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Southern Magnolia

The Southern Magnolia is January's plant of the month. 

Common Name:                     Southern Magnolia
Botanical Name:                     Magnolia grandiflora
Family:                                    Magnoliaceae

The Magnolia is believed to be the first flowering plant on planet Earth with an evolutionary record dating back over 95 million years.  Defining features of the world’s first flowering plant is numerous petals and sepals in radial symmetry and a cone-like cluster of carpels in the centre.

Before flowering plants evolved, only conifers and cycads graced the earth. Earth was very different place prior to the Cretaceous period; imagine a place without bees and crawling with beetles.  Bees were yet to evolve, and beetles are thought to have been abundant for over 327 million years ago. As a result, beetles have been the dominant pollinators for most plant species throughout pre-history.


The Southern Magnolia is native to South-East USA. It is found on the edges of bodies of water and swamps, and in shady areas with well-drained soils.  It does not withstand frequent fire.


Tall evergreen tree that grows to 30m in sheltered habitats and as a low shrub in coastal dunes.

Leaves alternate, simple, elliptic and 12-25cm long. Leaves are glossy dark green above, and lighter green or light brown/rusty and pubescent below.

Flowers are very large, up to 30cm in diameter and the largest in the genus. They are solitary and usually have 6 creamy white tepals. Flowers have a beautiful lemon scent. Magnolias do not produce nectar but the pollen is rich in protein to attract beetles, their primary evolved pollinator.

As beetles are relatively clumsy pollinators, the flower parts are sturdy and the orange-red seeds are protected against damage from crawling and chewing beetles. Main flowering is in December and January.

Interesting Facts

Magnolia grandiflora was one of the many species first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1759. He did not select a type specimen (a specimen chosen as a reference point when a plant species is first named). Grandiflora is derived from the Latin words grandis "big", and flor "flower".  The genus name Magnolia is named in honour of Pierre Magnol, a French botanist.

The Magnolia is the state emblem flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana. The flower was also the emblem of the confederate army in the American Civil War. Over 150 cultivars have been developed since the 18th century, although only 30 - 40 are thought to still exist today, including “Little Gem” and “Teddy Bear”.  The Southern Magnolia is easily grown in warmer parts of the world.

In the USA, Southern Magnolia is commercially harvested.  Timber is hard and heavy and simply referred to as Magnolia, which is used in the construction of furniture, boxes, pallets, venetian blinds, sashes, and doors and used as veneers.

Where to see the Southern Magnolia in Centennial Parklands

Paddington Gates.