Posts Tagged Ashe Magnolia

Fall Planting? Consider a smaller native tree.

A mature native dogwood approaching peak autumn color.

A mature native dogwood approaching peak autumn color.

Cooler weather is trying to creep in. Soon the persistent clouds will dissipate, replaced by crisp, cooler air and sunshine that warms but doesn’t sear weeders as we attempt to prepare our flowerbeds for their winter’s sleep.

Every experienced Piedmont gardener’s fingers get itchy this time of year. We know that this is the optimal season for planting new trees, shrubs, and many perennials to give them the best chance of flourishing in our yards. With that itch in mind, I thought I’d mention five small native trees that I believe deserve a spot in many Piedmont home landscapes.

I’ve offered tips for planting trees before, but here are a few key points.

  • Our smaller native trees are small because they evolved to be understory trees. They flourish beneath the taller canopy trees such as Tulip Poplars, Oaks, and Hickories, occurring along forest edges, where they are sheltered from searing afternoon sun by the taller canopy trees, but receive some light by being on the edges of clearings. Thus, when you plant your smaller native tree, locate it where it will be shaded from searing afternoon summer sun.
  • Our smaller native trees are forest natives. They will never flourish plunked down in the middle of a suburban lawn all by themselves. If your landscape is too small to plant them beneath canopy trees, consider grouping them with native trees and shrubs that are the same size or smaller. As the group of natives matures, you can add native wildflowers beneath them to create a more diverse and beautiful landscape that will also appeal to native wildlife.
  • Don’t dig a hole barely big enough for the root ball of your new addition, add the tree, and go your merry way. Tree roots need room to travel. A small hole carved into compacted clay soil works just like a flower pot. The roots will go round and round, never escaping the confines of their prison. Such a tree never flourishes. Ideally, your new addition should be sited in a prepared bed that you’ve tilled deeply and improved with compost or other organic materials.
  • Be sure the root ball isn’t below the surface of the surrounding soil. Tree roots need to breathe. If you bury them too deeply, the tree will never flourish. Mulch your new tree with an inch or two of an organic material such as wood chips or leaves. Pine needles are not a good choice.
  • Water your new tree during dry spells throughout the following year, even in winter, if precipitation doesn’t fall. Aim for an inch per week for that first year. Once your native is well-established, it will need less attention.
  • Don’t fertilize your new tree. Even organic fertilizers are too much for the traumatized root systems of new arrivals. Well-prepared soil, mulch, and adequate water are all they need.
  • Don’t spray herbicides near your tree. If the spray drifts onto even the bark of your new addition, your tree can be damaged.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

A Piedmont spring staple

A Piedmont spring staple

Flowering dogwood is native to all of the southeastern US, from the coast to the mountains, including the Piedmont region where I live. It is a magnificent four-season beauty. Spring, of course, covers the trees in a white cloud of long-lasting blooms. Summer brings bright green leaves, a spot of shade, and developing clusters of berries. Fall ripens those berries to red and colors the leaves in shades of maroon and crimson. Winter shows off the blocky fissured bark and the lateral arrangement of its branches, which snow accentuates in winter landscapes.

Many beautiful cultivars of this tree have been developed by horticulturalists. All local nurseries will be well-stocked with myriad choices this time of year. For the best selection, consider buying from a speciality nursery rather than a Big Box Store’s abused-plant holding area. Any difference in price will be well worth your investment, I promise.

Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Flowers of Redbud signal spring's arrival.

Flowers of Redbud signal spring’s arrival.

Yes, I know the blooms are not red. This confuses all non-Southeasterners when they hear natives talking about our spring Eastern Redbud flowers. I do not know how they got this name. I do know the light purple-pink flowers cover most branches in early spring, a few weeks before the Flowering Dogwoods reach peak bloom. During a rare cool spring, we often get lucky enough to see prolonged Eastern Redbud bloom — long enough to overlap with snowy Flowering Dogwood flowers. So lovely!

