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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