Over 80 species of magnolia trees exist, many native to the United States. The fruit of the magnolia tree, which resembles a cone in structure, has changed very little over millions of years, according to horticulturists at the National Arboretum. The fruit's seeds, which are high in fat, serve as feed for migrating birds. Magnolia flowers, with their sweet, heavenly scent, are pollinated by beetles. Magnolias are used in residential landscapes as shade trees and accent plantings.
Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is a large tree that will grow to heights from 60 to 90 feet, with a spread of 30 to 50 feet. The Southern magnolia is evergreen, with fragrant, white flowers that bloom in the summer. If grown within its USDA hardiness zones (7 to 9), this tree requires partial shade to full sun, protection from wind and moist, acidic soil. Overall, the Southern magnolia is an easy-to-maintain tree.
One of the fastest-growing of all magnolia trees, the cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata) is a deciduous tree that blooms in white flowers in late spring. Only the mature tree will bloom. The 3-inch fruit, from whence the tree derives its name, appears in the summer. Hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8, the cucumber tree will grow 60 feet in height with a 60-foot spread. One of the cultivars, Butterflies, is a shorter version of this magnolia, growing only 18 feet in height. Master gardeners at the University of Florida suggest that you purchase container-grown cucumber tree, as those transplanted from field nurseries have a difficult time becoming established.
Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is a deciduous magnolia hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9. This tree becomes covered in white and pink, 5- to 10-inch flowers in spring, prior to the growth of summer foliage. Not a particularly large tree, it will grow 25 feet in height with a 20-foot spread. The saucer magnolia has a tendency to become shrubby but it is possible to train it to a single trunk. Generally used as a specimen plant, it is adaptable to most any conditions, provided they aren't too harsh. Properly trimmed, the saucer magnolia is a striking focal point in an early spring garden.