The southern magnolia is an evergreen tree that grows naturally throughout much of the Deep South. The species occurs from eastern North Carolina through Florida and west to easternmost Texas. Southern magnolia’s ornamental value comes from its evergreen nature, the showy white flowers and the attractive clusters of red seeds.
The average southern magnolia grows to 60 to 80 feet tall, with a 2- to 3-foot-wide trunk. The oblong leaves are leather-like in texture and as long as 10 inches. The flowers, blooming from spring through much of the summer, are white, shaped like a saucer and as wide as 6 to 8 inches, says the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Trees.” The bright red seeds occur on long follicles up to 8 inches in length, splitting open in the fall. The bark is dark gray and smooth on young trees, developing furrows as the magnolia gets old.
Few trees have more ornamental usages than the southern magnolia. The species is a prime candidate as a specimen tree, grown alone or as a backdrop for other trees. The southern magnolia also qualifies as a shade tree and a tree that highlights golf courses and parks. You can plant them as buffers to absorb noise from your neighborhood or as screens to allow you some privacy.
The fact that the old leaves of a southern magnolia fall off in spring and the seedpods come off in late summer is something you can use to your advantage. Rather than have to pick up this litter constantly, many landscapers will create ornamental beds beneath the southern magnolia, where the foliage and pods become useful as mulch.
In addition to the litter accumulating beneath the tree, the southern magnolia’s thin bark makes it prone to injury from your lawn maintenance equipment. Southern magnolia, according to the University of Connecticut Plant Database website, does not fare well in compacted ground, meaning that its chances are poor of growing in a construction site. The pests that affect the leaves include aphids and scales. The tree’s foliage also can contract a disease known as leaf spot, which can be serious if the ailment recurs year after year.
The southern magnolia has several cultivars from which you may choose, including the popular Bracken’s Brown Beauty. This is a spreading hybrid with fuzzy green leaves. The Claudia Wannamaker type flowers at an earlier age than the average southern magnolia, while the Edith Bogue, a species that tolerates cold well, possesses a pyramidal form. The Little Gem has a maximum height of about 30 feet; the Majestic Beauty produces flowers as wide as a foot.