Identifying the Saucer Magnolia Tree

Pink white Saucer Magnolia on branches against green shrubs.

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The saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is a multi-stemmed, spreading tree. 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. Learn more about this spectacular flowering tree, including its native range and growing conditions.

Description and Identification

Pink saucer magnolia mature tree with blossoms falling on the ground.

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The saucer magnolia typically stands about 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.

The bark of a saucer magnolia is thin, smooth, grey, and can be easily damaged from mechanical impact. Saucer magnolia blooms in mild climates in late winter to early spring, often before the leaves, producing large flowers which can vary from ​goblet- to saucer-shaped. This non-native magnolia is a true first sign of spring. The flowers are usually around 10 inches across with nine white-pink or deep pink-purple petals.

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.


Many cultivars are available, bred for the size of the plant, blooming time, and flower colors. Here are a few common saucer magnolia cultivars and their flower colors:

  • Alexandrina: Flowers are almost white.
  • Brozzonii: Flowers are white-shaded with purple.
  • Lennei: Flowers have a rosy-purple outside and white flushed with purple inside. These are larger and bloom later in the season.
  • Spectabilis: Like Alexandrina, flowers are almost white.
  • Verbanica: Flowers have a clear, rose-pink outside. They are late-blooming and grow slowly to about 10 feet tall.

Native Range

The saucer magnolia is not native to North America. The tree is a hybrid of the Yulan magnolia (Magnolia heptapeta) and the lily magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora); both species are native to Japan. Saucer magnolias are still popular in the United State and Europe and therefore found in a variety of regions with the proper growing conditions.

Uses and Tree Care Tips

Detail shot of pink saucer Magnolia flowers.

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The tree is best planted 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; however, it 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.

The saucer magnolia grows best 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. 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.