Name: Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)
Type of Plant: Small tree (10 to 20 feet tall, usually shorter in sandy or poor soil, taller in rich loam) for full sun or part shade. Hardy in zones 5 through 9 and native to Eastern North America.
Why I love this: I love the sweetbay magnolia first because of its handsome foliage. The top of the leaf is dark green while the underside is silver. This flashes so beautifully in a slight breeze. I have mine planted where the cardinals land there on their way to the bird feeder, and the bright red bird against the silver-green of the leaf undersides is always so lovely. Secondly, the white flowers that appear in early summer are crisp looking and fragrant. Red fruits attract birds and other wildlife.
A Word to the Wise: Grow sweetbay magnolia in slightly acid soil…this isn’t a tree to place in the middle of a lawn you lime regularly, for example. This plant grows fairly quickly so don’t be afraid to start small. I have a variety called ‘Moonglow’ that I bought as a two-foot tall stick. Six years later it’s eight feet tall and about five feet wide, with a multi-trunk habit and upright form. Magnolia virginiana supports a wide range of wildlife. It’s also a tree that tolerates damp soils.