Magnolia Tree vs. Cherry Blossom: How To Tell the Difference

In springtime, beautiful cherry blossoms and magnolias can be found in gardens all around the globe, adding to the natural beauty of the season.

Their radiant blooms make them a favorite among many gardening enthusiasts. However, for someone not accustomed to the intricate details of these trees, it might be difficult to distinguish between the two.

The main difference between a magnolia and a cherry blossom tree lies in their bloom appearance, number of petals, tree shape, and size. While cherry blossoms usually have five petals and appear in clusters, magnolias have a larger number of petals and appear as individual, larger flowers.

Only by understanding the key ways in which these two magnificent trees differ will you be able to accurately tell them apart and decide which is better suited for you and your landscape.

Key Takeaways

  • While magnolias boast large, saucer-like flowers that can be white to deep pink, cherry blossoms are characterized by their iconic pale pink, cluster-forming blossoms.
  • Magnolia trees have large, glossy leaves, often remaining evergreen in some varieties, whereas cherry blossom trees possess smaller, serrated leaves that offer a vibrant autumn display.
  • Cherry blossom trees, especially the famous Yoshino variety, have a broad-spreading growth habit with smooth bark. In contrast, magnolias can vary, with some varieties like the Southern magnolia growing tall and pyramid-shaped.
  • While both trees have multiple varieties, cherry blossoms are especially tied to spring celebrations in Japan and the U.S. Magnolias, on the other hand, can bloom from late winter to early spring, depending on the species.

Having trouble deciding if a magnolia tree is right for you? Find all the answers you need in my comprehensive guide, Magnolia Tree Questions, so you can make an informed decision. Check it out today!

Magnolia Tree vs. Cherry Blossom at a Glance

MagnoliaCherry Blossom
Botanical NameMagnolia genusPrunus genus
Grow Zones5-95-8
Growth RateModerateQuick
Average Size20-80 ft. depending on variety10-40 ft. depending on variety
Light RequirementsFull sun to part shadeFull sun
Watering NeedsModerateRegular
FloweringLarge white, pink, or purple flowersSmall pink or white flowers in clusters
LeavesBroad and glossyNarrower and less glossy
Key FeaturesBold blooms, larger sizeDelicate blooms, graceful appearance

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Flowers

While both the cherry blossoms and magnolias herald the arrival of spring, they do so in unique ways.

Where cherry blossoms offer a delicate, cloud-like aesthetic with their small, clustered pink or white flowers, magnolias make a bold statement with their larger, individual blooms that can dominate the landscape.

The fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms evokes a sense of transience, a brief moment of splendor, while magnolias, with their sturdier and more extended bloom periods, suggest endurance and grandeur.

Magnolia Flowers

A large Southern magnolia flower fully open on the tree.

Magnolias are often associated with the southern United States but have species spread across parts of Asia and the Americas.

Magnolia flowers are much more substantial than cherry blossoms, with some varieties, like the Saucer magnolia (magnolia x soulangeana), producing blooms up to 12 inches in diameter.

These flowers are robust and bowl-shaped and can come in various colors from pure white to vibrant pink and even deep purple.

Unlike the cherry blossom, magnolia flowers typically grow individually along branches rather than in clusters.

One defining characteristic of many magnolia flowers is the significant number of petals they can have, often ranging between 6 and 12 in the Saucer magnolia.

These flowers also have a leathery texture, making them appear grand and resilient.

When they bloom in spring, they can last for several weeks, transforming gardens with their large, beautiful flowers and sometimes even spreading a subtle fragrance.

Cherry Blossom Flowers

An up-close view of white cherry blossom flowers.

The iconic cherry blossoms, native to several East Asian countries and emblematic especially in Japan, are delicate and intricate and often arrive in a breathtaking shade of pink.

These flowers are generally small, ranging around 1 to 2.5 inches in diameter. They typically appear in clusters, creating a cloud-like effect on branches, giving trees a fluffy appearance.

One of the defining features of the cherry blossom is its five-petaled shape, but some varieties like the ‘Yoshino’ can have up to five or more petals.

The bloom time for cherry blossoms is usually quite short, often depending on the weather; they might last just a week or two around early to mid-spring.

The ethereal beauty of these flowers is so fleeting that entire festivals, especially in Japan, celebrate their ephemeral nature.

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Leaves

When you look closely, the differences between the leaves of cherry blossoms and magnolias become starkly evident.

