Winter Magnolias

Colder temperatures usher in beautiful blooms from almost 100 winter magnolias in the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Golden Gate Park
Sprenger magnolia blossoms, a pink flowering winter magnolia

Photo by Saxon Holt

A close-up view of a Sprenger magnolia (sprengeri v. 'Diva') 'Claret Cup' reveals the varying shades of pink on each petal.

While many of nature’s star-power flowers take a rest during the winter, magnolias in the San Francisco Botanical Garden put on a hit show worthy of Broadway. Velvetlike buds burst open on bare branches into voluminous and fragrant blooms in shades of pink and pure white. The clear blue skies of a California winter provide the perfect backdrop to highlight the elegant flowers when they make their welcome yearly debut.

“Magnolias have long been the signature flower of the garden,” says Sue Ann Schiff, executive director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society. “The city has an ideal climate to support them, so we have been able to cultivate and steward one of the world’s most important magnolia collections—critical for their conservation and survival.”

Man sitting on bench under white-flowering winter magnolia

Photo by Saxon Holt

Winter in San Francisco brings out a lovely spectacle of blossoms, and visitors look forward to taking in the annual magnolia beauty show. Here someon sites under a white flowering Magnolia denudata, 'Yulan Magnolia.'

The garden’s collection features 51 species and 33 cultivars, including many prized and rare examples from Asia, which are distinct from what is seen in Southern states.  Some of the trees reach 80 feet, making them a challenge to photograph, but that fact does not dissuade Saxon Holt. “These are large mature trees, and I have to be constantly looking up into the sky to find angles that show off the flowers as they naturally grow. But they are thrilling to photograph,” he says.

“They are deciduous and flower early, allowing the flowers to stand out like glowing stars on bare branches.” Saxon Holt, Photographer

Woman smelling blossom of winter magnolia

Photo by Kathryn Rummel

The garden is filled with the sweet scent of the magnolias, making for fragrant and lingering strolls from mid-January through the end of March.

See the magnolias in bloom at the San Francisco Botanical Garden annually from mid-January through the end of March. The progress of the blooms can be tracked on the garden’s social media, so visits can be planned at the peak of the season.

Varieties of Winter Magnolias

Click to enlarge images.

Saucer magnolia flowers

Photo by Saxon Holt

Magnolia soulangeana 'Picture,' flowering in San Francisco Botanical Garden

Magnolia denudata the lilytree or Yulan magnolia, white flowering deciduous tree in San Francisco Botanical Garden

Photo by Saxon Holt

The contrast of the flowers on bare branches makes an elegant statement. Here, Magnolia denudata the lily tree or Yulan magnolia are luminous.

bright pink flowers of winter magnolia against blue sky

Photo by Saxon Holt

Magnolia sprengeri. "A towering tree with thousands of huge, gorgeous pink flowers held upright against a blue sky is a sight you will remember for the rest of your lifetime." — Sue Ann Schiff

Honeybee flying toward flower of winter magnolia

Photo by Judy Harter

Buzzing bees also look forward to the arrival of the magnolia blossoms.

Photography by Saxon Holt | Images courtesy of the San Francisco Botanical Garden