Posts Tagged Seven-Son Flower
Signs multiply daily. Reddening leaves:
I first heard about it from the flock of American Robins that blew in about three weeks ago. As they stripped purple Pokeweed berries from magenta stems and gobbled elderberries, branches bent from their weight, they muttered among themselves: “Autumn’s on its way.”
Raucous cries of Pileated Woodpeckers echo through the forest as they argue with greedy robins and complain about magnolia cones ripening too slowly. A few mornings ago just after sunrise, three of these crow-sized woodpeckers called and flew in circles over my head for a minute or so. Two were chasing a third, making it clear that the interloper was not welcome.
And today, as Wonder Spouse and I walked beside the creek, we startled Wild Turkeys on the other side. They squawked once, then ran silently to the blackberry thicket, where they disappeared amid its prickly greenness.
We were down by the creek so that Wonder Spouse could photograph this beauty for me:
Our wonderfully wet, mild summer made our two Franklin Trees very happy. Both grew several feet higher, and the mature specimen produced more flower buds than I have ever seen before. Spent snowy blossoms littered the ground beneath it, still faintly emitting their gentle rose-like scent. I held down the branch, so that Wonder Spouse could take the shot. You can see its close kinship to camellias by the form of its breath-taking bloom. The leaves of our smaller tree are already sporting garnet hues. But the flower-producing tree remains green-leaved.
Every time I think the record numbers of swallowtail butterflies are waning, another wave of fresh-winged beauties descends on every bloom in the yard. The Chinese Abelia still plays host to dozens, even though its sweet white flower clusters are beginning to diminish, but that’s OK, because the Seven-Son Flower Tree is in full, fragrant bloom, attracting every pollinator in the neighborhood, from butterflies to bumblebees, mason bees, and hawk moths. I cannot use my front walk without getting bumped into by a floating winged beauty.
The abundance of butterflies has been a bonanza for predators as well. Myriad dragonflies pick off the lazy flutterers in mid-air, scattering severed wings of gold and black along the walk.
And the most certain early sign of autumn abounds: spider webs. As fast as I knock one down walking anywhere in my yard, the industrious weavers rebuild. A particularly clever female Writing Spider has declared her domain over the water feature in our front garden. The abundant blooming spires of Cardinal Flowers are irresistible to butterflies, and this fattening weaver is taking full advantage of that fact, even bending the top of one spire to anchor her web.
Yesterday, I saw her trap and devour at least two large butterflies. Today, she seems to have doubled in size.
Perhaps in response to her rapid growth, today a male Writing Spider has built a modest web adjacent to this queen, even using a corner of her web as an anchor. Much smaller than the female he lusts for, he will wait for just the right moment to woo her. It won’t be long, I predict. Usually the females deposit their egg sacs in thick, winter-proof webs well before the leaves begin to fall in earnest.
Cricket songs now rule nights and mornings, replacing the steady thrum of summer cicadas. Occasional cold fronts rush in behind lines of thunderstorms, freshening our air for a day or two before summer reasserts itself, cloaked in humidity.
Autumn will dominate soon enough, that we know for sure. For now, we can revel in the transitions, as plants and animals shift from growth to fruit to sleep.
It’s a transitional time of year for many people too. Schools start, and birthdays occur in bunches, as those born under the sign of Virgo celebrate another dance around the sun. I send best birthday wishes to all my Virgo kin and friends, and most especially to my favorite nephew, AJR, who celebrates what many consider a milestone moment tomorrow. Happy Birthday, sir. May your journey lead you everywhere you want to go.
I count myself lucky to be gardening in the Piedmont region of North Carolina this year. Sure, it’s still hot, but the unrelenting 100+-degree temperatures have backed down to the unrelenting low 90s. And although most of the good thunderstorm rains are still bypassing my yard, the air is soupy, sticky with humidity. The dregs of summer are here.
Signs are clear in the vegetable garden too. All tomato varieties are losing lower leaves to climbing fungal attacks, yet still their tops soldier on, producing enough ripe fruits to share with friends. The peppers are ripening well, but fruit worms are boring into the nearly ripe fruits, ruining some completely, rendering others only partly edible. Such are the usual late summer consequences of gardening without toxic chemical weapons of mass destruction.
