Posts Tagged Pinckneya pubens

Losses — and Wins!

Victim of an overflowing creek

Victim of an overflowing creek

My apologies for the somewhat fuzzy pictures. I ventured out early the day after the very frightening wind storm that damaged many areas of my state last week. The Slippery Elm above was actually a casualty of the previous week’s weather. Just 40 or so miles to my east, adjacent counties received 7 inches of rain in 48 hours. We only got about four, and that was a very good thing.

During the prolonged rain event, the creek adjacent to our property overflowed onto our floodplain in numerous spots. This is the first time that has happened in several years. Chronic drought conditions have been a way of life far too long around here. Not this year, at least, not so far. In fact, for the first time in very many years, the National Drought Monitor folks report that my entire State of North Carolina is not in any kind of drought; no county is even listed as abnormally dry. My wetlands are actually wet!

But late last week, a frontal boundary packing hurricane-force winds slammed into my area. The damage was done in about a half hour, but, my goodness, what a wild half hour that was. I did not know that my great canopy trees — all 70 feet or taller — could bend nearly in half without breaking, but most of them did just that. To my east, rain-soaked ground weakened tree roots too much. The winds brought down many trees — large and small. Power outages there lasted a couple of days. At my house, it was a couple of hours, and not related to any damage on our property.

But that doesn’t mean we got off completely. In addition to the flood-downed tree above, a number of large branches from canopy trees were ripped and twisted off and plunged into the ground. Collateral damage was not too severe. But Wonder Spouse and I are more than a bit stiff today after a long weekend of chain-sawing, raking, and hauling of many loads of debris to the brush piles.

Friday morning, while the sun was not yet high and the plants were all wet from the rains the winds carried, I ventured out to survey the damage. First stop: the vegetable garden.

pine with squash

I’m happy to report that all the vegetables were undamaged. Bits of tree litter — leaves and branches — were lying about here and there, as you can see with the squash plant above, but nothing problematic.

Rain drops clung to every leaf, and I was especially struck by how lovely the Bronze Fennel (now taller than me) looked as the rising sun made it sparkle.

Beets and carrots flourish in front of this Bronze Fennel.

Beets and carrots flourish in front of this Bronze Fennel.

Reassured that all was well with the vegetables, I headed down to the floodplain to survey the damage there. Mostly, I saw small bits of branches and leaves littering the ground, but here and there, bigger branches blocked my way. A 15-foot-long branch of a Green Ash partially covered a native viburnum, but the viburnum turned out to be more crushed than broken, so I think it will bounce back. The Ash branch could have easily wiped out some nearby bird feeders, but didn’t. I moved on to survey the flood-toppled Elm.

The other side of the fallen Slippery Elm.

The other side of the fallen Slippery Elm.

The roots of this Slippery Elm were actually still in the ground, but you can’t pull upright a 60-foot tree, so Wonder Spouse sawed it into bits this past weekend. That task was made more challenging by the vigorous growth of massive poison ivy vines circling the trunk from its base to its top. Seriously, about half of the leaves at the lower end that you see here are actually leaves of poison ivy. Yikes!

To the right of the trunk is our Poinsettia Tree (Pinckneya pubens). We were very lucky that the Elm fell beside — and not on top of — this little native tree. It is blooming now, but not as much as it has in previous years. I think perhaps the dense growth of poison ivy on the adjacent Elm was  inhibiting flower formation. Now that the Elm is gone, this little tree has much less competition for light. I’m hoping it will respond next year with many more flowers — a win to compensate for the lost Elm.

An aging, large Red Maple grows at the edge of the swamp where Atamasco lilies, Jack-in-the-pulpits, and Cinnamon Ferns flourish. It has been looking less vigorous for a few years now, and the strong winds took advantage of this, ripping off several sizable branches.

maple branches

These branches didn’t crush anything of significance, and they’re not in the way. We’ll get to them when the mud becomes a bit less squishy.

The worst damage was on the north side of the yard, where a large Tulip Poplar and an even larger Sweet Gum lost several branches about twenty feet long. We think the Tulip Poplar was vulnerable because it had recently absorbed a great deal of water from the previous week’s rains, and because every branch was weighed down by heavy conical seed heads. The extra weight and 50+ mph winds were just too much for the Tulip Poplar.

