Archive for April, 2011
The change in wind direction after a frontal passage brought this azalea to my attention. Its powerful fragrance is described as clove-scented in some references. To my nose, it’s a tad overpowering, especially for a native deciduous azalea so relatively diminutive in size.
My cultivar of Coastal Azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum) is Winterthur, and its advantage is that, unlike the species, it is not stoloniferous. That means it won’t spread itself via underground roots. In my case, that’s a good thing, because in its native sandy soil of the Coastal Plain of the mid-Atlantic and Carolinas, this shrub has been known to cover a square mile. That’s too much of a good thing, even for me. My references tell me that the species doesn’t spread so much in heavier soils, so it’s likely that Piedmont clay would inhibit its enthusiasm somewhat.
Coastal Azalea only grows three to four feet high and about as wide. It’s definitely the most petite native deciduous azalea I grow. But between the snow-white flowers and their potent perfume, you’ll never miss it in your shady landscape. Because this shrub naturally occurs in open pine forests in well-drained soil, I planted mine at the top of my hill beneath mature pines. It has been blooming for a few days now, and I’ll probably get another week of flowers before it’s done.
Also blooming right now is a cultivar of Oconee Azalea (Rhododendron flammeum) called Scarlet Ibis. Its flowers have no fragrance, but they are lovely, as you can see here:
When I purchased this cultivar, I imagined it would be redder than the species. But in my yard, it’s really more pink than red. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s gorgeous — just not what I was expecting. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, because flower color in this species in the wild is quite variable, ranging from yellow to salmon to orange-red. It naturally occurs in the Piedmont of Georgia and South Carolina and is noted for its heat tolerance.
In my yard, Scarlet Ibis blooms about a week after my plain species Oconee Azalea finishes blooming. It is about six feet high now, and is supposed to top out at eight feet, with a similar spread. The flowers of my species representative are a magnificent shade of orange-red, which is why I was surprised when my Scarlet Ibis turned out to be paler than the species. Here’s a close-up that Wonder Spouse took of the flowers of the plain species:
As you can see, they’re both lovely azaleas. But the one that grabs your eye in the shady landscape of my yard is the species version. The deep orange fire of the flowers cannot be ignored.
Scarlet Ibis, on the other hand, is more subtle. Luckily for me, I planted this cultivar along the edge of a bed near the house, where I can’t overlook its exquisite blooms.
The native wetland at the edge of our property gets more gorgeous every day. As you can see in the above photo, the Cinnamon Ferns and Atamasco Lilies are still magnificent. They serve as a fitting congregation for the latest additions: Jack-in-the-Pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum). The Jacks are in front in the above shot — their three-part leaves make them easy to spot. Someone decided that their unusual flower structure (a spadix), which is surrounded by a leaflike hood (a spathe) looks like a preacher sitting in his pulpit, hence, Jack-in-the-Pulpit.
Their other common name is Indian Turnip, because Native Americans ate the underground tubers. But don’t just dig one up and take a bite, please! Raw tubers are full of calcium oxalate crystals, which will burn your mouth like fire. Native Americans knew that cooking the tubers cancelled this effect, rendering them acceptable as vegetables.
My references tell me that Jack-in-the-Pulpits need constant moisture and at least medium shade to be happy. And, if you want them to set fruit (a festive cluster of red berries), the plants need to be well fed.
Periodic flooding of my wetland by the adjacent creek takes care of nutrient deposition for me, and my wetland remains at least damp except during the direst of droughts. A high canopy provides shade. My Jacks are responding by multiplying with enthusiasm.
I’ve got both forms — the green form:
And the purple-striped form. Note the deep purple stem on this form:
The split is just about even between the two forms in my little wetland. Both are nice, but I think the purple form is quite an eye-catcher. If I were going to move some to other moist areas in my yard, I’d probably move the purple form. Although it is easier to simply spread the seeds where I want them. I’ve done this in a few spots. I sprinkled red berries in the late summer/early fall when I noticed them (they’re hard to miss), and now I’ve got Jacks preaching in spots where I had no Jacks previously.
