Something about the big flowers and the foliage appeals to me so much. The first time I saw Magnolia macrophylla was in a Kentucky botanical garden, and I was totally amazed at the gargantuan leaves and flower buds. I knew straight away that it was one of my favorite plants that I have come across.
Commonly referred to as large-leaved magnolia, this is a native deciduous tree that grows 30 to 40 feet tall. It is commonly found in the eastern part of the state, along with western North Carolina, southeastern Kentucky, and parts of Alabama and Mississippi.
This underused tree works well in sunny or partially sunny spaces. Sporting the largest non-compound leaves in North America, the mature leaves are green above and an attractive silvery gray below and can grow up to 36 inches long and 12 inches wide. Large leaves can add unique texture to your landscape!
M. macrophylla also has the largest flowers of any tree in North America. The cream-colored flowers are typically 8-10 inches in diameter, are beautifully scented, and appear in late May. After flowering, the pods swell with seeds covered with a protective red seed coat. These three unique characteristics of flowers and foliage make this species easy to identify in its natural habitat as an understory tree.
Two cultivars of this plant are “Palmberg”, which has flowers even larger than the species, and “Purple Spotted”, a cultivar which has a purple mark near the center of the flower. Although these cultivars are difficult to find in the market, they will make a beautiful and interesting addition to any landscape.