Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Magnolia virginiana

Sweetbay, Sweetbay magnolia, Southern sweetbay, Swampbay, Swamp magnolia, Sweet magnolia, Small magnolia, Laurel magnolia, White bay, White laurel, Swamp laurel, Beaver tree

Magnoliaceae (Magnolia Family)

Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay)
Loughmiller, Campbell and Lynn
This is a slender tree or shrub with pale grey bark, 12-20 ft. tall, occasionally growing to 50 ft. in the southern part of its range. Multiple, slender, upright trunks bear picturesque, horizontal branches. Tree has aromatic, spicy foliage and twigs. Leaves are simple, green above and whitish below, 36 inches long and 12 1/2 inches wide. Leaves are semi-evergreen to evergreen and dark green in the South; tardily deciduous, changing to bronze-purple in the North. Foliage is smaller and thinner than southern magnolia. The solitary, fragrant flowers are 4-6 in. across, with 9-12 velvety-white petals 2-3 inches across. Flowers are followed by dark red aggregate fruits exposing bright red seeds. Blossom opening in the morning and closing at night for 2 or 3 days.

This attractive, native ornamental is popular for its fragrant flowers borne over a long period, showy conelike fruit, handsome foliage of contrasting colors, and smooth bark. Introduced into European gardens as early as 1688. Called Beaver tree by colonists who caught beavers in traps baited with the fleshy roots.

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Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Tree
Leaf Retention: Semi-evergreen
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Elliptic , Obovate , Ovate
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Margin: Entire
Leaf Apex: Acuminate , Acute , Obtuse
Leaf Base: Cuneate
Leaf Texture: Leathery
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Fruit Type: Follicle
Size Notes: Tree up to 90 feet tall; trunk up to 3 feet in diameter; crown usually round-topped.
Leaf: Alternate, simple, deciduous or evergreen, leathery, elliptic, rounded or pointed at the tip, tapering to the base, without teeth, silvery-silky when young, eventually becoming smooth on the upper surface, glaucous, hairy on the lower surface, up to 6 inches long, up to 3 inches wide; leaf stalks slender, up to 3/4 inch long.
Flower: Solitary, up to 3 inches across, creamy white, fragrant; flower stalks slender, smooth, up to 3/4 inch long.
Fruit: Many follicles crowded together into a cone, dark red, up to 2 inches long, smooth; seeds flattened, up to 1/4 inch long.
Size Class: 36-72 ft. , 72-100 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: Apr , May , Jun , Jul


USA: AL , AR , DE , FL , GA , LA , MD , MA , MS , NJ , NY , NC , PA , SC , TN , TX , VA , DC
Native Distribution: Coastal Plain from e. MA to FL, w. to TN, s. AR & e. TX.
Native Habitat: Open woodlands, Shaded woods, Swamps

Growing Conditions

Water Use: High
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: None
Soil Description: Rich, moist soils. . Sandy, Sandy Loam, Medium Loam, Clay Loam, Clay, Acid-based
Conditions Comments: Sweetbay is slow-growing and has no serious disease or insect problems. It is good for a small patio or specimen tree. Prune after blooming during the growing season because dormant magnolias do not easily heal.


Use Ornamental: Attractive, Aromatic, Showy, Blooms ornamental
Use Wildlife: Very low. Nectar-moths, Nectar-beetles
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Attracts: Birds

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Magnolia virginiana is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Sweetbay silkmoth
(Callosamia securifera)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2015-11-10