June 3, 2020
Virginia Beach has its own “Steel Magnolia” for real


by Mary Reid Barrow

If you always  thought a “Steel Magnolia” was a southern belle, listen to the story of a real steel magnolia on the grounds at Steinhilber’s Restaurant.

This old magnolia tree is tough as nails.  It almost lost its life  to a fire  more than 80 years ago, yet the  tree has come back as strong as ever, still bearing  those gorgeous sweet scented flowers that belie its strength.

This big tree is not only old–about 170 years old—but it also is heavily scarred from the huge fire in 1935,  said Brent James.  Brent is in charge of Lynnhaven River NOW’s Notable Tree Program and also is LRNow’s Oyster Restoration Coordinator.

The magnolia was blackened and charred during a  major fire that burned the Lynnhaven Golf and Country Club to the ground, Brent explained. The tree got lucky and was saved as firemen fought the blaze.  The story goes that when Robert Steinhilber, a magnolia tree lover, bought the property later that year, he decided to try and save the tree.

“Fully half the trunk shows signs of having burned in the 1935 fire,” Brent said, “so for it to have survived and continued to grow for all these years is quite remarkable.”

Interestingly,  magnolias are not  true natives of this area but have  naturalized in southeastern Virginia to the degree that they appear to be natives.  In truth, they migrated north from their native range which extends only as far north as the southeastern part of North Carolina.

Though large and long-lived, our steel magnolia is not big enough or old enough to  qualify for the Tier 1 or 2 categories of  LRNow’s Notable Tree Program.  The tree program is based on criteria set by national and state Big Tree programs, Brent said.  On the other hand, he felt the persevering magnolia deserved Special Category designation for its “extraordinary resilience and stature.”

It’s a magnolia with a steely resolve,  for sure.

If you have a large beloved, old tree in your neighborhood or one that has overcome amazing obstacles to survive,  contact Brent  at or call him at 757-962-5398. 

Find out more about the Notable tree program on LRNow’s website:   And  find a map of  more than 100 trees that have qualified as Virginia  Beach Notable Trees :

Do you have a favorite tree, a secret tree grove or neighborhood climbing tree that you love?  Let me know your stories about trees,  the critters who live in them and the insects that dine on them.  Send an email to


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