We wrote earlier about spring-flowering magnolias. Now that summer is arriving, our thoughts turn to one of our favorite trees, Magnolia virginiana, commonly known as the Sweet Bay Magnolia.
Many years ago a young man working for us–he must have had other things on his mind–thought it was called sweet babe magnolia. That name stuck here in the nursery. If you hear us call it a “sweet babe magnolia,” you’ll know why. Whatever you call it, this tree is under-used and worthy of more attention.
The Sweet Bay is native to the East Coast. It’s common in the Southeast, but grows happily, if less frequently, here in Massachusetts. The leaves are 3-5″ long and silvery on the underside. We love seeing the silver sides flash in the wind. The bark is also an attractive silvery gray. In Massachusetts the tree is deciduous, though a few leaves sometimes hang on here in the winter.
The flowers start opening in June, after the tree is fully leafed out. The flowers don’t come out all at once the way they do on spring-flowering magnolias. Rather, the blooms occur few at a time over a longer period of time. They are large, white, and sweetly fragrant.
Although Sweet Bays grow quite large in the South, the mature size in Massachusetts is in the range of 10-20′ tall and wide, making the tree perfect for use near outdoor living areas such as patios and decks.
Magnolia virginiana grows in normal landscape conditions but will also tolerate wet soils.