Look for Cultivars When Buying Southern Magnolias

By DelValle, Terry Brite | The Florida Times Union, June 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

Look for Cultivars When Buying Southern Magnolias


DelValle, Terry Brite, The Florida Times Union


What would the South be like without the stately Southern magnolia?

Southern magnolias grow from Central Florida along the eastern coastal plain to New York, and along the Gulf Coast to Texas. Although it is found along the coast in northern regions, it thrives in hot, humid climates.

Magnolias in landscape

Southern magnolias are used primarily as a shade or specimen tree. Because of their coarsely textured leaves they make an excellent background for fine textured shrubs. A row of Southern magnolias can make a great buffer to define an area.

Large white, lemon-scented flowers contrasted by large glossy leaves conjure memories of Southern homesteads. Flowers are very showy and some reach up to 12 inches in diameter. The floral show begins in early spring and continues sporadically throughout the summer. Use them as a cut flower to enjoy the fragrance indoors.

Flowers are followed by pinkish-red cone-like fruit which split open in late summer exposing dark red seeds. These fruiting structures can also be used in dried or fresh arrangements or leave them on the tree as a food for wildlife.

Buying guide

When purchasing a tree from a local nursery, look for a named cultivar. Most cultivars are seedling selections that are propagated by cuttings. Some nurseries also grow and sell trees propagated from seed. Seed-propagated trees can vary greatly in tree shape, leaf sizes and leaf coloration. Seed-propagated trees may take 10 years to produce flowers.

Depending on the variety, trees may reach 100 feet in height with a 50-foot to 60-foot spread. Named cultivars have been selected and promoted because they're smaller in size and are precocious bloomers.

Bracken's Brown Beauty is one of the best selections for foliage and plant form. This compact dense tree has a pyramidal growth habit reaching 30 feet at maturity. Upper glossy green leaf surfaces are contrasted with a rich, dark brown underside. Flowers are 5 inches to 6 inches wide.

Little Gem is a dwarf, narrow upright tree that is popular in our area. It matures at 20 feet in 20 years and is a very precocious bloomer. Flowers are small but continue to open over a five-month period. Leaves are small dark green with bronze-colored undersides. …

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