Posts Tagged Magnolia tripetala

Magnolia Mania

Magnolia grandiflora blooms for several weeks in May-June.

Magnolia grandiflora blooms for several weeks in May-June.

I am a self-confessed obsessive gardener, meaning that I remain perpetually transfixed by the infinite beauty and variety of the botanical world. But beyond my general obsession, certain species of plants are special objects of my devotion. One plant family in that category: Magnolia.

Seriously, what’s not to adore? The trees are statuesque in their own right, and their flowers — oh, my goodness, the flowers. Plus, if you have room in your yard, as I do on my five-acre patch of Piedmont, you can plant an array of magnolias that will bloom from late winter right through early summer. Magnolia mania indeed!

In my yard, the show starts with Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’ The sweetly fragrant, strappy, white-petaled flowers on this specimen cover my 25-foot-tall tree in hundreds of blossoms. This one is a gamble in my climate, because of the hazard of late freezes. Most years, my Royal Star blooms are glowing in the barren late-winter landscape until a hard freeze turns them a sad brown. Sometimes, closed buds (so fuzzy I sometimes pet them as I would a feline friend) survive the chill to produce more white flowers amid the browned early victims. This year, however, was different. Somehow this year we had below-normal temperatures without sudden plunges into the deep freeze. My Royal Star Magnolia bloomed unblemished for six weeks — a record.

While Royal Star was still blooming, Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ opened its canary-yellow blossoms. My specimen tree is now at least 25 feet tall, maybe 30. This year, a warm spell caused the flowers almost simultaneously to open from the top of the tree to the bottom. The effect was staggeringly exquisite, not to mention almost overpoweringly fragrant, but short-lived. The flowers of Butterflies need a bit of chill in the air to keep them happy. Sudden warmth caused the petals to brown and fall a mere two days after the flowers had opened.

A week after Butterflies had come and gone, Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’ copied Butterflies’ performance. Two days of top-to-bottom pale yellow, sweet flowers (on a 50-foot tree) were followed by brown petals carpeting the ground beneath it. But those two days of peak bloom were spectacular. My long-time arborist happened to stop by that day for a tour of the yard. He and his companion pulled five feet in the driveway and stopped cold, their mouths agape, as they absorbed Elizabeth’s magnificence. They stayed there so long, I walked down to meet them, breaking their enthrallment with this captivating specimen.

You’ll find photos of the above beauties at the links provided. M. stellata is not native to North America, but M. acuminata is. Horticulturalists have long recognized the potential of M. acuminata, resulting in zillions of lovely cultivars. They are the mere beginning of the procession of magnolia loveliness in my yard.

I confessed a fondness (okay, obsession is probably a better word) with the native big-leaved magnolias when I told you about the single flower on our Bigleaf Magnolia last year here. But I grow three other native big-leaved species, and one of those bloomed for the first time this year.

Magnolia fraseri (Fraser Magnolia) occurs naturally in the mountains of North Carolina, its range extending a smidge into South Carolina, and further into states adjacent to NC to the north. In the wild, it can grow to 60 feet. I sited my specimen on the north side of my yard inside the deer fence beneath the shade of towering loblolly pines about 75 years old. My goal was to keep the tree cool during our hot summers. The tree put on quite a growth spurt last year, shooting up several feet. This spring, it produced seven flowers at the ends of its upper branches over the space of about three weeks. The flowers were sweetly fragrant, but they were too high up for me to photograph well. Here’s a long-range shot that at least gives you a side view:

As is true of all the big-leaved magnolia clan, the flowers are large.

As is true of all the big-leaved magnolia clan, the flowers are large.

Wonder Spouse broke out his big ladder to take some photos from above the flower, but I don’t think he ever sent me the results. I can at least show you the artist at work, about 8 feet off the ground:

Wonder Spouse scales new heights to photograph a Fraser Magnolia flower.

Wonder Spouse scales new heights to photograph a Fraser Magnolia flower.

That’s the top of a gate in our deer fencing at the bottom left. The deer fence is 8 feet tall.

About the time the Fraser Magnolia was blooming, I realized I had neglected to check on our specimen of the only big-leaved magnolia native to the eastern Piedmont: Magnolia tripetala, or Umbrella Magnolia. I rescued this tree from a friend’s family farm just before they sold it. I sited it right next to our creek on a high bank, where it gets plenty of moisture and protection from summer heat by a tall canopy of mature sycamores, birches, tulip poplars, sweet gums, red maples, etc. About fifteen years ago, it was eaten by beavers, but the base re-sprouted, and now the tree is about 25 feet. We surrounded the base with chicken wire to prevent damage from future beaver incursions (if you have water, they will always find you, eventually).

