Category Archives: Sweetbay Magnolia

Getting to Know the Natives

Wow!  Maryland is in the business of helping residents buy trees.  I was so lucky to visit a great nursery in Eden, Maryland a few weeks ago. I was told about it by the man who brought me four truckloads of dirt for my swampy backyard. No telling what you can find out by asking questions. The nursery is called How Sweet It Is and it is one sweet garden shopping experience. I’ve never before been to a garden center that sells wine, craft beer and oysters as well as local scraple to name a few unexpected items.

But that was just the beginning of sweet. They told me about the Marylanders Plant Trees Program.

“We launched Marylanders Plant Trees in 2009 to encourage citizens and organizations to partner with the State to plant new trees. Today, citizens can still take advantage of our coupon program to receive $25 off the purchase of a native tree at 86 participating nurseries across the State. The State cost of $20 per coupon is funded through a settlement from a major power generator for Clean Air Act violations, in partnership with the Office of the Attorney General, and Maryland’s participating tree vendors are generously absorbing the remaining $5.”

I was there to purchase water-loving shrubs for a hedge around the back yard. I came home with the car bursting with 30 three-gallon Inkberries (Ilex glabra) and one Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana). The magnolia qualifies for the $25 state coupon. The tree must cost at least $50 and also must be on the Maryland list of natives.

I am getting to know the natives.

I checked out my choice of Inkberry at the Missouri Botanical Garden website. They are the go-to  website for all plant info and a goldmine. Inkberry is native to the eastern U.S. from Maine to Florida and partial to wet, swampy sites. Just the ticket for my yard. A low hedge is what’s needed to define our strangely shaped plot. Inkberry takes well to shaping and will grow from four to eight feet. It’s the perfect backdrop for a perennial garden. Hopefully among the thirty plants there will be one brave stud of a male to do the pollinating to produce the inky black berries the birds will devour. Interesting fact: these berries provided the ink for civil war soldiers to write letters home from the field.


I’m not real good with straight lines.

The Sweetbay Magnolia is for the corner between the hedges on each side. Again this tree is more of a swamp-lover than the Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and a better size for a small garden. It can be kept shrub size with multiple stems or let grow into a twenty-five foot vase-shaped tree with creamy white, vanilla spiced flowers in June. These are followed by rosy, elegant fruit in the fall. I’ll watch the perimeter grow this summer and wait until next year to fill in the plan with the water-loving garden of my dreams.