This is the SWEETBAY MAGNOLIA. The sweetbay magnolia has many similarities to the southern magnolia. To tell the difference between southern magnolias and sweetbay magnolias, one simply needs to look at the height of the tree and the size of the flowers. The southern magnolia is around 60 to 80 feet at full height, while the sweetbay magnolia is just 40 to 50 feet. The leaves of the sweetbay magnolia are dark green with a silver colored underside and are smaller than those of the southern magnolia. The sweetbay magnolia’s creamy, white, fragrant flowers are usually 2-3 inches, while the southern magnolia has up to 9-inch blossoms. The bark of a young sweetbay magnolia is smooth and green, but it turns to a silvery gray as the tree matures.
The sweetbay magnolia grows along the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains ranging from Massachusetts to Florida and extending west to Texas and Tennessee.
Although the wood is of little commercial value, woodcrafters enjoy working with the aromatic, soft, gray wood to create veneers, Venetian blinds, boxes, and other small furniture items.
The sweetbay magnolia was nicknamed the “beaver tree” by American colonists because the tree served as bait for beavers since they love to chew on the tender roots. Other animals that feed off the sweetbay magnolia include cattle, deer, squirrels, mice, turkey, and quail. Many seed eating songbirds enjoy the fruit. The caterpillars of tiger swallowtail butterflies and sweetbay moths prefer eating the shiny leaves.