Eastern Redbud is another four-season beauty. After its pea-like flowers (a member of the legume plant family) fade, bean-like seed pods develop, maturing from green to dark brown as summer morphs into fall. Distinctive heart-shaped leaves make this an easy tree to identify. They turn a soft gold before dropping with the first cold winds of autumn. Twigs grow in a unique zigzag pattern that is especially noticeable when coated in snow. Horticulturalists have been busy with this species too. I’m especially fond of C. canadensis ‘Forest Pansy.’

Sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum)

Sourwood flowers are beloved by bees.

Sourwood flowers are beloved by bees.

In the Appalachian mountains, Sourwoods are often 50 feet tall. They seem to prosper there, and that is where beekeepers put their hives when they want to create sourwood honey. Here in the Piedmont, Sourwoods are typically smaller, usually not more than 30 feet tall. In our native forests, they often take on contorted shapes as their trunks bend toward holes in the canopy where they can receive sunlight. But they will grow straight, tall, and lovely if you simply site yours where it is sheltered from hot summer sun, but receives good morning sunlight.

Clusters of bell-like pure white flowers adorn the tips of branches in June and July, making this native a great way to extend the blooming period of trees in your landscape. Fall leaf color, which begins earlier for this native than most, is drop-dead gorgeous deep scarlet. Its distinctive deeply furrowed bark, plus its tendency to hold on to the dried seed head clusters until spring, make this native another potential winter interest focal point in your landscape. Taste a green leaf in early summer. They have a wonderful sour tang to them, which I imagine is the source of their common name.

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

One of the first red-flowering natives to bloom in spring.

One of the first red-flowering natives to bloom in spring.

The three trees previously described are all happier growing on upland slopes, but this native occurs naturally in moist forests, often near floodplains. If you’ve got a low area in your yard that tends to remain moist, Red Buckeye is worth considering. By early April, this beauty begins opening its clusters of scarlet flowers, just in time for the arrival of native Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The flowers occur on the ends of branches, so even as the decorative compound leaves unfurl, the flowers remain visible. Most years in my yard, blooming lasts about a month.  Its distinctive fruits — most of us think of them as nuts, although botanically they are considered to be capsules — hang in clusters as fall approaches. Eventually, they crack open to reveal distinctive buckeye fruits. The “nuts” are considered to be good luck charms by some, but they are poisonous. If you have little ones inclined to pick up and taste what they find, this tree is probably not your best option.

The outer husks crack open and drop the buckeyes to the ground.

The outer husks crack open and drop the buckeyes to the ground.

Ashe Magnolia (Magnolia ashei)

Ashe Magnolia flower bud and leaves

Ashe Magnolia flower bud and leaves

For gardeners who crave a bit of drama in their native landscapes, I recommend Ashe Magnolia. Sited correctly, this native beauty will flourish, and it is guaranteed to draw admiration from all visitors. This plant is native to cool, moist shady slopes of the western Piedmont and eastern mountains. Some botanists consider it to be a subspecies of Bigleaf Magnolia (M. macrophylla), because the leaf size and shape and the flowers are quite similar. But Bigleaf Magnolia is a vastly taller tree. Ashe Magnolia remains much smaller. Its growth habit is almost shrub-like, with a tendency for low-branching limbs, often a bit lop-sided.

So lovely

So lovely

But what it lacks in graceful branching structure, it more than makes up for with its fragrant, enormous flowers and equally large leaves. Those leaves give an almost tropical appearance to this tree’s corner of the landscape, and they turn a beautiful golden yellow before dropping to carpet the ground. This species also blooms when its young. Mine produced its first flowers only two years after I planted a tiny twig of a bare-rooted specimen that I purchased.

If you want to try this native, you’ll need a shady, moist spot with rich organic soil. Pick a low spot in your yard and improve the soil by creating a tilled bed full of compost. Be sure the spot receives little to no afternoon summer sun, but does receive good morning light. If you can do this, your rewards will be spectacular flowers and leaves unlike any other native in your landscape. I unabashedly adore Ashe Magnolia.

Get planting!

Soon I’ll offer some suggestions for native shrubs you should consider adding to your landscape this fall. Until then, take a walk around your yard with an eye to where you can tuck in some well-adapted natives to enhance your landscape. Then visit the local fall plant sales that abound at the many public gardens and nurseries in our region. I am confident that you’ll never regret going native.

Native dogwoods provide fruits beloved by many species of wildlife.

Native dogwoods provide fruits beloved by many species of wildlife.

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Flower Power

Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate'

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’

Twenty years spent packing as many wonderful plants as possible into five acres is starting to pay off big time, especially during spring blooming season. I truly cannot keep up. The plant above grows in my front garden, and those pops of purple against chartreuse leaves are too eye-arresting to miss. But other plants sited in more out-of-the-way corners of our yard sometimes manage to finish blooming before I notice. My umbrella magnolia did that to me this year.

A recent heat wave required me to pay careful attention to the lovely bearded irises in my yard.

A soft yellow.

A soft yellow.

A deep purple.

A deep purple.

And a gorgeous coppery orange.

And a gorgeous coppery orange.

The black walnut trees are some of the last native trees to leaf out in spring. Their dangling flowers are usually still clinging to the branches as the leaves emerge.

Black walnut flowers with emerging leaves.

Black walnut flowers with emerging leaves.

The terrifying enthusiasm of blooming poison ivy in my yard this year leaves me itchy just thinking about it.

The scent of poison ivy flowers makes my throat itch.

The scent of poison ivy flowers makes my throat itch.

Already here when we moved in 25 years ago, the Rhododendron catawbiense exploded in blooms this spring. All parts of this shrub are poisonous, and it’s kind of tricky to grow here, but the specimen we have is thriving.

Evergreen Mountain Rosebay

Evergreen Mountain Rosebay

I can’t close without mentioning the deciduous magnolias. The Ashe Magnolia is blooming prolifically. I expect the Bigleaf Magnolia to follow suit in a week or so.

Even the buds of Ashe Magnolia have wow power!

Even the buds of Ashe Magnolia have wow power!

Of course, there’s more, but I have to give you a reason to come back, right?

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Transitions

Signs multiply daily. Reddening leaves:

Cornus florida

Cornus florida

Virginia Creeper vine

Virginia Creeper vine

Fruits swelling.

Big-leaf Magnolia cone

Bigleaf Magnolia cone

Carmen Bull's Horn Italian Peppers and some yellow Italian heirlooms

Carmen Bull’s Horn Italian Peppers and some yellow Italian heirlooms

Cornus kousa fruits will redden soon.

Cornus kousa fruits will redden soon.

Halesia diptera fruits dangle from every branch.

Halesia diptera fruits dangle from every branch.

I first heard about it from the flock of American Robins that blew in about three weeks ago. As they stripped purple Pokeweed berries from magenta stems and gobbled elderberries, branches bent from their weight, they muttered among themselves: “Autumn’s on its way.”

Pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries

Raucous cries of Pileated Woodpeckers echo through the forest as they argue with greedy robins and complain about magnolia cones ripening too slowly. A few mornings ago just after sunrise, three of these crow-sized woodpeckers called and flew in circles over my head for a minute or so. Two were chasing a third, making it clear that the interloper was not welcome.

Umbrella Magnolia cone

Umbrella Magnolia cone

Southern Magnolia cone

Southern Magnolia cone

Ash Magnolia cone

Ashe Magnolia cone

And today, as Wonder Spouse and I walked beside the creek, we startled Wild Turkeys on the other side. They squawked once, then ran silently to the blackberry thicket, where they disappeared amid its prickly greenness.

We were down by the creek so that Wonder Spouse could photograph this beauty for me:

Franklinia alatamaha

Franklinia alatamaha

Our wonderfully wet, mild summer made our two Franklin Trees very happy. Both grew several feet higher, and the mature specimen produced more flower buds than I have ever seen before. Spent snowy blossoms littered the ground beneath it, still faintly emitting their gentle rose-like scent. I held down the branch, so that Wonder Spouse could take the shot. You can see its close kinship to camellias by the form of its breath-taking bloom. The leaves of our smaller tree are already sporting garnet hues. But the flower-producing tree remains green-leaved.

