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Bigleaf Magnolia

Magnolia macrophylla

Height: Typically, 30 to 40 feet; rarely twice as tall  

Evergreen/Deciduous: Deciduous

Lifespan: Up to 100 years on good sites

Fall Foliage: Yellowish brown at best, but given their size, these trees are interesting to view in the fall  

Range: Primarily Mississippi and Alabama, but scattered populations exist to Ohio in the North and coastal South Carolina in the east   

Typical Habitat: Cool hardwood coves with plenty of moisture

bigleaf magnolia tree leaf

The Bigleaf Magnolia Tree: A Rare Gem of the Understory   

The bigleaf magnolia tree is a relatively rare tree, though it may be abundant in small, isolated locations. Visually striking, the tree looks out-of-place amid the understory of temperate forests, as its large leaves give it a distinctly “tropical” feel.

Bigleaf magnolias draw a lot of attention among homeowners and landscapers, but these trees rarely thrive in exposed locations – the leaves simply suffer too much damage.  

Bigleaf Magnolia Identification: Tips & Tricks

Theoretically, the bigleaf magnolia should be very easy to identify, as it has the largest leaves of any North American tree. But in practice, it can be difficult to distinguish between the merely large leaves of its close relatives (the only trees with which you are likely to confuse this species), and the truly gigantic leaves of the bigleaf magnolia tree.

However, the bigleaf magnolia leaves have two “lobes” at the base, causing it to look like a letter “B.” Meanwhile, the umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) – one of the most similar-looking species – has leaves that form a “V” at the base. Fraser magnolia (Magnolia fraseri) leaves also have lobes, but they’re rarely larger than 12 inches.

The Bigleaf Magnolia Tree: Additional Information

It’s only natural to need to read more about such a cool species. Check out these other great bigleaf magnolia resources to get started:

  • University of Kentucky: Basic information from a source close to the northern limit of the species’ range.
  • Georgia Native Plant Society: Primarily a table and photo collection, but this page also provides growing and propagation information.
  • Harvard Arboretum: Top-notch resource that provides basic information and several large, high-quality photographs.    

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