While cherry blossom leaves are more delicate with a finely-toothed edge and transform colorfully across seasons, magnolia leaves are more substantial and glossy, remaining consistent in color.

Magnolias, especially the evergreen varieties, offer year-round greenery, whereas cherry blossoms give gardeners the added joy of a colorful autumn display.

Magnolia Leaves

The top and underside of Southern magnolia leaves.

Magnolia trees are renowned for their robust and large leaves.

Depending on the variety of magnolia, the size can vary greatly, but many magnolias in the United States, such as the Southern magnolia, have leaves that can grow up to 8 inches in length or even longer.

They’re often glossy, giving the tree a polished, evergreen appearance, especially in varieties where the leaves stay on the tree year-round.

Magnolia leaves are typically broad and oval with a smooth edge, contrasting with the serrated edge of cherry blossom leaves.

The underside of many magnolia leaves is often a different color, sometimes a lighter green or even a rustic brown, adding depth to the tree’s foliage.

In the fall, deciduous magnolias shed their leaves, which might turn golden-brown before dropping.

Cherry Blossom Leaves

Green leaves from a cherry tree after a spring rain.

The leaves of the cherry blossom tree are generally elliptical or ovate with a pointed tip. They usually grow between 2 and 5 inches in length.

In spring, new leaves can take on a reddish-brown hue, gradually turning to a vibrant green as they mature.

By autumn, cherry blossom leaves can transform again, showcasing brilliant shades of yellow or even fiery red, depending on the variety and weather conditions.

The edges of the cherry blossom leaves are typically serrated or finely toothed, adding a delicate texture to the foliage. They’re often thin, which contributes to the tree’s overall delicate appearance.

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Tree Shape & Size

Magnolias stand as statuesque specimens, their size and grandeur being especially noticeable in open spaces or large yards.

Cherry blossoms, while not dwarfed by any means, offer a more delicate silhouette with their branches often swaying gracefully with the wind, providing a gentle canopy of shade underneath.

Magnolia Trees

A mature deciduous magnolia tree blooming in spring.

Magnolias encompass a diverse range of sizes and shapes, depending on their species and variety.

The grand Southern magnolia, or Magnolia grandiflora, for instance, can soar up to 60-80 feet in height with a spread of around 30-50 feet. It showcases a pyramidal to rounded shape.

In contrast, the Saucer magnolia, or Magnolia x soulangeana, which is one of the more commonly planted deciduous magnolias, reaches a more modest height of 20-30 feet with a similar spread, taking on a broad, rounded shape.

Many magnolias also possess a central leader trunk, giving them an upright, singular main trunk that extends straight up through the tree’s center.

Cherry Blossom Trees

A cherry tree covered in pink blossoms in a home garden.

Cherry blossom trees exhibit an elegant and often spreading growth habit. Their size largely depends on the specific variety.

For instance, the renowned Yoshino cherry trees can reach heights of around 40-50 feet with a spread of about 25-40 feet. This variety often forms a vase-like shape, with branches gracefully arching outwards.

Another popular variety, the Kwanzan cherry, stands shorter, reaching 30-40 feet in height and spread.

Overall, cherry blossom trees have a relatively fast growth rate, especially when young, and often display a rounded to umbrella-shaped canopy.

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Seasonal Beauty

Both cherry blossoms and magnolias serve as harbingers of spring with their respective blooms painting landscapes in varying shades of white and pink.

While cherry blossoms are admired for their delicate and fleeting beauty, creating iconic pink clouds when in full bloom, magnolias are revered for their robust, fragrant blooms that make a bold statement.

Seasonally, while cherry blossoms have a slight edge in fall with their colorful foliage, magnolias, especially the evergreen varieties, provide consistent beauty throughout the colder months, making them a focal point even in winter.

Magnolia Trees

Magnolias herald the advent of spring in a grand manner. Depending on the variety, magnolias can bloom from late winter to early spring with flowers appearing before the tree’s leaves.

The Saucer magnolia, for example, showcases large, cup-shaped flowers that range from pure white to deep pink. Unlike cherry blossoms, magnolia flowers tend to be more substantial and waxy in texture.

As spring progresses, magnolias adorn themselves in vibrant green leaves, adding to their beauty.

The evergreen varieties, such as the Southern magnolia, retain their lustrous green leaves even through winter, serving as a year-round beacon of green in otherwise barren landscapes.