Although the few rain showers that deigned to stop at my house have not brought enough water to help my stagnant creek and pond, the drops that fell were sufficient to revive the flowers. The giant Chinese Abelia that resides beside my vegetable garden had almost stopped blooming — much earlier than in previous years. But the recent rains persuaded it to reopen for business; now clouds of swallowtails, other butterflies, day-flying sphinx moths, and myriad bees animate the bush with drifting flows of color from dawn to dusk.
The Seven-Son Flower Tree is equally popular with the pollinators. Heavy perfume from these small flowers hangs in sticky morning air, an invisible entity waiting to envelop unsuspecting passersby with fragrance.
Without question, butterfly and dragonfly populations are at all-time seasonal highs in my yard. The butterflies literally bump into me as I walk from my front door to the garden, so intent are they on finding the next tasty blossom. Dragonflies in metallic shades of blue, green, amber, and red zip through the skies, grabbing insects on the fly. When I try to photograph them, they seem to grow interested in me, following me short distances before returning to sky patrol.
Wonder Spouse was out in the yard yesterday trying to photograph a few of the sky dragons. Check out these shots.
A final sign of summer’s waning is the arrival — in abundance — of Writing Spiders. Last year, I showed you the large Black and Yellow Garden Spider that set up shop among the plants I grow in pots that sit within my front yard water feature. This year, instead of one large spider residing over this space, seven smaller Writing Spiders have overtaken this area. Perhaps they are the offspring of last year’s large spider, or perhaps word leaked out into the spider community that this locale was ideal for their purposes.
However they came to find this spot, it is quite wonderful to see seven webs strung between sedge leaves and cardinal flower stalks, the characteristic spider writing prominent in their centers, along with seven growing black and yellow weavers waiting for unwary prey to stumble into their sticky traps.
Here’s to the waning of summer stickiness, the rise of sky dragons and butterflies, and the hope that the perfume of late-blooming blossoms will soon summon autumn’s kiss.
Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) is a native small tree of China. From what I read today, it is rare in China, and actually more common in the United States, thanks to a horticulture industry with an eye for gorgeous plants.
The common name derives from the number of white flowers in a cluster (panicle), namely seven. These pure white flowers are small individually, but visually impressive in their clusters, and even more impressive in their fragrance. The sweet perfume of this tree in bloom dominates the humid air common to August mornings in my garden.
But the white flowers that bloom from August through mid-September are only part of the story of this small tree. After the flowers finish, the pink-to-mauve sepals elongate to produce a prolonged show of their own. You can just see them beginning to extend themselves in the photo above, which was taken in early August. Here’s what they looked like during the first week of September:
The sepals are actually showier than the white flowers — but without the fragrance. I’m not the only one who thinks the pink clusters look like flowers. The hummingbirds still lingering in my garden test these clusters regularly, convinced that any plant this red should hold tasty nectar. They may find a bit. As you can see, a few white flowers are still mixing in with the sepal display.
Heptacodiums are predicted to attain a height of no more than 25 feet in the United States. Mine is about fifteen feet tall, and has been growing for about ten years now. It is perfect for the small-scale landscapes common to houses with minimal yards. I planted mine beside my purple-leaved Loropetalums along my front walk, where it receives much admiration from visitors.
The sepals last until hard frost, which in my area is usually late October to early November. That’s what I call a winning landscape plant. But wait — there’s more!
I haven’t told you about my favorite part of this tree — its exfoliating bark. I am a sucker for landscape trees with peeling bark. I have quite a collection of different species that display about every permutation of color and peel characteristics that you might imagine.
The references I consulted describe the exfoliating bark as gray-brown. That is not how I’d describe the bark on my tree. The exfoliating bark on my Heptacodium is nearly white. It practically glows in the shadows cast by the Loropetalums. Winter is when you get the full effect of this gorgeous bark. That’s my tree on the right side of this photo that features the blooms of one of the Loropetalums that I wrote about last April. I guess I’d call the color of the bark grayish-white.
Whatever color you call it, I think you’ll agree is is eye-catching. The bright green leaves do not turn beautifully in the fall, but I don’t mind, because the mauve sepals persist through most of our fall color season anyway. I call any plant that provides so much visual interest and fragrance a sure-fire landscape winner. If you try one in your yard, I think you’ll agree.