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PlantFiles: Sweetbay Magnolia, Silver Bay, Swamp Bay
Magnolia virginiana

Family: Magnoliaceae
Genus: Magnolia (mag-NO-lee-a) (Info)
Species: virginiana (vir-jin-ee-AN-uh) (Info)

Synonym:Magnolia virginiana var. australis
Synonym:Magnolia virginiana var. parva

9 vendors have this plant for sale.

13 members have or want this plant for trade.


30-40 ft. (9-12 m)

20-30 ft. (6-9 m)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Light Shade


Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Late Spring/Early Summer
Mid Summer
Late Summer/Early Fall


Other details:
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Soil pH requirements:
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From woody stem cuttings
From softwood cuttings
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From seed; stratify if sowing indoors

Seed Collecting:
Remove fleshy coating on seeds before storing

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12 positives
5 neutrals
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive PhilsBulbGarden On Dec 29, 2014, PhilsBulbGarden from Valley Village, CA wrote:

The variety australis actually has two forms: a southerly-growing form that is usually multi-trunked, smaller, and somewhat tender and a northerly-growing form that is single-trunked, tall, and hardy at least through zone 7. This latter form is occasionally found native in far northern Mississippi, Alabama, and nearly to Nashville. This is the especially great form to find--if indeed you can-- and grow it as a specimen tree. At my family home in north Mississippi (zone 7) we grow seven of these, and they and their delicious, lemon-scented flowers are wonderful to behold. The trunks and limbs are resistant to ice storms and wind, and the papery evergreen leaves are easily mowed away whenever they drop. (The two trees of the very southerly growing form that is relatively tender were so unimpressive and decrepit that we took both of them out several years ago!) Unfortunately, it is the southerly form that is commonly offered by growers; the stately northerly form is practically impossible to find. Note that most virginiana's sold are the deciduous form, while the stately australis form I have described herein is evergreen! I am now trying to grow three in-ground seedlings here in the Los Angeles area; only time will tell if they can be kept happily moist in this hot and dry area.

Positive dawsontm On Apr 28, 2014, dawsontm from Fairmont, IL wrote:

Hi -

I'm supposed to be 5A but as many people know, we have just come through one of the worst winters in history.

Well, last year I planted a Sweetbay Magnolia from a local nursery called 'The Possibility Place' and after this winter I thought there wasn't much chance of it surviving because I had had a negative experience with a Bracken's Black Beauty a few years ago during a cold winter (not nearly as bad as the most recent winter) that killed it after a few years, but I'm glad to say I'm already seeing shoots coming from the Sweetbay this spring. Of course, all its leaves from last year turned brown and most dropped off this winter, as would be expected in a harsh winter climate like this.

If it can survive a harsh winter like this in the upper Midwest, I figure it should have a good possibility of growing well longer term.

Positive Rickwebb On Jan 10, 2014, Rickwebb from Downingtown, PA wrote:

It is a handsome tree that is smaller farther north and bigger farther south. I first saw it in northeast ILL where it gets more like 15 to 20 ft high and is deciduous. My small tree that I bought at a native plant nursery as a small size grew very fast about 2-2.5 ft/yr in se PA. It is evergreen in winter, but drops its leaves in late March, April, and early May and some at all other times. Other trees are deciduous in winter in this area every year while some vary, depending on how cold the winter gets. My tree wants to be 30 to 35 ft high. Its handsome, big, white flowers are very fragrant, but are solitary and are produced only in a small number, but for a long time of June, July, and August. The birds, as Catbirds, eat some of the big red seeds.

Positive CypressCynthia On Sep 16, 2012, CypressCynthia from Slidell, LA wrote:

I love the form of this little tree: the slender white trunk, usually in multiples (think crepe myrtle without the mess). The flowers are insignificant, but aromatic. It is a sculptural tree that looks professional in landscaping if done correctly. My husband calls it the "aspen of the South" because of its shimmery silver appearance in the sun. Terrific native that is host to swallowtail butterflies.