This native wildflower is common in wetlands up and down the eastern side of the United States, and I think it’s under-appreciated. If you’ve got a consistently wet, shady spot in your yard, I encourage you to consider planting some Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Preaching the gospel of wetland significance is their speciality, and I think it’s a message that can’t be heard often enough.
I told you yesterday here about the emergence of the first wave of periodical cicadas. This morning, my backyard, which has a protected southern exposure, was teeming with hundreds of emerging cicadas. It’s hard not to think of the movie, Alien, when you spot one just beginning to push itself out of its larval shell, as in this photo:
That’s what the cicada at the top of the photo is doing. The one below is dangling from the husk of its former self as it dries its wings. I’m expecting the eerie humming to commence very soon.
I warned you they were coming here. At first light, I stepped outside to breathe exceptionally humid (for late April) air — the air mass that helped create the devastating tornadoes in states to my west and south yesterday and overnight. The air feels wrong this morning — too thick, the winds are too strong, the red lines on weather radar — too terrifying. So, of course, this is the morning that the Periodical Cicadas — Brood XIX — are beginning to emerge.
A half dozen of them — sluggish as they tried to dry new wings in damp air — were perched on the railings of our back deck — and on the floor — and on the side of the house. My pictures are less than ideal because it was still fairly dark.
One of the new arrivals even left the shed skin of its former self attached to a rail post here:
Here’s a shot of two of them. One is on the wall of the house, the other sits atop the deck railing:
The hum I described in my earlier post has not yet begun. They are still pulling themselves out of damp ground, struggling out of their larval skins, and drying their new wings.
Later today, the sun will return, and the humidity will drop as the unstable air mass that wrought so much destruction is replaced with spring-sweetened air once more.
It’s almost as if the cicadas have returned now to keep me feeling unsettled, to remind me how quickly the natural world can transform itself. As I stand outside over the next weeks, outnumbered by thousands of humming insects, I will be unable to forget how very small I am. And that’s probably a good thing.
I had never noticed Cedar-Apple Rust in nature until we moved to our current home over 22 years ago. At that time, the front door was guarded by two 40-foot-tall Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana). Their looming presence darkened the entry and kept a creaky wooden walk slimy with algal growth, due to the minimal air circulation permitted by mis-matched azaleas huddling beneath the cedars.
After a few warm spring rains, those front Cedars suddenly sprouted alien-looking bright orange growths that were slimy to the touch. Botanists refer to the dangling fruiting bodies of this stage of Cedar-Apple Rust (Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginiae) as tentacles, but to my eye, they are more like fingers reaching out to slime any unsuspecting folks who approach too closely. The growths are cold and gelatinous to the touch, and, well, kind of gross.
This fungus completes its life cycle by alternating between two host plants — Eastern Red Cedar and members of the Apple family. The Apple family is enormous, including everything from Quince to Crabapple and Serviceberry. In my yard, I think the alternate hosts for the fungus were the sad-looking Crabapples that the previous owner had planted near the driveway, not far from the giant Junipers. The Crabapple leaves were covered in orangy spots, which I realized were the fungal growths in their Apple guise. The Crabapples tended to lose most of their leaves by mid-summer; they never bloomed well either.
After I realized what I was dealing with, we cut down the sick Crabapples. To increase air flow, we limbed up the Eastern Red Cedars, which previously had branches nearly to ground level. By the next year, the orange slimy fingers of spring were less abundant. And when we performed a major landscape overhaul to the front entry — removing those two Junipers in the process — evidence of Cedar-Apple Rust almost disappeared.
But we have a number of other large Eastern Red Cedars growing in our yard. They were here when we moved in, and I love these trees. Not only do they smell wonderful (their heartwood is what cedar chests are made from), they provide year-round cover for birds and other wildlife — and an important food source. The bluish-white berry-looking fruits on the female trees are beloved by many birds, including Cedar Wax Wings. These fruits aren’t actually berries. Junipers are conifers; the fruits are mature cones. But the birds don’t care about botanical distinctions; they just enjoy the feast provided by blue-cone-laden 40-foot trees.
This year’s humid, unusually warm April seems to have awakened quite a number of slimy orange fungal fruiting bodies. Spores travel far on winds, so they could have come from any Apple-family member in a neighbor’s yard. And when I added Serviceberry trees to my yard, I knew I might exacerbate the Cedar-Apple Rust. So far, I haven’t noticed an impact on them, but I’ll be keeping a close watch as the humid summer progresses.
