Posts Tagged Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

All Signs Point to Spring


Blossoms abound, bird song delights ears from dawn to dark, pollen is ubiquitous — yup, I’d say spring is most definitively here. Those are petals from a redbud tree floating in that little birdbath. Here’s one of the native redbud trees adorning our landscape at the moment:

Redbud bloom color really pops against a background of red cedars.

Redbud bloom color really pops against a background of red cedars.

Along with all the flowers, native wildlife is suddenly more evident everywhere, especially the water-loving birds. In addition to the Wood Ducks that nest along our creek every spring, this year, a pair of Canada Geese has moved in. I see them paddling up and down the creek at dawn most mornings. They seem to have claimed the downstream end, while the Wood Ducks dabble in the waters upstream. The geese will leave as soon as their young are adept fliers. But I’ll likely see the family patrolling the floodplain for about a month before they leave.

More exciting than these waterfowl is the return of the Belted Kingfishers. Every day now, I see and hear one flying the length of our adjacent creek, calling raucously before it settles on a good fishing perch.

The water birds are here because the creek is healthier than it has been in recent springs. Water levels are back to optimal levels, thanks to abundant rains. The surrounding wetlands are very, very wet, dissected by many water-filled channels, where crayfish and frogs thrive. The cinnamon ferns have unfurled their fiddleheads, the glossy green leaves of Atamasco Lilies promise imminent flower shoots, and any day now I expect to spot Jack-in-the-Pulpits poking up out of the mud.

My two gorgeous early-blooming Magnolia acuminata varieties have been perfuming the air and delighting the eye for several weeks now. ‘Butterflies,’ as usual, was the first variety to bloom, its 25-foot tall frame covered in deep yellow blossoms.

One of the last Magnolia 'Butterflies' blossoms.

One of the last Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ blossoms.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth,’ now 50 feet tall, started opening her paler yellow blossoms about a week after Butterflies started.  She still sports many gorgeous blooms, but I fear the mini-heat wave we’re getting this weekend will finish off the display all too quickly.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' -- 50 feet of spectacular!

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ — 50 feet of spectacular!

In the last few days, my three Serviceberry trees have begun opening abundant pure white flower clusters. I think last summer’s rains were good for them. They’ve never been more covered in flowers. Maybe this will be the year they produce enough fruits for both the birds and me.

Apple Serviceberry blossoms. Pollinators adore them.

Apple Serviceberry blossoms. Pollinators adore them.

Over the years, I have no idea how many different kinds of daffodils I’ve added to our five acres, nor do I remember most of their names. But I do know that I made a point of planting varieties that would bloom from late winter through late spring. This succession of increasingly abundant blossoms every spring never seems too adversely affected by whimsical weather patterns. In fact, whenever spring cool spells and/or rainy weather is predicted this time of year, I routinely cut a quick bouquet of beauteous blooms to keep me company indoors until the sun returns. These varieties started blooming about the middle of last week:

The pink centers get bleached out a bit by sunlight, but they are lovely.

The pink centers get bleached out a bit by sunlight, but they are lovely.

These pure white, ruffled blossoms are especially elegant.

These pure white, ruffled blossoms are especially elegant.

These bloom in tight clusters for an instant bouquet effect, and their fragrance is super sweet.

These bloom in tight clusters for an instant bouquet effect, and their fragrance is super sweet.

The previous owner had planted forsythia, a ubiquitous southeastern spring landscape shrub. I relocated the bushes from my front door to an area near my road. Their abundant blooms seem to indicate they had no objections.

It isn't spring in the southeast without sunny forsythia flowers.

It isn’t spring in the southeast without sunny forsythia flowers.

The Golden Ragwort is just starting its own parade of yellow blossoms:

Golden ragwort is an easy wildflower to add to southeastern landscapes.

Golden Ragwort is an easy wildflower to add to southeastern landscapes.

The earliest blooming native deciduous azalea on the north side of my yard is about to burst into bloom. The other species/varieties are full of swelling flower bud clusters.

Pinxterbloom Azalea will be the first native azalea to bloom, as usual.

Pinxterbloom Azalea will be the first native azalea to bloom, as usual.

The spring ephemeral wildflowers I showed you in my previous post are zooming through their life cycles as promised.

Bloodroots now sport point seed capsules, their lovely white flowers gone with the wind.

Bloodroots now sport pointy seed capsules, their lovely white flowers gone with the wind.

See the swelling round flower bud between the two Mayapple leaves? It will be open any second now.

See the swelling round flower bud between the two Mayapple leaves? It will be open any second now.

In short, my five acres of green chaos is busting out all over. Alas, it’s not just the invited plants reproducing so enthusiastically right now.  I am walking like a bent-over granny on evenings preceded by a day of weeding. The winter weeds got light years ahead of me in the vegetable garden area this year. Before I can plant, they must go, and that work isn’t nearly as much fun as it once was (hah!)

