Written by Vincent Distrola
Growing up in the Golden State feels surreal.
If you were to take a drive starting at the bottom of the state, you would start in San Diego. Situated near Mexico, San Diego is all about taking it easy along the coast and enjoying the quiet, moody and rocky beaches. Headed North, you could stop in Joshua Tree National Park and take in the splendid yet desolate landscape of the desert splattered with yuccas. Los Angeles offers palm trees of all varieties and succulents that look as alien as some of the sci-fi movies produced in Hollywood. Further up the coast, you will start to find Coast redwoods throughout Northern California and patches of Giant sequoia in Yosemite National Park.
Unlike most of the United States, most of California stays green all year long. Coastal and lowland California do not experience four traditional seasons like most of the United States, but instead enjoy long springs and infamous summers.
Being situated between an ocean and a bay, San Francisco’s has a unique climate that sets it apart from the rest of California and even the rest of the Bay Area. San Francisco’s unique version of a Mediterranean climate suits evergreen trees and deciduous trees alike.
If you walk the streets of San Francisco in January, February, or March, there is one particular bloom that is sure to catch your eye – the Magnolia.
Magnolias, depending on the species, can be either evergreen or deciduous. They are a diverse genus of plants that include species suited for a variety of climates. Some species are shrubby plants that do not grow more than a few feet high, and other Magnolias can also be upright trees that can reach heights of up to 80 feet. Typically, they have large and leathery leaves with fragrant pink and white blooms that appear before their leaves will.
Southern Magnolia Beauty and Pollination
Perhaps the most common Magnolia species you will find in San Francisco is the Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).
Magnolia grandiflora is native to the area between North Carolina and Florida and is therefore commonly associated with the South and southern beauty. It is even the state flower of both Louisiana and Mississippi. There the beautiful white, fragrant flower blooms in late summer and early autumn.
Despite being from the South, this species can grow anywhere in USDA hardiness zones 6 – 10, which means it can be planted and grown in about half of the United States. Given the right amount of space, this tree can grow up to 80 feet but usually will not grow taller than 50 feet. The leaves are about 10 inches long, dark green, and very glossy looking. The flowers, when in bloom, can be up to a foot long and give off a nice fragrance and are usually white or cream. The seeds of the flowers are also spectacular – an unusually bright red.
The Southern Magnolia grows moderately fast in the correct conditions and is approved by the city of San Francisco as a good sidewalk tree. The roots of this tree are shallow and spread wide, and thrives in well-draining soil conditions such as loamy or sandy mixtures. When growing, this tree has a widespread and casts a lot of shade, which can make it difficult for other plants to grow under it. To encourage bloom and growth, a spot where it gets direct sunshine is best, but it will tolerate shady spots as long as it receives at least 4 – 5 hours of direct sunshine per day.
Another interesting but little talked about fact is that this tree is not pollinated by bees or butterflies, but instead by beetles. Magnolia grandiflora and other magnolias are some of the oldest plants still alive today. Fossil records show that magnolia trees have been around for at least 90 million years. Most flowers have sepals separate from the petals, but not magnolias.
Kobus Magnolia and Uses
The Kobus magnolia (Magnolia Kobus) comes from the opposite side of the world. This deciduous magnolia that can be grown as a small tree or large shrub is native to the forests of Japan. It grows in USDA hardiness zones 5 – 8.
Unlike the Southern Magnolia, this is a slow grower, and will only grow to about 25 feet tall. If planting this tree, be aware that it can take up to 20 years for this tree to properly flower. The leaves that start to grow in late spring are about 3 to 6 inches long and obovate. This tree needs loamy, well-draining soil and requires full sunshine, though it will tolerate partial shade.
The flowers, like most magnolias, are truly unique and the most special thing about this plant.
In late winter or early spring, you will find the tree developing the blooms despite having no leaves. The cup-shaped white flowers have tinges of pink and are fragrant. They are smaller in size than those of the Southern Magnolia, each one about four inches long and usually open in March.
The Kobus magnolia as well as other magnolias native to Japan and Korea have uses outside of the garden.
Jaekseol-cha is a traditional black tea that is produced in Southern Korea. While this tea can be loose-leaf on its own, you might find magnolia petals blended into it the same way lavender is blended with certain earl grey teas.
The Japanese bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia obovata) has many uses. The wood is strong, light, and extremely easy to work with. The wood can be used for making clogs and household furniture or used in printmaking in art education.
The leaves are also large enough that they can be used to wrap food in, instead of seaweed. When the leaves start to fall off the tree and brown, they are collected and can be used as a makeshift dish to set foods on. In the Hida region, people will add miso onto a fallen leaf, then roast it all on a grill.
Why Have A Magnolia Tree?
Depending on where you live, a magnolia tree might be perfect for you.
In general, most magnolia trees are relatively easy to care for once their roots have been established. As long as they are getting adequate sunshine and are in the proper soil, magnolias are known to be fairly hardy and do not have a lot of issues with pests if properly maintained.
While large stature trees are nice, not everyone has the space to plant a large 80-foot tall tree. Certain magnolias, like the Lily magnolia, the Kobus magnolia, and the Saucer magnolia can be pruned to grow as shrubs instead of growing in a traditional tree form factor. Because magnolias are so hardy and there are so many varieties, people have a wide choice of what kind of magnolia is best for them and the space that they have in their yard.
If you find the magnolia to have a beautiful flower, planting one can make a perfect addition to your yard. Their fragrant, beautiful, and unusual blooms add bold color to gardens and are as striking from far away as they are up close. When designing and thinking about your garden space, remember that deciduous magnolias are often the first blooming plant in springtime, and evergreen magnolias will bloom into late summer.
Magnolia Trees in San Francisco
San Francisco is home to several types of magnolias. Walking through the streets of this city, you will most likely find the following magnolias which have been approved by San Francisco Public Works…
- Magnolia Grandiflora (Southern Magnolia)
- Magnolia Champaca (Champak)
- Magnolia Doltsopa (Sweet Michelia)
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is home to beautiful, rare forms of magnolia species that you will not be able to find along the street. The San Francisco Botanical Garden has over 200 magnolias, over 63 species, and was the first place in the United States to house a blooming saucer magnolia.
If you are interested in having a magnolia tree planted in your neighborhood, contact Friends of the Urban Forest ( https://friendsoftheurbanforest.formtitan.com/f0a646a51519754097160#/ ).
- 12 Common Species of Magnolia Trees and Shrubs by Vanessa Richins Myers
- The Complete Guide to Magnolia Trees by Southern Living
- Here’s Why You Should Plant a Magnolia Tree in Your Garden by Nina Malkin
- “Houba-zushi” is sushi wrapped in a leaf and is a local food of Yagyu village in Nara.
- Wrapped in magnolia leaves by Satoyama Experience Magazine
- Magnolia by Arbor Day Foundation
- Southern Magnolia Facts – Tips On Planting A Southern Magnolia Tree by Teo Spengler for Gardening Know How
- Magnolias and Beetle Pollination by Beatriz Moisset
- Mighty Magnolias by In Defense of Plants