Named for its sweet-smelling bay-like leaves, the sweetbay magnolia is a slow growing small- to medium-sized tree or shrub. It has pale gray bark and large white blossoms that open in the morning and close at night for two or three days.
The majority of sweetbay magnolias are found in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, though they can be found in most states along the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains. The tree is popular as an ornamental plant due to its fragrant white flowers and decorative fruit. The wood is used for some furniture and veneers. An important medicinal plant to the Native Americans and European settlers, the bark was used to treat fevers and rheumatism, while the fruit was used as a remedy for coughs and chest ailments. It was often called a beaver tree by colonists, who used the fleshy roots to bait beaver traps.
Sweetbay magnolias prefer full sun to part shade and require moist acidic soil for best growth. Though free from most diseases, the sweetbay magnolia is affected by scales and tulip tree leaf miner. Scales can be controlled by applying horticultural oil. Getting rid of tulip tree leaf miner requires using insecticides that prevent egg laying and kill the larvae.