Magnolia is a group of 210 plants, 80 of which are considered trees or large shrubs, native to eastern Asia and North America. They are easy to grow and are pest resistant. Most varieties are evergreen, but some are deciduous. While they are famous for their ability to produce beautiful flowers, they also have other uses as well.
Magnolia trees are famous for their flowers, which is why their primary function is as an ornamental plant. According to the University of Florida, magnolias are one of the 10 most popular flowering trees in the United States. Many magnolia trees have showy flowers that range in size from 4 to 8 inches wide. Flowers are typically white, but can also be pink, purple, green and yellow. Magnolias are also resistant to pollution, which makes them good choices for use in urban settings.
Since most magnolia trees are evergreen, they make for excellent shade trees. Keep in mind that "evergreen" does not mean "needles." Magnolia trees have large leaves, ranging in size between 4 to 32 inches long. One variety of magnolia, Magnolia tripetala, is known as the "Umbrella Tree," because its large leaves cluster on branches and resemble umbrellas. Bigleaf magnolias (M. macrophylla) are another good choice since, as the name implies, they have large leaves. Leaves range in size between 12 to 32 inches long.
Several species of magnolia trees have also become valuable sources of timber. The wood of the cucumbertree magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) is often used in cabinet making because it is close-grained, soft but durable and light colored. Other species are also used to make furniture, baskets and crates, especially the whitebark (M. hypoleuca), Kobushi (M. kobus), Southern (M. grandiflora), bigleaf (M. macrophylla) and sweetbay (M. virginiana) magnolias.
Magnolias were used in medicines long before they became popular decorations. The aromatic bark of the Houpu magnolia (Magnolia officinalis) has been used in healing in China since the first century A.D. Similarly, the bark of the Japanese bigleaf magnolia (M. obovata) has been used to treat allergy and asthma symptoms. There are also signs that magnolia bark may inhibit the bacteria responsible for periodontal disease. Other magnolias that have been used in infusions as tonics include the Mulan (M. liliiflora), Kobushi (M. kobus), Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) and sweetbay (M. virginiana) magnolias.