- Type Flowering tree
- Lifespan 80+ years
- USDA Zones 4-10
- Light Sun
- Crown Pyramidal or conical
- Location Moist soil
- Design Tip Specimen tree
- Companions Daffodils, crocuses
- Peak Bloom Spring
Magnolia Trees: A Field Guide
Magnolia trees offer a tantalizing springtime choice of color, scent, and flower shape. With more than 200 species, magnolias can gracefully complement nearly any landscape, large or small, in a temperate climate (USDA growing zones 4 to 10).
A velvety magnolia blossom in its full glory was enough to make the poet Walt Whitman exclaim “O the pleasure with trees!” Magnolias got a shout-out (along with honey-locust, black-walnut, and cottonwood trees) in Leaves of Grass, with Whitman echoing the same sentiment that overwhelms us in early spring when the first magnolia buds appear on glossy-leaved branches. No matter the species, magnolia trees have “extravagantly pretty flowers, whether globular, ribboned, or waving like handkerchiefs,” writes our contributor Kendra Wilson.
How do you choose the best magnolia tree (and rest assured—there is one) for your garden? Keep in mind that magnolias are specimen trees that look best against an uncrowded backdrop. If you live in a southern state and have a large enough garden for a tree that will at maturity reach a height of up to 90 feet, Magnolia grandiflora with its dark evergreen leaves and creamy white flowers is a spectacular choice. In a moist or swampy garden, M. virginiana will do the trick. For classic saucer-shape blossoms, consider (M. x soulangeana). For smaller gardens, consider white-flowered M. stellata, M. x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’, or M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’. For a more in-depth look at our favorites, see Flowering Magnolias: 7 Best Trees to Plant.
For more inspiration, see Insider’s London: Where to See Magnolias in Bloom—and be prepared to exclaim: “O the pleasure with trees!”