy,
'Bracken's Brown Beauty', developed by Ray Bracken of Easley, South
Carolina, in the late 1960s, is a popular cultivar which has survived
long-term in southern Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, and Long
Island, NY. This cultivar grows in a dense and compact pattern, with
narrow, medium-sized, glossy leaves. Flowers measure 5–6 in
'Edith Bogue' was brought to the coastal plain of
New Jersey from
Florida in the 1920s. The original tree sent to Edith A. Bogue from
Florida helped to establish cold-hardy specimens in the Middle
Atlantic states from
Delaware to coastal Connecticut, as well as the
lower Midwest. Once established, 'Edith Bogue' has been known to have
only minor spotting and margin burn on the leaf in temperatures as low
as −5 °F (−21 °C). With a vigorous classic pyramidal
shape, this cultivar grows to 35 ft with a 15-ft spread. The
leaves are large and deep green, but lack the brown indumentum on
their undersides which make other cultivars so distinctive.
'Angustifolia', developed in France in 1825, has narrow, spear-shaped
leaves 20 cm (7.9 in) long by 11 cm (4.3 in) wide,
as its name suggests.
'Exmouth' was developed in the early 18th century by John Colliton in
Devon. It is notable for its huge flowers, with up to 20 tepals, and
vigorous growth. Erect in habit, it is often planted against walls.
The leaves are green above and brownish underneath. The flowers
are very fragrant and the leaves are narrow and leathery.
'Goliath' was developed by Caledonia Nurseries of Guernsey, and has a
bushier habit and globular flowers of up to 30 cm (12 in)
diameter. Long-flowering, it has oval leaves which lack the brownish
'Little Gem', a dwarf cultivar, is grown in more moderate climates,
Maryland and the Virginias southward. Originally
developed in 1952 by Steed's Nursery in Candor, North Carolina, it is
a slower-growing form with a columnar shape which reaches around
4.25 m (13.9 ft) high and 1.2 m (3.9 ft) wide.
Flowering heavily over an extended period in warmer climate, it bears
medium-sized, cup-shaped flowers, and has elliptic leaves 12.5 cm
(4.9 in) long by 5 cm (2.0 in) wide.
Other commonly grown cultivars include:
'Ferruginea' has dark-green leaves with rust-brown undersides.
'Southern Charm' has large oval leaves, bushy habit, and smaller
growth. It is also known as 'Teddy Bear'.
M. grandiflora contains phenolic constituents shown to possess
significant antimicrobial activity. Magnolol, honokiol, and
3,5′-diallyl-2′-hydroxy-4-methoxybiphenyl exhibited significant
activity against Gram-positive and acid-fast bacteria and fungi.
The leaves contain coumarins and sesquiterpene lactones. The
sesquiterpenes are known to be costunolide, parthenolide, costunolide
diepoxide, santamarine, and reynosin.
Magnolia grandiflora (southern magnolia) – a large tree at
Hemingway, South Carolina
Bark on trunk
Southern magnolia foliage and flower
A cluster of leaves
Before the opening act
Inside the flower
Seed cluster of M. grandiflora
Martin Johnson Heade: Magnolia
^ Gardiner, p. 144
^ a b Zion, Robert L. (1995). Trees for architecture and landscape.
New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. p. 224.
^ a b c d e f Maisenhelder, Louis C. (1970). "Magnolia" (PDF).
American Woods FS-245. US Dept. of Agriculture. Retrieved
^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758).
Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae,
Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, cum Characteribus,
Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis (in Latin). Vol. 2 (10th revised ed.).
Holmiae: (Laurentii Salvii). p. 1082.
^ a b c d e Callaway, p. 99
^ Coladonato, Milo (1991). "
Magnolia grandiflora". Fire Effects
Information System, [Online]. Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire
Sciences Laboratory (Producer).: U.S. Department of Agriculture,
Forest Service. Retrieved 12 January 2010.
^ Gardiner, p. 143
^ a b Whitney, Eleanor Noss; Rudloe, Anne; Jadaszewski, Erick.
Priceless Florida: Natural Ecosystems and Native Species. Pineapple
Press (FL). p. 36. ISBN 978-1-56164-308-0.
^ Nelson, Gil; Marvin, Jr Cook. The Trees of Florida: A Reference and
Field Guide (Reference and Field Guides (Paperback)). Pineapple Press
(FL). p. 17. ISBN 978-1-56164-055-3.
Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North
American Plant Atlas. (http://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps
generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North
America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in
^ Halls, L. K. 1977. Southern magnolia/
Magnolia grandiflora L. In
Southern fruit-producing woody plants used by wildlife. p. 196-197.
USDA Forest Service, General Technical Report SO-16. Southern Forest
Experiment Station, New Orleans, LA.
^ Aitken, Richard (2008). Botanical Riches: Stories of Botanical
Exploration. Melbourne, Victoria: Miegunyah Press: State Library of
Victoria. p. 112. ISBN 0-522-85505-9.
^ a b Gardiner, p. 18
^ Bush-Brown, Louise Carter; Bush-Brown, James; Irwin, Howard S.
(1996). America's garden book. New York: Macmillan USA. p. 537.
^ a b c d Sternberg, Guy; Wilson, James; Wilson, Jim (2004). Native
trees for North American landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies.
Portland: Timber Press. p. 268.
^ Callaway, p. 13
^ The Encyclopedia of Wood. Skyhorse Publishing. pp. 1–7.
^ Callaway, p. 14
^ a b Gardiner, p. 145
^ Callaway, p. 100
^ a b c Gardiner, p. 147
^ a b Brickell, Christopher (1989). The American Horticultural Society
encyclopedia of garden plants. New York: Macmillan. p. 51.
^ Antimicrobial activity of phenolic constituents of magnolia
grandiflora L. Alice M. Clark, Arouk S. El-Feraly, Wen-Shyong Li,
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, August 1981, Volume 70, Issue 8,
pages 951–952, doi:10.1002/jps.2600700833
Coumarins and sesquiterpene lactones from
leaves. Yang MH, Blunden G, Patel AV, O'Neill MJ and Lewis JA, Planta
medica, 1994, vol. 60, no 4, pages 390-390, INIST:11250251
^ Isolation and characterization of the sesquiterpene lactones
costunolide, parthenolide, costunolide diepoxide, santamarine, and
Magnolia grandiflora L. Farouk S. El-Feraly and Yee-Ming
Chan, Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, March 1978, Volume 67, Issue
3, pages 347–350, doi:10.1002/jps.2600670319
Callaway, Dorothy Johnson (1994). The world of magnolias. Portland,
Oregon: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-236-6.
Gardiner, Jim (2000). Magnolias: A Gardener's Guide. Portland, Oregon:
Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-446-6.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Southern magnolia.
United States Department of Agriculture Plants Profile for Magnolia
grandiflora (southern magnolia)
Magnolia Grandiflora from Audubon's Birds of
Magnolia grandiflora images at bioimages.vanderbilt.edu
Plant List: kew-117615