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Scented magnolia ideal for louvers and trim.

Magnolia grandiflora roughly translates to "large flower," an apt description of the oversized, beautiful, fragrant magnolia flowers. Magnolia is the state tree of Mississippi and Louisiana and grows abundantly in the south along the Atlantic coastline, the Gulf of Mexico coast, through Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and eastern Texas.

Magnolias also thrive in varied parts of the globe including China and Japan. There are approximately 80 species of magnolias worldwide, eight of which are native to the eastern United States. Of these, three are considered the prime commercial magnolias: southern magnolia or Magnolia grandiflora; sweetbay or Magnolia virginiana; and cucumber tree, Magnolia acuminata. The three are said to resemble each other, especially sweetbay and southern magnolia.

Magnificent colors

Magnolia is straw colored to beige. The wood can feature purple streaks, the result of mineral deposits. Other lines of color may be due to parenchyma. Magnolia is straight-grained and most closely resembles yellow poplar. The timber has low bending strength and low stiffness.

William Browning, general superintendent of the J.M. Jones Lumber Co. in Natchez, Miss., described magnolia as a species that is not readily available.

"The wood is a yellowish white, but when cut, the heart of the tree is at first bright red, blue and green. Then it turns dark brown to black when the air hits it. It is the state tree of Mississippi and some of the supplies come from people's front yards," said Browning. He added that magnolia has a high sand content that can dull saws, but otherwise the wood performs well and has good working properties.

"General Electric used to make cabinets for TVs out of magnolia," he said. It is also a popular choice for louvered doors and shutters, Browning added. It makes an extremely attractive paneling wood, although it is popular as wood that is easily painted. Other uses include framing and lining of furniture, packaging and pallets, interior joinery, doors, and some is sliced for veneer.

Browning agreed that it is similar to yellow poplar in appearance but said magnolia is a harder wood. "Magnolia is a more short-bodied tree so you don't always get the long lengths," he added.

Charlie Netterville of the Fred Netterville Lumber Co. in Woodville, Miss., said that there is not a great amount cut of magnolia because the tree is scattered about. "There is a little here and a little there," he said. "If you were searching in a 100-acre area, you might cut 50 or 60 magnolias." Netterville said his company cuts 30 million board feet a year and approximately 1 percent is magnolia. He also agreed that it closely resembles poplar, but added that magnolia is "more stable than poplar."

Although magnolia is considered a light colored wood, it has a dark center. "The clear boards make up the outside edges and the lower grades come from the core," Netterville said. Magnolia can be bleached when its heartwood is too dark, according to experts.

Netterville said magnolia is so popular a tree, that when Mississippi planted them along highways as part of a state beautification program, many were stolen. "People waited until the magnolias grew a little and began digging them up by the side of the highway and took them home to plant in their backyards," he said.

Evergreen hardwood

Larry Frye, executive director of the Fine Hardwoods/American Walnut Assn., said magnolia is a close cousin to poplar, but superior in many properties. "Magnolia is an excellent wood to finish with paints like enamels and natural wood tones. The wood has a light greenish heartwood with a light yellow sapwood."

Frye said the wood is moderately hard and stiff with good shock resistance, but rated below average for compression and bending strengths. However, magnolia is not a good choice for outside uses unless the wood has been treated. It is not naturally resistant to fungi.

Magnolias are considered evergreen hardwoods, an unusual distinction for hardwoods in the United States. In addition to their distinctive flowers, magnolia trees feature conelike fruit and very large distinctive leaves.

The tree is quite lush with its wonderful creamy-colored flowers that bloom according to the geography and climate. Magnolia grandiflora fruit is filled with bean-like red seeds that germinate in spring but take 10 years to flower.

Of the three commercially important species, magnolia grandiflora is the most commonly used, accounting for about one-half of the lumber uses. Other domestic species include and the cucumber tree/big leaf (Magnolia acuminata). The big leaf magnolia has the largest flowers of any native U.S. tree.

Family Names

Magnolia grandiflora of the Family Magnoliaceae

Other names

Magnolia, southern magnolia, cucumber wood, black lin, mountain magnolia, sweet magnolia, bat tree, big laurel, bullbay or bull bay.


Trees average 100 feet in height. Average weight is 35 pounds per cubic foot and specific gravity of 0.56.


Magnolia works easily with hand and machine tools. The wood finishes very well and can be nailed, screwed or glued very easily. Timber is rated non-durable. Wood may be subject to tangential shrinkage during air drying. Wood will kiln successfully and is very stable after seasoning. Small movement in service.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month
Author:Kaider, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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