Posts Tagged Heptacodium miconioides
Signs multiply daily. Reddening leaves:
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
Yesterday, I saw her trap and devour at least two large butterflies. Today, she seems to have doubled in size.
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.
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.
Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) is a native small tree of China. From what I read today, it is rare in China, and actually more common in the United States, thanks to a horticulture industry with an eye for gorgeous plants.
The common name derives from the number of white flowers in a cluster (panicle), namely seven. These pure white flowers are small individually, but visually impressive in their clusters, and even more impressive in their fragrance. The sweet perfume of this tree in bloom dominates the humid air common to August mornings in my garden.
But the white flowers that bloom from August through mid-September are only part of the story of this small tree. After the flowers finish, the pink-to-mauve sepals elongate to produce a prolonged show of their own. You can just see them beginning to extend themselves in the photo above, which was taken in early August. Here’s what they looked like during the first week of September:
The sepals are actually showier than the white flowers — but without the fragrance. I’m not the only one who thinks the pink clusters look like flowers. The hummingbirds still lingering in my garden test these clusters regularly, convinced that any plant this red should hold tasty nectar. They may find a bit. As you can see, a few white flowers are still mixing in with the sepal display.
Heptacodiums are predicted to attain a height of no more than 25 feet in the United States. Mine is about fifteen feet tall, and has been growing for about ten years now. It is perfect for the small-scale landscapes common to houses with minimal yards. I planted mine beside my purple-leaved Loropetalums along my front walk, where it receives much admiration from visitors.
The sepals last until hard frost, which in my area is usually late October to early November. That’s what I call a winning landscape plant. But wait — there’s more!
I haven’t told you about my favorite part of this tree — its exfoliating bark. I am a sucker for landscape trees with peeling bark. I have quite a collection of different species that display about every permutation of color and peel characteristics that you might imagine.
The references I consulted describe the exfoliating bark as gray-brown. That is not how I’d describe the bark on my tree. The exfoliating bark on my Heptacodium is nearly white. It practically glows in the shadows cast by the Loropetalums. Winter is when you get the full effect of this gorgeous bark. That’s my tree on the right side of this photo that features the blooms of one of the Loropetalums that I wrote about last April. I guess I’d call the color of the bark grayish-white.
Whatever color you call it, I think you’ll agree is is eye-catching. The bright green leaves do not turn beautifully in the fall, but I don’t mind, because the mauve sepals persist through most of our fall color season anyway. I call any plant that provides so much visual interest and fragrance a sure-fire landscape winner. If you try one in your yard, I think you’ll agree.