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Sweetbay – Magnolia virginiana

Native to the southeast, Sweetbay Magnolias are tardily deciduous; their leaves are persistent here in Alabama until they drop in spring. Leaves are 4” to 6” long and 1” to 3” wide. These trees are easily recognizable from a distance when breezes expose the light-colored undersurface of leaves. Unlike their nonnative relatives M. stellata and M. soulangiana, Sweetbay Magnolia is evolved to survive the frequent fluctuations between warm weather and frosts of Alabama springs, and therefore bloom later in the season (Mar-July). The white, fragrant flowers of 8-12 petals are borne on short, slender, smooth stalks and appear after the leaves.

The trees grow to 2m tall and 1.2m DBH. The bark is smooth and gray, and the inner bark is mildly scented, similar to that of the bay laurel spice. The fruit is an aggregate of dark-red follicles; the black seeds released at maturity have a red coating, which is attractive to some birds that swallow the seeds, digest the coating, and disperse the seeds in their droppings. Sweetbay is often grown as an ornamental tree in parks and large gardens, grown for its large, conspicuous, scented flowers and fast growth.

 

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