13 types of magnolia trees

When planting an ornamental garden, trees are not typically the first thing to come to mind. But with the right tree, they can quickly become anchors and stunning backdrops to the rest of your perennial beds. And no tree turns more heads for its visual appeal than the magnolia.

The species synonymous with the magnolia genus is the Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. The star magnolia and saucer magnolia are also widely grown across the USA. But there are also many other species to look out for, each with different heights, leaf shapes and flowers – it’s hard not to want to grow them all. Here are 13 types of magnolia trees.

1. Magnolia grandiflora – Southern Magnolia

13 types of magnolia trees

The Southern magnolia is one of the most well-known around the world, so much so that it is also referred to as the common magnolia. It features gorgeous scented blooms with the classic magnolia look you likely imagine when you think of these popular trees. What is most impressive about this species is its height, reaching a whopping 80 feet tall and needing plenty of space to expand as it matures.

2. Magnolia macrophylla – Bigleaf Magnolia

The specific epithet of this species gives a clue as to its defining characteristics – massive leaves. Magnolia macrophylla foliage can reach an impressive 36 inches long, perfectly framing the large upright flowers in creamy white. In warmer climates this species is evergreen, adding visual appeal to gardens with its impressive leaves.

3. Magnolia virginiana – Sweetbay Magnolia

Another magnolia with creamy white blooms, sweetbay is also known as laurel magnolia or swamp magnolia. This species was the first of the genus described by botanist Carl Linnaeus, inventor of the botanical nomenclature system still used today. Of the many magnolia species, this is the most problem-free choice, experiencing few issues with pests and growing well in moist clay soils.

4. Magnolia liliiflora – Lily Magnolia

If you have a smaller backyard but still dream of growing a lush magnolia tree, the lily magnolia is the perfect option for you. Compared to other magnolia species this is one of the most compact, growing to around 10 feet on average. This smaller size certainly doesn’t mean less impressive blooms though. This tree produces tons of pinkish-purple flowers almost shaped like lilies, hence the name.

5. Magnolia denudata – Yulan Magnolia

The Yulan magnolia has a rich history dating back almost 1500 years ago when they were planted in Chinese Buddhist temple gardens. It is a medium-sized magnolia, growing around 30 feet tall and producing stark white flowers that give them their association with purity in some parts of China. After the flowers have bloomed they produce interesting pink-red fruit in a cone shape.

6. Magnolia x soulangiana – Saucer Magnolia

This hybrid was created by crossing the lily magnolia and the Yulan magnolia, creating the most widely purchased and grown magnolia species in the US. It is relatively compact for a magnolia tree, only reaching around 25 feet tall when mature. The branches hang low and sport pink to white blooms appearing in spring before the foliage starts filling out again.

7. Magnolia sprengeri – Sprenger’s Magnolia

Sprenger’s magnolia is named after Carl Ludwig Sprenger, a German botanist born in 1846. Native to China, this interesting species grows in mountainous habitats at high altitudes, producing carpets of white to red blooms. Although the original species is not commonly grown in home gardens, several stunning cultivars have been developed by growers that make great additions to any backyard. For captivating pink flowers, look out for the aptly named ‘Diva’ cultivar.

8. Magnolia stellata – Star Magnolia

The common name of this magnolia tells you everything you need to know about its blooms. Packed with petals in white, the star-shaped flowers of the star magnolia are a delicate addition to any backyard. They are also suitable for smaller gardens, growing between 15 and 20 feet tall and flowering in early spring before the other flowers in your garden emerge.

9. Magnolia kobus – Kobus Magnolia

Closely related to the star magnolia, Magnolia kobus is native to Japan and Korea. In fact, the two species are so similar that the star magnolia was originally believed to be a variety of kobus magnolia and is still occasionally labeled M. kobus var. stellata today. It has dark green leaves that contrast well with the bright white flowers.

10. Magnolia × loebneri – Loebner Magnolia

Crossing the previous two species will give you the Loebner magnolia, named after its creator Max Löbner. This relatively new species appeared just before the First World War, growing massively in popularity since its inception. The star-shaped blooms are usually a blush pink color, most notable on the cultivar ‘Leonard Messel’.

11. Magnolia tripetala – Umbrella Magnolia

Magnolia tripetala is native to the United States and grows between 15 and 30 feet tall, considered a smaller magnolia tree. It is named after the wide canopy of long and large leaves that cover areas with blankets of shade. The tree itself appreciates some shade and continues to flower well in lower light levels.

12. Magnolia salicifolia – Anise Magnolia

Although not grown as often as some of the more popular species, Magnolia salicifolia still deserves a space in your garden. Native to Japan and suitable for warmer climates (USDA Zones 6-9), it has a more delicate look with narrow leaves reminiscent of willow trees. This is why you may also see it referred to as the willow-leafed magnolia, although it is known by the much shorter name anise magnolia.

13. Magnolia ashei – Ashe’s Magnolia

This magnolia is quite rare and may be tough to find. But, if you can get your hands on one, definitely consider planting it in your backyard. Similar to the bigleaf magnolia, this tree has long, massive leaves with interesting bi-colored blooms. The Garden Club of America even named it the plant of the year in 2017, increasing its status. Ashe’s magnolia is considered an endangered species, so wider cultivation and spread can go a long way to keeping this gorgeous tree alive and thriving.


What is the easiest Magnolia tree to grow?

The Magnolia stellata is the easiest magnolia tree to grow. This is because it can be kept in the sun or shade. It can also be planted in a small planter or garden.

How long does it take a magnolia tree to bloom?

Once the seedlings are planted, it takes around 10 years before a magnolia tree will blossom.


Madison Moulton
Madison Moulton

Madison Moulton is an esteemed gardening writer and editor with a profound affection for plants that took root in her childhood. As a life-long plant enthusiast, Madison’s early captivation with indoor gardening blossomed into a full-fledged profession. Her dedication and expertise in the field have seen her words grace the pages of several national gardening magazines, as well as some of the most popular online platforms.

With bylines in notable gardening publications such as Epic Gardening, Rural Sprout, Homes & Gardens, and All About Gardening, Madison’s voice stands out as a beacon for sustainable and eco-friendly gardening practices. Moreover, her vast experience with tropical plants has not only made her a valuable contributor to our team but has also earned her features in esteemed platforms like Real Homes and Architectural Digest.

While Madison’s extensive writing portfolio speaks volumes about her gardening expertise, her mission remains consistent: to inspire novice and seasoned gardeners alike to approach gardening with both the flora and the earth’s well-being at heart. Outside the digital realm, Madison is hands-on, immersing herself in the rich soils of her home country, South Africa, where she passionately plants and tends to her own garden.

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