If you want to grow Apples in the southeastern Piedmont, your best bet is to plant varieties that are known to be resistant to Cedar-Apple Rust and other fungal diseases. Personally, I find most fruit trees to be more trouble than they’re worth in my climate. Constant vigilance is required to protect the trees against disease and insect damage. Frankly, I just don’t have the time to watch them closely enough.
And by not needing to worry about protecting Apple trees, I can enjoy the gelatinous orange fingers of spring that adorn my big Junipers. They’re actually kind of cool — in a slimy, horror-film kind of way.
The picture speaks for itself, don’t you think? This native wildflower, commonly known as Atamasco Lily or Wild Easter Lily (Zephranthes atamasco) flourishes in my soggy wetland, and is nearing peak bloom as I type.
Ace photographer and Wonder Spouse took this shot for me, because my less-expensive camera just couldn’t do justice to these beauties. If you take the time to click on the above photo to enlarge it, you’ll be better able to see the details that make this flower so gorgeous. Note the two flower buds swollen like balloons as they prepare to unfurl their petals. And see the smaller buds, pink-tinged, waiting their turns to shine?
This wildflower — growing without any help from me in a mucky wetland — mixes with the Cinnamon Ferns and Jack-in-the-Pulpits like they’re mingling at a party. Wow is an understatement.
The distinctive leaves of these lilies make them a snap to spot even when they’re not blooming. They are flat and very shiny — easy to distinguish from the abundant grasses and sedges that share the wetland. My references tell me the leaves and bulbs are highly poisonous, which would explain why the deer don’t graze on them — not even the flower buds.
Flowers are six-petaled and quite delicate. Here’s a close-up of a flower that Wonder Spouse took. If you click to enlarge it, you may spot the mosquito loitering on a lower right petal.
Flower stems (called scapes) grow 8 to 10 inches tall and usually bear single flowers. Because they tend to bloom around Easter, residents of the southeastern Piedmont and Coastal Plain — where these lilies are native — have a tradition of picking the flowers to celebrate the holiday, proclaiming them to be Wild Easter Lilies.
My references say that these lilies will adapt to standard garden beds, as long as the soil is high in organic material, and even moisture levels are maintained. They need a few hours of sun to ensure good blossom production.
However, in my opinion, Atamasco Lilies belong in our naturally occuring swampy spots — and maybe rain gardens — places where they can achieve maximum vigor — and where they can take their rightful places as the belles of our late springtime wetlands.
That’s a cultivar of native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’) blooming in the photo above. I wrote about it previously here. It is at maximum spring bloom on my front trellis at the moment, and I thought the flowers made a fitting celebration of my 100th consecutive blog entry. Happy 100th Day Birthday, Blog!
The biggest challenges to making daily entries occurred in the last few days. My cable provider (with initials TW) has been spectacularly unreliable since last Thursday. Cable has been randomly working, usually at sub-par rates, and often connectivity was completely down. That’s why I’m writing fast and early today, in the hopes of ensuring that my 100th entry makes it to the Blogosphere.
I use WordPress software, and I must say I like it very much, including the statistics it provides. For example, my average views per day were 13 in January when I started, 14 for February and March, and so far in April, I’m averaging 24 views per day. I attribute the leap in viewer numbers to the onset of the growing season, and my use of keywords.
WordPress tells me what search terms (and how many) are leading viewers to my blog, and from that data, I can tell you that well over two thirds of views of my blog are the result of searches. This pleases me, because it leads me to believe I am providing useful information to southeastern Piedmont — and perhaps other — gardeners. The more the merrier, I say.
Another interesting (to me, anyway) statistic is the number of views per month. In January, 227 views, February blog posts got 387 views, March was 426, and so far in April, my site has been viewed 582 times. Again, this is mostly due to searchers who hone in on the keywords I assign to my entries.
Finally, here are the top three posts — in terms of number of views — as of today:
My other Magnolia family entries have also been popular. It’s nice to know I’m not the only Magnolia-obsessed gardener out there.
