Capable of growing at a moderate rate to a height of 80 feet or more, with a 30- to 40-foot spread, the Southern Magnolia is easily identified even from a distance. It forms a dense, very deep green triangular-shape (more open in the shade), with the lower branches usually sloping downward to the ground. Your ID will be confirmed with a simple glance at the large, sturdy, deep green leaf that is brown on the bottom surface. Usually the edges of the leaf are curled under.
It’s easy to develop a “love-hate” relationship when this large and stately native evergreen tree occurs in your southern landscape. We love them in the late spring, when huge white flowers, 8 inches across, and oh so fragrant, open up to perfume the entire garden.
Even later on in the season, the unique fuzzy brown “cones” that follow after the blooms will open in fall and winter to reveal bright red seeds which are used as a food source by a variety of wildlife.
This is where the “love” relationship often ends.
The 5- to 8-inch long, tough leathery leaves are shed as new foliage emerges. This is usually the “hate” component to many homeowners. The magnolia leaves are very slow to decompose due to that reddish brown “fuzz” on the underside.
Florists love to use these thick leaves in decorative floral arrangements. While landscapers utilize Southern magnolias due to their ability to withstand salt and air pollution.