One of the most elegant and showy flowering trees, the magnolia is an attractive addition to the garden. Popular for their spring flowers that often set before the leaves emerge, despite their showy appearance the magnolia is a surprisingly low maintenance plant.
A versatile specimen, all types of magnolia trees grow in a range of different shapes and sizes. Their flowers can also be a range of colors and shapes, some are even fragrant. This guide to different types of magnolia trees is designed to highlight some of the most versatile and attractive specimens currently available.
The magnolia is one of the most popular spring flowering trees.
What are Magnolia Trees?
A member of the Magoliaceae family, the magnolia is one of the oldest recorded flowering plants. Magnolia fossils dating back 20 million years have been discovered. This means that the trees developed before bees. Instead the flowers evolved to encourage pollination by beetles. Interestingly the flowers don’t produce true nectar like other flowering trees and plants. Instead all types of magnolia trees produce a pollen which is rich in proteins.
Native to East Asia and parts of the Himalayas, these are tall specimens. Many can grow to a height of between 40 and 80 ft and spread 30 to 40 ft wide. Remember, the spread is not confined to the visible canopy above ground. Below ground the roots will cover a similar distance.
There are over 200 different types of magnolia trees. These can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous. Many deciduous types tend to flower early in the spring, often before the foliage has properly emerged.
Once established many types of magnolia trees can last for over 100 years.
In addition to the showy, often fragrant flowers, the green, oval leaves also provide visual interest. While the leaves may fall from the trees in the fall, the interest is maintained by the emergence of orange-red berries. These are popular with birds and wildlife.
Different Types of Magnolia Trees
The following are 20 of the most attractive types of magnolia trees currently available for the home gardener.
1 Alba Superba
Alba Superba (Magnolia x soulangeana) is a white flowering cultivar. Upon closer inspection you will notice that the white petals are flushed purple-pink at the base. These saucer shaped blooms sit alongside rich dark green leaves. Further adding to the attraction, the flowers are also fragrant.
Best planted in full sun, Alba Superba also thrives in partial shade positions. Taking around 50 years to reach its mature height, Alba Superba specimens can grow to a height of between 13 and 26 ft depending on the growing conditions. Regular pruning can help to contain the size further.
White blooming varieties are amongst the most common.
Alba Superba is a reliable, compact cultivar that is ideal for small gardens.
2 Hot Flash
Hot Flash is another of the many types of magnolia trees that produce upright, tulip-like flowers. These are yellow in color. Flowering later in the season than other varieties, Hot Flash is rarely affected by late frosts.
A mature Hot Flash specimen can reach 20 to 30 ft in height and achieve a spread of between 8 and 12 ft. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, Hot Flash is ideal for cottage and city gardens. This is one of the most versatile varieties on our list, growing in a range of soil types. However, like other types of magnolia trees Hot Flash prefers planting in an acidic soil.
3 Ivory Chalice
Ivory Chalice is an early season flowering variety. In late winter or early spring ivory colored flowers emerge. A hybrid variety, the result of crossing M. Acuminata and M. Denudata, Ivory Chalice also displays an interesting growth habit. Initially upright, the growth becomes more pyramid in shape as the plant matures. In the fall the green foliage turns a pleasing shade of copper-bronze.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, Ivory Chalice grows to a height and width of 30 to 40 ft. Best planted in full or partial sun this is a versatile specimen suitable for a range of planting schemes.
A good specimen plant Ann is popular for its attractive pink or red-purple chalice shaped flowers. With petals typically measuring 4 inches wide, this is another of the many striking types of magnolia trees. Ann is a pleasingly resilient, spring flowering hybrid.
Ann’s colorful petals are darker on the outside than the inside.
Best planted in full sun, Ann tends to flower early. Ideal for cottage and city gardens in the fall Ann’s the medium green leaves fade to a pleasing yellow-gold shade. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8, Ann reaches a height and spread of 8 to 10 ft.
5 Jane Platt
One of the most popular pink flowering types of magnolia trees, Jane Platt (M. Stellata) produces colorful, fragrant flowers. A star magnolia, Jane Platt can also be cultivated as a large, deciduous shrub.