While deciduous magnolias lose their leaves in the fall, their stark, architectural branches against winter skies have a beauty of their own.

Cherry Blossom Trees

Cherry blossom trees are often synonymous with spring’s arrival. Their soft, delicate blossoms typically burst into color around early to mid-spring, depending on the local climate and specific variety.

The Yoshino cherry tree, for instance, produces beautiful white flowers with just a hint of pink, creating a dreamy canopy. These blossoms are ephemeral with their peak bloom lasting just around a week.

Following the bloom, the trees begin to leaf out, turning the white and pink landscape into a fresh shade of green.

In the fall, many cherry blossom varieties, like the Kwanzan cherry, offer brilliant autumn foliage, turning shades of yellow, orange, or even fiery red.

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Growth Rate & Habits

While both trees bring incredible beauty to gardens and landscapes, understanding their growth rates and habits is essential for long-term planning.

Cherry blossom trees offer quicker gratification with faster growth rates and their iconic spring displays, but they might need replacement sooner due to their shorter life spans.

Magnolias may require a bit more patience, especially for slower-growing varieties. However, their longevity and impressive stature when mature make them a lasting addition to many gardens.

Magnolia Trees

Magnolias vary widely in their growth rate, depending largely on the specific variety.

While some magnolias, like the Saucer magnolia, have a moderate growth rate of about a foot per year, others, such as the Southern magnolia, can be slower starters.

However, with time and proper care, magnolias can become impressive specimens in the landscape.

Their growth habit tends to be upright with a pyramidal or rounded canopy, and some varieties can spread quite wide, making them suitable as standalone specimens.

The robust trunks of magnolias, especially in older trees, provide a strong architectural element to gardens. Many magnolias also have a longer life span than cherry blossoms, with some living well over a century.

Cherry Blossom Trees

Cherry blossom trees exhibit a moderate to fast growth rate, allowing gardeners to enjoy their iconic blooms relatively quickly after planting.

In optimum conditions, they can grow from 1 to 2 feet annually.

Their growth habit is usually upright, with a rounded or oval canopy, making them a popular choice for lining streets or pathways.

Over time, especially with the famous Yoshino cherry tree, the main trunk can develop picturesque, gnarled features, adding character to mature trees.

However, cherry blossoms have a shorter lifespan compared to many trees, often living around 30 to 40 years under ideal conditions.

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Growing Requirements & Care

Both magnolia and cherry blossom trees are beloved for their breathtaking flowers, but understanding their specific care needs is crucial for any gardener wishing to see them thrive.

While there are some similarities in their care, there are also key differences shaped by their distinct natural habitats and growth habits.

Light Preferences

  • Magnolia Trees: While magnolias love sunlight, they are a bit flexible. Young magnolias benefit from some afternoon shade, but as they mature, they can handle more direct sun.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: Most cherry blossoms thrive in full sunlight, which encourages a profusion of flowers come spring. At least six hours of direct sunlight is ideal, ensuring they bloom to their fullest potential.

Soil Type and pH Requirements

  • Magnolia Trees: Magnolias are less picky than cherry trees but flourish in slightly acidic, moist, and well-draining soil. Like cherry blossoms, they appreciate soil enrichment before planting, ensuring they get a good start.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: Cherry blossoms prefer well-draining soil with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. Before planting, it’s a good idea to test the soil’s pH and amend it if necessary.

Cold Hardiness and Adaptability

  • Magnolia Trees: While magnolias are generally resilient, late frosts can also affect their flowers. Some magnolia species are more cold-hardy than others, so it’s essential to choose the right variety for one’s climate.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: Many cherry blossom varieties are hardy and can withstand colder temperatures, but late frosts can damage their delicate blooms.

Watering Needs

  • Magnolia Trees: Magnolias prefer consistently moist soil, especially when young. They don’t tolerate prolonged drought well, so regular watering during dry spells is crucial.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: Young cherry blossom trees need regular watering to establish their root systems. Mature trees are somewhat drought-tolerant but still benefit from consistent moisture, especially during dry periods.

Fertilization

  • Magnolia Trees: Magnolias benefit from a slow-release, balanced fertilizer like this one applied in the spring. They don’t need frequent fertilization; once a year is typically sufficient.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: A balanced fertilizer in the early spring can boost cherry blossom growth and flowering. However, overfertilization can hinder their bloom, so it’s essential to apply it judiciously.

Pruning

  • Magnolia Trees: Magnolias don’t require heavy pruning. If necessary, prune them in the late spring or early summer after they’ve bloomed to avoid disrupting their flowering cycle.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: Pruning helps maintain the tree’s shape and removes dead or diseased branches. The best time to prune cherry blossoms is after they’ve finished flowering to avoid cutting off future blooms.

Pests and Diseases

  • Magnolia Trees: Magnolias can sometimes attract scale insects or suffer from fungal diseases. As with cherry blossoms, early detection and treatment are key to maintaining a healthy tree.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: These trees can be susceptible to pests like aphids and diseases like cherry blossom blight. Regular inspection and early intervention can prevent severe infestations or disease spread.

Fall Cleanup

  • Magnolia Trees: Similar to cherry blossoms, a thorough fall cleanup around magnolias can help ensure the tree remains healthy and vibrant in the coming seasons.
  • Cherry Blossom Trees: Removing fallen leaves and debris around the tree base can help prevent diseases and pests from overwintering and affecting the tree in the subsequent year.

Magnolia vs. Cherry Blossom – Varieties

Both magnolia and cherry blossom trees come in a multitude of varieties, each with its distinct characteristics and beauty.

Exploring the different types can give one a better appreciation of their diversity and help in choosing the right fit for a particular garden or landscape.

Magnolia Varieties

  • Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana): This is perhaps the most well-known magnolia, recognizable by its large, saucer-shaped flowers. The blooms range in color from white to pink and even light purple. It’s a deciduous variety that can grow up to 25 feet tall.
  • Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata): A smaller magnolia tree or shrub, it’s celebrated for its star-shaped white flowers that bloom in early spring. It’s especially frost-tolerant.
  • Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora): Native to the southeastern U.S., this evergreen magnolia can grow quite large. Its shiny, dark green leaves provide a contrasting backdrop to its sizable creamy white flowers.
  • Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia x loebneri): A hybrid variety known for its prolific bloom of light pink or white flowers. It’s a deciduous tree that can grow to around 20 feet.
  • Cucumber Tree (Magnolia acuminata): Named for its cucumber-like fruit, this magnolia is native to the eastern U.S. and boasts yellow-green blooms.

Cherry Blossom Varieties

  • Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis): One of the most famous cherry blossom trees, especially in Washington, D.C., it offers delicate, pale pink to white blossoms that create an ethereal cloud-like effect when in full bloom.
  • Kwanzan Cherry (Prunus serrulata ‘Kwanzan’): Recognized for its vibrant pink, double-petaled flowers and a vase-like shape when mature, it’s one of the showiest cherry blossom varieties.
  • Weeping Cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Pendula’): This variety is admired for its cascading branches adorned with pink or white flowers, giving it a unique, weeping form.
  • Black Cherry (Prunus serotina): Native to North America, this tree is not only prized for its white spring blossoms but also for its dark cherries, which are favored by wildlife and can be used in cooking.
  • Autumn Flowering Cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’): Unlike most cherry trees that bloom in spring, this variety sporadically flowers in the fall, providing unexpected bursts of color.

Related Questions:

Do Magnolias Bloom Before Cherry Blossoms?

Yes, generally speaking, magnolias often bloom before cherry blossoms.

Magnolias herald the onset of spring with their bold, beautiful flowers, typically making their appearance in early spring or even late winter in some regions.

Cherry blossoms tend to bloom a bit later, often in mid-spring.

The exact timing for both can vary based on the specific variety and local climate conditions, but it’s always a magical time of the year when these trees start showcasing their blooms, marking nature’s transition from the cold days.

Do Magnolia Trees Lose Their Leaves in the Fall?

The answer to this depends on the type of magnolia tree.

Deciduous magnolias, like the Saucer magnolia or Star magnolia, shed their leaves in the fall, presenting a beautiful display of autumn colors before they do.

In contrast, evergreen magnolias, such as the Southern magnolia, retain their glossy, dark green leaves year-round, providing consistent greenery even in the chillier months.

It’s crucial to know which type of magnolia you’re dealing with to prepare for its seasonal changes and care requirements.

Closing Thoughts

Telling the difference between magnolias and cherry blossoms can be a delightful journey.

By understanding their key differences in terms of blooms, size, shape, and care requirements, anyone can become adept at distinguishing between these two spring beauties.

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