magnolia, common name for plants of the genus Magnolia, and for the Magnoliaceae, a family of deciduous or evergreen trees and shrubs, often with showy flowers. They are principally of north temperate regions with centers of distribution in Asia and E North America. Among the few native American species of the chiefly Asian genus Magnolia are the deciduous umbrella tree ( M. tripetala ); the cucumber tree ( M. acuminata ), named for the appearance of its unripe fruits; the evergreen sweet, or swamp, bay ( M. virginiana ); and the bull bay, or Southern magnolia ( M. grandiflora ), with enormous blossoms resembling water lilies. Many imported magnolias are also cultivated in the South, as are several species of the Asian genus Michelia. The only other member of the family native to North America is the tulip tree or tulip poplar ( Liriodendron tulipfera ), named for the tuliplike shape of its greenish-yellow, orange-centered blossoms. The tulip tree, relic of a past geological era when it was widespread throughout North America and Europe, now grows only in the E United States and in China. Its yellowish softwood, prized for cabinetwork and furniture, is commonly called yellow poplar, canary wood, or whitewood. The magnolia family is considered one of the most primitive group of angiosperms. The magnolia family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Magnoliales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.