But the spring veggies are looking good, despite mini heat waves, heavy rains, and occasional frosts. And the summer vegetables, herbs, and flowers are growing tall and eager safely tucked in the greenhouse, waiting for more stable weather and weed-free beds.

Aye, there’s the rub — weed-free beds. I see many pollen-filled, sweaty days of joint-punishing work in front of me. But all the hard work pays off times ten when we dine on fresh-picked salads, juicy tomato-and-basil sandwiches, and green beans the likes of which you’ll never taste unless you grow them yourself.

And when I need a break from the veggie garden, I renew my resolve with a flower-filled walk around the landscape. Nothing puts a fresh spring in my step better than Spring!

Even my "lawn" is adorned with many wildflowers, including gazillions of violets.

Even my “lawn” is adorned with many wildflowers, including gazillions of violets.


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Happy Birthday, Wonder Spouse!

Birthday Boy shooting a Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruit.

Birthday Boy shooting a Jack-in-the-Pulpit fruit.

Yes, that’s right, folks. Wonder Spouse celebrates another trip around the sun today, and like fine wine, he just keeps improving with age. I took this shot of the Ace-Photographer-in-Action last weekend, when he shot all those pictures I told you about in my previous post. You’ll see more of those as he finishes post-processing them.

Wonder Spouse believes his birthday should be ignored, but I could not be prouder of my spouse and his achievements, so today, I want to share just a few more of his amazing photographs. These were taken over the course of the last 4 years, and I think you’ll agree they are spectacular.

Family photo taken at the NC Zoological Park.

Family photo taken at the NC Zoological Park.

Lest you think Wonder Spouse only shoots botanical subjects, I thought I’d include a couple of his photos from our trips to the NC Zoological Park in Asheboro, NC. We try to get there at least once a year, usually in the late fall when there are fewer visitors, but the animals are still active. This shot speaks for itself, I think.

A close-up any rhino would love.

A close-up any rhino would love.

I love this one. It proves that wrinkles can be beautiful!

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' flowers

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ flowers

Long-time readers may remember this photo. Our now 50-foot-tall Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ glows magnificently in our landscape when she’s in full bloom. But you really need to view her flowers closely to fully appreciate this tree.

Luna Moth close-up

Luna Moth close-up

I love the details visible in this close-up of a Luna Moth — the feathery antennae, the almost fur-like look of the wing scales — exquisite, yes?

Daylily 'Siloam Dan Tau'

Daylily ‘Siloam Dan Tau’

This Wonder Spouse photo really highlights the subtle beauty of this daylily. If you click on it to enlarge it, you’ll see the petals almost shimmer. Daylily blooms only last one day. I’m so glad Wonder Spouse preserved this blossom for eternity.

Bearded iris drama shot

Bearded iris drama shot

This photo really shows off Wonder Spouse’s artistry. He wanted to play with light, so he brought a bloom into the house and experimented with lighting until he got the effect he wanted. I think he got it right. What do you think?

Buckeye butterfly on Joe Pye Weed

Common Buckeye butterfly on Joe Pye Weed

I think this shot really shows off the beauty of our native Common Buckeye Butterfly. Although, I don’t think its looks are “common” at all. Wonder Spouse makes it look easy to photograph butterflies and other creatures, but, trust me, those little critters never stay in one place for very long. It takes considerable skill to frame a shot like this one. Even plants are trickier than non-photographers might think. The slightest breeze can turn a perfect shot to blurred fuzz.

Our front garden in the winter 2009

Our front garden in the winter of 2009

We haven’t had a photo-worthy snow in a few years now. I love the way a good snow obscures all the imperfections in a landscape while highlighting structural elements like trees and garden benches. The Birthday Boy’s skill in framing a landscape shot is fully evident here. I think you’ll agree with me that he is a true artist with the camera.

He has many other praise-worthy attributes as well, but he’s likely going to be unhappy with me as it is for making him the subject of a blog post.

Too bad, Wonder Spouse. Today is your day. It deserves to be celebrated. And I count my blessings daily that I get to share your journey with you.

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Yesterday’s News

Farewell, Butterflies

The vernal equinox occurred during the wee hours this morning. Astronomically speaking, that makes spring officially here. As is true for much of the United States this year, the news is entirely anticlimactic.

My early spring bloomers have not only been blooming for weeks, many of them finished almost as soon as they started, thanks to the record heat and drought that continues to plague my corner of the Piedmont in North Carolina.

Case in point: my lovely Magnolia ‘Butterflies.’ Two days after it began blooming, petal drop started. The above photo was taken three days ago. Now almost all the petals have dropped.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ didn’t wait her usual week after Butterflies to commence her floral display. Instead, she peaked the same day the photo above of Butterflies was taken. Here’s a shot of the whole tree. Elizabeth is a knock-out — visually and aromatically — when she is at her peak like this:

Regal Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ holds court among the pines

Wonder Spouse took all these photos, by the way. You may well want to click on them to enlarge them, so you can fully appreciate their quality. Here’s a close-up of Elizabeth’s flowers taken the same day as the above photo:

Elizabeth’s pale yellow flowers fade to a soft parchment white shortly after opening

The Bloodroots growing on my north-east-facing slope above the creek began blooming about the same time that Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ got started.  Here’s one that’s been open for a couple of days:

Look fast; Bloodroots don’t last long even in good years.