Umbrella Magnolia is so-called, because the large leaves are arranged in a circular fan-like display that absolutely looks like a leafy umbrella. And those giant leaves do a fine job of keeping one dry during light showers. As I feared, I had missed much of the flower display, but a few blossoms were just fading from white to parchment yellow. As with the Fraser Magnolia, the flowers were quite high up, so my photograph is from a fair distance away:

Magnolia tripetala flower fades to parchment yellow before it drops its petals.

Magnolia tripetala flower fades to parchment yellow before it drops its petals.

As the Fraser and Umbrella Magnolias were finishing their blooming cycles, my Ashe Magnolia began its show. This big-leaved beauty astonishes me every year. Last year, a late freeze killed the entire top of the tree. It was just putting out its tender first growth of the season, and the cold brutalized it. I shouldn’t have worried, though. This resilient smaller member of the big-leaved clan simply sprouted from its base. Magnolia ashei is known for its shrubbier form, and mine is true to that description. It’s also known for its prolific bloom production, which starts when the tree is quite young.  Here’s a shot far enough back to give you an idea of the form of my shrubby, lop-sided Ashe Magnolia:

The tip of every branch produced at least one flower. Many produced two flowers per branch tip.

The tip of every branch produced at least one flower. Many produced two flowers per branch tip.

If you have a more typical Piedmont yard, most of the big-leaved Magnolia clan might be too large for the scale of your landscape. But if you have a moist, shady spot and you’re willing to trade a floppy form for spectacular flowers and leaves, Ashe Magnolia is probably your best bet.

If you go to the link I provided for this species, you’ll see better photos of the flowers, but here’s one I took of this year’s final flower:

This year's final flower on Ashe Magnolia.

This year’s final flower on Ashe Magnolia.

The flowers of Umbrella Magnolia are supposed to smell a bit odd to many noses. Mine are so high up that I’ve never noticed much fragrance. However, the Ashe, Fraser, and Bigleaf Magnolias all produce potently sweet perfumes, not unlike the more familiar fragrance of the better-known Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, pictured at the top of this post. My Southern Magnolia is only just beginning her bloom period. She’ll likely perfume my front garden through early July.

I can’t close this lengthy post without showing you what the Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) produced for us this year — a least a dozen, maybe more, flowers! It’s gotten so tall that it’s hard to see what’s going on up there.

Wonder Spouse was so excited that he got back on the big ladder to document the occasion:

Sacrificing personal safety for his art, Wonder Spouse spent about a half hour documenting the Bigleaf Magnolia's floral display.

Sacrificing personal safety for his art, Wonder Spouse spent about a half hour documenting the Bigleaf Magnolia’s floral display.

Aerial shots really are best for showing off the flowers:

Note the giant leaves surrounding the flower. That's a quarter sitting on the lower petal.

Note the giant leaves surrounding the flower. That’s a quarter sitting on the lower petal.

Here’s a closer view:

The petals are as thick and creamy as those of our more familiar Southern Magnolia.

The petals are as thick and creamy as those of our more familiar Southern Magnolia.

That’s his quarter in there again for scale. Here’s what the flower buds look like before they open:

Impressive in their own right, don't you think?

Impressive in their own right, don’t you think?

And because a wind gust had pulled off a leaf, Wonder Spouse used his quarter to give you a sense of the size of individual leaves of Bigleaf Magnolia:

The leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in the fall.

The leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in the fall.

This post grows lengthy, so I’ll stop for now. But I should admit for the record that I can think of at least three more magnolia specimens in my yard that I haven’t told you about yet — one more native, and two choice Asian cultivars that still haven’t bloomed for me yet. More magnolia mania to look forward to!

My shot of one of the last Bigleaf Magnolia flowers as it fades to parchment yellow before dropping its petals to the ground.

My shot of one of the last Bigleaf Magnolia flowers as it fades to parchment yellow before dropping its petals to the ground.


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Eastern Tiger Swallowtails sunning on leaves of Halesia diptera

Abundance abounds on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont. As summer winds down, plants are multiplying with enthusiasm, and native animals are taking full advantage of the bounty.  My area saw a week of what the weather seers call “unsettled weather,” which means thick humidity, uncomfortable (but not intolerable) heat, and random thunderstorms. As usually happens of late, my patch of Piedmont was ignored by most of the rain clouds, but we got enough to push plants and animals into a bit of a late summer frenzy.

Butterfly multiplicities are evident on every blooming flower in my yard. Species diversity seems to be multiplying too. I’ll show you in another post. I caught the two above as they were basking in the first sunshine we’ve seen in several days. I think they missed the light as much as I did.

Most of the plants are in the final stages of seed production, filling up seed heads and capsules, preparing to release their progeny into autumn air when it arrives in a few weeks.  Here’s a pair of Tulip Poplar “cones.”

