Several species of magnolia trees are grown in the United States. Sporting such fanciful names as the umbrella tree, the cucumber tree and the saucer magnolia, all bear showy flowers in shades of white, pink, purple, green or yellow. Pest-resistant and easy to grow, magnolias are a popular choice in massed planting or as a specimen.
A dense, conical form combined with glossy green leaves and silvery bark, magnolia trees are easiest to identify when they are in flower. Large, cup-shaped flowers appear in late spring or early summer. Flowers are followed by bright red berries in fall. Leaves are elongated and evergreen in southern regions. Depending on the species, magnolia trees can range from 30 to 80 feet tall.
Magnolia trees grow best in full sun but tolerate light shade. Able to grow in a wide variety of soil conditions, magnolias can be found as far south as zone 9 and as far north as zone 5. This includes a large part of the U.S. Magnolias prefer a moist, well-drained and slightly acidic soil.
Magnolia trees are hardy and adaptable, but they are subject to a number of pests and fungal diseases. Leaf roller larvae feed on new growth and can cause a ragged appearance. As their name suggests, the caterpillars roll the leaves into cylinders to hide from predators. Magnolia scale, one of the largest of the scale insects, attaches to twigs and leaves, sucking the moisture from the plant and causing twig death.
Magnolias are also vulnerable to verticillium wilt and various cankers and blights. Signs of fungal infections include leaf drop, early leaf loss, bark lesions and yellow or black spots on leaves. All conditions are curable if caught and treated early.
Magnolias are grown primarily for their glossy foliage and abundant flowers, but the wood of some species has been used in the furniture industry. The flowers, buds and bark of magnolias are nontoxic and can be steeped and consumed as a tea. Magnolia trees are used in the landscape to provide shade, and the seeds and flower petals are attractive to birds.
Magnolia flowers are somewhat primitive, lacking true petals and sepals. According to the University of Florida, "Flowers do not produce true nectar, but attract pollinating beetles with fragrant, sugary secretions. Magnolia flowers are primarily pollinated by beetles of the Nitidulidae family because magnolias evolved long before bees and other flying pollinators." How long, you may wonder? Fossilized remains of magnolia leaves have been discovered dating back 36 million to 58 million years.