Sweetbay Magnolia definitely deserves a stronger presence in Massachusetts, where it is considered extremely rare and endangered. Naturally it grows in Red Maple swamps on the Coastal Plain, usually also among White Pine, Hemlock, Yellow Birch and Blackgum.
It's beloved throughout most of its range for its enticingly lemony scented flowers and ranks among the most beautiful of all North American native trees.
Its large and creamy white flowers emerge in early spring and bloom sporadically throughout summer. Pollinators love Sweetbay Magnolia, which also is a larval host to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Sweetbay Silkmoth, Lo Moth and other lepidoptera species.
Its glossy, green leaves have silvery undersides and persist into late fall and sometimes through the winter. Also in fall its bright, red seeds appear in cones and are loved by birds.
Unlike other magnolias, the Sweetbay tolerates wet, swampy conditions, although it adapts to drier sites and is an excellent choice for shrub borders and along stream banks and in low areas.
Fun Fact: A town in Massachusetts renamed a section of itself "Magnolia" after a stand of Sweetbay Magnolia was discovered in 1806. This stand still exists and is considered the species' northern-most colony. (Peter Del Tredici, "Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts.")
- Latin: Magnolia virginiana
- Pollinator value: High
- Current height: 3-4 feet
- Mature height: 10-35' tall and wide
- Light: Full sun to part shade
- Soil: Moist, wet
- Bloom: Creamy white, deliciously fragrant
- Foliage: Semi-evergreen; green with silvery underneath
- Fruit: Cones of bright red seeds
- Landscape: Butterfly garden, specimen, near ponds and streams
- More information and native range here
- Photos: Creative Commons