All the Tulip Poplars reproduced well this year. I predict I’ll be sweeping their seeds off walks all fall and winter.

Another member of the Magnolia family — Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) — was kind enough to produce one of its spectacular seed heads within range of my camera:

Seed “cone” of Magnolia tripetala

Animal multiplicities include the deafening, constant, ebb and flow of cicada thrumming. They are maximizing their time in the humid air that makes me stick to myself after two minutes outside. Also present in astonishing numbers are the American Robins. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many this time of year. These are not the flocks of spring and autumn migrators that I’m accustomed to seeing. These are local birds — newly adult ones, judging by their very motley breast feathers.

The American Robins are here because of the bumper crop of Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) dominating every untamed corner (we have a lot of those) of the property. Easily eight feet tall with stems thicker than my wrist, these magenta and green very poisonous natives are currently weighed down by the biggest crop of berries I’ve ever seen them produce. The American Robins have claimed this crop for themselves. From dawn to dusk, I hear their muttering and exclamations as they devour every purple berry they discover.

Poisonous to humans, Pokeweed is a favorite food of American Robins and many other native animals.

I admit I don’t argue much with this plant. Unless it pops up in a spot that just won’t work, I usually let it have its way. However, if I had children or dogs with a habit of eating fruits in the wild, I would eradicate this plant from my yard. It is extremely poisonous to humans, from its roots to its leaves and berries. Yes, young leaves, if boiled for long periods, are consumed by some as “poke salad,” but I think the dangers aren’t worth the risk. Proceed with caution if you welcome this species into your Piedmont yard.

Photogenic and important to wildlife

Also multiplying in my yard: spiderwebs! I can’t walk anywhere without walking into one.

The builder was probably hiding in the leaves of the shrub that holds its web.

The arachnids even build across our often-used front walk. Every morning this time of year, it’s best to wave a stick in front of you to intersect the webs before your face does.

Multiplicities of fungi are also popping up all over the yard. Today, I encountered this large collection of delicate beauties:

A fairy picnic area perhaps?

They are quite exquisite up close, as you can see here:

The delicate folds in the caps remind me of outspread paper fans.

I am not an expert on fungi, so I assume they are all poisonous. I leave them to adorn the landscape and only consume mushrooms I buy at grocery stores.

As summer begins its reluctant transformation to fall, Nature’s multiplicities ensure that next year’s growing season will be productive — barring the usual weather catastrophe caveats, of course.

I revel in the beauty and diversity of this abundance, but I’m also hoping for a real winter this year — one with prolonged bouts of weather cold enough to freeze the ground and kill problem insects, diseases — and maybe even a few Pokeweed plants. One can only handle so much magenta and purple in the landscape after all.

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Current Bloomers

Iris ‘Batik’

This accelerated spring — with the occasional blasts of arctic air thrown in for fun — has made it difficult for me to keep up with everything blooming in my yard. I’ve missed showing you quite a few deciduous azaleas, for example, but I showed them all to you last year, when they politely bloomed mostly one at a time, so search on deciduous azaleas within this blog if you want to see what they look like.

We went down to 32 degrees at my house this morning. Last week, we dove to 28. Most of the flowers survived, but I am sad to say that my Magnolia ashei was most definitely a casualty this year.

Current bloomers that have weathered the weather include:

Tradescantia x andersoniana ‘Sweet Kate.’Here’s what the entire plant looked like this morning, where it flourishes beside our little front water feature:

And here’s a closer view so you can better appreciate her flowers:

The chartreuse foliage does a great job of accentuating the purple flowers.

My umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is blooming thirty feet up at the top of the tree, but I couldn’t get a shot of the open flower. I settled for a nearly open bud:

When fully leafed out, this plant does provide excellent shelter from sudden rain storms.

The fringe trees — both native and Chinese varieties — are at peak bloom right now. Here’s the top of the native tree:

And here’s a close view of part of the Chinese species:

The wetland at the edge of my property is still full of blooming Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and a few Atamasco lilies still bloom too. The spore-producing fronds of the Cinnamon Ferns that give them their common name are just beginning to fade, as you can see here:

The Red Buckeyes are still blooming, although some of the flower clusters are showing signs of seed production.

Abundant and terrifyingly vigorous poison ivy is everywhere. Here’s a stem showing flower buds about to open:

Makes me feel itchy just looking at the stuff, so I think I’ll close for now with the one deciduous azalea currently about to reach peak bloom in our north-facing garden: Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis.’ It’s already taller than me. In a few more years, this one in bloom will be so magnificent that it may stop traffic.

Despite the ups and downs of our temperatures, I am making progress in the vegetable garden. I’ll update you soon.

My advice to all this year: Walk outside as often as you can if you want to be sure you see every new blooming plant before it starts and finishes. Blink twice this year, and you’ve missed half the show.

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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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