Magnolia virginiana and M. virginiana var. australis
Southern gardeners appreciate the sweetbay magnolia's small, cream-colored, goblet-shaped flowers in early summer, but this native tree is surprisingly hardy: It grows even in the Chicago area and north of Boston. Fresh blossoms from the village that became Magnolia, Massachusetts, were once popular cut flowers in the Boston trade, according to Dennis Collins, horticultural curator at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. When the tight seedpods mature in late summer, the bright red seeds are eagerly consumed by birds. The southern form (M. virginiana var. australis) is usually evergreen and can grow quite tall. The northern form (M. virginiana) often has several trunks; it is deciduous or semi-evergreen. Sweetbay magnolia grows in sun or part shade, and tolerates moist soils and drought. The glossy leaves have silvery undersides, and the whole tree shimmers in a breeze. Bill Thomas, director at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Pennsylvania, recommends planting it by a path, where you can appreciate the sweet fragrance of the flowers as you come and go. Most grow 10 to 20 feet but some are taller further south. Hardy in Zones 5 to 9.