Posts Tagged Southern Magnolia

Magnolia Season

Ashe Magnolia beginnings and endings

Ashe Magnolia beginnings and endings

I freely admit that I think our native deciduous magnolias are very special trees. Yes, I love the drama of our evergreen Southern Magnolias as much as the next person, but the big-leaved deciduous magnolias provide even higher theater for those willing to accommodate their needs.

Ashe Magnolia bud

Ashe Magnolia bud unfurling

I took all these pictures of my Ashe Magnolia today. This relatively small, somewhat lop-sided tree blooms for weeks — blooms on top of blooms, as you can see from the first photo. And the blooms are enormous, as are its leaves. As soon as the buds begin to open, the flower’s perfume scents the air. I can’t imagine a blooming tree with more wow factor than Ashe Magnolia.

Fading Ashe Magnolia flower

Fading Ashe Magnolia flower

As the flowers fade, piles of spent stamens collect on the petals. And, oh yes, the perfume still sings.

Nearly done Ashe Magnolia flower

Nearly done Ashe Magnolia flower

As the seed cone grows, ivory petals turn parchment brown, eventually falling to the ground, stamens tumbling after.

I sited my thriving Ashe Magnolia on the north-facing side of my yard inside a deer-fenced area beneath tall canopy trees that give it ample shade. It likes soil moisture, so I planted it on the bottom of the slope. After pampering it for a year, I’ve done nothing except admire this amazing tree. Late freezes have knocked it back several times, but it just resprouts and continues to bloom more spectacularly every year. Oh, how I love this tree!

Bigleaf Magnolia bud

Bigleaf Magnolia bud

But wait — there’s more big-leafed news. My Magnolia macrophylla, Bigleaf Magnolia, is about to explode into bloom even as its smaller cousin, Ashe Magnolia, continues its display. Our Bigleaf Magnolia is now about 25 feet tall, and the flower buds are way over my head, so forgive me for these less-than-optimal photos. However, you do get a sense of the scale of the leaves of this mighty Magnolia, and the size of the buds relative to the leaves. These leaves grow longer than the length of my arm every year, providing a somewhat tropical look to my landscape.

Another Bigleaf flower

Another Bigleaf flower

I can see at least 15 flower buds on the Bigleaf Magnolia, and I suspect there are more too high for me to easily see. The flowers are opening quickly, thanks to the onset of our summer heat. I don’t think they’ll last long, given that we haven’t had a decent rain in four weeks. But for now, I will stand beneath this growing beauty admiring the blossoms and leaves, and inhaling the fragrance. Aroma therapy at its best.

Southern Magnolia flowers just beginning to pop open.

Southern Magnolia flowers just beginning to pop open.

Not to be outdone by her deciduous big-leaved sisters, my Southern Magnolia is about to explode into her own floral display. My tree is 50 feet tall, and I don’t even want to try to count how many flower buds it has. For certain, as our air humidifies and heats up later this week, I know every sultry morning will be heavy with the perfume of her blooms. Flowers of Southern Magnolia are not as large as those of her deciduous sisters, but she produces more petals per bloom, creating her own kind of floral drama. As the flowers open, this tree will hum with day-long visits from my neighbor’s honeybees.

Southern Magnolia and her big-leaved sisters signal Summer's arrival.

Southern Magnolia and her big-leaved sisters signal Summer’s arrival.

Here’s hoping your Memorial Day holiday is as sweet as mine promises to be.

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A Farewell to Flowers

Final moments in the sun for these nasturtiums

Final moments in the sun for these nasturtiums.

It was inevitable, of course, the prediction of our first freezing temperatures. They’ll actually arrive a bit behind the average date this year. By next Sunday morning, the weather forecasters are calling for temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. At my house, that will likely translate to the upper 20s — more than cold enough to kill the still-blooming flowers in my yard.

As has been their habit in recent years, the nasturtiums in my vegetable garden have staged a takeover, covering the beds that once held summer vegetables.

These will be nasturtium mush after Sunday morning's freeze.

These will be nasturtium mush after Sunday morning’s freeze.

