Characteristics of Japanese Magnolia (Saucer Magnolia)

Saucer magnolia picture.
Saucer magnolia picture. David Beaulieu

Saucer Magnolia is a multi-stemmed, spreading tree, 25 feet tall with a 20 to 30-foot spread and bright, attractive gray bark. Its growth rate is moderately fast but slows down considerably as the tree reaches about 20-years of age. Large, fuzzy, green flower buds are carried through the winter at the tips of brittle branches. Blooms open in late winter to early spring often before the leaves, producing large, white flowers shaded in pink, creating a spectacular flower display.


  • Scientific name: Magnolia x soulangiana
  • Pronunciation: mag-NO-lee-uh x soo-lan-jee-AY-nuh
  • Common name(s): Saucer Magnolia
  • Family: Magnoliaceae
  • USDA hardiness zones: USDA hardiness zones: 5 through 9A
  • Origin: not native to North America
  • Uses: container or above-ground planter; espalier; near a deck or patio; shade tree; specimen; no proven urban tolerance
  • Availability: generally available in many areas within its hardiness range


The most recommended Saucer Magnolia cultivars are ‘Alexandrina’ - flowers almost white; ‘Brozzonii’ - flowers white shaded with purple; ‘Lennei’ - flowers rosy purple outside, white flushed with purple inside, flowers large, blooms later; ‘Spectabilis’ - flowers almost white; Verbanica’ - flowers clear rose pink outside, late blooming, slow-growing to 10 feet tall.


  • Height: 20 to 25 feet
  • Spread: 20 to 30 feet
  • Crown uniformity: irregular outline or silhouette
  • Crown shape: round; upright
  • Crown density: open
  • Growth rate: medium


  • Flower color: pink; white
  • Flower characteristics: spring flowering; very showy; winter flowering

Trunk and Branches:

  • Trunk/bark/branches: bark is thin and easily damaged from mechanical impact; droop as the tree grows, and will require pruning for vehicular or pedestrian clearance beneath the canopy; routinely grown with, or trainable to be grown with, multiple trunks; showy trunk; no thorns
  • Pruning requirement: needs little pruning to develop a strong structure
  • Breakage: resistant
  • Current year twig color: brown
  • Current year twig thickness: medium

Major Features:

The saucer magnolia is one of the earliest flowering trees to bloom. In mild climates it blooms in late winter and as late as mid-spring in colder zones. This non-native magnolia is a true first sign of spring. Many cultivars are available, bred for size of plant, blooming time, and flower colors. Yulan magnolia (M. heptapeta), one of this hybrid's parents, is very similar but with white flowers. It is often grafted onto the more vigorous M. x soulangeana rootstock.


  • Light requirement: tree can grow in part shade/part sun or in full sun
  • Soil tolerances: clay; loam; sand; acidic; well-drained
  • Drought tolerance: moderate
  • Aerosol salt tolerance: none

Use and Management

The tree is best used as a specimen in a sunny spot where it can develop a symmetrical crown. It can be pruned up if planted close to a walk or patio to allow for pedestrian clearance but probably looks its best when branches are left to droop to the ground. The light gray bark shows off nicely, particularly during the winter when the tree is bare.

Saucer Magnolia grows best in a sunny location in rich, moist but porous soil. It will tolerate poor drainage for only a short period of time. Growth will be thin and leggy in a shaded spot but acceptable in part shade. Saucer Magnolia dislikes dry or alkaline soil but will otherwise grow very well in the city. Transplant in the spring, just before growth begins, and use balled in burlap or containerized plants. Older plants do not like to be pruned and large wounds may not close well. Train plants early in their life to develop the desired form.

A late frost can often ruin the flowers in all areas where it is grown. This can be incredibly disappointing since you wait 51 weeks for the flowers to appear. In warmer climates, the late flowering selections avoid frost damage but some are less showy than the early-flowered forms which blossom when little else is in flower.


Magnolia tree flowers
Landscapes, Seascapes, Jewellery & Action Photographer / Getty Images

The tulip tree leaf is deciduous and absent during spring bloom. The leaf is elliptic to obovate and is 8 inches long, 4.5 inches wide.


Magnolia soulangiana Tree in Bloom Beside a Path
Martin B. Withers / Getty Images

 ​Saucer Magnolia is a multi-stemmed, broadly spreading tree, 25 feet tall with a 20 to 30-foot spread and bright gray bark.

Variable Flowers

Magnolia Tree Covered In Blossom
Oliver Vorspohl / EyeEm / Getty Images

Saucer magnolia flowers can be variable, from ​goblet, to cup, to saucer-shaped. They are usually around 10 inches across with nine white-pink to deep pink-purple petals.


Magnolia Flowers
masahiro Makino / Getty Images

Saucer magnolia blooms in late winter to early spring, often before the leaves, producing large, white flowers shaded in pink. Saucer magnolia also produces a fruit similar to the other magnolias. It is an elongated fruit cluster that ripens from green to pink to about 4 inches.