Description & Overview

Umbrella Magnolia is a small, understory Magnolia native to the southeastern US. The enormous, 2′ long tropical-looking leaves definitely catch the eye in the upper Midwest. Large, white, bowl-shaped flowers bloom in mid to late May, giving way to bright red fruits that show off their colorful seeds in late summer. The smooth, grey bark adds winter interest.

You may also know this plant as Umbrella Tree.

Core Characteristics

Category: Tree

Wisconsin Native: No

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 5

Mature Height: 25-30 feet

Mature Spread: 15-25 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Often multi-stemmed, shrubby, upright, spreading, and irregular.

Light Requirements: Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Moist and well-drained soils.

Flower: White-ish tepals – up to 10" across, 6-9 tepals (petal-like), malodorous

Bloom Period: mid-to-late May

Foliage: Up to 20" long, bright green, smooth, clustered at ends of branches, tear drop-shaped.

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Upright conical cluster about 4", matures to pink with pinkish seeds inside.

Suggested Uses

Umbrella Magnolia is typically found in cool ravines, stream banks, and rich woods, in areas like the Ozarks and the Appalachian Mountains. Avoid planting in areas that are either too wet or too dry as it is intolerant of extremes. Choose a location that is sheltered from northern winds, as they can cause damage to the lovely, large leaves. An ideal location would provide shade in the afternoon.

Umbrella Magnolia, with a spread of only 15′-20′ is a perfect size and a lovely choice for an urban or suburban residence provided they are planted away from streets or driveways which are salted in the winter. While the large, white flowers have a disagreeable scent, the fragrance doesn’t travel far and isn’t an issue in the typical landscape setting—their visual appeal is more than worth the trade-off. The large leaves add a tropical vibe and stand out among other plants typically used in a Midwest landscape.

As an understory tree, Umbrella Magnolia tolerates some shade which makes it a great addition to a woods’ edge, or under existing trees. Preference for moist soil makes it an ideal choice for a site near a downspout, as this will keep the soil moist and, provided it’s an area with good drainage, not constantly wet.

Wildlife Value

Umbrella Magnolia provides sustenance for many fauna native to the U.S. Beetles are the main pollinators of Magnolias in general and include Raspberry Fruitworms (Byturus unicolor), Sap Beetles (Carpophilus spp.), and Carpet Beetles (Anthrenus spp.).

Honeybees will occasionally visit fully opened flowers.

Blue Jays, Red-eyed vireos, Redstarts, Eastern Towhees, American Robins, grouse, Wild Turkeys, Northern Flickers, and flycatchers, along with small mammals, eat the seeds.

Maintenance Tips

Supplemental watering will be needed during times of drought to maintain the vigor of the tree. If a tree in bloom is allowed to dry out it may lose its petals. Adding a two or three-inch mulch ring around the trunk (not touching the bark) will help retain soil moisture and protect the roots during winter.

Protect from buck rub in the fall by wrapping or fencing the trunk of the tree. Do this with any newly planted tree.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Rabbits and squirrels have been observed to feed on the flowers. Luckily, in the case of the rabbit, under normal circumstances, they have a hard time reaching the flowers in the first place.

Avoid planting near a driveway, road, or sidewalk as magnolias will not thrive when exposed to salt in the soil or aerosolized in the air.

Leaf Lore

The genus Magnolia is named after French botanist, Pierre Magnol (1638 – 1715), a Professor of Botany and Director of the Royal Botanic Garden of Montpellier. The specific epithet tripetala means ‘three-petaled,’ though this is not botanically correct. The name likely refers to the three petal-like sepals (outer tepals), which look very similar to the petals when the flower opens.

The common name ‘Umbrella Magnolia’ is likely due to the large leaves growing clustered at the ends of branches, acting like a sort of umbrella.

Magnolia fossils date back to the Tertiary period, 100 million years ago. This was a time before bees and flowers are thought to have evolved to encourage pollination by beetles.

Companion Plants

Combine Umbrella Magnolia with trees, perennials, and shrubs that enjoy similar such as Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana), Bladdernut (Staphylea trifoliata), Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Spikenard (Aralia racemosa), Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), Two-leaf Miterwort (Mitella diphylla), Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), American Beech (Fagus grandifolium), and Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum).

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Written by Beth DeLain