NC Native Plant Society:
Plant Details

Magnolia macrophylla

Big Leaf Magnolia, Large-leaved Cucumber Tree

Scientific Name:

Magnolia macrophylla



Species Epithet:


Common Name:

Big Leaf Magnolia, Large-leaved Cucumber Tree

Plant Type


Life Cycle


Plant Family

Magnoliaceae (Magnolia Family)


NC Native


36-72 ft.

Bloom Color(s):



Part Shade - 2 to 6 hours of sun per day

Soil Moisture:


Bloom Time:

May, June

Growing Area:


Habitat Description:

Mesic forests, primarily over limestone, other calcareous sedimentary rocks (calcareous shales, sandstones, etc.), or mafic rocks (east of the Blue Ridge); rare…The range of this species is often stated in such a way as to imply that it is a tree of the southern mountains. Actually, it avoids the Southern Blue Ridge, reaching its greatest abundance in the sedimentary rock Appalachians west of the Blue Ridge, particularly the Cumberland Plateau, and occurs east of the Blue Ridge only as a rare disjunct (Weakley 2015). Rare in the NC Piedmont.

Leaf Arrangement:


Leaf Retention:


Leaf Type:

Leaves veined, not needle-like or scale-like

Leaf Form:


Life Cycle:


Wildlife Value:

Has some wildlife value

Landscape Value:

Suitable for home landscapes

State Rank:

S2: Imperiled (*Key)

Global Rank:

G5 - Secure (*Key)

State Status:

T: Threatened (*Key)


The leaves are the largest deciduous leaf outside the tropics, with lengths reaching 32 inches and widths of 12 inches. The trees are sometimes confused with Magnolia tripeleta. M. macrophylla has 2 rounded lobes at the base of each leaf, whereas M. tripeleta lacks these lobes.

The flowers of M. macrophylla are solitary and can be 10 to 16 inches wide, with 6 white petals. Often there is a purple spot at the base of the petals. The flowers are fragrant, bloom in May to early June, and are pollinated by insects. A spherical, cone-like fruit develops that is 3 to 4 inches long and has many orange-red seeds when it ripens in early September.

These trees are rare, but not endangered. They occur in only a few places in North Carolina, and 95% of all the wild trees in the state are found in Gaston County. No one knows why they prefer this region. M. macrophylla is found growing wild in other southeastern states. They like moist ravines beneath taller hardwood trees, which is where they are found on Red Lair Farm.

Andre Michaux (1746-1802) was sent to America by King Louis XVI of France to find new plants to ship back to improve the forestry and agriculture there. Louis XVI was encouraged by Thomas Jefferson, who was Minister to France, to send this expedition. Michaux spend 11 years traveling throughout the eastern half of the continent. One of his trips took him through Charlotte and into Gaston County where he was the first to collect, describe, and name this rare and beautiful new species of magnolia tree in 1789. With plants gathered near Stanley, Michaux soon introduced the species into the gardens of France.

Partially Opened Bloom


Red Lair Farm and Forest

Leaves and Buds

It is hard to imagine the size of the leaves and blooms if you have never seem them.


Red Lair Farm and Forest



Red Lair Farm and Forest


USDA PLANTS Database Record

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