As spring eases into summer here, I find I still have plenty of material for daily entries, but the increasing pace of the gardening season is making it harder for me to find adequate time at the computer. Therefore, as of today, I’m no longer committing to producing daily entries. I’ll post as often as I can — every day or so, I hope — but I’m making no promises. I do promise to continue to take frequent pictures, to ensure I can illustrate whatever topic I write about. I’ve received enough feedback to know that you folks do enjoy the photos.
Thanks to all who are reading Piedmont Gardener. I hope we can grow together, as I continue to document my obsession.
Of course, I’m talking about Tulip Poplar, also known as Tuliptree, Yellow Poplar, Whitewood, and Tulip Magnolia – the latter common name refers to this Piedmont (and mountain) forest giant’s membership in the Magnolia family.
One look at a flower shows you the kinship with the Magnolia clan, like this one Wonder Spouse photographed that had fallen to the ground beneath the large native Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) growing within our fenced north-facing slope:
The tree this flower came from is between 70-80 feet tall, and as is typical of its species, it has self-pruned its lower branches, leaving a straight clean trunk reaching about 35 feet before the first branch appears. Right now, it is covered in the gorgeous green and orange tulip-shaped flowers that give the tree its name. Here’s a photo of one of those flowers — still attached to a branch — that I took this morning:
As is true of all Magnolia family members, the flowers of this native tree are pollinator magnets, and Tulip Poplar honey is a favorite of many honey connoisseurs.
Tulip Poplars are not trees for small landscapes. It’s not unusual for them to reach 90 feet in height, and some specimens have been recorded at nearly 200 feet. These trees occur naturally along stream bottoms and moist forests. Mine grows on the lower half of our north slope that ends at the creek – ideal habitat.
This native is an economically important hardwood to the timber industry. Its straight trunks make excellent lumber, and large volumes of timber are harvested annually for veneer and furniture production.
I prefer my Tulip Poplars in forests rather than furniture. In winter, their tall, straight trunks provide visual interest, spring brings myriad flowers and happy pollinators, summer foliage cools everything beneath its embrace, and autumn turns the leaves a pure golden yellow that is visible along Piedmont ridge tops for many miles.
If your landscape can accommodate this fast-growing large native, and you’ve got a moist spot for it, I heartily recommend this beautiful Magnolia family member.
For many years, Wonder Spouse and I owned a pick-up truck. In the early years of taming our five acres, it was handy for hauling all sorts of landscaping materials. And for a plant-obsessed gardener like me, the truck was very handy — maybe too handy — for hauling oversized plants from local nurseries.
My plant obsession is compounded by the fact that quite a number of small, outstanding speciality nurseries are within driving distance of my home. One such nearby nursery specializes in camellias and other rare and unusual, mostly Asian, ornamental trees and shrubs. Every fall to reduce their inventory, they hold a sale on their largest potted trees and shrubs. In the years when we owned our truck, I never missed a sale, which is how we came by the lovely tree currently blooming in our front yard.
Little Epaulettetree (Pterostyrax corymbosa) is from Japan, and, according to Michael A. Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th edition) it’s supposed to be more shrub-like than the other member of the genus, Fragrant Epaulettetree (Pterostyrax hispida). I would never be so foolhardy as to dispute Dirr’s assertions on any botanical topic, but in my yard, our tree (not shrub) is between 25 and 30 feet tall and still growing.
I’d show you a picture of the entire tree if I could, but because I thought this plant was going to be a shrub, I tucked it into a corner where many other trees were already growing. The truth is you have to be standing practically under my specimen to appreciate the impact of it in full bloom. Imagine the flower clusters you see in the photo above covering every branch — top to bottom — of a 25-foot tall, 15-foot wide tree.
The flower color is subtle, and most years I first notice either the fragrance — a subtle sweetness that never overpowers, or the sounds. When it is blooming, this tree literally hums with pollinator activity. Honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter bees, tiny solitary bees, assorted flies and beetles — all are drawn irresistibly to these flowers. Spent flowers carpet the ground beneath the tree, looking like spring snow.
All those pollinators insure excellent seed production, and I routinely pull seedlings from beneath the tree. The seeds don’t seem to travel; I don’t think the birds like them, and the seedlings pull up easily.
