Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Bigleaf Magnolia - Magnolia macrophylla   Michaux
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Section 4 » Order Magnoliales » Family Magnoliaceae
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AuthorMichaux
DistributionLimited essentially to the Piedmont, and mainly to the south-central Piedmont, centered on Gaston County -– which has most of the state’s population. Outlier county records from Wake, Surry, and Henderson (mountains). One can certainly question whether outlier records are of planted individuals, though the Wake site (Lake Johnson forests) has been present for over 50 years.

This is primarily a species of the Cumberland Mountains and Plateau region, and extending southward to the Gulf Coast. It is very scarce in the Appalachians and eastward. It ranges from southwestern VA and southern OH south to southern AL and LA.
AbundanceUncommon but surprisingly widespread in Gaston County, but very rare and local north and east to Lincoln and Iredell counties; apparently not yet confirmed (at least as native) in neighboring and well-worked Mecklenburg County. Outlier records east to Wake, north to Surry, and west to Henderson counties. Despite numerous state records -– mostly in Gaston County —- this is a State Threatened species.
HabitatIn NC, it occurs in mesic to fairly rich hardwood forests, mainly on slopes. These are mostly in Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest natural community, but some populations, at least in Gaston County, lie over mafic rocks and thus are probably on Basic Mesic Forest or Basic Oak-Hickory Forest. In its main range, it occurs mainly over sandstone in ravines, or in mesic hammocks.
See also Habitat Account for Rich Wet-Mesic Hardwood Forests
PhenologyBlooms in May and June, and fruits from July to August.
IdentificationThis might be the state’s most spectacular tree, at least deciduous tree. It has, by far, the largest simple leaves, and probably the largest flowers, of any hardwood. It is a small to rarely medium tree, growing to about 40 feet tall, with relatively few (but stout) branches. When in leaf it is hard to overlook, owing to the auricled (ear-lobed) leaf bases and the huge obovate leaves that average 15-20 inches long! As the undersides are whitish, when the leaves fall in late summer, it looks like untidy newspapers have been scattered on the forest floor! The flowers are huge, as well; the white petals -- about 7 inches long, are often spreading, so that the open flowers are over 1 foot wide. Despite the huge leaves and flowers, the species has to be carefully separated from the much more numerous Umbrella Magnolia (M. tripetala). Both species have leaves concentrated at the branch tips, almost whorled. This can make it hard to see the base of the leaf – tapered in Umbrella and ear-lobed in Bigleaf. Also, the flowers are often difficult to see, as they are perched on top of the branch tips, at the bases of the whorled leaves. You often have to be on a ridge above the flowers to see them at all! Unless you have spent time in Gaston County, where there are many locations (for unknown reasons), you will need to go to known locations, as this species is so obvious that you are not likely to find a new location for it.
Taxonomic CommentsNone relating to NC, but Ashe Magnolia (M. ashei), found in Gulf Coast states, is sometimes merged into M. macrophylla.

Other Common Name(s)None
State RankS2
Global RankG5
State StatusT
US Status
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