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Magnolia Guide

By Lou Paun


There are about 210 plants in the genus Magnolia. Their natural habitats are scattered across the Americas, the West Indies and Asia.These are beautiful trees and shrubs. Two kinds, the star and the saucer magnolia, are popular in gardens.

Magnolia stellata

Common name Star Magnolia

Magnolia x soulangiana

Common name Saucer Magnolia


These are ancient plants. Fossilized specimens of M. acuminata dating to 20 million years ago have been found. Fossils belonging to the Magnoliaceae family and dating back to 95 million years ago have been identified.

Because these plants evolved before bees existed, they developed very tough flowers able to avoid damage from the beetles that pollinated them. Their flowers are thick and strong. They do not have distinct sepals or petals, as more modern flowers do; scientists have named the corresponding part of the magnolia flower a tepal.

Understanding the relationships between various subgenera and species has been difficult. Recent DNA studies are beginning to clarify the situation. It is possible that some plants will be renamed eventually to indicate their relationships more clearly.


M. stellata

The star magnolia is a deciduous large shrub or small tree, growing up to 20 feet tall. The flowers are usually white, although some varieties have pink blossoms. Stellata blooms early in the spring, before the leaves appear.

M. x soulangiana

The saucer magnolia is a hybrid of M. heptapeta x M. quinquepeta that is hardy to zone 5. This deciduous tree grows slowly to 30 feet tall with a corresponding spread. It has large, cup-like blossoms and typically is a heavy bloomer. The flowers are usually pink, although they can also be white or purple. Some are fragrant.

Growing Conditions

M. stellata

Stellata grows best in full sun. It should be planted in fertile soil that is rich in organic material. It requires even moisture. This small tree is hardy as far as zone 4.

M. x soulangiana

Saucer is easy to grow. It likes full sun and even moisture. It should be planted in fertile soil with a lot of organic matter.


These are tough plants with few problems. The biggest concern for gardeners is losing blossoms in a late spring frost. This can be avoided by planting in locations that are protected from late frost or in locations that are consistently cooler than average to delay blooming until the danger of frost has passed.

Scale is sometimes a problem. Limbs are vulnerable to storm damage.


Magnolias are usually grown as specimen plants. If space is available, they are dramatic in a group.

Magnolia officinalis was used medicinally in China as early as 1038C.E. The bark is aromatic and contains magnolol and honokiol, both of which have anti-anxiety and anti-angiogenic properties. It also is used to treat allergic reactions and asthma.

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae
Division – Magnoliophyta
Class – Magnoliopsida
Family – Magnoliaceae
Genus – Magnolia

Varieties to Grow

  • M. stellata ‘Centennial’ – Star form, white flowers
  • M. stellata ‘Rosea’ – Star form, pink flowers
  • M. stellata ‘Centennial’ – Star form, white flowers from pink buds
  • M. x soulangiana ‘Alexandrina’ – Saucer form, rose flowers
  • M. x soulangiana ‘Brozzonii’ – Saucer form, large white flowers, later bloom
  • M. x soulangiana ‘Lilliputian’ – Saucer form, pale pink flowers, small form


How to Care for Magnolia Plants


The Complete Guide to Magnolia Trees


One response

  1. Pingback: Peak Magnolia | The Miserly Photographer

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