Arboretum: Magnolia grandiflora, Southern or Bull Bay magnolia
The evergreen Magnolia grandiflora, Southern or Bull Bay magnolia, is truly magnificent all year long, especially in spring with its white blooms the size of dinner plates. Then in the fall, large pods split open to release bright red seeds. The dark green, leathery leaves with fuzzy brown undersides remain on the tree year-round. But because the tree is native to North Carolina and further south, in our climate Magnolia grandifolia must be grown in a protected area if it is to have any chance of survival.
In recent years, in a quest to find a more cold-hardy Magnolia grandiflora, many, many cultivars have been introduced. All like sunny, protected locations with moist soil. Their flowers, and even the branches when crushed, give off a lemony fragrance. Plant this tree in a southern exposure near a building, not where it would get hit by northern winds. Also keep in mind that the tree’s bark is thin and easily damaged. Keep string trimmers away from the base and don’t hammer nails in its branches to hang up bird feeders, etc.
Two common cultivars, ‘Edith Bogue’ and ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, are Gold Medal Plants named by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for their outstanding horticultural and aesthetic appeal.
A mature specimen of Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’ grows against the Ryan Gym wall in Hilles Courtyard at Haverford College. Named for a Miss E.A. Bogue of Montclair, N. J., the cultivar can reach 60 feet high and spread to 30 feet wide with an open habit. Flowers appear in May and June, and then sporadically in late summer. The blossoms get to 9 or 10 inches wide and release a sweet. lemony fragrance. Is it any wonder why Northerners strive to grow this tree? When the large, dark green leaves eventually fall off, however, they don’t decompose and nothing can grow under the tree in this leaf litter.
Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty,’ is a compact and denser form than ‘Edith Bogue’ with smaller, rippled leaves and flowers only 6 inches wide, half the size of the straight species. The tree will grow to 30 feet high and 20 feet wide.