And here’s what most of them looked like that day:

Bloodroot petals lie discarded on the ground as the seed capsule expands.

Not to be outdone by these precocious bloomers, the first flowers of my native Pinxterbloom Azalea were nearly open the same day that the above photos were taken (March 17). That’s three weeks ahead of last year.

Really? So soon?

For the first time that I can remember, my oak trees are racing the Loblolly Pines to see which will release their pollen first. I think it may well be a tie. I cannot remember that happening before. Not ever in all the 5+ decades I’ve lived in North Carolina.

So, Vernal Equinox — welcome, I guess. The party started well before your arrival this year. And it’s already well on its way to its conclusion. I just hope that by the time the Summer Solstice arrives, my landscape doesn’t look too much like the Sahara Desert.

One of countless Grape Hyacinths that randomly pop up in parts of our “lawn” this time of year — whatever season you choose to call it.

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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?

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It could have been worse – and better

Enough time has passed since the hard freeze of last Tuesday morning’s early hours for me to assess damage to my plants. Three magnolias were dramatically impacted. Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ lost its final few blossoms and some early emerging leaves to the cold.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ was hit harder. Most of its flowers were still at peak bloom, as you may remember from this entry. Now Elizabeth looks like this:

Post-freeze Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ flower

And this:

Post-freeze Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ branches

The good news is that Elizabeth’s leaves were still tightly closed within their buds, so as soon as the mushy brown flowers fall, it will look normal.

Another of my magnolias that has not yet bloomed for me was just leafing out.  Magnolia sprengeri ‘Diva’ has grown into a 12-foot tree – too tall for me to cover. This Chinese magnolia cultivar is supposed to have gorgeous pink blooms. But now that its first flush of new leaves have been blackened by the freeze, it probably won’t have enough enthusiasm to generate flower buds for next spring either.

Remember the Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens) that I described as about to bloom? Despite my attempt to cover it, many flower buds were damaged, as you can see here:

Post-freeze Piedmont azalea flower buds

Not all the flower buds look so damaged, so I will likely see some healthy pink blossoms. But the shrub won’t be the showstopper it should have been.

A few additional trees and shrubs have damaged bits here and there, but I believe the newly leafed-out canopy trees all survived intact. All in all, the freeze could have been far more disastrous. It appears that we’ve dodged another black spring.

I wish I could report similar good news regarding precipitation. Yes, we got some, but nearby areas got much more, as has been the heart-breaking trend for some months now. Our automated gauge only registered 0.87 while many others within 30 miles of here got an inch and a half or more. Our creek levels came up briefly, but have already receded. The biggest winner appears to be the lawn; we will be mowing this weekend for sure.

I am grateful that the freeze didn’t hurt more tender vegetation, but I confess I am getting pretty cranky about the way the precipitation continues to detour around my thirsty yard.

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Elegant Elizabeth: Another Magnolia to Love

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ Flowers

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ opens fully a week or so after Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ begins. I think of Elizabeth as Butterflies’ older sister. Like Butterflies, Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ is a cross between M. acuminata and M. denudata, but the differences between the two are significant.

Elizabeth was created and patented first. It grows taller — about 50% taller, and the sweetly fragrant flowers of Elizabeth are not as yellow as the flowers of Butterflies. Elizabeth’s flowers are more of a yellow-tinted cream. However, Elizabeth’s paler color does not stop a mature specimen from making quite a visual impact in the landscape.

My tree is 20 years old and about 40 feet tall. Here’s how my tree looked today standing in a clearing surrounded by mature pines:

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

This clearing among the pines faces my driveway and is quite close to the street. I like to imagine that passing traffic enjoys Elizabeth’s flowers as much as I do every spring.

The tree’s graceful tapered form looks lovely even after its flowers are spent and its bright green leaves have emerged. In winter, its gray-white trunk is as eye-catching as that of a Beech tree. And the sweet scent of its flowers cannot be ignored within a 100-yard radius.

Here’s a view of some of its branches as I looked up at the tree:

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ branches

This picture gives you a better sense of the true color of the flowers when they first open. They fade quickly to a paler cream tone, especially if the weather is warm, as it has been here lately.

As with Magnolia ‘Butterflies’, some Southeast Piedmont springs are kinder to Elizabeth than others. A sudden freeze can brown the flowers overnight. But the gamble is worth it for springs like the one we’ve had so far this year, when every perfect yellow bud opens to reveal creamy petals, its sweet fragrance inviting early pollinators to linger till sunset.

In Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants (5th edition), he states that Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ should reach a mature height of between 30-50 feet. My tree is close to that maximum height and still appears to be growing enthusiastically. It may exceed Dirr’s estimate.

Frankly, I hope my Elizabeth continues to grow for many years to come, delighting the eyes and noses of everyone who passes by.



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