Moonglow® Sweetbay MagnoliaMagnolia virginiana 'Jim Wilson' (PP# 12,065)
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Magnolia virginiana 'Jim Wilson' (PP# 12,065)
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Moonglow® Sweetbay Magnolia is a beautiful evergreen tree that stays evergreen even in zone 5. It forms a large tree to 35 feet tall, with an abundance of large white flowers from May to July. The blooms give out a rich vanilla perfume, that spreads all across the garden. This tree is a beautiful lawn specimen, or for the back of shrub beds. It makes an excellent screening tree, or an addition to a wild garden of native trees. It thrives beside rivers, ponds and lakes.
Plant the Moonglow® Sweetbay Magnolia in full sun or in partial shade, such as among deciduous trees. It grows in most soils, favoring richer, moist soils, and growing well even in ground that is permanently wet. It has no important pests or diseases, survives as a deciduous tree in zone 4, and needs no special care. Established trees have some drought resistance.
Just as in families, where an outstanding child can eclipse the achievements of the other children, so it is with the sweetbay magnolia. When it first arrived in England from the ‘colonies’ it was greeted with rapture, but all too soon it was eclipsed by its relative the southern magnolia. Back in its native country there is no reason for this, since the beautiful sweetbay magnolia is ideal for colder zones, and even if the flowers are smaller, they are just as fragrant and beautiful. For a long time there has been interest among plant breeders in developing forms of this tree that don’t shed their leaves in winter, and that tolerate lower temperatures than normal. The Moonglow® Sweetbay Magnolia is one of the very best trees coming from that dedicated work. First found in 1975, and tested for decades, it is reliably evergreen in zone 5, and grows well in zone 4, even if there it does lose some leaves over winter. If you don’t know this tree you are not alone, but tree lovers everywhere are embracing it, and breathing deeply its magical scent, while admiring this robust evergreen tree for its beauty as a specimen.
The Moonglow Sweetbay Magnolia is a large multi-stem tree, growing to 35 feet tall and spreading 20 to 25 feet wide within 20 years of planting. It typically has about 5 main trunks, with branches low down, and forms a dense, upright tree of considerable beauty. The smooth bark is an attractive soft-gray, complementing the rich green of the foliage. The leaves are smooth, glossy and oval, about 5 inches long and 2 inches wide. They have a leathery texture, and the upper surface is rich, dark green, while the underside is covered with soft, silvery hairs. This tree is evergreen throughout zone 5, and loses some leaves in zone 4, but these are quickly replaced in spring.
In May the first blooms appear, prominent on the ends of the branches. They are open and cup-shaped, 6 inches across, with a large central cluster of stamens and the pistil. The petals are thick, with a rich texture, and a creamy-white color – the ‘moonglow’ of this plant’s name. They release a powerful fragrance, like vanilla, which spreads across the garden for hundreds of feet, drifting through open doors and windows into your home as well. It truly is one of the delights of early summer. Each blossom lasts a full week, and since more are produced in succession it is early July before the last blooms are over. As a final piece of seasonal interest, by fall the spent blossoms have turned into fascinating seed pods, like pine cones, which change from green to brown and then split open to show a flash of large, bright red seeds.
For evergreen lawn trees, it is difficult to beat such a beautiful tree as this one. Plant it on a large lawn for shade and to be admired. Grow it by a garden entrance, or along a boundary fence. Planted near your home you can enjoy its perfume without even stepping outdoors. Plant it in open wooded areas, or edging forest. Since it enjoys wet soil it is perfect beside a stream, lake, river or pond, and since it is a native plant it is perfect for natural gardens and wild settings. It would also make a spectacular screening tree.
The Moonglow Sweetbay Magnolia is very hardy, and it stays completely evergreen in zone 5, tolerating rapid changes in temperature and arctic fronts. It will grow well in zone 4 too, although there it will probably lose a significant number of leaves during winter. Don’t worry – those bare branches will soon produce fresh green leaves with the first warmth of spring. Further south it is always evergreen, and this tree thrives in the heat and humidity of the south, even throughout Florida.
Full sun is perfect for the Moonglow Sweetbay Magnolia, but it also grows well in partial shade, fitting in among larger deciduous trees. It grows in almost all garden soils, thriving in moist, slightly acidic ground, but not particularly fussy at all. Although it has some drought resistance when well-established, it prefers moist soil, and enjoys wet conditions, making it perfect for low-lying places and beside water.
After a little pruning when young to give your tree a good branch structure, this tree needs no particular attention at all. Plant it where it has enough room to fully develop, as you don’t want to be trimming a great tree like this. It normally has no particular pests or diseases.
Although greeted with great enthusiasm when it first arrived in England in 1678, the sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana, was soon eclipsed there by the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, with its larger leaves and flowers. Wild trees can be found in damp woodland all the way from Long Island, New York down the east coast into Florida, and in the Deep South and around the Gulf of Mexico.
Earl Cully had a tree nursery in Morgan County, Illinois. When young he had been closely guided by horticulture professor J.C. McDaniel of the University of Illinois to appreciate trees, and magnolias were always a passion of McDaniel. In 1975 Cully was examining a row of seedling sweetbay magnolias, and one stood out. He spent the next 20 years evaluating it, and through his contacts growing examples in many different climate zones. After this thorough screening he was granted a patent on his tree in 2001, with the name ‘Jim Wilson’, in honor of the host of the PBS gardening program, ‘Victory Garden’. This tree has always been sold with the trademark name of Moonglow®.
The Moonglow Sweetbay Magnolia is an outstanding choice for colder zones, and just as great in warmer ones too. This widely-praised tree is always in high demand, and we know our stock will soon be gone. Order now and enjoy one of America’s best flowering trees.