Positive braun06 On Oct 1, 2010, braun06 from Peoria Heights, IL (Zone 5b) wrote:

Neutral willows_1 On May 21, 2010, willows_1 from Amherst, OH wrote:

I just had my landscaper install one of these beautiful trees as a focal point in front of my newly constructed home. I waited for it to bloom and when it did I was dissapointed. The flowers will bloom in the morning and the fragrance is heavenly...and by the time evening arrives they are turning brown. Nothing I have read prepared me for this, as I had thought they would last at least a few days. Maybe there is something wrong with this tree. The species I have is the Magnolia virginiana. Any information on this would be greatly appreciated.

Positive dghornock On May 9, 2009, dghornock from bear (glasgow), DE (Zone 7b) wrote:

Nice semi-evergreen tree in SE PA (zone 7a { 15 miles nw of Lancaster, 75 miles WNW of Philadelphia, and 75 miles NNE of Baltimore), growing well on the N side of the house with about a six inch mulch before winter.

Positive CARPE_DIEM On Mar 29, 2009, CARPE_DIEM from Chicago, IL wrote:

A great magnolia that is sadly underused in the midwestern U.S. Fully hardy in Chicago, it has no problems with diseases that plague saucer magnolias here. It does benefit from acidic amendments to alkaline soil, as well as from spraying the foliage with a solution of kelp and organic fertilizer a few times the first half of the growing season. As has been mentioned, likes lots of water. Can be grown as a multi-stemmed shrub; pruning just after the main blooming period will keep next year's blooms at eye (and nose!) level. Leaves stay green well into autumn here. They will eventually turn brown but linger on the branches throughout winter. They can be removed by hand on a small-to-medium shrub, taking care not to disturb next spring's buds. For a large specimen in a prominent setting, the brown leaves all winter could be an aesthetic or maintenace concern to some people.

Positive leeflea51 On Aug 17, 2008, leeflea51 from Golden, MS (Zone 7a) wrote:

I have 2 of these and do so enjoy each Spring/early Summer when they bloom. The blooms are a light cream color, about 2" in size, with a citrus fragrance. They are short lived, lasting about 2-3 days. They can be precocius bloomers. Mine are only about 5' with a spread of about 4'. They are growing in semi-shade. I do not give supplemental watering, as I've never seen the need.

Positive BambooChic On Jun 23, 2008, BambooChic from Prattville, AL wrote:

This tree grows with abandon in my wetland woods. It is lends a tropical look to any garden with it's smooth bark, big shiny leaves that are evergreen except for the spring leaf drop which is quickly replenished with new leaves. The roots are like Maples as they tend to travel all over the top of the ground so may not be for subdivision living. They need to do this in wetlands so it may not be necessary in a normal tilth. They love a lot of water and do there best in your wettest spot. Not for xeriscaping landscapes.

Positive CaptMicha On Jun 26, 2006, CaptMicha from Brookeville, MD (Zone 7a) wrote:

This is one of my favorites because of it's delicate beauty and fragrance.

The leaves have a soft green color and pale ashy wood. It makes pure white fragrant flowers and then redberries burst from an orange seedcomb.

We have this planted right near the most fequently used front entrance to our home, where it's lightly shaded by the house and the porch. Everytime I walk by, I catch a waft of the spicy, sweet perfume, even when it's not in bloom so I'm assuming that the leaves can also give off this fragrance, although it's magnified while in flower.

It's attractive in every season, even when almost bare in winter. It's a mass producer of berries, which I've discovered the mockingbirds are very fond of. I've hoped to find some sweetbays pop up around the yard because of this but it's not at all invasive, maybe just a seedling or two at the base of the plant.

Sweetbay seems to be insect and desease resistant, although I know that some lepidoptera species may use this as a host plant.

