Characteristics of Sweetbay Tree (Magnolia virginiana) in the Wild

Magnolia virginiana
Sweetbay Magnolia or better known as Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) is a member of the Magnoliaceae family, which is native to the lowlands and swamps of the Atlantic coastal plains of the eastern United States, from Florida to Long Island, to New York.

It is the first magnolia to be described scientifically under modern rules of botanical nomenclature and is a species of the genus Magnolia. Since Magnolia is also a genus of all flowering plants (magnoliophytes), this species represents all flowering plants.

Sweetbay magnolia is often grown as an ornamental tree in gardens, yards, university grounds, office grounds, and is used in architectural nuances for landscape design.

Sweetbay magnolia is an attractive tree for the garden because of its large, showy, and fragrant flowers, as well as for its clean, attractive foliage and for its fast-growing tree. In warmer regions, Sweetbay magnolia is prized for its evergreen foliage.

The English botanist and missionary John Banister collected Magnolia virginiana in the southeastern United States in 1678 and shipped it to England. This species was the first magnolia cultivated in England, though it was soon overshadowed by the larger-flowered southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

Sweetbay magnolia has hybridized with a number of species in the subgenus Magnolia, including Magnolia globose, Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia insignis, Magnolia macrophylla, Magnolia obovata, Magnolia sieboldii, and Magnolia tripetala. Some of these hybrids have been given cultivar names and registered by the Magnolia Society.


Characteristics of Sweetbay Magnolia Leaf

Magnolia virginiana Leaf

The leaves are alternate, simple, with entire margins, 10-25 cm long, and 5-8 cm wide.


Characteristics of Sweetbay Magnolia Flower

Magnolia virginiana Flower
Source: Jones

The flowers are creamy-white, 8-14 cm in diameter, with petal-like tepals 6-15 cm in diameter. Sweetbay magnolias carry a very strong vanilla scent which can sometimes be smelled from several hundred meters away.


Characteristics of Sweetbay Magnolia Fruit

Magnolia virginiana Fruit
Source: Hagstrom

The fruit is 3-5 cm long, red when ripe, with the follicle splitting open to release the seeds. The seeds are about 1 cm long, black but covered by a thin fleshy red coat, which is attractive to some fruit-eating birds.


Characteristics of Sweetbay Magnolia Tree

Magnolia virginiana Tree
Source: Gercens

Sweetbay magnolia grows to a height of 30 meters in the wild, and less than 20 meters when planted. The tree is evergreen when planted in warm climates and deciduous when planted in cold climates.

The tree grows most optimally in deep soil with a height between 100-500 m above sea level.


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