Robert, Frances and Barbara Burkett

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Given in memory of Robert, Frances and Barbara Burkett by Mary Frances Burkett.

Description:  The southern magnolia is deeply rooted into the fabric of southern living.  A dense and flowering evergreen tree, it is grown as a specimen tree and can also be used for screening purposes.  It is a long-lived tree that grows to 60-70 feet over approximately 50 years.  Some trees grow as tall as 90 feet under optimal conditions.  It is a pyramidal-shaped tree with widths of 30-40 feet.  Several cultivars have been grown that demonstrate smaller size, cold hardiness, and variations in leaves and flowers.  

Leaves:  Large, glossy in varying shades of green on the top and dull tan to copper brown underneath.  Alternate, simple ovate to elliptical leaves range from 5-10 inches long.  There is a felt-like fuzz on the underside of the leaves. 

Flowers:  Large creamy white flowers range from 6-12 inches in size and are very fragrant. Blooms in late spring with lesser flowering throughout the summer. 

Fruit:  Cone-shaped fruiting cluster 3-5 inches long mature in late summer to early fall.  They release red coated seeds.

Habitat: Enjoys full sun and grows in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained, and clay soils.  It has moderate drought tolerance.  

Wildlife value:  The fruit attracts songbirds.

Uses:  Magnolia grandiflora is a popular ornamental tree that is grown for its attractive, shiny green leaves and large fragrant flowers.  Both the green and brown sides of the leaves are used in Christmas wreaths.  Look for them in the Christmas decorations of Colonial Williamsburg.  

History:  Until early 2018, a Southern Magnolia planted by President Andrew Jackson grew near the South Portico of the White House.  Legend has it that it was planted as a seedling taken from The Hermitage, Jackson’s home in TN.  It was the oldest tree on the White House Grounds.  President Reagan gifted a cutting to his Chief of Staff, Howard Baker, and Michelle Obama donated a seedling to the “people’s garden” of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


NC State Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox.