Posts Tagged Red Buckeye

Flowers come and (mostly) gone

Halesia diptera flowers at peak bloom on April 2

Ah, what a wacky season it has been — and continues to be. A prime example is my exquisite Two-Winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera), which bloomed last year on April 15. This year, peak bloom was this past Monday, and now the blooms are mostly gone. Uncharacteristic heat, heavy downpours, and strong winds shortened this tree’s blooming season to the blink of an eye.

Here’s what the entire tree looked like from a distance:

See the whiteness on the ground beneath it? Those are flower petals, which were already rapidly falling, even though the flowers had barely opened. Here’s a closer look at the petals on the ground:

Floral snowfall

And because this wonderful tree’s season was so painfully short this year, I offer you one more photo. This one is what the top of the tree looked like as I stood beneath it:

This beauty is about 30 feet tall and fifteen feet wide.

At least I had the chance to photographically document this lovely native.

My huge Black Cherry tree bloomed two weeks earlier than last year. By the time I thought to try to photograph the flowers on April 2, they were already dropping, leaving tiny cherries in their place. I never tire of watching the birds — especially the Pileated Woodpeckers — devour this fruit when it ripens. Here’s what I saw on April 2 this year:

The Red Buckeye, on the other hand, was unimpressed by March’s early warmth. Last year, I wrote of its first blooms on March 30. This year, most blooms were open on April 2, and the tree continues to reign redly over my floodplain. Here’s a shot from this past Monday:

Red Buckeye flowers are supposed to call in the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, but I haven’t seen a single hummer yet at my house.

I’ll close with a few swamp shots. Those natives are well ahead of last year. The Cinnamon Ferns were displaying fully developed fruiting fonds last Monday when I took this shot:

Last year, I showed you a similar picture on April 20 — almost three full weeks later!

The Jack-in-the-Pulpits are also well ahead of last year. Here’s a shot of a green one with an Atamasco Lily bloom — another species blooming earlier:

And here are some equally precocious purple Jacks blooming lustily despite being surrounded by poison ivy and other swamp plants:

I’ll leave you with proof that I’m not the only one prowling my muddy floodplain these days:

Deer at the top, and maybe a healthy raccoon below?

I’ve got even more photos of plants whose flowers have already come and gone. Stay tuned for future installments. I guess the moral of the story is to wander through your yards and gardens as often as you can this time of year. If you linger indoors, the wonders of spring will most surely pass you by.

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Ruby Flowers for Ruby Throats

Red Buckeye Flowers

My Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is starting to bloom right on schedule. I took this photo yesterday during our brief sunny spell. This native understory tree common to moist forests and stream banks throughout the southeastern US Coastal Plain and lower Piedmont is one of the first red-flowering natives to bloom every spring.

I think of Red Buckeyes as the welcoming committee for returning Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. Their annual return to my region always coincides with the first blooms of Red Buckeyes and Eastern Columbines. In fact, I’ve got sugar water cooling on my counter. I’ll be filling and hanging my hummingbird feeder later today when the precipitation tapers off a bit.

I haven’t seen any hummers yet — the red-throated males always show up first to stake out their territories. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, probably tired and hungry from their migration flight from Central America. I’m betting I’ll see one or two precipitation-dampened beauties on the feeder soon after I put it out.

The Red Buckeye on my floodplain was not growing there when we moved in. I planted it about 15 years ago, knowing that this native would be happy in that spot, and that the hummingbirds would appreciate the early nectar supplied by its flowers. The tree usually tops out at between 20-25 feet and tends to be rather wide and low, almost shrubby.

What I didn’t count on was Red Buckeye’s talent for spreading itself around. Botanically speaking, the fruits are capsules, but a casual observer would call them nuts — or buckeyes, as you may have heard them called. All parts of this tree — leaves, flowers, and fruits — are highly poisonous. Ingestion can be fatal, so you may not want this tree in your yard if you have small children or dogs that like to nibble on plants. I suspect the toxicity of the fruits is responsible for this tree’s talent for planting itself far from the mother tree.

I’m finding seedlings all over my yard now, quite a distance from the original tree I planted, as I reported here. I suspect that squirrels know the fruit is poisonous, but they can’t overcome their instinct to bury nuts, so they transport the Red Buckeye fruits to all parts of my yard and bury them. The seeds sprout, and another tree is born. If they’re not in the way, I’m leaving them alone. But more and more now, I’m pulling them out.

I know from talking to the staff at the NC Botanical Garden that they no longer encourage folks to plant this native, because of its talent for spreading itself around. But I’m not planning on eradicating all of my Red Buckeyes. The early red tubular flowers are quite striking — as are the compound, palmately arranged leaves.

Most important for me, a mature tree covered in red flower clusters in early April is like a neon sign to returning hummingbirds: Good Eats Here — Open All Day.

And one can never have too many Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds.

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Volunteers aren’t always welcome

Yesterday morning, I was wandering around the deer-fence-enclosed north-facing slope side of my yard, where we’ve planted a number of well-adapted understory natives beneath a mature canopy of River Birches, Water Oak, Tulip Poplars, Sweet Gums, and a few Loblolly Pines in one corner.  Here’s an angle that shows you a triangular arrangement of three canopy members:

Some canopy residents on our north-facing slope

The tall tree in the foreground is a non-native Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) we planted about 18 years ago. It is a deciduous conifer native to China and deserves its own entry another day. The lovely tree on the right is a Water Oak (Quercus nigra). Higher up the slope and to the left is a mature Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Further back, you can see the green needles of a group of mature Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda).

What you can’t see very well right now are the dormant deciduous shrubs we’ve added beneath and around this trio. Several deciduous azaleas and viburnums are doing well in this spot, and some recently planted native blueberry species (Vaccinium spp.) are settling in nicely.

Beneath the Red Cedar are two Spicebushes (Lindera benzoin), the seeds of which must have been deposited by birds. I didn’t put them there. I thought Spicebushes needed more moisture than that hilltop offers, which is why I planted some on my floodplain. I guess the joke was on me, because the birds “planted” quite a few of these lovely shrubs all through the north hilltop, right down to the creek’s edge on that side. I love them (I told you why here); they aren’t interfering with anything where the birds put them; they are welcome to stay.

However, yesterday, I discovered another native volunteer near the Red Cedar: Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia). The seedling must have come from a nut planted by an industrious squirrel, because the mother tree I planted on the floodplain (its supposed preferred habitat) is about two hundred yards away and around the other side of the house from where this one popped up. Here’s the volunteer Red Buckeye, its new leaves freshly open to the spring air:

Red Buckeye seedling volunteer

Red Buckeye is a beautiful native understory tree that I planted on purpose — on the floodplain — mostly for its early red flower clusters, which provide a popular source of nectar for the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that arrive the first week of April. However, it matures into quite a bushy specimen that takes up a good 15-20-foot-wide space. And where this seedling appeared, that space is already reserved for the azaleas, viburnums, and native blueberries that I planted there first.

Thus, I’ll be pulling up this seedling and relegating it to the compost pile. Since I planted the mother tree on the floodplain about 15 years ago, I’ve learned that Red Buckeyes — although native to our region — can quite assertively spread their seedlings around via their poisonous nuts (called buckeyes).  I’ve decided to leave the mother tree on the floodplain alone, and if her seedlings in that area aren’t interfering with anything else, they can stay.

But my north-facing slope garden is reserved for special plants — plants that appreciate the cooler shade of the north-facing canopy trees — plants that reward me with a succession of exquisite blooms. I’ll show you what I mean as winter fully releases its hold on an eager spring.

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