Posts Tagged Illicium floridanum ‘Halley’s Comet’
Astronomically speaking, autumn begins with the vernal equinox, which will occur on September 22. However in my yard, autumn’s influence is showing more every day. But at the same time, summer has not surrendered, thanks to frequent August rains and high temperatures that have not ventured near the record heat wave that plagued us during much of July.
In the last few days, our first round of autumn air has chilled our mornings, leaving heavy dew on grass, leaves, and garden benches, and bright blue, humidity-free skies that beckon birds to start thinking about their southerly migrations.
The late-summer rains have confused some of my plants — like the Florida Anise-tree in the opening photo. While still ripening the abundant fruits it produced from its spring flowers, it has put out quite a respectable second flush of new flowers. All the trees — red- and white-bloomers are doing this to some extent.
The annual flowers in my vegetable garden are also reinvigorated, looking nearly as lush as they did in June — quite unusual in recent summers.
But most plants are well into seed-production mode. My pecan trees this year set abundant fruit, but I suspect the July heat wave damaged them. Instead of being harvested and devoured by squirrels, most of the nuts have fallen to the ground. A few look as if the squirrels tasted and rejected them.
Only a few nuts still remain on the trees, apparently more successful in maturing to full ripeness, as these two here:
The bronze fennel I grow in the vegetable garden as food for Black Swallowtail caterpillars were not visited by those butterfly larvae this year. Instead, they bloomed prolifically, and now their seeds have ripened in abundance. I predict a bumper crop of fennel volunteers in my garden next spring.
Fruit set on the native trees is abundant. Pileated woodpeckers are arguing daily over dogwood (Cornus florida) berries, which turn scarlet well before their leaves.
The long, mild spring helped the Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) produce an abundance of fruit-filled, squat cones:
Local wildlife seems to be working overtime as winter’s cold looms closer. Last week, I had noticed that a few tadpoles were still lingering in my little water feature. This morning, when the thermometer on our hill read 49.3 degrees Fahrenheit, a new froglet emerged and settled on a dew-covered leaf. These little ones never photograph well for me, but I think perhaps it’s another Cope’s Gray Treefrog. I hope so.
Two hours later, one of the Green Frogs that’s been living in the water feature all summer emerged seeking sun. These frogs have more than doubled in size since they first arrived after a rainy night.
The insects and arachnids seem to go into a near frenzy of activity this time of year, perhaps trying to squeeze in one more generation of themselves before winter’s cold shuts down production. Two days ago, I was surprised to see a male Carolina Mantis on the wall beside my front door. I know he was a male, because he was so skinny that I at first thought I was looking at a very large Walking Stick insect. Then he turned his characteristic triangular head in my direction, and I realized my mistake.
I haven’t seen a Carolina Mantis in my yard in maybe ten years. The Chinese Mantises were all I saw, and even they have been sparse this year, I think due to a lizard population explosion in my front garden.
I suspect this fellow was looking for a mate, and I hope he found one. I’m all for helping our native mantises thrive. Click on the photo below to enlarge it enough to see that he was staring at me.
The Black and Yellow Garden Spiders (Writing Spiders) are disappearing one by one. I think they are laying their egg cases, then fading into oblivion. Two large ones remain in my front garden. This beauty resides in my lantana hedge, where she grows fat on unwary butterflies and moths. Check out the design on her back:
Another one lives beside my little water feature. This morning, she was waiting patiently for breakfast:
The other Garden Spiders that once resided in the plants that sit within my water feature have all vanished. But one left behind a very large egg case. Before I carry the water plants inside my greenhouse for the winter, I’ll gently relocate this case to a spot in the garden where the hatchlings will be appreciated next spring.
Finally, two caterpillars crossed my path this morning. Caterpillars are everywhere right now. I know this by the frass (entomologist jargon for caterpillar poop) littering my deck below the oak tree, and by the myriad birds that hunt for them in the trees all day. I’ve been hearing the chipping call of a patrolling Summer Tanager nearby for several weeks.
This intimidating caterpillar was on my deck railing this morning.
Don’t touch those hairs. They will sting and give you a painful rash. This one likely fell from the oak tree above where I found it.
This one and its siblings have been eating my native coral honeysuckle for a couple of weeks now.
Honeysuckle is one of this species’ favorite food groups, and my vine is huge, so I let them have their way. They don’t eat the flowers or fruits, merely stripping the vines of leaves in a few spots. Note the discarded skin on the branch behind it, left over from an earlier molting.
How do I know the identity of these caterpillars? I’m glad you asked. Everything I know about caterpillars I learned from my go-to reference — Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner. Dr. Wagner’s book is full of excellent photos and all the information you need to know about what the caterpillars eat and what they’ll turn into. I highly recommend this book.
That’s just a sample of what’s going on right now on my patch of North Carolina piedmont. I’ll fill you in on some other highlights in another post soon. Meanwhile, get out there and enjoy that autumn air while it lasts. Word from the weather seers is that heat and humidity will be returning within 48 hours. But not for long — we hope!
