Yellow Magnolias

The Scott Arboretum is home to a national collection of magnolias recognized through the American Public Gardens Association‘s (NAPCC) North American Plant Collections Consortium. While many of the early spring flowering magnolias have passed, the yellow magnolias are just coming into their glory.

Many of the yellow magnolias are the result of crosses made between the cucumber tree magnolia, Magnolia acuminata, and the Yulan magnolia, Magnolia denudata. The combination of these two parents has resulted in many cultivars which are later flowering, some times fragrant and range from light yellow to a golden yellow.

At the Scott Arboretum we have over 20 different kinds of yellow magnolias in our collection. One of the very first to come on the market about 20 years ago was Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ which is a beautiful pale yellow selection hybridized by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1977. At maturity it will develop into a pyramidal shape and reach 20-feet tall. The upward facing flowers are butter yellow and have a nice fragrance. Some fine specimens of ‘Elizabeth’ are planted between Mertz Dormitory and Old Tarble.

In more recent years ‘Butterflies’ has become a popular yellow magnolia choice. This clone is the result of a cross made by famous magnolia hybridizer, Phil Savage. The parentage is Magnolia acuminata x Magnolia denudata ‘Sawadas’s Cream’. The flowers are darker yellow than those of ‘Elizabeth’ and also have showy red stamens. A beautiful specimen is found just below Worth Health Center.

‘Yellow Lantern’ has upward facing, cup-shape, butter yellow flowers. For this cross Phil Savage hybridized Magnolia acuminata var. subcordata with Magnolia x soulangiana ‘Alexandrina’. This cultivar can be found both in the Tree Peony Garden, as well as at Old Tarble.

My favorite yellow magnolia is ‘Judy Zuk’. This was named in honor of the former director of both the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Scott Arboretum. This selection is very upright in stature. The flowers resemble tulips in their shape and are a beautiful suffusion of orange-yellow and pink toward the base. It has a fruity fragrance. Within one week ‘Judy Zuk’ will be in full flower. There is a specimen below the Clothier bell tower.

For the best viewing of yellow magnolias at the Scott Arboretum visit the area around Mertz Dormitory, Old Tarble and Worth Health Center, as well as the Tree Peony Garden.

Categorized as Garden Plants

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  1. A very beautiful tree and great pictures to view, thank you for sharing. It is a special time of the year when they are in bloom.

  2. Thanks for sharing such a gorgeous flower !

  3. I need help , my husband got to Magnolia trees from a friend and the leaves are diferent than the ones at the garden store can you help me identify them ? They are long and light green , I can send a picture.
    Thank you !!!

  4. We can try to identify the tree from images. Please send them to scott@swarthmore.edu with a note and any other details that might help us identify the plant.

  5. I planted a yellow magnolia last spring’08 in zone 7 – south-east exposure. It is about 7 ft tall. No flowers this year. How long before I can expect to see the tree flower?

  6. Denise,

    Your plant should flower soon. Most magnolias will flower at a very young age.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  7. I have a 75 ft sycamore that was hit by lightening in 08. It now needs to be cut down. My Landscaper suggested this tree. My concern it is a dirty tree.? I would have to rake all the flowers when the blooms come down. I had hip surgery and can not do some of the things I was able to do. I am looking for a nice shade tree to help give shade to my sun room.

    Joanne DiJoseph
    Pennsylvania

  8. Dear Joanne,

    When this magnolia flowers and the spent flower petals fall to the ground there really isn’t anything to rake up because the petals essentially wither away to almost nothing.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  9. I planted a yellow magnolia 6 years ago, for the last 4 years I have gotten only 4 or 5 blossoms and the tree has not grown much…what is my problem

  10. Patsy,

    If your magnolia is not growing much then I would guess you have some sort of physiological problems such as a girdling root, etc. Your magnolia should grow very quickly.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  11. I live in the No. East and just planted a Yellow magnolia in May as a Mother’s Day gift from my Son, and wondering if I need to do anything as far as herbocides to protect it. Looks like something may have already started munching on leaves but not sure. I have mulched heavily around it and water daily. I have it planted in area of lots morning sun and I have lots of pine trees around my property. What else should I be doing to encourage growth and blooms? Am excited to see it bloom and was a special gift.
    Thank you.

  12. Janice – You don’t want to use ANY herbicide on your magnolia; herbicides are formulated to kill specific plants. If you have a pest problem, you need to have the insect identified and the appropriate insecticide or cultural control recommended. From your description, you may be giving it too much love. Newly planted trees don’t need water every day unless we are in a very dry/drought spell. 2-3 times per week is plenty as long as you are deeply watering. Also make sure that you have not mulched too deeply. We have a blog post on this subject; the link is http://blogs.scottarboretum.org/gardenseeds/2009/03/mulching-woody-plants/.

  13. You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this topic to be really something that I think I would never understand. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I am looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

  14. I’d like to buy some yellow magnolias trees, small ones. Where could I find them? Thank you

  15. Mario,

    The following are great mail order sources for yellow magnolias:

    Rare Find Nursery: http://rarefindnursery.com/

    Fairweather Gardens: http://www.fairweathergardens.com/

    Andrew Bunting, Curator
    Scott Arboretum

  16. Do you know which yellow magnolias are the hardiest? I’ve heard that some do well in zone 4 (where I live). Could you recommend some of the hardiest?

  17. I think ‘Elizabeth’ would be your best bet.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  18. These yellow magnolias are so beautiful. I planted Golden Gift a few years ago and in 2012 the flowers are so numerous, I can’t take my eyes off of this beautiful specimen.

    Can you provide any information on another called “Spiced Spumoni”? It was hybridized by Brooklyn Botanic Garden and is seems only available from Song Sparrow. Is this a cucumber magnolia?

  19. Sorry, I have never heard of that cultivar.

  20. I have a mature yellow magnolia which blooms beautifully
    each year. When is it safe to prune? I live in southernPA.
    Is it too late this year? I wanted to do it after blooming, but didn’t get it done. Should I wait until next year? Would it be
    better to leave it alone?

    Thank you so much.

  21. You can prune it in mid-summer or mid-winter.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  22. Hi,

    I am looking for yellow magnolia seeds. I live in Nova Scotia, Canada. Do you know where I can get some seeds?

  23. Melissa,

    I would recommend joining the Magnolia Society International: http://www.magnoliasociety.org. They have an annual seed exchange for members and this would be an excellent place to obtain seed.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator
    Scott Arboretum

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