Sweetbay Magnolia, laurel magnolia, swamp magnolia, swamp bay, swamp-laurel, sweet magnolia, sweet bay
Description: perennial deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub
Place of origin: North America
Urban habitat: often planted as an ornamental in the urban environment because of its large white flowers, red berries and aromatic qualities; grows wild in flooded areas.
Ecological function: pioneer species in flood prone areas; food and habitat for wildlife.
History: The leaves or bark of Magnolia virginiana was used by the Native American Rappahannock tribe as a hallucinogenic drug and used medicinally by other tribes to treat blood aliments, colds and fevers. The plant is also reported to be useful for treatment of respiratory infections, gout, stomach pains, and rheumatism. Its soft, straight-grained wood has been used to make furniture, broom handles, and bowls. An essential oil from its flowers has been used to make perfumes. Its leaves have been consumed as a condiment and tea. Colonists used its fleshy roots to trap beavers and called it “Beavertree.” M. virginiana was cultivated in European gardens as early as 1688.