Every time I think the record numbers of swallowtail butterflies are waning, another wave of fresh-winged beauties descends on every bloom in the yard. The Chinese Abelia still plays host to dozens, even though its sweet white flower clusters are beginning to diminish, but that’s OK, because the Seven-Son Flower Tree is in full, fragrant bloom, attracting every pollinator in the neighborhood, from butterflies to bumblebees, mason bees, and hawk moths. I cannot use my front walk without getting bumped into by a floating winged beauty.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Seven Sons Tree.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Seven Sons Flower Tree.

The abundance of butterflies has been a bonanza for predators as well. Myriad dragonflies pick off the lazy flutterers in mid-air, scattering severed wings of gold and black along the walk.

And the most certain early sign of autumn abounds: spider webs. As fast as I knock one down walking anywhere in my yard, the industrious weavers rebuild. A particularly clever female Writing Spider has declared her domain over the water feature in our front garden. The abundant blooming spires of Cardinal Flowers are irresistible to butterflies, and this fattening weaver is taking full advantage of that fact, even bending the top of one spire to anchor her web.

The direction of the bend points to the fat weaver's sticky trap.

The direction of the bend points to the fat weaver’s sticky trap.

Yesterday, I saw her trap and devour at least two large butterflies. Today, she seems to have doubled in size.

Female Writing Spider awaits her next victim.

Female Writing Spider awaits her next victim.

Perhaps in response to her rapid growth, today a male Writing Spider has built a modest web adjacent to this queen, even using a corner of her web as an anchor. Much smaller than the female he lusts for, he will wait for just the right moment to woo her. It won’t be long, I predict. Usually the females deposit their egg sacs in thick, winter-proof webs well before the leaves begin to fall in earnest.

Male Writing Spider. Note the smaller zigzag woven into his web. That's mist from the water feature on the right side of the photo.

Male Writing Spider. Note the smaller zigzag woven into his web. That’s mist from the water feature on the right side of the photo.

Cricket songs now rule nights and mornings, replacing the steady thrum of summer cicadas. Occasional cold fronts rush in behind lines of thunderstorms, freshening our air for a day or two before summer reasserts itself, cloaked in humidity.

Autumn will dominate soon enough, that we know for sure. For now, we can revel in the transitions, as plants and animals shift from growth to fruit to sleep.

It’s a transitional time of year for many people too. Schools start, and birthdays occur in bunches, as those born under the sign of Virgo celebrate another dance around the sun. I send best birthday wishes to all my Virgo kin and friends, and most especially to my favorite nephew, AJR, who celebrates what many consider a milestone moment tomorrow. Happy Birthday, sir. May your journey lead you everywhere you want to go.

Happy Birthday, Virgos!

Happy Birthday, Virgos!

 

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Magnolia Mania

Magnolia grandiflora blooms for several weeks in May-June.

Magnolia grandiflora blooms for several weeks in May-June.

I am a self-confessed obsessive gardener, meaning that I remain perpetually transfixed by the infinite beauty and variety of the botanical world. But beyond my general obsession, certain species of plants are special objects of my devotion. One plant family in that category: Magnolia.

Seriously, what’s not to adore? The trees are statuesque in their own right, and their flowers — oh, my goodness, the flowers. Plus, if you have room in your yard, as I do on my five-acre patch of Piedmont, you can plant an array of magnolias that will bloom from late winter right through early summer. Magnolia mania indeed!

In my yard, the show starts with Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’ The sweetly fragrant, strappy, white-petaled flowers on this specimen cover my 25-foot-tall tree in hundreds of blossoms. This one is a gamble in my climate, because of the hazard of late freezes. Most years, my Royal Star blooms are glowing in the barren late-winter landscape until a hard freeze turns them a sad brown. Sometimes, closed buds (so fuzzy I sometimes pet them as I would a feline friend) survive the chill to produce more white flowers amid the browned early victims. This year, however, was different. Somehow this year we had below-normal temperatures without sudden plunges into the deep freeze. My Royal Star Magnolia bloomed unblemished for six weeks — a record.