Jane Platt typically flowers from early to mid spring, the buds setting before the foliage emerges. Growing to a height of 10 to 15 ft tall and spreading between 8 and 12 ft in width, Jane Platt is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.
Jane Platt is best planted in a sheltered site. Cold winds can damage the exposed buds. Smaller specimens can be protected from cold spells by covering with a Timpfee Heavy Duty Frost Blanket.
Anise types of magnolia trees (Magnolia salicifolia) are popular for their willow like white petals. Adding further interest, the petals sometimes display a decorative pink tinge at their base. The large petals can grow up to 6 inches wide.
When open Anise flowers emit a pleasing lemony or slightly anise aroma. Further adding to the attraction, the foliage is copper-red with a whtie underside. As the leaves age, they turn an eye-catching golden yellow color, adding interest to fall gardens.
Anise produces attractive, star shaped flowers.
One of the most attractive Anise types of magnolia trees is Wadas’ Memory. A hybrid, Wada’s Memory flowers have bright yellow centers and willowy petals. Easy to care for, as long as it is protected from frosts, this showy cultivar is an ideal specimen plant. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, Wada’s Memory can achieve a height of 30 to 40 ft and a spread of 25 to 30 ft.
Merrill (M. X. Loebneri) is another of the small, deciduous hybrid specimens on our list. A resilient specimen, despite flowering early in the season Merrill is less susceptible to late spring frosts than other types of magnolia trees.
Oblong shaped foliage appears after the bright white, star shaped flowers have opened. These white blooms have a pink blush at their base. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9, Merrill reaches a height and spread of 20 to 30 ft.
8 Black Tulip
Black Tulip flowers are deep burgundy in color and, as the name suggests, usually tulip shaped. Best planted in well draining soil this is an ideal specimen plant. You can also grow Black Tulip in large containers and planters.
Mature Black Tulip types of magnolia trees reach a height of between 15 and 20 ft tall and a spread of 6 to 10 ft. Like other cultivars the flowers emerge in early spring before the leaves. Black Tulip is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
Darkly rich buds open to reveal burgundy blooms.
9 Solar Flair
Producing bright, upright yellow flowers with a hint of rose pink at the base, in early spring, Solar Flare is a great choice if you want to add early season interest to your garden. Best planted in slightly acidic, well draining soil, like many types of magnolia trees the flowers set on bare stems.
Solar Flare is a good ornamental specimen. A hybrid, it is the result of crossing M. Brooklynensis Woodman and M. Gold Star. Solar Flair is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8. Mature specimens reach a final height of 20 to 30 ft and a spread of between 15 and 20 ft.
One of the smallest, compact types of magnolia trees, Genie rarely exceeds 13 ft in height. It spreads to a width of around 6 ft.
A good specimen plant, Genie typically flowers in the spring but it can also flower sporadically throughout the summer and fall in certain climates. When in flower, deep red petals emerge. These lighten to a magenta-rose shade as they mature.
Dark red flowering varieties such as Genie bring warmth and color to the garden.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9, Genie is best placed in well draining moist soil and either full or partial sun.
Sunsation is another of the yellow flowering types of magnolia trees. Sunsations bright, golden yellow flowers, with a purple rose blush at the base, add instant drama to a garden. A great specimen plant you will need to protect Sunsation from late season frosts. Unexpected cold weather can damage the buds before the flowers have a chance to open.
Displaying a pyramidal growth habit, Sunsation reaches a height of 20 to 25 ft. It’s spread rarely exceeds 8 ft. Sunsation is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
Lilliputian, or the Chinese Magnolia is one of the smallest saucer types of magnolia trees on this list. Displaying an upright, pyramid-like growth habit Lilliputian reaches a height of between 10 and 12 ft and a spread of 8 to 10 ft. Best cultivated as a compact, deciduous flowering shrub, Lilliputian is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
Lilliputian’s pale pink, tulip shaped flowers develop early in the season. These have an attractive dark pink base and are also marked with delicate, pink streaks. When open, the flowers fill the air with a pleasant citrus aroma.
