It looks like it can grow in wetter areas and grows quickly, is a very attractive looking plant that is used as an ornamental and is an evergreen in some places, has beautiful white flowers that give off a vanilla like scent that can be smelled from far away, and its bark has a similar scent to bay laurel spice that may repel pest insects.
This tree really appears to have a lot of beneficial permaculture uses!
Does anyone have any magnolias growing near fruit trees or other fruit and noticed it helping to repel pests?
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Based on my 25 years living in Georgia, most magnolias are by nature wetland trees. Especially sweetbay and southern magnolia (M. grandiflora). They can survive when planted on uplands but there is always a risk that in a drought they will get stressed and unhappy. So I would be prepared to irrigate if you try this, especially for the first few years. The other deciduous species, like cucumber tree, as well as the early-blooming Asian magnolias, are more native to upland soils. But only sweetbay is aromatic as you say. I've never heard of any of them being repellent to insects. Also, I'm not sure this can happen with sweetbay, but it definitely happens with southern magnolia....they dry fallen leaves are very resistant to decay and hang around a long time. I have seen them breeding mosquitoes from rainwater puddled up in them!
Good to know, Steve. I actually just got a saucer magnolia to add to the food forest, mostly to draw in pollinators, and for visual appeal, but I'm glad to learn of the added benefit of being repellant.
I grow sweetbay magnolias here in Ohio (zone 5, clay soils), as well as the cucumber magnolia (M. acuminata), M. x loebneri 'Merrill' and 'Leonard Messel.' I find all of these more easily grown than the common saucer (M. soulangeana), and in the case of Merrill and Leonard Messell their early spring flowers are more tolerant of frost. Merrill is also quite fragrant, with a sweet/spicy scent. Great bee trees as well in bloom, and it's not uncommon on a warm spring day for the trees to be buzzing with honeybees and the native species.
So, could/should they have a place in permaculture? Quite possibly, if only for the fragrance and pollinator benefits. I haven't noticed any fruit tree benefits, but my magnolias tend to be tucked more along the edges of the property since many of them benefit from some shade during the heat of the day here when they're young. BTW, regarding the leaves: people who raise dart frogs and other damp habitat amphibians actually BUY dried magnolia leaves for the floors of their terrariums since the leaves are naturally pretty decay resistant.