While Royal Star was still blooming, Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ opened its canary-yellow blossoms. My specimen tree is now at least 25 feet tall, maybe 30. This year, a warm spell caused the flowers almost simultaneously to open from the top of the tree to the bottom. The effect was staggeringly exquisite, not to mention almost overpoweringly fragrant, but short-lived. The flowers of Butterflies need a bit of chill in the air to keep them happy. Sudden warmth caused the petals to brown and fall a mere two days after the flowers had opened.

A week after Butterflies had come and gone, Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’ copied Butterflies’ performance. Two days of top-to-bottom pale yellow, sweet flowers (on a 50-foot tree) were followed by brown petals carpeting the ground beneath it. But those two days of peak bloom were spectacular. My long-time arborist happened to stop by that day for a tour of the yard. He and his companion pulled five feet in the driveway and stopped cold, their mouths agape, as they absorbed Elizabeth’s magnificence. They stayed there so long, I walked down to meet them, breaking their enthrallment with this captivating specimen.

You’ll find photos of the above beauties at the links provided. M. stellata is not native to North America, but M. acuminata is. Horticulturalists have long recognized the potential of M. acuminata, resulting in zillions of lovely cultivars. They are the mere beginning of the procession of magnolia loveliness in my yard.

I confessed a fondness (okay, obsession is probably a better word) with the native big-leaved magnolias when I told you about the single flower on our Bigleaf Magnolia last year here. But I grow three other native big-leaved species, and one of those bloomed for the first time this year.

Magnolia fraseri (Fraser Magnolia) occurs naturally in the mountains of North Carolina, its range extending a smidge into South Carolina, and further into states adjacent to NC to the north. In the wild, it can grow to 60 feet. I sited my specimen on the north side of my yard inside the deer fence beneath the shade of towering loblolly pines about 75 years old. My goal was to keep the tree cool during our hot summers. The tree put on quite a growth spurt last year, shooting up several feet. This spring, it produced seven flowers at the ends of its upper branches over the space of about three weeks. The flowers were sweetly fragrant, but they were too high up for me to photograph well. Here’s a long-range shot that at least gives you a side view:

As is true of all the big-leaved magnolia clan, the flowers are large.

As is true of all the big-leaved magnolia clan, the flowers are large.

Wonder Spouse broke out his big ladder to take some photos from above the flower, but I don’t think he ever sent me the results. I can at least show you the artist at work, about 8 feet off the ground:

Wonder Spouse scales new heights to photograph a Fraser Magnolia flower.

Wonder Spouse scales new heights to photograph a Fraser Magnolia flower.

That’s the top of a gate in our deer fencing at the bottom left. The deer fence is 8 feet tall.

About the time the Fraser Magnolia was blooming, I realized I had neglected to check on our specimen of the only big-leaved magnolia native to the eastern Piedmont: Magnolia tripetala, or Umbrella Magnolia. I rescued this tree from a friend’s family farm just before they sold it. I sited it right next to our creek on a high bank, where it gets plenty of moisture and protection from summer heat by a tall canopy of mature sycamores, birches, tulip poplars, sweet gums, red maples, etc. About fifteen years ago, it was eaten by beavers, but the base re-sprouted, and now the tree is about 25 feet. We surrounded the base with chicken wire to prevent damage from future beaver incursions (if you have water, they will always find you, eventually).

Umbrella Magnolia is so-called, because the large leaves are arranged in a circular fan-like display that absolutely looks like a leafy umbrella. And those giant leaves do a fine job of keeping one dry during light showers. As I feared, I had missed much of the flower display, but a few blossoms were just fading from white to parchment yellow. As with the Fraser Magnolia, the flowers were quite high up, so my photograph is from a fair distance away:

Magnolia tripetala flower fades to parchment yellow before it drops its petals.

Magnolia tripetala flower fades to parchment yellow before it drops its petals.

As the Fraser and Umbrella Magnolias were finishing their blooming cycles, my Ashe Magnolia began its show. This big-leaved beauty astonishes me every year. Last year, a late freeze killed the entire top of the tree. It was just putting out its tender first growth of the season, and the cold brutalized it. I shouldn’t have worried, though. This resilient smaller member of the big-leaved clan simply sprouted from its base. Magnolia ashei is known for its shrubbier form, and mine is true to that description. It’s also known for its prolific bloom production, which starts when the tree is quite young.  Here’s a shot far enough back to give you an idea of the form of my shrubby, lop-sided Ashe Magnolia:

The tip of every branch produced at least one flower. Many produced two flowers per branch tip.

