Posts Tagged Halesia diptera

Before Winter Finally Arrived

Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke’

Winter cold finally arrived in my area about three days ago — highs in the upper 30s-low 40s, lows in the low 20s, and a wind chill that hurt skin accustomed to the weather of the previous four weeks, when nighttime temperatures rarely dropped into the upper 30s, and daytime temperatures stayed in the upper 60s and low 70s. During the 60+ years I’ve lived in North Carolina, an occasional winter warm weather interlude has not been unusual, but I can’t recall an entire month of such weather from mid-December to mid-January.

Such a prolonged warm spell caused many plants in my yard to break dormancy far earlier than normal — by at least six weeks. Many birds began displaying signs of territorial behavior as mating instincts awakened. Bluebirds burbled to each other as they discussed the merits of nesting box options. Insects were everywhere, as were the frogs, snakes, and lizards that eat them. It all felt very wrong.

A honeybee enjoys another Prunus mume cultivar (name forgotten)

The day before winter cold finally arrived here, I walked around the yard and took a few photos. Now that ice covers the abundant shallow water in channels on the floodplain, I suspect my late winter bloomers that opened four weeks early are probably now brown. I haven’t looked yet; that wind chill is mean. To remind myself of their loveliness, I include a few shots here, along with photos more typical of winter vegetation.

In “normal” winters, the Prunus mume trees dole out their flowers sparingly, a few dozen each time the weather warms a bit. This year’s prolonged warm winter weather caused almost all buds to open simultaneously.

January jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) usually starts blooming in February, a few blooms at a time until March approaches. Many folks confuse them with forsythia, but a close examination makes the differences abundantly clear.

A native late winter bloomer, Hamamelis vernalis, is usually only showing a few petals by now. But the warmth caused the cultivar I grow to open more fully, scenting the air with a light, clean perfume that I always associate with spring cleaning.

Hamamelis vernalis ‘Amethyst’

An array of winter buds, remnant leaves, and bright moss lush from winter rains also caught my eye.

Late on the afternoon I took these shots, I was on my back deck when I noticed an insect on a window. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I realized it was a Green Lacewing adult, much smaller than the ones I routinely see in my garden during the growing season. It saddened me to know that this delicate-looking beneficial insect would certainly perish soon. If the freeze didn’t kill it, the absence of food certainly would.

What a short, strange winter it has been.

, , , , , ,


Ephemeral Autumn


For the last few days, I’ve been outdoors grabbing photos. The fall color has been wonderful this year, but a strong cold front is moving in and plans to stay quite a while. We won’t get the snow and below-zero temperatures that Denver got slammed with, but lows in the low 20s will most definitely put an end to autumn color here.

Nature’s last blaze of glory is all the sweeter for its impermanence. After the leaves fall, the landscape will go quiet while flora and fauna slumber through winter’s chill.

Freshly fallen leaves of Halesia diptera will soon go brown and melt into the earth.

Freshly fallen leaves of Halesia diptera will soon go brown and melt into the earth.

Our native spring wildflowers don’t last long either. But their departure makes way for a continuous display of leaves, blooms, and fruits from so many other species that I don’t feel their loss as much as I do the disappearance of Nature’s rainbow autumn cloak.

I’ve been watching my non-native Parrotia persica, hoping that it would have time to don its golden glow before the first hard freeze. It just barely managed it. A few more days would deepen its color, but I think it’s stop-in-your-tracks glorious right now.

Parrotia persica glows golden against a cloudy sky.

Persian Ironwood glows golden against a cloudy sky.

As much as I’ll miss autumn’s spectacular display, I welcome winter’s coming embrace. While the trees sleep, deepening their connection to earth with spreading roots, I will turn my attention to internal tasks. While it is too cold for weeding, mulching, pruning, and other winter yard work, I will ponder the next growing season. The first seed catalogs have already appeared in my mailbox. Now is the time to dream of future flowers and fruits.

Soon enough, the earth will warm, and I will be back out there covered in rich loam, surrounded by fragrance and bird song, ready for another turn of Nature’s wheel.

Sweet dreams, Beech tree.

Sweet dreams, Beech tree.


, ,

Leave a comment

A Bird in the Hand

Ripe fruits of Solomon's Plume

Ripe fruits of Solomon’s Plume

Last week was too hot here, the heat made worse by the fact that most of the summer was unusually mild. Dust clouds rose with the slightest disturbance, lingering long in humid, stagnant air. It was not a week conducive to gardening.

Finally this past Sunday, cooler weather began to creep in, accompanied by clouds that dimmed what had been searing sun. Wonder Spouse immediately charged outdoors to catch up on tasks delayed by the heat, leaving our garage door open as he moved back and forth fetching tools, wheelbarrows, and assorted other necessities. His tasks did not require a second pair of hands, so I grabbed my camera and began acquainting myself with the latest developments on our five-acre jungle.

Fruits of Halesia diptera will turn light brown when they're fully ripe.

Fruits of Halesia diptera will turn light brown when they’re fully ripe.

Fruit — that was the takeaway message from this walk. Most plants are well into fruit/seed production, clearly aware of dwindling daylight and down-trending temperatures. The Solomon’s Plumes I added to a wildflower bed on the north side of my yard all made numerous berries this year, as you can see in the photo above. The empty stems you see likely tell the tale of a hungry bird or other critter sampling these bright red berries. I think they look especially festive mingling with the evergreen Christmas fern — another native to our region.

Pokeberry fruits

Pokeweed fruits

Giant magenta stalks of Pokeweed — easily 8 feet tall — bend from the weight of purple-black clusters of ripe berries. These are favorites with many of the avian inhabitants of my yard, as evidenced by purple-tinged splats of bird excrement deposited on my walks and decks.

Red Buckeye fruits

Red Buckeye fruits

Branches of the large Red Buckeye on our floodplain are touching the ground, bent from the weight of nearly ripe fruits. Soon the husks will split and the shiny nut-like fruits will tumble to the ground. These nuts are poisonous to people, but some wild inhabitant makes them disappear every year.

Hammocksweet Azalea

Hammocksweet Azalea

The greatest surprise during my walkabout was my Hammocksweet Azalea — in full, overpoweringly fragrant bloom at the base of my north-facing garden, close to the creek. I sited it there, because this deciduous azalea — the last to bloom for me every year — is native to wetland environments. The flowers are pure white, without a hint of ivory, and their fragrance is knock-your-socks-off sweet. If it were any closer to my house, I think the fragrance might be overpowering, especially as this shrub continues to grow.

Greenhead Coneflower

Green-Head Coneflower

September is the month that many large native yellow composite wildflowers adorn every corner of my yard, and many roadsides. I added Green-Head Coneflower to the mix, because I love the prominent seed heads it forms, as do the seed-eating birds that dwell nearby.

Mixed nasturtiums mingle and multiply

Mixed nasturtiums mingle and multiply

My vegetable garden is mostly done for the year. A few peppers linger, and some broccoli plants are struggling to grow beneath the shelter of their Reemay tent. Many of the beds are packed with fresh green sprouts of crimson clover, my winter cover crop of choice. But one bed is dominated by the lovely mix of nasturtiums above. Unimpressed by heat, drought, deluges, or anything else as far as I can tell, they bloom continuously, spreading wandering shoots in all directions, even mingling a bit with adjacent beds full of crimson clover. Their gentle rose-like scent is nothing short of heavenly.

I encountered a bit of wildlife as I made my way around my yard. I think perhaps they’d been hunkering down during the heat wave too. Like me, they were out and about in force during my morning walk. Bird song filled the air. Many toads greeted me in all parts of the yard. I’m always happy to see these insect-eaters. A Green Anole rushed out of a potted plant when I began watering it. It was bright green to blend with the vegetation, and if it hadn’t objected to being watered, I likely would have never noticed it. Five-lined skinks skittered across open ground and up and down trees. A Black Racer darted beneath an aster blooming by my front deck when I got too close; it had been trying to warm itself in the cloud-dimmed sun.

But the highlight of the day came after I had put up my camera and gone back outside to gather some tools in the garage. A frantic bird fluttered at the back windows, too confused to realize that its way out was the other way, through the open garage door.  It was an Eastern Phoebe, a small flycatcher common to my yard, thanks to the woodland creek — its preferred habitat — that borders our land.

I have spent many happy hours watching this beauty hunt from my back deck. Its keen eyes watch for flying insects. When it spots one, it leaps into the air, grabbing the bug on the wing, then returning to its perch to watch for more tidbits. Its aerial acrobatics are impressive, and its squeaky call, sounding more like a child’s squeeze doll than a bird, let’s me know it’s on bug patrol.

So when I discovered this distraught Eastern Phoebe desperately trying to escape our garage, I leapt into action. First, I opened all the other doors. Often this is enough to help a trapped bird find its way out. But this little one was unwilling to venture from the high window at the back of the garage. I next tried using a light-weight rake to reach up toward the bird, in the hopes that it would hop on and let me carry it out. This works surprisingly well with the occasional discombobulated hummingbird.

But not so for this Eastern Phoebe. Instead, it fluttered down the back wall, settling on a piece of plywood leaning against the wall, and mostly hidden by another, taller piece of plywood. I did the only thing I could think of. I quietly asked the little bird if it would allow me to pick it up with my hand and carry it to safety. It didn’t move, probably exhausted from its fruitless escape efforts. I chose to interpret its stillness as permission, gently reaching behind the plywood.

The poor, exhausted creature didn’t even struggle in my gentle grasp. I quietly thanked it for its cooperation as I carried it toward the front of the garage. I could feel its heartbeat thrumming through my fingers, otherwise feeling no movement. But as soon as we were clear of the garage, the soft brown bug hunter in my hand began to push against my grasp. I opened my palm and it immediately flew high into a nearby tree, apparently none the worse for its misadventure.

I closed all the garage doors to prevent further accidents, still feeling the heartbeat of that beautiful wild creature in my hand. Not for the first time, it occurred to me how blessed I am to live among the wild ones on our five acres of green chaos. So many people live their entire lives without ever feeling what it’s like to hold a bird in the hand.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Just in case…

Eastern Columbine

Eastern Columbine

At my house during the hours just before sunrise today, the temperature dropped to around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately for the myriad tender plants on my five acres, a north wind was blowing in cold air all night. The tender leaves of my canopy trees, the delicate flowers on shrubs and perennials are all as lovely today as they were before the one-inch rainfall of yesterday. However, tonight — we may not be as lucky.

A blooming blueberry bush in front of an Eastern Redbud

A blooming blueberry bush in front of an Eastern Redbud

Tonight, temperatures are predicted to be as low as last night’s, but tonight the winds are predicted to be much lighter. If they stop entirely, cold air will tumble down my hill to the floodplain beside the creek, then fill up the lower areas with freezing air, like water filling a basin.

A Rhododendron austrinum hybrid that started blooming yesterday.

A Rhododendron austrinum hybrid that started blooming yesterday.

One dark spring about a decade ago, temperatures dropped into the low to mid-twenties just as the canopy giants that tower over my land were pushing out fresh perfect tiny leaves, as they are now. Every leaf was killed. The trees remained winter-bare until June, when they finally managed to summon enough energy to produce another flush of greenery.

Variegated Japanese Solomon's Seal

Variegated Japanese Solomon’s Seal

So this morning, just in case, tomorrow dawn’s colder than predicted and destroys the spring beauty surrounding me, I went out and took a few photographs. Not every plant is peaking just yet, but this may be all we get this year. The whims of weather are not for mere gardeners to understand, I suppose.

Halesia diptera is just about to attain full glory.

Halesia diptera is just about to attain full glory.

The thicker bracts of our native dogwoods are unlikely to be adversely impacted.

The thicker bracts of our native dogwoods are unlikely to be adversely impacted.

The visual impact of a mature native dogwood in bloom should not be underestimated.

The visual impact of a mature native dogwood in bloom should not be underestimated.

The trilliums I planted last year are all up and showing flower buds. I am hoping the cold will not harm them.

I think this one is Trillium luteum, but I've managed to lose my labels, so I won't be certain if the flower buds don't open.

I think this one is Trillium luteum, but I’ve managed to lose my labels, so I won’t be certain if the flower buds don’t open.

The native deciduous gingers Asarum canadense) I added last year have expanded their numbers considerably. I am worried that this potential food for the Pipevine Swallowtail may be too tender to withstand tonight’s chill.

Asarum canadense

Asarum canadense

The Pinxterbloom Azalea is in almost full bloom, its flower clusters bobbing prettily in today’s north wind.

Pinxterbloom Azalea

Pinxterbloom Azalea

There’s more, but the strong wind prevented me from getting decent photographs of them.

As I wandered the floodplain, I discovered that the frogs and toads have reproduced with spectacular abundance this year. Because of the wonderfully generous rains all winter and, so far, this spring, my floodplain is still covered with a number of channels full of water — long, narrow puddles, basically. Today I discovered all of these puddles are brimming with tadpoles!

I'm guessing there are thousands, when you add up all the occupants of all the puddles.

I’m guessing there are thousands, when you add up all the occupants of all the puddles.

These puddles are not very deep — a few inches at most. And now that the great canopy trees are awakening and pulling up water to create leaves, past experience tells me these puddles will be vanishing quickly — barring unusually heavy and regular spring rains. The tadpoles are in a race with evaporation and thirsty trees. Can they metamorphose into frogs and toads before their puddle homes vanish? I confess I’ve spent more than one hour over the years scooping up beached tadpoles and ferrying them to deeper waters. As the water vanishes, the beached tadpoles become food for crows if I don’t intervene. I know it’s all part of Mother Nature’s master plan, but still I can’t seem to stop myself from interfering, at least a bit.

The yellow cast to the water is from the abundant pollen currently covering every object on the property.

The yellow cast to the water is from the abundant pollen currently covering every object on the property.

Tonight’s cold is unlikely to be severe enough to hurt the tadpoles. Warm ground will prevent the water from freezing. It’s times like this that I wish I could drop a giant glass dome over my five acres, protecting all the tender vegetation from unseasonable cold spells.

The vegetable garden will be fine. I’ve covered all exposed plants, and the cold won’t last long enough to exceed the protective capacity of those covers. Summer plants in the greenhouse continue to thrive. The tomatoes are becoming quite large. They need the weather to stabilize soon, so that I can transplant them to their summer beds.

The tomatoes are growing impatient with the weather swings.

The tomatoes are growing impatient with the weather swings.

The summer birds that have returned should be fine. The cold won’t be deep enough to kill their insect food supply, and I’ll be sure all the feeders are well stocked. The hummingbirds could be adversely impacted, if their favorite food flowers are killed by cold. Sugar water in feeders helps, but they need their native foods too.

Eastern Columbines are one of the first flowers beloved by hummingbirds to bloom in the spring.

Eastern Columbines are one of the first flowers beloved by hummingbirds to bloom in the spring.

So, my fellow gardening friends, keep all fingers and toes crossed for all of us who are facing a freeze warning tonight. Strawberry farmers will be encasing their crop in ice to protect blossoms and fruits. Alas, I’d need a sprinkler system capable of coating the leaves of 90-foot trees to protect my tender vegetation. Not exactly practical.

Here’s hoping these photos are the first of many I’ll be able to share this spring.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment


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!


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Bountiful Blooms

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying flowers of Halesia diptera

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying flowers of Halesia diptera

As always happens this time of year, Spring is blasting through my yard so fast that I cannot keep up — at least, not in my blog postings. Since early April, every day new bloomers have started while others have stopped. Because I’ve been focused on the vegetable garden, I have not had time to share all the beauty that surrounds me. But fear not, faithful readers, I have been taking hundreds upon hundreds of photographs. Today’s post is the first installment designed to catch you up on all the glorious blossoms.

Let me take you back in time to the middle of April, when my 35-foot tall Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) was in full bloom. I told you about this spectacular understory native here, but I’ve mentioned it in several other posts over the years. If you search on the name, you’ll find all the relevant posts for this tree. The close-up of the flowers above demonstrates their loveliness — and their popularity with native pollinators.

Here’s what the entire tree looked like this year:

Thirty-five feet of Wow!

Thirty-five feet of Wow!

I had to stand pretty far away to get all of it in the photo. That little bit of white at the top right is a bit of the large dogwood trying to show off some of its flowers in the shot.

In the interest of fairness, that aforementioned native dogwood deserves a photo of its own:

About 40 feet tall, this dogwood is probably about 50 years old, maybe even older.

About 40 feet tall, this dogwood is probably about 50 years old, maybe even older.

To the left in the above photo, you can just see a few blooms of the native redbud variety, ‘Forest Pansy,’ and, of course that’s a bit of Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ filling up the right side of the photo.

Because the showy part of a dogwood flower is actually its bracts, they aren’t quite as pure a white as the petals of the Two-winged Silverbell. But they persist much longer in the landscape.

They may be bracts rather than petals, but that doesn't diminish their beauty.

They may be bracts rather than petals, but that doesn’t diminish their beauty.

And, since I mentioned Redbuds, I feel obliged to show you one of the standard natives in my yard in full bloom. Its lavender blossoms are emphasized by the green backdrop of the native Red Cedars behind it.

Cercis canadensis is breathtaking in bloom when sited where it can achieve its full potential.

Cercis canadensis is breathtaking in bloom when sited where it can achieve its full potential.

Now I want to turn your attention to the deciduous azaleas in my yard. I mention them in passing regularly, and you can find all the links by searching on the species or the category. The links that follow point back to the first posts from 2011 in which I described these wonderful understory natives.

Since 2011, all the azaleas have grown considerably. Some attain mature sizes in the 20′ x 15′ range, and I can tell that several of my specimens are well on their way to achieving their full potential. Some species and/or their cultivars bloom magnificently every year, while others seem to alternate years.

First to bloom, as usual, was Pinxterbloom Azalea (Rhodendron periclymenoides). It had its lushest bloom season so far, and thanks to the mostly cool weather, the blooms persisted longer than usual.

Pinxterbloom Azalea is native to the southeastern Piedmont.

Pinxterbloom Azalea is native to the southeastern Piedmont.

Soon after, it’s cultivar, ‘Purple,’ also bloomed, but its blooms were sparse this year.

R. periclymenoides 'Purple'

R. periclymenoides ‘Purple’

Overlapping the bloom time of Pinxterbloom was my R. austrinum hybrid, Pastel #19. This shrub is always ridiculously floriferous, and its potent perfume carries halfway across my five-acre yard on spring breezes. When it is at peak bloom, it stops visitors in their tracks every time.

Pastel #19 is almost six feet tall and five feet wide now.

Pastel #19 is almost six feet tall and five feet wide now.

Only inhale deeply of Pastel #19's flowers if you like very, very sweet fragrances.

Only inhale deeply of Pastel #19’s flowers if you like very, very sweet fragrances.

While Pastel #19 continued to bloom, another hybrid, Pastel #20 started its bloom cycle. Perhaps hybrid vigor explains why both these hybrids bloom with spectacular consistency every year.

The perfume of Rhododendron 'Pastel #20' is much more delicate than that of #19.

The perfume of Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20’ is much more delicate than that of #19.

I love the golden throats on these flowers.

Next to bloom was my R. alabamense, a native that is also reliably floriferous even without the benefits of hybrid vigor.

My Alabama Azalea is now about six feet tall and four feet wide.

My Alabama Azalea is now about six feet tall and four feet wide.

Its flowers emit a faint perfume that I enjoy for its subtlety.

R. alabamense is only now finishing up its bloom cycle.

R. alabamense is only now finishing up its bloom cycle.

The mostly cool spring has definitely prolonged bloom time for the azaleas this year.

My Oconee Azalea (R. flammeum) is over 8 feet tall now. Its form is more open than some of the other deciduous azalea species. My specimen bloomed heavily last year. This year, it’s not quite as floriferous, but still a knockout in the landscape.

R. flammeum buds just beginning to open.

R. flammeum buds just beginning to open.

R. flammeum in full bloom.

R. flammeum in full bloom.

Last of the azalea natives to bloom so far this year is Coastal Azalea (R. atlanticum). This native of southeastern US coastal plains keeps a much lower profile than my other deciduous azaleas. So far, it’s only about three feet tall in its high spots. The native species is a colonial spreader, but my cultivar, ‘Winterthur,’ is supposed to be more polite. It has gotten wider, but not aggressively so.

The flowers of Coastal Azalea are pure white, with no throat blotches as you see in R. alabamense. They are very potently fragrant — a cloying sweetness that is not my favorite. Because of its smaller size, I often smell the open flowers on this specimen before I see them the first time.

The flowers are almost sticky, perhaps encouraging pollinators to linger?

Coastal Azalea flowers are almost sticky, perhaps encouraging pollinators to linger?

Flowers of a couple of my other deciduous azalea varieties are almost open for business. I’ll show you those soon. Meanwhile, let me close today’s post with a photo or two of my trellis full of blooming Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’).

Unlike invasive Japanese Honeysuckle, the Major (as I like to call him) does not spread aggressively. However, it is enthusiastic, so I do cut it back severely every other year. The Major doesn’t object to this treatment, continuing to bloom so magnificently that every visitor to my house stops, gapes, and begs to know his name.

Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’

Hummingbirds adore these blooms.

Hummingbirds adore these blooms.


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Recently Sighted Fauna and Flora

Northern Cricket Frog?

