The leaves of American magnolia trees share certain features. Among them is the fact that their stems are typically very short and that the leaves are alternate on the twigs, as opposed to growing opposite each other. Magnolia leaves of the various types that grow in the eastern United States have smooth edges, with some staying on the magnolia year-round and others dropping off in fall.
The shapes of magnolia leaves are usually elongated. Umbrella magnolia has leaves with a broadly elliptical shape, with the leaf at its widest about three quarters of the distance from their bases. Southern magnolias have an oval leaf, as do sweetbay magnolias. The leaf of the cucumbertree, a magnolia that grows as far to the north as upstate New York, is elongated and tapers to a point. Fraser and pyramid magnolias have leaves with blunted points on one end.
Umbrella magnolia leaves are lime green above and look frosted on their undersides. The leaves change to an attractive brown color in the autumn. Many magnolia leaves have a glossy sheen to them, such as those of southern magnolia. The cucumbertree magnolia has yellow-green leaves that turn bronze in the fall, according to the University of Connecticut Plant Database website, a characteristic that enhances the tree's value as an ornamental.
Leaves that are as long as 2 feet are not out of the question on the umbrella magnolia. The species has some of the largest leaves of the American magnolias. Nevertheless, umbrella magnolia leaves cannot compare in size to those of bigleaf magnolia, which takes its name from leaves that can be 30 inches long. Sweetbay magnolia has some of the smaller leaves of these trees, with theirs between 4 and 6 inches in length.
Deciduous or Evergreen
Southern magnolia retains its leaves and is an evergreen species. Sweetbay magnolia keeps its leaves in the southern climates it grows in but loses them in the northern latitudes, except for a cultivar called Henry Hicks. Most other magnolias have deciduous leaves.
Magnolia leaves that fall off the tree tend to take a long time to decompose, so you should rake them up if you desire to keep the area beneath the tree neat. The leaves of magnolia, while being an asset to their appearance, are a detriment when the weather turns severe. The leaves are usually so large that strong winds and hail from thunderstorms can damage them.
The leaves of umbrella magnolia have an arrangement on the branch that helps give the species its name. These leaves all radiate from the end of the branch and droop downward to give the branch the appearance of an umbrella.