The tip of every branch produced at least one flower. Many produced two flowers per branch tip.

If you have a more typical Piedmont yard, most of the big-leaved Magnolia clan might be too large for the scale of your landscape. But if you have a moist, shady spot and you’re willing to trade a floppy form for spectacular flowers and leaves, Ashe Magnolia is probably your best bet.

If you go to the link I provided for this species, you’ll see better photos of the flowers, but here’s one I took of this year’s final flower:

This year's final flower on Ashe Magnolia.

This year’s final flower on Ashe Magnolia.

The flowers of Umbrella Magnolia are supposed to smell a bit odd to many noses. Mine are so high up that I’ve never noticed much fragrance. However, the Ashe, Fraser, and Bigleaf Magnolias all produce potently sweet perfumes, not unlike the more familiar fragrance of the better-known Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, pictured at the top of this post. My Southern Magnolia is only just beginning her bloom period. She’ll likely perfume my front garden through early July.

I can’t close this lengthy post without showing you what the Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) produced for us this year — a least a dozen, maybe more, flowers! It’s gotten so tall that it’s hard to see what’s going on up there.

Wonder Spouse was so excited that he got back on the big ladder to document the occasion:

Sacrificing personal safety for his art, Wonder Spouse spent about a half hour documenting the Bigleaf Magnolia's floral display.

Sacrificing personal safety for his art, Wonder Spouse spent about a half hour documenting the Bigleaf Magnolia’s floral display.

Aerial shots really are best for showing off the flowers:

Note the giant leaves surrounding the flower. That's a quarter sitting on the lower petal.

Note the giant leaves surrounding the flower. That’s a quarter sitting on the lower petal.

Here’s a closer view:

The petals are as thick and creamy as those of our more familiar Southern Magnolia.

The petals are as thick and creamy as those of our more familiar Southern Magnolia.

That’s his quarter in there again for scale. Here’s what the flower buds look like before they open:

Impressive in their own right, don't you think?

Impressive in their own right, don’t you think?

And because a wind gust had pulled off a leaf, Wonder Spouse used his quarter to give you a sense of the size of individual leaves of Bigleaf Magnolia:

The leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in the fall.

The leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in the fall.

This post grows lengthy, so I’ll stop for now. But I should admit for the record that I can think of at least three more magnolia specimens in my yard that I haven’t told you about yet — one more native, and two choice Asian cultivars that still haven’t bloomed for me yet. More magnolia mania to look forward to!

My shot of one of the last Bigleaf Magnolia flowers as it fades to parchment yellow before dropping its petals to the ground.

My shot of one of the last Bigleaf Magnolia flowers as it fades to parchment yellow before dropping its petals to the ground.

 

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Magnolia to the Max: Bigleaf Magnolia

Wonder Spouse in action

I have confessed my fascination with the big-leaved native magnolias several times in this blog. The biggest of all these related species is Magnolia macrophylla, or Bigleaf Magnolia. This tree produces the largest flowers and leaves of all native North American species (except for tropical palms). Flowers are typically eight to fourteen inches across, and leaves can be up to one foot wide and three feet long. You truly have to see one of these trees to fully appreciate its spectacular qualities.

That’s Wonder Spouse in the photo above. I took it this morning as he kindly took some aerial views of the one flower our Bigleaf Magnolia produced this year. I’ve been watching the bud for a little over a week. Today it peaked, and because these flowers don’t last long, we headed out just after sunrise, so that Wonder Spouse could document the Bigleaf bloom.

This tree occurs naturally in bottomland forests and rich wooded slopes. Ours is growing on our north-facing slope under a nearly closed canopy of tall pines, a tulip poplar, water oak, and a massive sweetgum. We planted our tree about fifteen years ago, but it didn’t really start shooting skyward until we removed its protective wire cage after installing deer fencing on that side of the yard.

