Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sweetbay Magnolia, Magnolia virginiana

If I had only one plant I could choose for its perfume for our zone 6 climate, I would pick the Sweet bay Magnolia aka Swamp or Swampbay Magnolia. The tropical scent is similar to a tuberose and plumeria (Frangipani) combined. The scent wafts around the side of the house it's planted on and you catch drifts of the perfume as you walk by or work in the garden near it. The tree also has a lovely form with open framework and the smallest leaves of the Magnolia family.

It grows naturally along riverbanks or in wet areas so it would thrive if you have a wet spot in your yard. As usual, I went overboard so we have 4 small trees now. I was so taken with the perfume of the first tree, I bought 3 more when the trees went on 1/2 off sale in the fall. The first tree is the one that's blooming now with more than 20 flower buds set to bloom. The other trees only planted last fall have very few buds but they are placed all around the house so it will be great when they bloom - even one flower is enough to experience its essence. The buds don't open all at once so you also have a long period of blooming.

The tree is evergreen in warmer climes but here in NJ it is deciduous. Still, a very attractive tree in my opinion.


Blogger Nicole said...

That is one beautiful flower- and I can almost smell the wonderful fragrance.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Pam/Digging said...

That is lovely, Ki. And a tropical scent is the icing on the cake, so to speak.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Nicole,
It does compare favorably to the plants you have in the Caribbean, like plumerias, gardenias, many kind of jasmine, tuberose, scented orchids etc. but you have it for a protracted period of time while I have to content myself with a 3 week? window of time. Oh well, it's even more precious because of that. Thanks for the comment.

Hi Pam,
The flowers are actually quite small by Magnolia standards. Fully open the blossom can't be more than 3" in diameter. But the adage 'big things come in small packages' (or is it 'good things...) couldn't be more true when it comes to the wonderful scent it produces.

Definitely the icing and a scoop of ice cream too. ;) Thanks for stopping by.

5:11 PM  
Blogger Blackswamp_Girl said...

Lovely pictures, Ki. I can't believe that it smells so lovely, too!

5:58 PM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Kim, this is a 'must have' tree for us northerners, imo. I hope you have a chance to see one or smell it in your garden center.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Digital Flower Pictures said...

You are my hero!!! I have been growing this plant for 20 years and it has never bloomed. I never knew what I was missing.

It gets too much shade, I think and is too big to move.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Ki said...

Chris, 20 years! I can't believe yours has not flowered. How unfortunate as you are definitely missing out. I wonder if there are male and female trees? Or maybe you could prune some of the other trees to give it more light to see if it blooms? Or just buy another small tree and plant it in a sunnier spot in your garden. Just make sure it's one that's blooming now. Very much worth the effort to grow.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Entangled said...

I'm happy to read such enthusiastic praise for this plant. I planted a very small one just a few months ago; now I'm wondering how long I'll have to wait for flowers. It has about 4 branches and maybe 20 leaves at this point. I put it in a soggy spot near the stream, but there may not be enough sun there.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

Hi Entangled,
We bought the first one when it was about 4 feet tall and it already had several small but recognizable flower buds. The other three, purchased a year later were bought in late summer but there was evidence that they bloomed earlier as seedpods had formed on all the trees.

Difficult to tell when yours will bloom but you should have seen small green flower buds by now. They differ from the leaf buds in that they are more roundly swollen while the leaves are longer and more pointy. I really don't know how much sun they need but you would think that if they grow naturally along streams, they would be shaded quite a bit. The one that's blooming now gets morning and mid day sun and is shaded in the afternoon. The others are in full sun.

What is enthusiasm but polite obsession? I have been accused of being obsessed at times. I don't deny it. ;)

5:55 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

I just planted this tree in zone 5b last fall in southern coastal Maine. It wintered over beautifully and has many pending blooms. I have been anxiously awaiting the opening of my buds. Unfortunately several of the buds that started to open, did not open fully. Upon examination they were within a period of a few days...quite brown. When I touched them, they fell off!! I am wondering if anyone has this experience. The tree looks doesn't appear to be water deprived, although I don't water it every day...maybe once a week. Perhaps that isn't enough?

1:06 PM  
Anonymous Katcreighton said...

I've recently returned from a road trip from South Carolina to Cocoa, Florida and noticed some blooming trees along I-95. They were especially thick near St. Augustine. I thought they somewhat resembled magnolias as to the leaf type, but the white flowers were much smaller and seemed more compact and neatly rounded in shape. Could this be the Sweetbay Magnolia? The only other possibility I've found in my Audubon books is the Loblolly-bay which does not grow so far south. I would appreciate any comments from someone with knowledge of what kind of tree I saw.

6:50 AM  

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