The magnolia trees native to the United States and those that are introduced ornamental types vary greatly in their height and their features. While the magnolia has a reputation for producing fragrant and showy flowers, the tree may also be evergreen, depending on the species. Magnolias are excellent ornamental species, coming in multiple varieties that offer a property owner shade and beauty.
Magnolia trees typically possess thick and leathery leaves; some are capable of having leaves quite long. The big-leaf magnolia has leaves that can grow to lengths of 30 inches and be 10 inches in diameter. The umbrella magnolia's leaves can be 20 inches long. These leaves can become a litter problem when they fall from the tree, as they are very slow to decompose. This will prevent other plants from growing beneath a magnolia and warrant your attention come fall in raking up the leaves.
One of the greatest assets of a magnolia tree is its flowers, which are often spectacular in appearance and pleasant in aroma. Southern magnolia has white blooms nearly 1 foot across and the flowers exist through the spring months and into the summer. Star magnolia, an import from Japan, has flowers with at least 12 narrow petals arranged in a star pattern. The star magnolia's flowers bloom in late winter or very early spring and are out before the foliage on the branches. The Fraser magnolia has from six to nine large yellowish petals, while pyramid magnolia has attractive cream-white flowers.
Magnolia trees native to the United States are typically species of the mid-Atlantic States and Deep South, with only the cucumber tree growing as far north as New York State and into the Great Lakes region. The southern magnolia grows from the Carolinas along the coast to Florida and into parts of Texas. The ashe magnolia grows in the Florida Panhandle and along the Gulf of Mexico into southern portions of Alabama. Umbrella, Fraser and big-leaf magnolia trees exist from West Virginia through Kentucky and Tennessee and into states such as Mississippi and Georgia.
Umbrella magnolia will tolerate partly to full shade conditions, while the saucer magnolia does well when planted where it gets full sun in the morning and some shade by the afternoon hours. Southern magnolia will flourish in the full sun. Most magnolia trees prefer slightly acidic soils, and although some can withstand drought, it is best to keep the ground they grow in somewhat moist. Species such as Yulan magnolia, a type native to China, will grow well if you place mulch around the base, especially in states in which the summers can get very hot.
Some magnolias can grow to a good size, such as southern magnolia and cucumber tree, which can both grow more than 80 feet tall. Others, like the big-leaf magnolia, top out at around 50 feet high. Different kinds of magnolias are barely larger than shrubs, with the umbrella magnolia and pyramid magnolia falling into this category. Pruning ornamental species like the Yulan magnolia lets you keep them small or allows them to grow much higher than shrub size.