Last year, this tree also produced one flower, but it was higher up, completely beyond the reach of even Wonder Spouse’s ladder. This year’s bloom on a lower branch seemed ideally suited for photographic documentation. What follows is a series of shots I took as the bud progressed. The series concludes with the photos taken by Wonder Spouse atop his ladder.

May 10: I realize my Bigleaf Magnolia is sporting a fat flower bud, and from a position slightly higher up the hill, I attempt a photo:

Bigleaf Magnolia bud, May 10, 2012

The bud takes longer than I expect to progress, but finally on May 16, I decide it looks larger and take another photo:

Bigleaf Magnolia bud, May 16, 2012

The next day, I realize blooming action is initiating:

Bigleaf Magnolia flower opening, May 17, 2012

The flower opens more fully the following day:

Bigleaf Magnolia flower opening, May 18, 2012

The weather cooled briefly, and the flower seemed to be content to remain only partially open until today. Here’s a shot taken by Wonder Spouse using an angle similar to my shots — before he climbed the ladder:

Bigleaf Magnolia flower at peak bloom, May 20, 2012

Here’s an aerial shot. Note the penny on the lower petal that Wonder Spouse added to provide a sense of scale:

Bigleaf Magnolia flower, aerial view, May 20, 2012

The flowers of this Bigleaf Magnolia display much less purple staining around the base of the petals than does its close cousin, Ashe Magnolia (M. asheii). For comparison, see the photo I took last year in this entry. It’s the last photo in the entry.

Here’s a close-up of the center of the flower, courtesy of Wonder Spouse on his trusty ladder:

Bigleaf Magnolia flower close-up, May 20, 2012

All the magnolia flowers I’ve observed drop their numerous stamens onto the petals in piles, as you see in the photo. As is true for the other native magnolias, the fruits on the central “cone” will turn red, and will likely be devoured by birds before ever falling to the ground.

This magnolia is best suited to larger landscapes, where the size of its leaves and flowers won’t be too overpowering. Its enormous leaves can be shredded by strong winds, so it’s best planted in a sheltered spot. And the richer — and moister — the soil, the happier it will be.

I think this tree is worth catering to its prima donna tendencies for the gasps of admiration it always garners from visitors, and for the sheer coolness of being able to say I grow the tree species with the largest deciduous leaves in North America.

I am, after all, a self-confessed obsessive gardener. :)

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Beauty and the Beasts

A few days ago when the first Periodical Cicadas Brood XIX made their appearance in my back yard, I was intrigued. They were a novelty, something to photograph that you don’t see every day. However, yesterday morning when I stepped onto my back deck, I was greeted by hundreds of freshly emerged cicadas. They covered the deck rails, the flooring, and even the walls of my house, thusly:

The emergence decorates my walls

Yesterday afternoon when I realized that my Ashe Magnolia (Magnolia ashei) was beginning to open its numerous flower buds, I went to get a few photos, only to discover that the cicadas liked my Ashe Magnolia as much as I do. Here’s the lovely tree — about 15 feet tall — from a distance yesterday afternoon:

Ashe Magnolia tree about to open its flower buds

It was littered with larval shell carcasses, like this:

Do they like the big leaves?

Still, I wasn’t too creeped out. The leaves of this tree are enormous; I figured they could handle supporting these newly emerged creatures until they were ready to fly higher and begin their eerie thrumming calls.

Quite a few newly emerged cicadas were on the back deck again this morning. But as I watched a fat Gray Squirrel devouring one with gusto, I thought, “Maybe this isn’t so bad; maybe the wildlife will keep this emergence under control.”

From my window, I noticed that the Ashe Magnolia flowers were more open this morning, so I ran out to take a few shots … insert horror movie soundtrack here:

Yikes!

They’re not eating the flowers or the leaves, but they are marring the regal beauty of the flowers. For comparison, I looked at another nearby deciduous magnolia — Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) growing about 60 feet from the Ashe Magnolia. My Bigleaf Magnolia didn’t bloom this year, but its leaves are even larger than those of the Ashe Magnolia.

Can it be that the sweet perfume of these flowers is attracting all these red-eyed monsters? I have no idea, but I do know it creeped me out to see my lovely tree overtaken by these invaders.