Streaks of color add further interest to the flowers.
Ideal for small spaces, Susan’s slow growth habit means that it can be cultivated as either a small tree or as a deciduous shrub. During the spring, dramatic, goblet shaped blooms emerge. The red-purple petals are paler on the underside. The flowers are also fragrant.
A good specimen plant Susan achieves a height and spread of 8 to 12 ft. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 8, Susan is part of the Little Girl series. Like many other specimens in the series, Susan’s late flowering blooms are rarely troubled by frosts.
Butterflies is a yellow flowering variety that is ideal for use as a specimen plant. It can also be positioned in a flower bed to create a point of focus. If allowed to, Butterflies reaches a mature height of 25 to 30 ft and a spread of 10 to 15 ft. However, this specimen tolerates pruning well. This means that, if you wish, Butterflies can be cultivated as a flowering shrub.
Wherever you choose to use it, Butterflies bright yellow flowers with bronze-orange centers provide floral interest from mid spring to early summer. Further adding to the attraction, when fully open the flowers are also fragrant, emitting a rich lemony fragrance.
Yellow flowering varieties bring warmth to cold spring gardens.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9 Butterflies thrives in both cooler and warm temperatures. The tree is best planted in slightly acidic, well draining soil.
Pinkie is prized for its large, cup shaped flowers. These are pale pink in color with a red-purple base and white tips. A hybrid, the result of crossing M. Lilliflora Nigra and M. Stellata Rosea, Pinkie is part of the Little Girl series along with Ann, Jane and Susan.
Pinkie tends to flower later than other types of magnolia trees. This means that it is not as susceptible to damage by late season frosts as other specimens. A small specimen, Pinkie typically grows to a height of 10 to 15 ft and spreads 8 to 12 ft wide. Pinkie is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
Centennial is another of the large flowering types of magnolia trees. An attractive specimen, Centennial’s white blooms look like water lilies. Also known as the Star Magnolia, upon closer inspection a pink tinge is visible on the petals.
Centennial typically flowers in late winter and early spring. Best planted in full sun or partial shade this is a reliable specimen plant. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9, Centennial achieves a mature height and spread of between 15 to 20 ft.
Centennial’s flowers resemble water lilies.
17 Leonard Messel
A hybrid cross between M. Kobus and M. Stellata Rosea, Leonard Messel has been bred specifically for its frost resistance. A late flowering variety, the deep pink petals have a white tinge on the inside. When it emerges the green foliage is narrow and oval in shape.
A compact cultivar, reaching a height of 15 to 20 ft and a spread of 10 to 15 ft, thanks to its multi-stemmed growth habit Leonard Messel can be cultivated as either a flowering shrub or small tree. A low maintenance specimen producing long lasting blooms, Leonard Messel is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
Daybreak is one of the more compact, deciduous types of magnolia trees on this list. Flowering in mid or late spring, Daybreak, if allowed to, can reach between 30 and 40 ft in height and achieve a spread of around 15 ft.
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, Daybreak is popular for the masses of rose-pink flowers that develop when the tree is in full bloom. After the flowers, elliptic, green foliage follows. Daybreak is tolerant of pollution making it a good choice for planting in urban gardens. However, like other varieties, Daybreak does require some protection from cold winds.
Early flowers sit on exposed branches meaning that they require shelter from cold winds and temperatures.
19 Yellow River
Yellow River (M. Denudata) is popular for its attractive, goblet shaped blooms. While the center of the flower is a darker shade of yellow, the willowy petals are butter yellow in color. When fully open they can resemble lilies in appearance.
Developed in China, Yellow River is amongst the newer types of magnolia trees. Also known as Fei Huang this is a small deciduous plant with a sweet fruity fragrance. Goblet shaped, upright blooms. Flowering late in the season, after most frosts have passed, Yellow River is a dramatic addition to the garden.
Yellow River is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9. It can reach a height and spread of 10 to 15 ft.
