Magnolia virginiana

Sweetbay Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia




  • native to eastern United States; more common in southeast
  • hardy to zone 5
  • often found in swampy locations

Habit and Form

  • a semi-evergreen small tree
  • 10' to 30' tall in the northeast
  • 40' to 60' tall in the southeast
  • multi-stemmed, loose and open
  • rounded to pyramidal or irregular outline
  • upright, spreading branching

Summer Foliage

  • leaves are evergreen in the southeastern United States
  • leaves are semi-evergreen to deciduous in the northeastern United States (zone 5 and 6)
  • leaves are 5" long; alternate arrangement
  • smooth, almost wary, bright green upper surface
  • undersides of leaves are white and look frosted
  • young twigs are green and smooth

Autumn Foliage

  • typically not showy
  • a mix of yellow, brown and green
  • non-uniform color due to semi-evergreen nature


  • blooms in mid-June; sporadically during the summer
  • 2" to 3" diameter creamy white flowers
  • 9 to 12 petals
  • lemon-scented
  • generally not strongly showy in bloom because the foliage hides many blossoms and flowers are not very abundant


  • 2' long aggregate fruit
  • changes from green to red when mature
  • orang-red seeds are visible through slits in mature fruits


  • smooth, dark gray on older branches and trunk
  • young branches smooth and green


  • tolerant of wet soils
  • soil must be acidic
  • full sun is best, but tolerant of partial shade
  • avoid sites that are cold and windswept in winter

Landscape Use

  • as a specimen tree or large shrub
  • useful for flower fragrance
  • patio plant
  • naturalistic areas
  • wet soils


  • chlorosis on high pH soils
  • subject to winter injury in zone 5
  • does not always perform well in colder parts of its recommended use range
  • does not bloom as heavily as other common-magnolias

ID Features

  • smooth, green bark or twigs
  • silvery-white undersides of leaves


  • by seed
  • by cuttings; can be challenging from adult trees


var. australis - Considered to be the southern form of the species, it purportedly grows larger (more tree-like) and remains evergreen in winter, unlike northern forms of the species.

'Henry Hicks' - Perhaps the most common form in commerce, this plant is notable for its handsome foliage that appears to remain evergreen even in cold climates. It grows to 25' tall.

'Milton' (also known as "Milton Clones") and 'Ravenswood' - These are selections from the northernmost natural populations of the species, located in coastal Massachusetts. They should express very good cold-hardiness.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

The digital materials (images and text) available from the UConn Plant Database are protected by copyright. Public use via the Internet for non-profit and educational purposes is permitted. Use of the materials for profit is prohibited.

Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database,, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.