by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Thanks to last week’s ice storm, even more trees and shrubs have lost all greenery and turned brown. But in the midst of winter, it is easy to spot one very large tree that is always green; the Southern Magnolia. The state tree of Mississippi is an evergreen and can easily be distinguished from other evergreens by its physical characteristics, habitat, and uses.
The Southern Magnolia, or Bull Bay, is a very large tree that produces very large leathery leaves. The leaves can be up to 1 foot long and have an elliptical shape. The top of the leaves are a very dark green while the underside is a rusty brown color. The twigs are also a rust color and are slightly pubescent (hairy). The bark of the Magnolia grandiflora starts out smooth and slightly gray, but as the tree ages, the bark becomes slightly furrowed (deep ridges). In the spring/summertime, the trees produce large white blossoms that are very fragrant. In the fall, the tree produces a cone shaped fruit that produces either red or brown seeds.
This tree is very prominent in the southeast. Most of them are ornamental or decorative, but a lot of these trees are natural. They are very easy to identify anytime you are in the woods. They appear most commonly in slightly moist areas such as swamps or maritime forests. In swampier areas, the Southern Magnolia can be found among clusters of sweetgum and water oak. It is NOT fire resistant and will not grow in places that are under a burn regimen. The seeds produced by this tree are transported via fecal matter of squirrels, turkeys, raccoons, and quail.
The Southern Magnolia’s most common use is as an ornamental tree by landscapers and homeowners. The evergreen leaves as well as the showy white flowers make this species very desirable for landscaping purposes. But when it is not used for lawn décor, its wood is used for furniture, veneer, and cabinets. The seeds that are produced in the cone like fruit are consumed by birds and small mammals. I have one in my front yard and I see deer under it all the time; I can only assume that they also eat seeds and participate in the transporting of seeds as well!
You can easily spot the Southern Magnolia or Bull Bay right now. While everything else in the woods are brown and dead, the Magnolia is green and lively. Many people also utilized the leaves of this tree as garland for the holidays. I saw many magnolia leaves strung across mantels and doorways!
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