The magnolia tree is described by the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees," as one of the most beautiful native tree species in the United States. The southern magnolia grows naturally on the coastal plain from eastern parts of North Carolina to the middle of Florida and west to eastern Texas. The species is also a cultivated ornamental, planted in states with a climate warm enough to support it. There are some distinct characteristics of the magnolia tree that make it easy to identify.
Search for a tree with dense low branches and a pyramidal shape in the upper crown. The southern magnolia can grow up to 80 feet tall and you will find them growing wild within their range in valleys with moist soil and in uplands along with other hardwood species. The trunk typically measures two to three feet wide.
Examine the leaves of this species, which are evergreen and remain on the tree through the winter months. The leaves have a leathery feel to them, possess short stout stems covered with brownish hairs and are a dark green color. Southern magnolia leaves are elliptical in shape, thick and about 5 to 10 inches long with a width up to five inches.
Inspect the bark of the southern magnolia. The bark is dark gray and smoother on immature trees, developing rough and scaly plates on older trees. The bark is thin enough for lawn mowers and weed whackers to damage it easily.
Look for the southern magnolia in the latter half of spring and in the early summer when its flowers bloom so you can scrutinize their traits. The flowers are fragrant and large, with some as wide as a foot across. Magnolia flowers have a saucer shape, three white sepals and at least six white petals. The blossoms occur singly throughout the branches.
Study the fruit of the southern magnolia, which will be mature during the month of September in most places. The fruit is a collection of follicles that forms an oblong cone-shaped cluster. The fruit can be as long as eight inches in some instances. The fruit is a red-brown color and will eventually split open to reveal red seeds.
Look beneath a southern magnolia to find a messy collection of leaves, twigs, flowers and fruits. The University of Connecticut Plant Database website says that one of the biggest problems with a southern magnolia is the mess that accumulates under the branches. The leaves are very slow to decompose, so any that fall in the wild will cover the ground as they rot, preventing other plants from growing. Homeowners with this tree as an ornamental often devote lots of time and energy to cleaning up underneath it.