Unless I see evidence, or read about, this species having invasive potential, I’ll continue to enjoy its delightful fragrance every late April, as will the bees.
I love the kiss of gold on the inside of the flowers of Alabama Azalea (Rhododendron alabamense). My specimen is almost five feet tall and four feet wide, and it has been blooming for about a week and a half now. Not only do the white flowers light up a darkening woodland (as the canopy continues to leaf out), the fragrance of the flowers is intoxicating — sweetly pure, never cloying, it wafts on spring breezes to tickle the nose yards from its location.
This native from the dry open woodlands and rocky hills of north central Alabama and a few spots in west central Georgia can attain ten feet in height, and I hope mine does. I sited mine near the top of my north-facing hill, where it can receive morning sun, but little hot summer afternoon heat. I keep it well mulched, but otherwise do nothing except tell it how pretty it is. I suspect the key to success with this azalea is providing excellent drainage.
And here’s a hybrid that bloomed for the first time this year for me.
The shrub is still small — not more than two feet high, but it is absolutely covered in eye-popping orange-yellow flowers. This is another spontaneous cross from one of my favorite purveyors of native plants. They describe it as floriferous, and I must concur. They speculate that this shrub is probably a hybrid involving R. alabamense, R. canescens, and R. flammeum, and they estimate it will grow to between 6 and ten feet high with a 4-6-foot spread. Works for me!
I’ll show you more native deciduous azaleas now blooming in my yard very soon. Did I mention I can’t get enough of this gorgeous group of shade-loving native shrubs?
I will admit it’s not the showiest native shrub in the forest, nor is this the best photo (sorry about that), but anyone walking through a southeastern Piedmont forest this time of year is bound to notice the flat-topped cream-to-white flower clusters (cymes, technically speaking) of Arrowwood, so named because Native Americans reportedly used the strong root-sprout shoots for arrow shafts.
I rescued this shrub when it was small from the same doomed-to-bulldozer oblivion floodplain (with the owner’s permission) from which I rescued my Bladdernut. Like the Bladdernut, this Arrowwood has grown quite tall and wide over the last seventeen or so years. It’s now about seven feet tall and five feet white, and this year it is covered in flowers.
That’s good news for the birds, which enjoy the fruits of this native shrub. When ripe, the blue-to-black fruit clusters are consumed enthusiastically by songbirds, Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, White-tailed Deer, and Gray Squirrels. My references tell me that White-tailed Deer moderately prefer to browse on this species, but either my deer have different tastes (preferring my irises, for example), or they somehow haven’t noticed my Arrowwood, because it is not protected.
I prefer this shrub in a mixed woodland/natural area setting. The white flowers light up the woodland as the canopy leafs out, and it feeds wildlife. However, I’d never put one near the house, because I think the flowers smell — well, unpleasant is probably the kindest adjective I can think of. They don’t reek horribly, but their fragrance is not in my top 1000 list of favorites.
Under cultivation, this multi-branching native can get as tall as fifteen feet and equally wide. Mine is planted near the Bladdernut, and I haven’t done a thing to it but admire it.
You may have noticed that I haven’t yet revealed the botanical name of this shrub. That’s because I’m not entirely certain — and neither are the botanists. Many of those experts call Arrowwood a polymorphic species complex, which is their way of saying this shrub has interbred in complex ways that make it difficult to sort out individual species.
For sure, it’s a native Viburnum. Most botanists I know tend to call all Arrowwoods Viburnum dentatum. Some named cultivars of this species with showier attributes than the native are available.
However, there’s another local species in my area called Arrowwood — Viburnum rafinesquianum, and based on leaf form distinctions and descriptions in my references, I think my plant might just be V. rafinesquianum. But I’m guessing, so don’t take that to the bank.
What you can count on with this shrub are reliable bloom and fruit production, and excellent nesting habitat for birds as this medium-sized native shrub fills in bare spots in your woodland/natural area. I also use it as a botanical calendar, of sorts.
When my Arrowwood is in full bloom, I know that spring in my Piedmont garden is nearly done. Summer heat and humidity will arrive any minute now, which is why tomato bed preparation is nearing the top of my to-do list. I’ll be relocating my tomatoes from the greenhouse to the garden in the next week or two.