These trees and shrubs have simple, entire and lobed spirally arranged and petiolate leaves and stipules that encloses the bud and sheaths the stem. When the leaves shed, they leave a scar. Stalked flowers form singly on the end of branches or short axillary shoots. Petals are free, 6 or more, spiral or whorled. Each flower has numerous stamens, free and spirally arranged. Ovaries are superior , often stalked. Carpels are numerous. Beetles are the most common polliinator; some species create heat in the flower to attract insects. The fruit is cone-like with free or fused follicles. In many species the carpels dehisce and the pendent seeds exhibit a red aril (seed cover).
The family has a disjunct distribuiton in eastern North America, tropical America, southern India and East Asia. The family has two genera: Magnolia and Liriodendron. Essential oils from Magnolia champaca are used for perfume production and its leaves to feed silk worms. Timber of Magnolia is used for boxes, matches, flooring, traditional Japanese shoes. The wood of Liriodendron is used for furniture, shingles, latches and canoes. Magnolia was named in honor of the French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638 – 1715). Liriodendron comes from the Greek word leirion meaning “lily” and dendron meaning “tree”, in reference to the lily-like flower.