Magnolias (Magnolia spp.), hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, depending on the species, are large, elegant trees that produce showy flowers during the spring. They are excellent choices for ornamental flowering trees in Illinois gardens. Illinois has hardiness zones that range between 4 and 6, so choose a magnolia species that is cold-hardy and prospers in the growing zone where you call home.
Saucer Magnolia Tree
Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana, USDA zones 4-9) is suited for all but the coldest parts of Illinois. This hybrid of Magnoli. denudata and Magnolia liliflora, hardy in USDA zones 5 through 8 and 4 through 8, respectively, will grow to a mature height of between 15 and 30 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. It thrives in partial shade to full sun and requires slightly acidic soil that is moist and well drained.
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The Saucer magnolia has a gently rounded or pyramidal shape and it produces white, pink or purple cup-shaped flowers. Some popular cultivars include the 'Ann,' 'Ann Betty' and 'Ballerina.'
Loebner Magnolia Types
The Loebner magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri, zones 5-9) produces white, sweet-smelling flowers in the spring and is suited for the southern regions of Illinois. It can survive in full sun or partial shade and requires well-draining soil that is moist and slightly acidic. When it is mature, it has silver-gray bark, and it can grow to be between 20 and 30 feet tall and equally wide. There are many popular cultivars of the Loebner magnolia, including 'Merrill,' 'Spring Snow' and 'Leonard Messei.'
Star Magnolia Trees
The star magnolia (Magnolia stellata, zones 4-8) is one of the small magnolia tree varieties, with mature height between 15 and 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. It needs full sun and moist, well-draining, slightly acidic soil to grow its best. It is a good choice as a focal point in a rain garden, which requires trees and plants that thrive in moist locations but don't require constantly wet soils.
This smaller magnolia species produces white or pink flowers. There are many cultivars of the star magnolia, including 'Rosea,' which has pink flowers fading to white, and 'Centennial,' which bears white flowers that are tinged with pink. It has an oval or rounded shape and can be grown in all but the coldest regions of Illinois.
Cucumbertree Magnolia Tree
The Cucumbertree magnolia (Magnolia acuminata, zones 4-8) can be grown anywhere in Illinois, and it grows to 50 to 80 feet tall and 35 to 60 feet wide when mature. It produces yellow-green flowers that turn into pinkish-red, cucumber-shaped fruit in the autumn. It does well in full sun to partial shade and, while it prefers soil that is slightly acidic, it can tolerate soils that are alkaline.
Native to North America, the Cucumbertree magnolia tends to be pyramidal to oval in shape and is often crossed with other magnolias to produce smaller trees with yellower flowers. Some cultivars include the 'Elizabeth,' which is small and has ivory-yellow flowers, and the 'Yellow Lantern,' which has creamy yellow flowers.