In the last two weeks, a new species of frog has been hanging out on the edge of our little front yard water feature. Yesterday, two were sitting on opposite sides of the pond. Both are about three inches long, and this zoomed-in photo I took makes me think they are Northern Cricket Frogs.

This species is common in my wetland, but I’ve never seen them sitting on the edge of my little front pond before this year. I think perhaps they were born in the pond and recently emerged. They’re probably waiting for a rain event to disperse to less exposed areas. I was surprised by the lumpy texture on such petite amphibians.

A couple of new butterfly species have flitted through in the last couple of weeks. They didn’t stay long in one place, so my pictures are not optimal. But I think I have identified them correctly.

Monarch butterfly

I almost walked into this Monarch butterfly as it was sipping from my row of lantanas. Of course, it flew away before I could take its picture. It then briefly landed on the Chinese Abelia, which is where I managed to snap a very quick shot before it dashed off. I haven’t seen one since then. My Swamp Milkweed didn’t fare well this year. The July heat wave and drought made it surrender without blooming. I’m hoping to add at least one more species of milkweed to another area — a species that’s more heat- and drought-tolerant.

Another brief visitor to the vegetable garden was this battered specimen:

Great Spangled Fritillary?

A few of this species have visited my yard off and on throughout the summer. This one stopped to sip from a bean flower just long enough for me to snap its photo. I think it’s a Great Spangled Fritillary, but I confess the fritillaries look very much alike to me. I’m mostly basing my guess on my location.

The most interesting recent faunal encounter was a love story, well, perhaps more of a lust story. I spotted a male Writing Spider dancing at the edge of a female’s web. I saw him there two days in a row before he vanished. My research tells me that if he successfully courted the female, he either died soon after or was devoured by his lover.

The male is always much smaller. He’s the spider in the upper right corner of this photo.

The plants have been busy too. Most are finalizing fruit production. The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) set an unusually large number of gorgeous red berries this year. I think the fruit-loving birds will be pleased when they notice, if they haven’t already.

The berries in this shot are on a 12′ x 6′ shrub full of crimson-berry-laden branches.

As is always the case, the branches of my Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) are adorned by zillions of the large “two-winged” fruits from which its common name arises. When they are fully ripe, they turn brown, and soon after, squirrels devour every fruit.

When the squirrels tire of dining on acorns, they turn to the fruits of Two-winged Silverbell.

Flowers still abound also. I’ve come to expect Jewelweed’s (Impatiens capensis) arrival in late summer/early fall. Sure enough, it’s popping up in abundance right on schedule. Especially dense thickets line our side of the creek. In deep drought years, the water-rich stems of this wildflower are irresistible to thirsty deer. This year, we either have fewer deer, or they’re not as thirsty, because the Jewelweed is blooming enthusiastically from one end of the floodplain to the other.

The plants in this patch were about an inch shorter than me.

One recent bout of flowering was a surprise. My two white-blooming Florida Anise-trees (Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’) reside beneath dense shade that protects them from western and southern sunshine. I think that location, combined with off-and-on measurable rainfall for most of August, triggered a second round of blooming in these evergreen shrubs. Interestingly, I planted one of their red-blooming cousins (Halley’s Comet) in the same location, but it did not rebloom.

Sometimes when you see a second round of blooms from a shrub in the fall, its spring blooms are less impressive, because the plant spent much of its energy on autumn flowers. It will be interesting to observe how many flowers my albas produce next spring. For now, we are enjoying the unexpected bonus of glowing white star-like flowers against deep green leaves.

August blooms of Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’

As I observe my landscape transitioning from summer to fall, my prayers go out to the folks enduring a visit from what was Hurricane Isaac until quite recently. Hurricane Fran was the beast folks in my region still talk about; forests still show clear signs of the damage caused by her winds and water. Mother Nature is indeed capricious, simultaneously bestowing unexpected flowers and unforeseen chaos in different parts of our country.

Here’s hoping Isaac is the last hurricane to make landfall in the United States this year.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Flowers come and (mostly) gone

Halesia diptera flowers at peak bloom on April 2

Ah, what a wacky season it has been — and continues to be. A prime example is my exquisite Two-Winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera), which bloomed last year on April 15. This year, peak bloom was this past Monday, and now the blooms are mostly gone. Uncharacteristic heat, heavy downpours, and strong winds shortened this tree’s blooming season to the blink of an eye.

