Is that a Tulip Tree?

Is that a Tulip Tree?

Saucer Magnolia tree in bloom

You can't miss the large, tulip-shaped flowers of the Saucer Magnolia blooming on a multi-trunked tree with silver-gray bark. With no leaves, it really shows up in the late winter.

The definition of a tree or shrub is fairly elastic, but if it is big enough to sit under I call it a tree, even if it has several trunks. A young Saucer Magnolia is usually more shrub-looking, with several trunks and not usually very tall. Over a number of years, it will grow tall enough to consider it a tree. At that point you can selectively remove some of the lower side branches to show off the smooth, gray bark and it will suddenly look like a tree.

The flowers are large, 3-4", and usually white flushed with pinky-purple, but there are some new cultivars with purple flowers.

I'm not sure why the Saucer Magnolia is called that, as neither the flowers or the leaves look like saucers.

Redwood with serious stress

Large leaves will follow the flowers, making a pretty much nondescript shrub-tree for most of the year.


Saucer Magnolia in summer after the flowers have dropped

Should you plant a Saucer Magnolia? The trees are traffic-stopping when they bloom and generally are pretty healthy. They seem to take a few years to settle in and really start growing, so you will need a bit of patience. But, they are pretty uninspiring when not in bloom, and the falling flowers are an additional mess to clean up.

They aren't their best when planted in a lawn because of the width of the trunks. But they  can really shine in ground cover where they can show off their stunning flowers, or in a mulched area where you can rake up the spent flowers and leaves.

Tulip- like flowers of the Tulip Tree

And, no they aren't actually called Tulip Trees. That name belongs to another tree, the Liriodendron. It is related to the Saucer Magnolia because both are in the Magnolia family. It has flowers that also look a bit like tulips, but in green/yellow/orange rather than white and purple.