UACES Facebook Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Landscape Trees
Sweetbay Magnolia
(Magnolia virginiana

Sweetbay magnolia is an underutilized native plant with clean foliage and fragrant flowers that makes this a useful plant for many situations in Arkansas landscapes.

The foliage, although somewhat variable, is a very clean, semi-gloss, medium green on the upper surface with a beautiful silvered underside.  Depending on the source, leaf retention on sweetbay magnolia can range from deciduous to evergreen,  but we typically see the semi-evergreen or evergreen forms in Arkansas. 

The 3” diameter cream-white flowers are not showy from a distance, but up close they are beautiful and offer a distinct lemon-scent.  Similar to the Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora), there is no single flowering period, instead, flowers start in May and will continue through the summer. 

What makes this plant so attractive is the clean foliage, distinctive upright habit, and lack of any disease or insect problems.  Sweetbay magnolia is native to south central Arkansas and interestingly, the national champion is in Union County (92’ tall).  Sweetbay would make an excellent patio tree or tree for small landscapes.

  • Common Name:  Sweetbay Magnolia, Swamp Magnolia
  • Varieties to look for: few in trade; ‘Green Shadow’, ‘Willowleaf Bay’
  • Flower Color: cream white, 3” diam., lemon scented
  • Blooming period: May-Sept.
  • Type:  semi-evergreen large shrub/small tree
  • Size:  35’ tall x 15’ wide
  • Exposure: shade to sun
  • Soil: amend with organic matter
  • Watering:  thrives in moist soil
  • When to prune: as needed
  • Suggested use:  woodland garden, specimen, large evergreen screen, patio tree 


Picture of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) tree form.


Picture closeup of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) fruit.

Flower and leaf structure

Picture closeup of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) white flower and leaf structure.

Reverse side of leaves

Picture of Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) leaves showing lighter color distinction on reverse.