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A Few Facts About The Sweetbay Magnolia

Like most magnolia trees, the Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is noted for its creamy white to nearly white flowers, which are set against a backdrop of shiny dark green leaves. When in bloom during late spring and early summer, the tree gives off a light vanilla scent, which many owners of the tree say is more pronounced in the early morning hours. Some describe the fragrance as having somewhat more of a light lemony scent.

Hardiness Zones

Its botanical name suggests this tree would tend to do better in southern climates, especially since one of the more common names given to the tree is the Swamp magnolia. There is some truth to this, as its natural range is in the southeastern part of the United States, although it also tends to do well in the Midwest, and can be grown as far north as Chicago. On the east coast, the tree will grow as far north as New York. Insofar as hardiness is concerned, the recommended USDA planting Zones are 5 through 9, though some claim Zones 6 through 9 as being more a more accurate figure. Still other sources indicate the tree can be grown in Zones 5 through 10.

The Sweetbay Magnolia is an evergreen tree in its natural range, but becomes semi-evergreen to deciduous when grown in more northern climates. When it is grown in localities where it does drop its leaves, the fallen leaves behave something like maple leaves, according to at least one owner, meaning they can make a mess if not raked up fairly quickly. In other words, since this can be a fairly large tree if not pruned back, one has to think of the neighbors and their lawns and gardens when planting one in a subdivision, or in any densely populated residential area.

A Moisture-Loving Tree

While we think of this tree as primarily being privately grown, it grows wild in some parts of the country. It prefers soil that is always a bit moist, so it is found near swamps and marshes, as well as near the riverbanks, streams, and ponds. The Sweetbay Magnolia is one tree that manages to survive wildfires quite well. If one is burned to the ground, seeds previously dropped by it will begin to sprout quite freely. This tree grows quite rapidly, so what once was a burned out area will soon have new magnolia trees, a number of which can easily form a thicket.

The fruit of the Sweetbay Magnolia consists of an aggregate of follicles roughly 2'' in length. The seeds themselves are about 1/2'' in length, and are favored by many birds. Deer and cattle consider the leaves to be somewhat of a delicacy, and will browse at length on any branches they can reach.

The tree it self can attain a height of up to 50', although a height of 20' to 25' is more common. The tree has a columnar shape. Its soft, even-grained wood is used commercially in the production of containers and boxes, and at times furniture, as it is an easy wood to work with. It is not strong enough however to be used in home construction, or for anything required to bear more than a light load.

Tall Tree – Small tree – Or Shrub

In spite of the height this tree can reach, it also makes an attractive container tree, patio tree, or smaller tree in a small yard or garden, since it takes well to pruning. This magnolia can even be pruned to grow as a shrub. If all of the branches but one are removed from the base, leaving a central leader, the eventual result can be anything from a small tree to a large one. If the stems from the base are allowed to remain intact, the magnolia can be trained as a shrub. Gardeners are advised to wait until the tree is at least two years old before doing any heavy pruning, as a younger tree may not survive if too many of its stem branches are cut back to the ground. Once the tree is older however, it can be pruned to practically any shape one desires, although if the natural pyramidal shape is retained, the tree is more apt to remain a healthy one.

In reviewing gardener's forums, comments on this magnolia tree are mostly quite positive. Some comments could be considered neutral, but there are very few who have anything particularly negative so say about the tree. While most comments have to do with the blossoms and fragrance of the tree, quite a few mention the silver undersides of the dark green leaves, and what a beautiful sight they can be when it is breezy or windy. Some owners note that the tree flowers profusely when grown in light shade, while a few note that it does not flower as well in shade, but do not specify whether that is light shade or dark shade. The tree is supposedly at its best when grown in very light shade or full sunlight. The Sweetbay Magnolia is fairly easy to grow. It can be propagated from either woody stem or softwood cuttings, from semi-hardwood cuttings, or from seed.



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