Botanical Name: Magnolia virginiana var. australis ‘Mattie Mae Smith’ [Mardi Gras™]
Common Name: Mattie Mae Smith Sweetbay Magnolia
Notable Feature: Similar in every way to the native species Magnolia virginiana var. australis, except for the leaves -- green with a bright yellow variegated edge -- making it one of the most colorful, bold, and ornamentally effective magnolias.
Habit: Upright; often multi-stemmed, open, and somewhat shrubby. Grows to around 10 to 15’ high and almost as wide. Because so much of each leaf's area lacks chlorophyll, Mardi Gras grows more slowly than the species. Hardy in Zones 6-10.
Foliage: Evergreen to semi-evergreen. Narrow, smooth-edged, pointed, and 3 to 5” long. The upper surface has a glossy bright green central blotch and in striking contrast, the entire perimeter is bright sulfur yellow. The proportion of yellow to green varies leaf to leaf, but it isn't unusual for yellow to predominate. Undersurface is a silvery white.
Flower: Creamy white with a lemony fragrance, the blossoms emerge at the very tips of young stems in late spring. Each cup-shaped flower is 2 to 3” across with 9 to 12 petal-like tepals.
Fruit: The cone-like fruits contain bright red seeds that ripen in August and are an important source of food for birds.
Interesting Fact: Grown and introduced by John Allen Smith, Chunchula, AL, and named for his mother. M. virginiana var. australis is native along the southeastern Coastal Plain from South Carolina south to Florida and westward into Texas and one of the few magnolias that can grow in poorly drained soils. US Plant Patent #12,204 was issued in 2001.