Here’s what the entire tree looked like from a distance:

See the whiteness on the ground beneath it? Those are flower petals, which were already rapidly falling, even though the flowers had barely opened. Here’s a closer look at the petals on the ground:

Floral snowfall

And because this wonderful tree’s season was so painfully short this year, I offer you one more photo. This one is what the top of the tree looked like as I stood beneath it:

This beauty is about 30 feet tall and fifteen feet wide.

At least I had the chance to photographically document this lovely native.

My huge Black Cherry tree bloomed two weeks earlier than last year. By the time I thought to try to photograph the flowers on April 2, they were already dropping, leaving tiny cherries in their place. I never tire of watching the birds — especially the Pileated Woodpeckers — devour this fruit when it ripens. Here’s what I saw on April 2 this year:

The Red Buckeye, on the other hand, was unimpressed by March’s early warmth. Last year, I wrote of its first blooms on March 30. This year, most blooms were open on April 2, and the tree continues to reign redly over my floodplain. Here’s a shot from this past Monday:

Red Buckeye flowers are supposed to call in the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, but I haven’t seen a single hummer yet at my house.

I’ll close with a few swamp shots. Those natives are well ahead of last year. The Cinnamon Ferns were displaying fully developed fruiting fonds last Monday when I took this shot:

Last year, I showed you a similar picture on April 20 — almost three full weeks later!

The Jack-in-the-Pulpits are also well ahead of last year. Here’s a shot of a green one with an Atamasco Lily bloom — another species blooming earlier:

And here are some equally precocious purple Jacks blooming lustily despite being surrounded by poison ivy and other swamp plants:

I’ll leave you with proof that I’m not the only one prowling my muddy floodplain these days:

Deer at the top, and maybe a healthy raccoon below?

I’ve got even more photos of plants whose flowers have already come and gone. Stay tuned for future installments. I guess the moral of the story is to wander through your yards and gardens as often as you can this time of year. If you linger indoors, the wonders of spring will most surely pass you by.

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

Warmest March Ever

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Verbena ‘Homestead Purple’

That’s what the local weatherman proclaimed on the TV today — we’re having the warmest March ever. We’ve blown every existing temperature record to smithereens. Of course, I didn’t need the weatherman to tell me that. The plants in my yard have been telling me since about the time the deluded groundhog promised six more weeks of winter.

In all my 40+ years of gardening in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, I have never seen trees, shrubs, and perennials bloom so early, nor have I ever seen them bloom all together, as many of them are doing this year.

Take, for example, Redbuds, Dogwoods, and my Two-Winged Silverbell. Until this spring, I could rely on an orderly progression from Redbud bloom to Dogwood Show to Silverbell finale. This year, all the native Redbuds except one finished blooming last week. The one exception grows in a significantly cooler microclimate in my yard, nestled against a backdrop of towering Red Cedars, as you can see here:

That’s the top of my little greenhouse in the right front corner.

In normal years, as the Redbuds fade, the native Dogwoods begin to open their showy four-petaled bracts, first a creamy yellow, then bleaching to white in the spring sunshine. This year, the Dogwoods started opening last week. If you click on the link above to my Redbud account for last year, you’ll see that the native Redbuds had barely begun blooming last March 13. The Dogwood link above will show you that last year’s bloom peak was around April 5. I predict this year the peak will be in a day or two.

As for the Two-Winged Silverbell, last year it peaked around April 15. This year, the first flowers are open now, and judging by the size of the rest of the flower buds, it will peak in two more days. That’s about the same time as the Dogwoods, not two weeks later, as is usual. Here’s a shot of the Halesia flowers and buds that I took this morning:

This is just plain ridiculous! At this rate, summer foliage will be out in three weeks. The deciduous azaleas, ferns, mayapples, anise trees, and myriad other plants are also way, way ahead of schedule. I’ll show you photographic proof in another post soon.

But today I want to close with a veggie garden update. Here are the spring greens after the 3.5 inches of rain (that’s not a typo) we got last week:

I will be picking more goodies for another spring salad tomorrow. Tonight, I’ve covered them again with the floating row cover. We’re under a frost advisory tonight, and my yard often goes ten degrees below the official reporting station. The frost probably wouldn’t hurt them, but why take a chance with such potential deliciousness?

The Sugar Sprint peas are now producing tendrils. I expect flower buds any second. Tonight’s predicted frost will actually make them happier, so they don’t get covered.