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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Oh sure, the garden is thriving right this second. But I see Big Trouble heading this way like a runaway freight train. I’m talking about the 100+ degree heat wave promised for my area in two short days. Right now, the weather seers are calling for at least four days in a row with highs over the 100-degree mark, and five days in a row could easily happen.
I wouldn’t be so worried, if I had gotten the rainfall that so many folks in my region have been blessed with lately. But I didn’t; not even close. Take last night, for instance. A cold front uncharacteristically strong for this time of year blasted through, bringing a line of thunderstorms to just about every yard but mine. I’m really trying not to take the rain snubs personally, but it’s getting harder and harder.
Absolutely no rain is in the forecast during the heat wave. Only the slightest of chances are hinted at for a WEEK FROM NOW! That means my already-too-dry soil is going to be baked by a merciless summer sun without any respite except what I can provide with my hose.
I water my vegetable garden from a shallow well that draws from a perched water table overlaying my floodplain. It is not doing well; neither is the adjacent creek. Neither are the oak trees nearby; they are dropping young acorns by the hundreds in an attempt to reduce their water consumption. I am not sure how much longer I’ll be able to water my vegetables.
Trees that produce fruit early in the season have been more successful than the oaks. For example, my Florida Anise-trees bloomed prolifically this year, and their fruit set has never been so significant. When the seeds inside the fruits ripen, I’m going to carry them down to the floodplain and spread them around to see if new trees will appear next year.
I spent an hour in the uncharacteristically cool morning air thoroughly watering all the veggies. I’m hoping the good dose of water while it’s cool will allow the roots to maximize their use of the water, rather than lose it all to evaporation. I’m hoping this will fortify the plants against the imminent heat wave. I’ll water again in two days, next time at dawn so I don’t melt — if the well holds out.
Every summer now I go through this agony, wondering how long the well will hold out. Will there be enough so that the tomatoes — just beginning to ripen in numbers — can be harvested? Will the peppers have time to ripen? How long will the beans keep producing? When will the bugs overpower heat-weakened squash plants?
My yard has been in a drought for so many years now that I do not remember the last time my creek ran all summer long, when muddy spots on the floodplain would sink tractor tires during mowing, when summer nights were often accompanied by lightning flashes and pounding rain on the roof.
I know the poor folks in Florida are drowning in Tropical Storm Debby’s rains right now. How wonderful it would be if I could wish those clouds here. Five inches? No problem; that’s what floodplains are for. Piedmont topography and soils are better able to handle such amounts.
By this time next week, I expect to be hunkered down in a darkened house as I hide from searing sun and dream, dream, dream of rain.
When I was looking for an interesting evergreen to screen my vegetable garden from the neighbors in an area mostly shaded by a large Loblolly Pine, I decided to try Florida Anise-tree (Illicium floridanum) because its spicy leaves are supposed to deter deer damage. In fact, this native of swamps of the deep south is poisonous to cattle.
My neighborhood deer think my young shrubs are delicious, so much so, in fact, that I was forced to enclose them in wire cages. The deer are especially fond of the newly emerged tender leaves of spring, which, I suspect, contain lower amounts of toxins than fully mature leaves.
I chose a named cultivar — ‘Halley’s Comet’ — because it’s supposed to flower in greater numbers and for a longer time than the species. The plants were not happy during their first two years within wire cages. Part of it may have been the cages — some plants do not like bumping into the wire; when they do, it seems to inhibit their branch growth.
But I think my biggest problem was back-to-back significant drought years. When my shallow well for the garden runs dry — which it does most summers now — those shrubs only got what little water I could tote to them. Because they are native to shady swamps, they weren’t getting enough water to make them happy.
However, when we put the deer fence around the vegetable garden earlier this year, we were able to enclose within its borders most of the Florda Anise-trees. Freed from their caged confinement, they are responding surprisingly rapidly to their release. For the first spring since we planted them, these little evergreens are jam-packed with deep crimson, starburst-shaped flowers that persist quite a while on the plant. And I can see many flower buds waiting their turn to open and prolong the show.
The shrubs will supposedly grow six to eight feet tall. My tallest is about four feet high now. The evergreen leaves seem to get damaged by the cold every winter, so they look a bit bedraggled until new spring growth perks up the plants. I suspect they’d grow faster in a wetter spot, and I may move one down to a wet shady spot on my floodplain just to see how it responds — if I can figure out a way to protect it.
Here’s a shot of most of one of the shrubs near the garden; it still looks somewhat winter-worn, but it is full of flower buds:
When I ordered these trees, I also bought a Chinese Illicium species from the same nursery. Illicium henryi — Henry Anise-tree — seems to be faring better than the US native species, but is growing more slowly. I’ll keep you updated on its progress.
I also bought a couple of Illicium floridanum ‘Alba’ plants. These look just like the species, only the flowers are a creamy white that really stands out against the evergreen foliage. I happened to plant these in deeper shade down the hill from the vegetables, and these shrubs are doing very well. I’ll show you what I mean another time.
Bottom line: For shady, moist areas not severely impacted by deer predation, this evergreen, free-blooming shrub should be a welcome addition to any southeastern Piedmont landscape.