Magnolias are ancient trees that emerged prior to pollinators' co-evolution with flowering vascular plants. Their early emergence accounts for their unique flower structure and pollination by beetles. The southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, is a native woodland tree in the southeast that thrives in rich, moist soils. It does not form pure stands in the wild, but rather is associated with a mix of other tree species like Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), Live Oak (Quercus virginiana), and Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). Its intoxicating scent, evergreen leaves, and year-round ornamental qualities make it a very desirable tree.
The straight native species is a large tree, growing up to 90 feet tall. Its large size makes it an excellent specimen shade tree or climbing tree for the kids. In fact, my favorite tree to climb was a 50 foot tall southern magnolia we had in our Florida backyard. There are other ways that a Southern Magnolia can be part of a landscape design for the southern garden including as an evergreen privacy screen or as a tree for a small courtyard space. There are several cultivars that have been developed for these different kinds of uses. The most widely available cultivars are Bracken's Brown Beauty, DD Blanchard, and my favorite, the "Teddy Bear" cultivar pictured here.