Positive escambiaguy On Dec 4, 2005, escambiaguy from Atmore, AL (Zone 8b) wrote:

I have alot of these trees in the woods behind my house. They are mostly evergreen here in zone8b. They make a nice screen planted along a property line. I have seen them growing in full sun but most of mine are growing in light shade under tall pines. I very seldom see them flower though.

Positive QueenB On Oct 16, 2004, QueenB from Shepherd, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:

I found this growing as a native on my property. The silver backs and brighter green of the leaves make it a nice addition as an understory tree among oaks and pines. Here it's semi-evergreen, losing it's leaves in the late winter/early spring. This species doesn't seem to produce as much of a mess as Magnolia grandiflora.

Neutral MotherNature4 On Oct 9, 2004, MotherNature4 from Bartow, FL (Zone 9a) wrote:

In Florida, these trees often grow in an old pond which has filled in. The trees in the center grow taller, reaching for the sun, giving the area of trees a rounded shape known as a bay "head." It is often difficult to see the flowers, but the leaf backs are covered with white hairs. When the wind blows, they flip up and are very attractive. Some people call them "silver or white bay."

Neutral xyris On Oct 9, 2004, xyris from Sebring, FL (Zone 9b) wrote:

Sweetbay Magnolia is a beautiful native tree, mostly found in swamps and seepage slopes in its natural habitats. Unfortunately, it is one of the trees that suffered the most in the hurricanes of 2004 in Florida. It seemed to be snapped off and have large limbs broken off much more frequently than any other native tree species.

Neutral tcfromky On Oct 8, 2004, tcfromky from Mercer, PA (Zone 5a) wrote:

Sweetbay magnolia is a deciduous or evergreen tree to 30m tall, native to the southeastern United States. Whether it is deciduous or evergreen depends on climate; it is evergreen in areas with milder winters in the south of its range, and deciduous further north.

The seeds are black but covered by a thinly fleshy red coat, which is attractive to some fruit-eating birds;

Grown for its large, conspicuous, and scented flowers.

Neutral Terry On Jan 25, 2002, Terry from Murfreesboro, TN (Zone 7a) wrote:

This tall lanky member of the Magnolia family is often overlooked for its showier cousins. It is deciduous in the colder zones; semi-evergreen in warmer climates. It occurs naturally in bogs and swamps, and requires constantly moist soil.

Used sparingly, it can provide an interesting backdrop to other plants.


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Atmore, Alabama
Prattville, Alabama
Saraland, Alabama
Prescott, Arkansas
San Ramon, California
Wilmington, Delaware
Bartow, Florida
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Kissimmee, Florida
Navarre, Florida
New Port Richey, Florida
Ocala, Florida
Odessa, Florida
Oldsmar, Florida
Sebring, Florida
Cordele, Georgia
Marietta, Georgia
Chicago, Illinois
Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Lockport, Illinois
Peoria, Illinois
Winnetka, Illinois
Plainfield, Indiana
Shawnee Mission, Kansas
Louisville, Kentucky
Houma, Louisiana (2 reports)
New Orleans, Louisiana (2 reports)
Slidell, Louisiana
Vacherie, Louisiana
Brookeville, Maryland
Centreville, Maryland
Pasadena, Maryland
Thurmont, Maryland
Valley Lee, Maryland
Horton, Michigan
Golden, Mississippi
Madison, Mississippi
Saucier, Mississippi
Stennis Space Center, Mississippi
Brooklyn, New York
Raleigh, North Carolina (2 reports)
Mogadore, Ohio
Salem, Oregon
Altoona, Pennsylvania
Downingtown, Pennsylvania
Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania
Hazleton, Pennsylvania
Lansdowne, Pennsylvania
Monroeville, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Loris, South Carolina
Sumter, South Carolina
Memphis, Tennessee
Milton, Tennessee
Shepherd, Texas
Cambridge, Wisconsin

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