Southern magnolia or sweetbay magnolia?

Asked September 24, 2020, 2:08 PM EDT

I have several small plants that last year, when I discovered them in my yard, you said were magnolias. I assumed you meant sweetbay but I think they may be southern magnolias. The largest leaves are 9” long, alternate but not rusty-coloured on the underside. There are several growing in an area about 100 square feet and mostly in the shade. If they are southern magnolias, I clearly need to move them. Before I did up the lawn, where there is lots of space and full sun, can you confirm which kind they are. I live in the country and, as far as I know, there aren’t any magnolias in the area. Thank you

Talbot County Maryland

1 Response

Yes, these do look like Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) seedlings. While not technically native in Maryland (their native range comes close, into VA), they do grow wild here in many counties: Birds enjoy the high-fat fruits during migration season and probably spread seed in droppings one or more years ago. Individual trees don't always have the classic fuzzy brown leaf backs of the popular varieties used in gardens; these seedlings could develop this trait on future leaves as they age or they may never have it.

Because they are wild seedlings with unknown genetic heritage, their mature size will be unpredictable. Given that even dwarf cultivars mature in the range of 20-plus feet, however, you can assume they'll need lots of space if you keep them. Eventually, as they age and shade the lawn underneath them, this will result in the lawn struggling, thinning, and dying out, so be prepared to switch over to an alternative groundcover in the future if planted in that site. You'll have plenty of time though, as Southern Magnolias are not exceptionally fast growers.