One of several Tulip Poplar branches.

One of several Tulip Poplar branches.

One branch fell on top of our native Fringe Tree. The tree didn’t break, but one of its branches appeared to be permanently contorted, so Wonder Spouse removed it. We’re hoping the rest of the tree will recover.

Also on the north side, our 90-foot, double-boled Sweet Gum lost a few branches, one of which fell partially on a lovely blooming native hydrangea:

Only a few small branches of the hydrangea required surgery.

Only a few small branches of the hydrangea required surgery.

The leaves and bits of branches strewn everywhere made for interesting discoveries, such as the contrast between these Tulip Poplar leaves plastered by rain to our front deck:

Shade leaves versus canopy-top leaves.

Shade leaves versus canopy-top leaves.

Close examination of any deciduous tree in my area will reveal enormous leaves on the lower branches of large trees, while leaves higher up are much smaller. The big ones down low are shade leaves, so-called because they dwell in near-constant shade, while the small ones higher up receive direct sun. To compensate for reduced light, shade leaves increase their surface area, thereby maximizing their ability to capture sunlight for photosynthesis.

The rains and winds have definitely created more unexpected work for me and Wonder Spouse, but the up side to abundant water is visible everywhere I turn. I’ll close with a few examples of current wins.

Evergreen kousa dogwood weighed down by blossoms.

Evergreen kousa dogwood weighed down by blossoms.

Evergreen kousa dogwood blossoms crowding out the leaves.

Evergreen kousa dogwood blossoms crowding out the leaves.

Daylily 'Kindly Light'

Daylily ‘Kindly Light’

Daylily 'Winsome Lady'

Daylily ‘Winsome Lady’

Daylily 'Brocaded Gown'

Daylily ‘Brocaded Gown’


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Piedmont Poinsettias in June?

Pinckneya pubens flowers

When you look at the flowers closely, you can see why one of this rare southeastern native tree’s common names is Poinsettia Tree. The showy sepals, which can range in color from white to pink to deep rose, do remind one of the showy bracts of Christmas poinsettias.  But this tree is not related to poinsettias; it’s actually a cousin of another of my favorite summer-blooming shrubs — Buttonbush, which I’ll feature when it blooms.

Pinckneya pubens (formerly P. bracteata) is native to swamp and creek edges of southern Georgia and northern Florida, with a few occurrences noted in the southern tip of South Carolina. Obviously, it’s not quite a southeastern Piedmont native. However, I’d seen this species growing in a couple of local botanical gardens, and I was intrigued by the showy, long-lasting sepals that give this tree a blooming presence when few other trees (except Southern Magnolias) are flowering. When I researched its native habitat, I realized my yard’s creek edge on the floodplain that flows into a wetland was probably as close to ideal growing conditions as it was likely to find.

I was right. My tree is about fifteen years old now, and it’s about 15 feet tall. It’s been blooming reliably for a number of years. As you can see in the close-up above, my tree’s sepals are pink-tinged white. You can actually buy named cultivars of this species that are guaranteed to give you the color you want. I went with a seed-grown specimen, and its color suits me fine. In fact, the lighter tint of the sepals probably helps them stand out in the shade provided by tall sycamores and maples nearby.  My tree grows right on the edge of the creek; when the creek floods, this tree is surrounded by fast-moving water, which, if anything, just makes it grow taller.

I’ve read that cold temperatures (around zero degrees Fahrenheit) will kill the tree to the ground, but it usually will resprout from the roots. So far, mine has flourished, despite some pretty cold temperatures, including prolonged ice storms.

The seeds of this tree are contained in big roundish brown capsules that provide visual interest to the winter landscape. Here’s a shot that shows flowers, leaves, and the previous year’s seed capsules:

Poinsettia Tree flowers, leaves, and seed capsules

Other common names for this species are Fevertree and Georgia Bark. These names refer to the fact that the inner bark was used long ago to treat malaria and other fevers.

I’ve read that Pinckneya won’t thrive in heavy wet clay. It wants sandier wet soils, which is what my creek edge provides. If you’ve got a similar wet spot in your yard that’s protected by high shade, you might want to give this southeast native a try. It’s a great conversation starter when you’re walking folks around the yard. After all, you generally don’t see what looks like a 15-foot tall poinsettia blooming in June in the southeastern Piedmont.

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