Magnolia virginiana is more Elinor Dashwood than Marianne -- the two sisters from Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility. It’s the less outrageous counterpart to Magnolia soulangiana. The white flowers are smaller and they never cast a profusion of blossoms over the entire tree, like the floral frenzy of the saucer magnolia in early spring.
But, while you don’t have a riot of color and perfume when sweetbay magnolia is in season, you do have a slow burn. Sweetbay magnolia sets a steady pace that means it will bloom for months in the summer, as opposed to the ephemeral display of the saucer magnolia. This is demonstrated in the above photo and the following two. Above, you see a flower bud and below, a flower that is just about to open.
In tandem with buds forming and opening, you have fully-open blossoms like the one below. The flowers are creamy-white, similiar to Magnolia stellata, perhaps, but less strappy and flimsy. They are lovely flowers -- and fragrant, too -- but you need to get a bit closer to this plant to appreciate its beauty. Much like Elinor.