Magnolia acuminata

Cucumbertree Magnolia




  • native to New York down through Georgia
  • hardy to zone 4 and warmer parts of 3

Habit and Form

  • a deciduous tall tree
  • 50' to 80' tall and equal in width
  • pyramidal in youth and becoming more open with age
  • wide-spreading branches
  • medium-coarse texture
  • fast growth rate

Summer Foliage

  • alternate leaf arrangement
  • simple, deciduous leaves
  • entire leaf margins
  • ovate leaf shape
  • 6" to 12" long
  • yellowish green leaf color
  • cordate leaf base
  • slightly pubescent

Autumn Foliage

  • yellowish bronze fall color


  • greenish white flowers
  • fragrant
  • blooms in spring
  • generally hidden by foliage
  • 2.5" to 3" in diameter


  • elongated aggregate of follicles, 2" to 3" long
  • red seeds
  • showy
  • persistent
  • looks like a cucumber


  • thin bark
  • branches are stout and picturesque in winter
  • gray-brown bark
  • ridged and furrowed
  • reddish brown stems with vertical gray lenticels
  • U-shaped leaf scar
  • branches emit spicy odor when bruised


  • full sun to partial shade
  • soil tolerant
  • transplant from container or B&B, difficult to transplant
  • prune after flowering
  • prefers fertile, moist soil

Landscape Use

  • as a specimen
  • shade tree
  • street tree
  • golf courses
  • park tree


  • thin bark easily damaged by lawn equipment
  • scale

ID Features

  • whitish, silvery, silky pubescent terminal buds
  • terminal buds are 0.5" to 0.75" long
  • valvate, appressed lateral buds
  • ash-gray, smooth bark
  • U-shaped leaf scar
  • emits spicy odor when branch bruised
  • red seeds
  • greenish white flowers


  • by seed
  • by tissue culture


var. subcordata - Called "Yellow Cucumbertree", this smaller variant of M. acuminata features more glossy leaves with pubescence on the undersides. The stems are also more hairy than the species. It is often more shrubby in habit, growing with a multi-stemmed form to 30' tall (though much larger specimens are known). The most notable aspect of this variety are the smaller blooms of a pronounced yellow color that appear as the foliage emerges. It has played in important role in the development of the hugely popular yellow-flowered magnolia hybrids, which are detailed below.

'Butterflies' - This hybrid with M. denudata reportedly produces the strongest yellow blooms of any cultivar. The flowers are up to 5" across, and the plant is an upright grower to 20' tall.

'Elizabeth' - Another cross with M. denudata, this is perhaps the most popular and commercially available yellow cultivar.The flowers, produced before leaf development, are colored light yellow and bear a light fragrance. The habit of the tree is also handsome, as it forms a vigorous pyramidal tree that may reach 50' tall with a narrower spread. It is very cold hardy.

'Ellen' (perhaps the same as 'Variegata') - This is a rare clone with yellow-variegated leaves. It is usually only seen in the collections of specialists.

'Gold Crown' - Similar to 'Elizabeth', this plant bears slightly deeper yellow blooms that open later, as well.

'Miss Honeybee' - Once offered more commonly, this hardy yellow-flowered form has been instrumental in the breeding of new yellow forms. It is a large shrub or small tree to 30' tall with glossy leaves. It blooms at an early age with tulip-shaped, lightly fragrant flowers.

'Ultimate Yellow'- A selection from Massachusetts, this plant offers 6" wide yellow blooms that shade green at the base.

'Yellow Bird' - A strong-growing, upright plant to 40' tall, this cultivar produces yellow blooms 4" wide and half as wide. They shade to green at the base and are produced later than other forms.

© Copyright Mark H. Brand, 1997-2015.

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Citation and Acknowledgements: University of Connecticut Plant Database,, Mark H. Brand, Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Storrs, CT 06269-4067 USA.