Sweetbay

Magnolia virginiana
Family: Magnoliaceae

Natural History
Flower of sweetbay in late spring
Photo credit: Flickr user rachelgreenbelt.
Used under a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License

Sweetbay magnolia is also called sweetbay, swampbay, or swamp magnolia. This tree is often grown as an ornamental landscape tree because of its attractive foliage, flowers, and fruit. It occurs naturally in moist and wet soils in wetland areas such as swamps and along streams and ponds. Sweetbay sprouts freely after a fire and can form thickets.

Introduced into European gardens as early as 1688, the sweetbay magnolia was known as the beavertree by colonists, who caught beavers in traps baited with the fleshy roots. Deer and cattle are also fond of the trees and frequently browse on the leaves and twigs. The vegetation may comprise as much as 25% of some cattle's diets during winter months. The fruits provide a good food source many wildlife including gray squirrels, small rodents, wild turkey, quail, and numerous songbirds.

The aromatic wood of sweetbay is soft, even-grained and easy to work. It is used for veneer, boxes, containers, furniture, and some lumber and pulpwood.

Sweetbay is found from New York to Florida and west to Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee at elevations up to 500'. It is most commonly found in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Sweetbay magnolia is found in swamps, wet soils, and along borders of streams and ponds.
Size/Form: Sweetbay magnolia is a medium, evergreen tree that generally grows from 50' to 90' tall with an open crown of sparsely spreading branches. Outside of Florida, it is often less than 30' tall and is deciduous in the northern United States.
Bark: The gray-brown bark is smooth, thin, and tight.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, oval to oblong, and 4" to 6" long with bluntly pointed tips. The thin, leathery leaves are shiny-green and smooth on the upper surface with fine, whitish hairs below. Distinct stipules encircle the twigs and leaf scars are often visible at the point where the leaves are attached.
Flowers: The flowers are fragrant, showy, creamy-white blossoms that are visible in late spring and early summer. They are similar to but smaller than southern magnolia blossoms.
Fruit: The fruit is an aggregate of follicles that mature in early autumn to release many showy, bright red seeds.

 

Images

Click on thumbnails to see a larger image in a new window. Close the new window to return to this page.

The smooth, gray bark found on the trunk. Leaves showing the contrasting upper and lower surface colors. Leaves showing the contrasting upper and lower surface colors. Aggregate fruit with seeds emerging.
Photo credit: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Chris Evans, Illinois Wildlife Action Plan, Bugwood.org Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida Photo credit: Larry Korhnak, University of Florida

 

Learn More