Southern magnolia is a magnificent tree with a name that is somewhat misleading. Although it is most prevalent in the South—and the state tree of Mississippi—its zone 6 planting range means it can grow in many northern areas, even as far north as parts of Maine, Michigan and Washington.
As an ornamental, it is beloved for its year-round foliage and delightful, large, late-spring flowers.
The potted southern magnolia can be expected to grow in Hardiness Zones 6–10. View Map
The southern magnolia grows to a height of 60–80' and a spread of around 40' at maturity.
This tree grows at a slow to medium rate, with height increases of anywhere from less than 12" to 24" per year.
Full sun and partial shade are best for this tree, meaning it prefers a minimum of four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.
The southern magnolia grows in acidic, loamy, moist, sandy, well-drained and clay soils. It can withstand some flooding and has moderate drought tolerance.
The fruit of the southern magnolia is eaten by squirrels, rabbits and birds—including wild turkey.
Magnolias are entwined with the history of the south. Perhaps the one reaching back the farthest into time is a southern magnolia that still grows in what today is Washington State Park in Washington, Arkansas. According to Famous and Historic Trees by Charles E. Randall and Henry Clepper, this tree was planted near an important road junction in 1839 by Gen. Grandison D. Royston. It was near a blacksmith shop where Jim Bowie fashioned his famous knife.
Some call it the Jones Magnolia because two unrelated boys were born to Jones families the same year the tree was planted. Both became Colonels in the Confederate army and one, Daniel W. Jones, eventually became Governor of Arkansas. The other, James K. Jones, became a U.S. Senator. Both laid claim to being the namesake of the tree and James finally resolved the good-natured debate by purchasing the land the tree stood on and making his home there for over 30 years.
Another historic specimen grows on the White House grounds. It was transplanted by President Andrew Jackson from his home in Nashville, Tennessee, in memory of his beloved wife Rachel.
The name magnolia honors a French botanist, Pierre Magnol, who admired the tree so much that he transplanted it to Europe 300 years ago.