Galaxy types of magnolia trees can reach around 35 ft tall and spread up to 25 ft wide. An attractive specimen, the oval, dark green leaves compliment the purple-pink flowers. While the outer petals are a deeper shade of pink, the inside of the flower is a contrasting, lighter shade of rose pink. These eye-catching blooms emerge from deep purple-red buds.
Many petals are bicolored, often darker on the outside than the inside.
A resilient, deciduous tree, Galaxy is a hybrid specimen which has been created by crossing M. Liliiflora and M. Sprengeri Diva plants. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9 Galaxy is known for its long lasting floral display. A good specimen plant, Galaxy is suitable for planting in a range of different garden styles.
Caring for All Types of Magnolia Trees
Before purchasing a tree, take the time to research its growing and care needs properly. This makes ongoing maintenance a lot easier. While garden stores and plant nurseries do sell many types of magnolia trees, specialized nurseries often have a wider choice. While younger specimens are cheaper, older plants tend to establish themselves more quickly.
Despite their showy appearance, if planted in a favorable position, most types of magnolia trees are pleasingly low maintenance plants. In fact one of the most difficult care aspects is dealing with the large crispy leaves that the trees shed.
If you are planting in the center of the lawn, many growers advise removing the lower limbs. This makes cutting the grass easier. However, leaving the limbs in places hides the leaves that the tree sheds. The leaves can be placed on a compost pile or used as a mulch. You can also use a leaf mulcher to turn your garden waste into compost.
All types of magnolia trees are best planted in a sheltered spot away from strong winds. Avoid planting in frost pockets. Exposure to cold temperatures of late season frosts can damage the spring buds or flowers.
When selecting the planting position remember to take into account the height and spread of your chosen plant. Avoid planting tall specimens under wires. You will also have to take into account any potential underground obstacles such as pipes or drains.
The soil should be moist and well draining. However, many types of magnolia trees tolerate planting in wet or even soggy soil. All varieties prefer the soil to be rich and slightly acidic. Amend with compost or leaf mulch before planting. If you are unsure how acidic your soil is, use a soil test kit before planting. Don’t worry if your soil is lacking in acidity, there are a number of ways to make your soil more acidic.
All types of magnolia trees can be planted either in the fall or late spring. These specimens have shallow roots, meaning that you do not need to dig a deep hole. A hole a similar size and depth as the pot currently holding the sapling is ideal.
Work some well rotted compost or leaf mold into the hole before removing the sapling from the pot. Be careful not to damage the roots when transplanting. Root damage can inhibit flowering.
Plant the sapling in the hole, the point where it has been grafted should sit above soil level. Backfill the hole, firming down the soil and water well. Finally, apply an acidic mulch such as bark or compost around the base of the tree. The mulch should not contact the bark.
Finally, you may wish to install a stake. Supporting young specimens, particularly those planted in exposed or windy positions, helps to encourage healthy upright growth. The Dalen Tree Stake Kit is easy to install and specifically designed to support young plants.
After planting, water your specimens regularly. Use a garden hose to evenly soak the soil. Aim to keep the soil moist or damp to the touch. This is particularly important for young trees, regular watering should continue until the specimens are established and new growth is visible.
If the soil is rich enough, additional fertilizer is not necessary. However the trees appreciate a dose of slow release fertilizer, such as Miracle-Gro Shake ‘n Feed Flowering Trees and Shrubs Plant Food, in the spring just as the buds start to swell.
Some types of magnolia trees tolerate pruning better than others. In general however, try to prune the branches as little as possible. The wounds can be slow to heal, providing an easy access point for pests and disease. If you do need to prune, wait until flowering has finished for the year. The only exception is when dealing with broken branches. These should be removed as promptly as possible.
Don’t worry if flowering is slow or poor in the first few years. Young specimens can take several years to fully flower.
It can take a few years before these plants start to flower profusely.
For more information on adding different types of magnolia trees to your garden, our How to Grow Your Own Magnolia Tree is a great place to start.
Elegant and attractive, whichever of the many types of magnolia trees you choose, these specimens are a fantastically showy addition to the garden.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.