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Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay)
Cressler, Alan

Magnolia virginiana

Magnolia virginiana L.

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)

Synonym(s): Magnolia virginiana var. australis, Magnolia virginiana var. parva

USDA Symbol: mavi2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N)

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, 3-6 inches long and 1-2 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.


From the Image Gallery

23 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

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: Aggregate , 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.

Bloom Information

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


USA: AL , AR , DC , DE , FL , GA , LA , MA , MD , MS , NC , NJ , NY , PA , SC , TN , TX , VA
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)

Sweetbay silkmoth
(Callosamia securifera)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Propagate using stratified seed or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer.
Seed Collection: When ripe, the seeds are bright red, fleshy, oily, soft on the outside and stony on the inside. Gather when ripe. Clean and store in moist sand or sphagnum moss in refrigerator. Cold, moist storage also serves at stratification.
Seed Treatment: Stored seed must be kept moist and cool which will also serve as stratification. Stratify at least 60 days.
Commercially Avail: yes

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Tree for sound block near Houston
April 24, 2010
I live in Pearland, just south of Houston and am looking for a tree that I can plant along my fenceline between my neighbor and me that will block noise. We have a pool and entertain a lot, but they a...
view the full question and answer

Shrub for barrier fence in Alexandria, Virginia
August 19, 2009
Hi. we need plants to act as a barrier fence, 15 feet tall, partial shade. We are considering a holly or virginia magnolia. What can you suggest? thank you, Nikita
view the full question and answer

National Wetland Indicator Status

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here for map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department - Austin, TX
Longwood Gardens - Kennett Square, PA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
Wellspring Organic Farm and Education Center - West Bend, WI

Wildflower Center Seed Bank

LBJWC-1201 Collected 2008-08-24 in Jasper County by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

1 collection(s) available in the Wildflower Center Seed Bank


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 298 - Field Guide to Texas Trees (1999) Simpson, B.J.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 318 - Native Texas Plants: Landscaping Region by Region (2002) Wasowski, S. & A. Wasowski
Bibref 248 - Texas Wildflowers: A Field Guide (1984) Loughmiller, C. & L. Loughmiller
Bibref 291 - Texas Wildscapes: Gardening for Wildlife (1999) Damude, N. & K.C. Bender

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 17 - Southern Wetland Flora: Field Office Guide to Plant Species (0) U.S. Department of Agriculture. No date. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. U.S.D.A. Soil Conservation Service, South Nat...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Magnolia virginiana in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Magnolia virginiana in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Magnolia virginiana


Record Modified: 2023-04-13
Research By: TWC Staff

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