Posts Tagged Cornus kousa var. angusta

Losses — and Wins!

Victim of an overflowing creek

Victim of an overflowing creek

My apologies for the somewhat fuzzy pictures. I ventured out early the day after the very frightening wind storm that damaged many areas of my state last week. The Slippery Elm above was actually a casualty of the previous week’s weather. Just 40 or so miles to my east, adjacent counties received 7 inches of rain in 48 hours. We only got about four, and that was a very good thing.

During the prolonged rain event, the creek adjacent to our property overflowed onto our floodplain in numerous spots. This is the first time that has happened in several years. Chronic drought conditions have been a way of life far too long around here. Not this year, at least, not so far. In fact, for the first time in very many years, the National Drought Monitor folks report that my entire State of North Carolina is not in any kind of drought; no county is even listed as abnormally dry. My wetlands are actually wet!

But late last week, a frontal boundary packing hurricane-force winds slammed into my area. The damage was done in about a half hour, but, my goodness, what a wild half hour that was. I did not know that my great canopy trees — all 70 feet or taller — could bend nearly in half without breaking, but most of them did just that. To my east, rain-soaked ground weakened tree roots too much. The winds brought down many trees — large and small. Power outages there lasted a couple of days. At my house, it was a couple of hours, and not related to any damage on our property.

But that doesn’t mean we got off completely. In addition to the flood-downed tree above, a number of large branches from canopy trees were ripped and twisted off and plunged into the ground. Collateral damage was not too severe. But Wonder Spouse and I are more than a bit stiff today after a long weekend of chain-sawing, raking, and hauling of many loads of debris to the brush piles.

Friday morning, while the sun was not yet high and the plants were all wet from the rains the winds carried, I ventured out to survey the damage. First stop: the vegetable garden.

pine with squash

I’m happy to report that all the vegetables were undamaged. Bits of tree litter — leaves and branches — were lying about here and there, as you can see with the squash plant above, but nothing problematic.

Rain drops clung to every leaf, and I was especially struck by how lovely the Bronze Fennel (now taller than me) looked as the rising sun made it sparkle.

Beets and carrots flourish in front of this Bronze Fennel.

Beets and carrots flourish in front of this Bronze Fennel.

Reassured that all was well with the vegetables, I headed down to the floodplain to survey the damage there. Mostly, I saw small bits of branches and leaves littering the ground, but here and there, bigger branches blocked my way. A 15-foot-long branch of a Green Ash partially covered a native viburnum, but the viburnum turned out to be more crushed than broken, so I think it will bounce back. The Ash branch could have easily wiped out some nearby bird feeders, but didn’t. I moved on to survey the flood-toppled Elm.

The other side of the fallen Slippery Elm.

The other side of the fallen Slippery Elm.

The roots of this Slippery Elm were actually still in the ground, but you can’t pull upright a 60-foot tree, so Wonder Spouse sawed it into bits this past weekend. That task was made more challenging by the vigorous growth of massive poison ivy vines circling the trunk from its base to its top. Seriously, about half of the leaves at the lower end that you see here are actually leaves of poison ivy. Yikes!

To the right of the trunk is our Poinsettia Tree (Pinckneya pubens). We were very lucky that the Elm fell beside — and not on top of — this little native tree. It is blooming now, but not as much as it has in previous years. I think perhaps the dense growth of poison ivy on the adjacent Elm was  inhibiting flower formation. Now that the Elm is gone, this little tree has much less competition for light. I’m hoping it will respond next year with many more flowers — a win to compensate for the lost Elm.

An aging, large Red Maple grows at the edge of the swamp where Atamasco lilies, Jack-in-the-pulpits, and Cinnamon Ferns flourish. It has been looking less vigorous for a few years now, and the strong winds took advantage of this, ripping off several sizable branches.

maple branches

These branches didn’t crush anything of significance, and they’re not in the way. We’ll get to them when the mud becomes a bit less squishy.

The worst damage was on the north side of the yard, where a large Tulip Poplar and an even larger Sweet Gum lost several branches about twenty feet long. We think the Tulip Poplar was vulnerable because it had recently absorbed a great deal of water from the previous week’s rains, and because every branch was weighed down by heavy conical seed heads. The extra weight and 50+ mph winds were just too much for the Tulip Poplar.

One of several Tulip Poplar branches.

One of several Tulip Poplar branches.

One branch fell on top of our native Fringe Tree. The tree didn’t break, but one of its branches appeared to be permanently contorted, so Wonder Spouse removed it. We’re hoping the rest of the tree will recover.

Also on the north side, our 90-foot, double-boled Sweet Gum lost a few branches, one of which fell partially on a lovely blooming native hydrangea:

Only a few small branches of the hydrangea required surgery.

Only a few small branches of the hydrangea required surgery.

The leaves and bits of branches strewn everywhere made for interesting discoveries, such as the contrast between these Tulip Poplar leaves plastered by rain to our front deck:

Shade leaves versus canopy-top leaves.

Shade leaves versus canopy-top leaves.

Close examination of any deciduous tree in my area will reveal enormous leaves on the lower branches of large trees, while leaves higher up are much smaller. The big ones down low are shade leaves, so-called because they dwell in near-constant shade, while the small ones higher up receive direct sun. To compensate for reduced light, shade leaves increase their surface area, thereby maximizing their ability to capture sunlight for photosynthesis.

The rains and winds have definitely created more unexpected work for me and Wonder Spouse, but the up side to abundant water is visible everywhere I turn. I’ll close with a few examples of current wins.

Evergreen kousa dogwood weighed down by blossoms.

Evergreen kousa dogwood weighed down by blossoms.

Evergreen kousa dogwood blossoms crowding out the leaves.

Evergreen kousa dogwood blossoms crowding out the leaves.

Daylily 'Kindly Light'

Daylily ‘Kindly Light’

Daylily 'Winsome Lady'

Daylily ‘Winsome Lady’

Daylily 'Brocaded Gown'

Daylily ‘Brocaded Gown’


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Autumn’s Fruits and Nuts

Autumn is only a few weeks along, but the occupants of my yard and gardens are progressing toward readying themselves for winter. For example, the lovely mushrooms in the above photo are sprouting up beside my driveway in growing numbers. As they grow from button stage (far left) to middle age (far right) and full ripeness (center), zillions of mushroom spores are readying themselves for release from the gills under the caps. Many colors and shapes of fungi are currently taking advantage of the cooler, damp weather here.

The Black Walnut had a very productive year. Hard hats to defend against falling nuts are no longer required when walking beneath it, but now one must watch every step to avoid slipping on the yellow-green orbs hiding in the grass.

The squirrels wait for the outer green husks to soften before they start working on these nuts.

The Red Buckeye had another bumper crop year. These nuts are poisonous, but the squirrels can’t resist carrying them all over the yard and burying them.

The outer husks crack open and drop the buckeyes to the ground. Some folks think these fruits are good luck.

The Beautyberry shrub and the big Hearts-a-burstin’ flourishing on the upper floodplain both had very productive years.

Even in deep shade, these colorful berries glow like Christmas ornaments.

Breaking hearts abound.

The Asian kousa dogwoods were also very fruitful. The evergreen one tended to produce fewer, fatter red globes like this:

The deciduous kousa dogwood must have been very thoroughly pollinated this year — yet another autumn beauty that seems to be vying for Christmas tree status.

This Cornus kousa dwells beside our back deck. Its leaves are just beginning to turn lovely shades of orange.

This recent visitor below was neither a fruit nor a nut, but it was so gorgeous that Wonder Spouse felt obliged to take its picture, and I’m glad he did. This was a new insect for us, a showy member of the dung beetle clan. Truly, if someone made a jeweled pin based on this creature, I would proudly wear it.

Meet a male Rainbow Scarab. The “horn” denotes its gender.

And here’s more of a side view:

Note the bit of spider web tangled in its horn.

This fellow was walking around our back deck. We suspect it stunned itself on one of our windows, staggering about just long enough for Wonder Spouse to document his visit. He flew off ten minutes later.

I’ll close today with a few more nuts — the animal kind. We seem to have a bumper crop of Green Anoles this year, perhaps the result of behavior like what I documented here. The front of our house faces west. Warmth from late afternoon sun combined with a flourishing front garden seem to have produced ideal anole habitat. One afternoon last week, I caught four basking on various parts of the front of my house — some large, some quite small.

The first one I saw was a large brown lizard that had trapped itself between my front door and the outer storm door. When I opened the inner door to go out, it frantically beat itself against the storm door until I could get it open. Here it is glowering at me as it recovers from its self-inflicted trauma.

Undamaged, but unhappy.

After taking that one’s picture, I noticed a small one basking on the front wall.

It was about six inches long, but quite skinny.

Then I spotted this green one hanging out around my bedroom window. It actually climbed the glass and seemed to be trying to peer inside.

I tried to persuade it that it will be far happier outdoors.

Finally that day, I spotted another green one below the bedroom window on the wall behind an overgrown rosemary shrub. It was more shy than the other three.

This rosemary started blooming last winter and only stopped during the July heat wave.

These anoles were all out on a very warm day. We had a string of 80+-degree days ahead of a cold front. I think perhaps they were all trying to soak up as much heat as they could before retiring to their winter slumber spots. I’m wondering if perhaps their abundance is making it difficult for them to all find cozy winter quarters, because of what I observed yesterday.

Yesterday was the last warm day before the arrival of a cold front that has dropped our temperatures about thirty degrees. And it was yesterday that Wonder Spouse noticed that a brown anole was actually on the inside of the window beside our front door. It must have slipped inside when one of us opened the door. It may well have been the same one that I caught between the two doors the day before.

Fortunately, it was quite cooperative about its relocation to the outdoors. We used a butterfly net, intending to scoop it up gently. But it chose to perch quietly on the rim long enough for us to escort it back outside to the garden, none the worse for its adventure.

Late yesterday as the sun was setting, one of the anoles did something even more unexpected — nuttier, if you will. I always leave my hummingbird feeder filled until the second week of October, or until I don’t see any hummers for a week or so. Yesterday when I checked the feeder before going inside, I saw this:

Yes, that’s an anole head peeking out from the middle. It’s curled up in the center cup where one can put water to deter ants.

I imagine the surrounding sugar water was quite warm from the late afternoon sun, and this little one thought it had found an ideal hangout. Of course, the water doesn’t stay warm at night, and any hummers trying to drop by wouldn’t know what to think, so we gently lifted down the feeder and encouraged the anole to return to the garden.

It really didn’t want to leave its cozy spot, but I think it was probably for the best.

I checked the front wall today without expecting to see any anoles. One brown one stuck its head out from behind a gutter for just a moment, then disappeared. Given our drizzly, chilly day, I was surprised to see an anole at all. I hope they are all settling down for a long winter’s sleep, along with all the other plants and animals that share our five acres of North Carolina Piedmont.

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Early Summer Brings Chinese Dogwood Blooms

Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) are very lovely trees. Like our native dogwoods, the showy parts of the flower are actually four white bracts; the actual flower is the unimpressive-looking middle.  Chinese dogwoods in my yard seem to be maturing to about the same height as my native dogwoods — maybe a tad shorter. They share the same lateral branching pattern that makes a blooming dogwood appear to float beneath the taller canopy trees.

Unlike our native dogwoods, which finished blooming in my yard back in April, the Chinese dogwoods begin blooming for me in mid-May. And one special variety I grow — Cornus kousa var. angustata — is just now reaching peak bloom. Here’s a close-up of one blooming branch to give you a sense of the spectacular flower-power of this tree:

Cornus kousa var. angustata

You can see that the flowers differ subtly from those of our native dogwood. I think of them as pointier. Here’s a close-up of the flowers:

Cornus kousa var. angustata flower close-up

See the roundish bump in the middle? That’s the early stage of one of the fruits forming. Chinese dogwoods don’t produce the berry-like drupes that our native dogwoods produce. Instead, the fruits are pinkish-red and look a bit like raspberries. It always amazes me how completely different the fruits of these two species are, because they look so much alike in other ways. Birds don’t seem to like these fruits as much as they do those of our native dogwoods, but the squirrels delight in them every early fall when the tree becomes loaded with these reddish globes.

One more astonishing thing about this particular variety — it’s evergreen. In Zone 7 and above, the tree remains reliably evergreen all winter long. That’s not to say it remains pristinely perfect. A deep cold snap or an ice storm will leave my tree looking ragged around the edges until the new growth of spring. But many winters, it’s quite eye-catching as it sits near my front door in January — clearly a dogwood — but with green leaves!

Actually, the leaves in winter become tinged with a deep maroon, which gives the tree a richness it lacks in summer. Now imagine this evergreen dogwood loaded down with raspberry-like fruits in early fall. Talk about four-season interest! Chinese dogwoods have one more asset — they are resistant to most of the diseases that plague our native dogwoods.

I will never forsake our glorious native dogwoods. I’ve already described how much I love them here. But Chinese dogwoods in my landscape extend the blooming period of this genus well into early summer, and the novelty of my evergreen dogwood — which is now after 18 years about 18 feet tall and 15 feet wide — is something I don’t ever think I’ll grow tired of enjoying. Here’s a parting shot of most of the tree, which graces one edge of our front deck:

Evergreen Chinese Dogwood in bloom

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