Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is a native southern aristocrat that has become a blooming sensation over the past 30 years. The large 8 to 12 in. wide fragrant flowers appear in May and early June. Although they open sporadically and are often scattered haphazardly throughout the canopy, I’ve learned to appreciate each individual flower’s character and fragrance. I find the leaves to be attractive as well. The dark green, waxy leaves have the feel of plastic. The undersides of the leaves of the species are green, but some cultivars flaunt fuzzy, felty brown lower leaf surfaces.
Left to its own devices, a southern magnolia can attain gargantuan proportions, typically 60 to 80 ft. high and 30 to 50 ft. wide. However, with the introduction and availability of cultivars that come in a variety of habits, sizes, and leaf shapes, southern magnolia can fit quite easily into smaller landscapes. Use the heat- and drought-tolerant cultivars as accents, or plant them in groups, hedges, or large screens.
Several exceptional cultivars for the Carolinas include ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, ‘Claudia Wannamaker’, ‘D.D. Blanchard,’ ‘Hasse’, ‘Kay Parris’, ‘Little Gem’, ‘Mgtig’ (Greenback®), ‘Southern Charm’ (Teddy Bear®), and ‘TMGH’ (Alta®).
Note: Magnolia grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’ is an upright, columnar southern magnolia that bears six-inch wide fragrant flowers and grows up to 25-30 ft. tall and 10 to 12 ft. wide after 15 years. Introduced by Kevin Parris in 1993, it is believed to be the result of a cross between M.grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ and ‘M. grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’.