Flowers needed ASAP to beat summer’s impending heat

This past weekend’s rain kept me mostly indoors watching the grass grow, but I did manage to finish transplanting all the tomatoes and peppers in the greenhouse to larger pots. They’ll remain in these until it’s time to put them into the garden. Here’s a shot of the newly transplanted veggies:

The Super Marzano tomatoes that I planted two weeks ahead of the other summer veggies are enormous, even showing tiny flower buds. Look at them overpowering this shot of the greenhouse bench:

Their turn in the garden will come soon enough — assuming I manage to pull out enough of the cover crop of crimson clover on their beds to make room for them. The crimson clover has never grown to such gigantic size before. Usually winter freezes knock it down. That didn’t happen this year, so it grew, and grew, and grew. Soon the plants will be covered in red flower spikes that draw every pollinator in a five-county radius.

For good or ill, I’ll have plenty of warm weather for garden chores. After tonight’s frost and a chilly Tuesday, Wednesday is forecasted to be back in the mid to upper seventies.

Don’t even get me started on the pollen avalanche. March Madness indeed.

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

All Fall Down

Golden leaves of Halesia diptera carpet the ground

It happens so fast this time of year. One moment the forest is ablaze with vivid leaves that dance in the lightest breeze. The next moment the color moves from branches to forest floor, leaves settling at the bases of parent trees, creating patchworks of color for feet to kick up during crisp autumn walks. But the bright leaf carpet is fleeting, quickly morphing to browns and rusts, as if to match the starkness of bare branches above.

Different tree species move through this cycle at varying rates. Leaves of Ashes and Black Cherries in my yard go from green to brown and abandon their branches in mid-September, seemingly eager to begin their winter rest. Tulip Poplar leaves turn bright yellow next, and begin to drift to the ground (along with thousands of seeds) about the time the Red Maples and Sweet Gum leaves are painting themselves gold, pumpkin orange, and garnet red.

Some trees drop their leaves over the course of several weeks. Some seem to receive a signal (perhaps the change in daylight?) that causes them to shrug off their leaves all at once, leaving carpets of color at their feet. That’s what my Halesia diptera did a few days ago, as you can see in the above photo. Wonder Spouse used the opportunity to create a new fall header for my blog.

The Sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) that grow along my creek recently cast off their gold and brown leaves simultaneously, creating quite a colorful, crunchy carpet on my floodplain as you can see here:

Sycamore leaves carpet my floodplain

I love these trees best in winter, when their magnificent trunks glow in weakened sunshine.

The compound leaves of the young Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) on my hill turn a sickly greenish yellow mostly; their weight causes them to stick close together near the base of the tree like this:

Black Walnut leaves tend to collect near the base of the tree

Here’s a closer view of some of the leaves:

Yellow-green compound leaves of Black Walnut

Sweet Gum leaves end up blowing everywhere, mixing in with the leaves of other species. Here are a few examples that turned my favorite rich garnet hue:

Garnet Sweet Gum leaves

Finally for today, I want to show you autumn leaves of three of my deciduous Magnolia specimens. First up, the fallen leaves of Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala). This native of moist forests of the Piedmont and Mountains grows along my creek. I rescued it from a similar setting on a friend’s land that was slated for the bulldozer. Although its leaves are not as large as Bigleaf Magnolia (M. macrophylla), you can see how the Umbrella Magnolia leaves dominate the forest floor:

Tobacco-gold leaves of Umbrella Magnolia

My two cultivars of Cucumber Magnolia not only bloom at different times, they also drop their leaves at different times. Leaves of M. acuminata var. ‘Butterflies’ turn briefly pale yellow, then brown and fall quickly in mid-October, sticking close to the base of the tree, as you can see here:

Fallen leaves of M. acuminata var. ‘Butterflies’

The older cultivar of this species that I grow – M. acuminata var ‘Elizabeth’ — not only blooms later, but also retains its rich gold-and-brown leaves much longer. As I type this, Elizabeth has not yet released her bright cloak of autumn color, as shown in this close-up of a few branches here:

M. acuminata var. ‘Elizabeth’ still retains her autumnal splendor

Always the last to relinquish their hold on autumn are the native oaks. They only began to color up a couple of weeks ago, and only a few of their leaves have fallen. It will be late November, some years even mid-December, before my mighty oak canopy trees stand starkly naked against a wintry sky.

That’s OK by me. It gives me a reason to postpone raking. After all, there’s no reason to do it more than once, right?

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: