Posts Tagged Corylus americana

Staying Connected

Raindrops adorn an opening bud of Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Stars.’

I am a self-described crazy old plant lady. I am not ashamed of it. I’m not proud of it. It is simply who I am.

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’ has been blooming for several weeks.

My connection to the Green World began when I was very small. That world has been my through-line, the ever-present song in my heart and story in my head that prevented me from tumbling down the dark well of despair more times than I can count or remember.

Male catkins of native hazelnut (Corylus Americana). The female flowers are not quite open yet.

I am grateful beyond words for the privilege of being able to live on the same piece of land for over 30 years. This is my forever happy place. Years ago when I worked a desk job in an airless office building, I stayed sane by mentally walking around my yard, admiring a current bloomer, or reminding myself that the tomatoes would need picking when I got home. Every bit of effort I have expended on my land has been returned in beauty and story a million-fold.

Leaves of Abelia chinensis are emerging six weeks ahead of their “normal” schedule.

I start most week days standing outside after Wonder Spouse drives off to his airless office. I listen and smell and watch for the current stories unfolding around me as an ever-increasing parade of vehicles zooms down our once-quiet country road. That traffic noise today was not enough to prevent me from hearing frogs chorusing in the adjacent wetland. Spring peeper songs have grown loud of late, thanks to absurdly warm nighttime and daytime temperatures. A small flock of cedar waxwings, their distinctive whistling calls revealing their presence in a large southern magnolia, flew off when I greeted them; their tight flock formations always remind me of schooling fish.

As I stood watching the waxwings, thousands upon thousands of seagulls that winter on a nearby reservoir flew overhead in ragged vee formations for over five minutes. They scavenge county dumps for food by day and shelter on the lake at night until their internal clocks tell them it is time to return to their coastal summer homes. Today, low clouds that will bring rain by noon – I can smell it in the air – caused the seagulls to fly low enough that I could actually hear them calling to each other, conjuring a memory of the smell and taste of the sea.

Nest holes of pileated woodpeckers.

The pair of pileated woodpeckers nesting in a sycamore just on the other side of my creek called to each other loudly. They are mostly quiet these days, but when it is time to trade places on the nest, the returning parent calls to the other; the nesting parent replies immediately, sounding to my story-prone mind impatient to go off duty. Woodpecker species are early nesters. They, like the pair of barred owls calling to each other every late afternoon, are supposed to be in reproductive mode in late winter.

Red-shouldered Hawk with chicks from a previous year.

Red-shouldered hawks are also early-season nesters. I’ve lately spotted the pair that shares our land with us often sitting in a tall walnut beside my house, and today I was showed why. I stayed out so long watching seagulls and listening to frogs that they grew impatient with me. One flew right over my head calling, I think perhaps as a diversion, because shortly thereafter its mate flew soundlessly overhead beyond the walnut to a small group of towering loblolly pines, a long thin branch dangling from its sharp beak – nesting material! Not long after, the hawk that spoke to me also flew overhead. It stopped briefly in the walnut, I think to see if I was watching. When I pretended to be interested in something else, it joined its mate.

This location will be a tough one to observe – lots of camouflage to obscure their activities. But once over a decade ago, a pair nested just across the creek in a winter-bare sweet gum. Our elevated back deck gave us a perfect vantage point until the trees leafed out, and Wonder Spouse got some lovely photos of still-fuzzy nestlings as they began to move about and stretch their wings.

Strong, possibly dangerous storms are predicted for tomorrow, along with multiple inches of heavy rain. I thus decided to take advantage of this last bit of quiet before the storms to walk around the yard this morning with my camera. As is true for all of my region, many flowers are blooming weeks ahead of schedule. This early in February, a killing freeze is almost inevitable.

So today I walk, inhaling moisture-laden air perfumed by the fragrance of precocious flowers, grateful for my connection to this land and the time I have to appreciate it.

The rains begin…

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A Native in Bloom: American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut Flowers

I’ll admit the flowers of American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) are not superstars in the southern piedmont landscape. In fact, it’s easy to walk past these shrubs without realizing what they are. They are probably most easily identified right now in late winter as their leafless branches produce separate male and female flowers. That little red flower is the female; the long catkins are the males. Gravity and wind ensure that the male pollen lands on the females situated mostly below the catkins.

I was excited when, in our first year on this property, I realized we had a healthy stand of American Hazelnuts growing right beside the creek. This is exactly where Hazelnuts like to grow, and the colony seemed to be thriving.

Because this is a wild native stand of Hazelnuts, the fruits  (often called filberts) are tiny, compared to those grown for human consumption. However, one year, we did manage to beat the squirrels to a couple of nuts and they were quite tasty little bites.

Since those early years, we have learned that American Hazelnut is a favorite snack of beavers. When a family moved in some years ago, they ate every single stem to the ground, eradicating a colony eight feet tall and ten feet wide in one night of feasting. Fortunately for us, after the beavers moved on, the Hazelnut colony resprouted. Passing beavers still dine on it from time to time, but it persists resolutely despite this predation.

While wandering our yard yesterday, we made a happy discovery. At the base of the hill that marks the beginning of the floodplain about 500 yards from the creek, a new plant is growing and blooming just like its creekside kin. We assume a squirrel must have buried a nut and forgotten it. Now we have a colony far enough removed from the creek that the beavers will never find it.

I deem this a win for everyone — more food and cover for wildlife, and increased species diversity to make my landscape healthier and more resilient. And I didn’t even need to do any planting.

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