Before its new lime green foliage emerges, the otherwise modest star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, dazzles with a surprising profusion of crisp white, blushed or pale pink bloom. The three inch wide flowers have between a dozen and two dozen floppy petals (which are actually tepals). If the weather is right, the flowers might be slightly fragrant. If only bloom could last longer than it does!
Star magnolia is too small to be much of a tree, but too open and sculptural to be shrubbery. It grows slowly and might never reach downstairs eaves. Only the biggest trees might reach the lower sills of upstairs windows. However, the angular low branches, usually on multiple trunks, are ideal for displaying the distinctive bloom. The light gray bark resembles that of fig trees. Leaves are about four inches long, and an inch and a half wide. Foliage turns soft yellow before falling in autumn.