Saucer Magnolia: History, Lifespan, Growth Rate, Cultivars & More

The Saucer Magnolia, scientifically known as Magnolia x soulangeana, is a hybrid plant that was first bred in the early 19th century by a French plantsman named Étienne Soulange-Bodin. Soulange-Bodin was a retired cavalry officer who served under Napoleon Bonaparte. After retiring from the military, he pursued his passion for horticulture and became the director of the Royal Institute of Horticulture in Fromont, France.

In 1820, Soulange-Bodin successfully crossed two magnolia species, Magnolia denudata (Yulan Magnolia) and Magnolia liliiflora (Lily Magnolia), to create the hybrid that we now know as the Saucer Magnolia. The resulting plant inherited the best traits of its parent species, such as large, showy flowers and a compact growth habit.

The Saucer Magnolia was named in honor of its creator, Soulange-Bodin. The name “Saucer” comes from the shape of its flowers, which are large, cup-shaped, and often pink or purple in color. The plant quickly gained popularity among gardeners and horticulturists, and it was soon introduced to other parts of Europe and eventually to North America.

In the United States, the Saucer Magnolia became a popular ornamental tree in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was often planted in parks, gardens, and along city streets for its beautiful flowers and attractive foliage. Today, the Saucer Magnolia is still a beloved tree in many parts of the world, and it is widely cultivated for its ornamental value.

Characteristics of Saucer Magnolia

  • Lifespan: A well-cared-for Saucer Magnolia can live up to 80 years or more.
  • Growth Rate: This tree has a moderate growth rate, typically growing 1-2 feet per year.
  • USDA Zones: The Saucer Magnolia is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9.
  • Root System: The tree has a shallow root system, making it suitable for planting near structures and other plants, but it’s essential to provide proper care and maintenance to avoid root-related issues.
  • Height and Spread: The tree can grow to a height of 20 to 30 feet and a spread of 20 to 25 feet.
  • Flower Color and Bloom Time: The tree produces stunning, large, goblet or saucer-shaped flowers in shades of pink, purple, and white, which bloom in early spring.
  • Leaf Characteristics: The tree has large, glossy, leathery leaves that are obovate and alternate, growing 3 to 6 inches in length and half as wide.
  • Sunlight Requirements: The tree prefers full sun to partial shade for optimal growth and flowering.
  • Soil Requirements: The Saucer Magnolia thrives in well-drained, slightly acidic soil with some organic matter.
  • Bark: The bark of the tree is smooth and gray when young, becoming slightly furrowed with age.
  • Pruning: Pruning can be done to shape the plant and remove any dead or damaged branches.
  • Propagation: The Saucer can be propagated by softwood cuttings, layering, or grafting.

Cultivars of Saucer Magnolia

‘Alexandrina’Large, deep pink flowers with a darker base; blooms later than most cultivars, avoiding frost damage
‘Brozzoni’Large, deep pink flowers with a darker base; blooms later than most cultivars, avoiding frost damage
‘Grace McDade’Large, deep pink flowers with a darker base; blooms later than most cultivars, avoiding frost damage
‘Jon Jon’Large, deep pink flowers with a darker base; blooms later than most cultivars, avoiding frost damage
‘Rustica Rubra’Large, deep pink flowers with a darker base; blooms later than most cultivars, avoiding frost damage
‘Lennei’Large, spreading shrub with fragrant, goblet-shaped flowers that bloom in early to mid-spring
‘Lennei Alba’A variety of ‘Lennei’ with pure white flowers and a similar growth habit
‘Lilluputian’A dwarf variety with large, fragrant flowers and a compact growth habit

How To Grow And Care For Saucer Magnolia

LocationChoose a sunny location with well-drained soil for optimal growth. Saucer magnolia thrive in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Ensure adequate space for the tree’s mature size and root spread.
PlantingPlant in spring or fall, when the soil is warm and moist. Dig a hole twice as wide and slightly shallower than the root ball. Backfill with amended soil, and water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.
WateringKeep the soil consistently moist, especially during the first year after planting to help establish a strong root system. Once established, water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings.
FertilizingApply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring before new growth begins. Avoid excessive nitrogen fertilization, as it can promote excessive foliage growth at the expense of flowering.
PruningPrune in late winter or early spring to remove dead, damaged, or crossing branches. Thin out the canopy to improve air circulation and promote flowering. Avoid heavy pruning, as it can reduce flowering potential.
MulchingApply a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, keeping it several inches away from the trunk. Mulching helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and moderate soil temperature fluctuations.
Pest and DiseaseMonitor for pests such as aphids, scale insects, and powdery mildew. Treat infestations promptly with appropriate measures, such as insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Provide proper air circulation to prevent powdery mildew.
Winter CareProtect young or newly planted trees from freezing temperatures with mulch and frost cloth. Avoid late-season pruning, as it can stimulate new growth that may be susceptible to frost damage.

Common Problem For Saucer Magnolia

  • Fungal Diseases: Saucer Magnolias can be prone to fungal diseases such as leaf spot, powdery mildew, and canker. These diseases can cause unsightly spots on the leaves, wilting, and even dieback of branches. To prevent these issues, make sure your tree has good air circulation, avoid overhead watering, and prune infected branches.
  • Pests: Saucer Magnolias can be attacked by various pests such as scale insects, magnolia borers, and spider mites. These tiny critters can cause damage to the leaves, branches, and overall health of your tree. Keep an eye out for any signs of infestation and treat the problem with appropriate methods like insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.
  • Environmental Stress: Saucer Magnolias can be sensitive to extreme weather conditions, such as frost, heat, and drought. These stressors can cause leaf scorch, leaf drop, and even death of the tree. To avoid these issues, make sure your tree is well-watered, especially during dry spells, and consider providing some shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Poor Soil Conditions: Saucer Magnolias prefer well-drained, slightly acidic soil. If the soil is too alkaline, compacted, or poorly drained, it can lead to nutrient deficiencies, root rot, and overall poor health of your tree. To address this problem, you can test the soil pH and adjust it accordingly, as well as improve drainage by adding organic matter to the soil.
  • Incorrect Pruning: Improper pruning techniques can cause damage to your Saucer Magnolia, leading to reduced flowering and overall decline in the tree’s health. To avoid this, make sure you prune your tree at the right time (after flowering) and use proper techniques, such as making clean cuts and avoiding excessive pruning.