Here’s a shot that gives you a sense of the size of the leaves and flowers of Ashe Magnolia:

Have mercy!

And now that I have grossed you out, let me tell you briefly why I love this native Magnolia. Many botanists consider Ashe Magnolia to be a subspecies of Bigleaf Magnolia; instead of calling it Magnolia ashei, they call it M. macrophylla, var. ashei. I imagine only a DNA analysis of the two will settle the debate, and I don’t really care.

I can tell you that Ashe Magnolia’s leaves and flowers do very much resemble those of Bigleaf Magnolia. However, Bigleaf Magnolias can grow to great heights, and they tend to be unenthusiastic about blooming until they are quite tall.

Ashe Magnolia, on the other hand, blooms when it is small; mine first bloomed when it was only four feet high. Its growth habit is usually described as shrubby, and it does produce a number of side branches that make it resemble a shrub, sort of. It is supposed to top out at about 20 feet, but I have a feeling mine may grow higher than that. Now that mine is 15 feet tall, it is blooming spectacularly. Instead of single flowers, many branches sport two-bud or three-bud flower clusters. It’s a Magnolia flower bonanza, and each flower is at least six inches across, usually more!

I would be remiss if I didn’t attempt to describe the fragrance. It is sweet, but not as cloying as M. grandiflora. I much prefer the scent of Ashe Magnolia. Its flowers are not as many-petaled as M. grandiflora, but it is still unmistakably a classic Magnolia family flower.

Here’s a final close-up of an open flower — no cicadas in sight — so that you can appreciate why I love this deciduous Magnolia so much:

So lovely

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Spring brings life … and death

Skeletal Surprise

Yesterday as Wonder Spouse and I were wandering around the yard picking up sticks, I stumbled upon the above. It was nestled in some dead Bamboo Stiltgrass next to the creek. I think it was a baby deer from last season. I know that does hide their newborns and fawns in tall grass while they forage, and I worried that some disaster had befallen this one’s mother so that she never returned, leaving this little one to starve to death.

But Wonder Spouse, who has much more experience with skeletons that I do, took one look and pronounced it a stillborn, basing his conclusion on the small size of the skeleton. As I took pictures of it this morning before I buried it, I realized that I can’t see any front leg bones. The skeleton is remarkably undisturbed; the back legs and even the tail bones are quite evident. Unless I’m just not seeing those front legs, perhaps Wonder Spouse is right and this was a stillborn, one with a mutation too severe to survive.

As much as deer damage to my plants makes me crazy, you’d think I’d rejoice in the knowledge that at least one didn’t mature to dine on my daylilies. But there’s something about young ones; death of such innocents, regardless of species, always hurts my heart.

My heart was already aching from the disaster that befell my state this past Saturday. North Carolina often gets strong spring storms that occasionally spawn tornadoes. But it is very rare for us to be subjected to multiple, long-track supercell-spawned tornadoes — hundreds of them, some miles wide, many traveling for dozens and dozens of miles.

As is usually the case with tornadoes in North Carolina, most of them tormented our Coastal Plain region. The Piedmont was mostly spared. Raleigh, which was hit hard, is right along the fall line — the line that marks the transition between Piedmont and Coastal Plain.

In my barely Piedmont home about 45 miles west of Raleigh, I knew the storms were bad as they boiled the sky above us on their way east. The birds disappeared; wildlife was utterly silent. All of us held our breaths as the barometer fell, the winds tossed trees, and blinding precipitation fell. The winds and unsettled skies persisted for several hours. The birds didn’t re-emerge until the sun showed its face again.

But I barely noticed. I couldn’t stop watching the television coverage of what was happening just to my east — homes and businesses erased, lives lost — leaving me to pray for those suffering, and for a tranquil transition from spring to summer for all of us from this point forward.

In light of this demonstration of spring’s destructive power, I thought it best to conclude with a reminder of spring’s promise of new life. Here’s a growing bud from my Ashe Magnolia (Magnolia ashei). When it opens in a few days, I’ll show you what a spectacular specimen of springtime it can be.

Magnolia ashei flower bud

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