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umbrella magnolia

Magnolia tripetala-treeumbrella magnolia, Magnolia tripetala

Scientific Name

Magnolia honors the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715); tripetala is Latin for “three petals” and refers to the three large petal-like sepals of the flower.

Common Name

Umbrella magnolia refers to the umbrella-like clusters of leaves at the ends of the branches. Other names include elkwood as the bare branches look like elk antlers.


Umbrella magnolia ranges from southern Pennsylvania to northern Georgia and Alabama and west to central Kentucky and southwestern Arkansas. Trees are scattered in the forest understory in deep, moist soils along streams and swamp margins. Umbrella magnolia is an indicator of rich, moist woods. The average lifespan is 40 to 100 years. Umbrella magnolia is one of eight magnolias native to the United States. Trees are particularly common in the Appalachian Mountains.


Umbrella magnolia is not ranked as a plant of conservation concern by the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission.


Growth Habit and Form

Umbrella magnolia is a small, coarse textured deciduous tree. Trees typically grow 15 to 30 feet tall and up to 4 inches in diameter. Trees have an upright, irregular branching pattern.


Leaves are alternate, simple, oblong, 10 to 24 inches long and 6 to 10 inches wide. Leaves are dark green above and pale green and covered with short soft hairs beneath. Leaves are clustered near the ends of the branches and therefore create an umbrella effect. Umbrella magnolia can be confused with bigleaf magnolia; the leaf base of umbrella is “V-shaped” and bigleaf “B-shaped.”


The large flowers are creamy white and showy, but unpleasantly fragrant. The 6-9(12) tepaled flowers are 6 to 10 inches across. Flowers bloom in May to early June and are insect pollinated.

Magnolia_tripetala-fruit-FIFruit and Seeds

Fruit is a large cone-like structure with spirally arranged seeds. The outer layer of the seed is scarlet. Fruit ripens between September and October. The fruits ripen in early fall and the seeds are scattered by birds.


The bark is light, ash gray to brown and smooth.

Wild and Cultivated Varieties

‘Bloomfield’ has attractive large leaves and creamy white, 6 tepaled, showy, 12 inch diameter flowers.

‘Charles Coates’ is a tree-like form with fragrant white flowers and reddish stamens.

The cultivar ‘Urbana’ was selected from cultivated plants in Illinois.


Landscape Use

Umbrella magnolia is a small, coarse textured tree. It is relatively vigorous in an understory setting. Trees make good specimen trees if given sufficient space. It can be difficult to use in very small landscapes because of its irregular branching pattern and large leaves.

Hardiness Zone

Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.

Growth Rate

Slow to medium.

Cultivation and Propagation Information

Trees grow best in moist, fertile, well-drained soils in shade and full sun.

Diseases and Insects

None serious.

Wildlife Considerations

Magnolia trees provide homes, shelter and food for wildlife.

Maintenance Practices

Minimal attention given appropriate cultural conditions.


Wood from large trees may be included with yellow-poplar wood. Umbrella magnolia was introduced into cultivation in the 1750s.