Pretty much any flower still blooming — from salvias to coral honeysuckle to abelias, verbenas, lemon basil, and Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’ — will be killed by the upcoming freeze. The bees know it’s coming. They work frantically on my salvias and other flowers from the time the air warms up enough for flight until full dark.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to protect my deliciously productive lettuce bed through this first bout of cold.

Fresh salad season in late October, oh yeah!

Fresh salad season in late October, oh yeah!

I didn’t manage to start my own seed for the fall lettuce, but I found starts of two of my favorite varieties at my local farmers’ co-op.

Leaves of Red Sails are so tender that you barely need to chew.

Leaves of Red Sails are so tender that you barely need to chew.

The green romaine is juicy and vibrantly flavorful.

The green romaine is juicy and vibrantly flavorful.

I also planted some Premium Crop broccoli. It is growing well, but is just starting to create flower heads. I’m hoping the Reemay cover over it will allow it to grow to harvestable size before cold weather settles in for the season.

The weather forecasters have been talking about the upcoming freeze for about two weeks, so I knew it was time for winterizing our front water feature and moving the potted plants from their summer home beneath the towering Southern Magnolia to the greenhouse.

Wonder Spouse kindly helped me with both tasks. Those pots are heavy — especially the waterlogged ones that sit inside my water feature all summer.

Drained and cleaned for winter.

Drained and cleaned for winter.

We relocated two Green Frogs who were summering in the water feature. We end up relocating amphibians every year at this time. We carry them down to the permanent pond on our floodplain. It was quite warm when we moved them, and they were very energetic, so we’re hopeful that they found a spot on the muddy bottom to sleep through winter’s cold.

Potted plants are all relocated into the greenhouse for the winter.

Potted plants are all relocated into the greenhouse for the winter.

After pulling out all the sprouting weeds in the pots, cutting off dead bits, and generally sprucing up the plants, we found good spots in the greenhouse for all the potted plants. The heater in the middle of the above shot keeps the greenhouse from going below 45 degrees — except for power outages and prolonged bouts of low temperatures. Most years, the little heater is enough to keep all the plants healthy.

Pots of plants that normally sit inside the water feature sit in water-filled saucers in the greenhouse for the winter.

Pots of plants that normally sit inside the water feature sit in water-filled saucers in the greenhouse for the winter.

Even the carnivorous pitcher plants seem to over-winter well in the greenhouse, as long as I keep their saucers full of water.

Even the carnivorous pitcher plants seem to over-winter well in the greenhouse, as long as I keep their saucers full of water.

The annual Changing of the Lizards occurred about three weeks ago. All summer long, the skinks own the front deck, basking in the sun, and scurrying into the flowers when I approach. But every fall, the skinks vanish and the anoles return. I think the anoles summer in the trees and shrubs, but every fall, they return to the west-facing front of my house, where winter sun warms the front wall all season. We often spot them hiding behind the drainspouts, or wedged beneath the overlapping boards of the house’s siding. This year, I decided to create a spot where they could soak up sun more comfortably.

I call it their Lizard Palace.

I call it their Lizard Palace.

I took some flat stones from a bed we dismantled, and stacked them so that small spaces — just large enough for lizards — remain between the layers. The structure is in a flowerbed beside the front wall of our house, where it should receive plenty of winter sun all season. I’m hoping that the sun will heat up the rocks enough to encourage the cold-blooded anoles to come soak up the warmth. I’ve already spotted some of them on the structure on cooler days, so I’m hopeful that the Lizard Palace will be a popular option for them as we progress into winter.

I’ve started keeping the bird feeders well-stocked, but they’re not getting much attention these days. I think most of the trees and shrubs in my yard produced abundant fruit this year, and the birds are taking full advantage of that fact — which is wonderful! The massive Southern Red Oak at the top of my hill produced zillions of small acorns this year. The Blue Jays and larger woodpeckers spend most daylight hours dining on these nuts.

And the great Southern Magnolia in our front garden is absolutely loaded with cones extruding scarlet seeds on thin filaments. These dangling fruits must truly be delicious, because every warbler, robin, woodpecker, etc. animates this tree until full dark. I find myself looking for excuses to linger nearby, so that I can watch the feathered folk engage in circus-worthy acrobatics as they vie for tasty magnolia treasures.

Looking like Christmas ornaments, the laden Magnolia cones signal wildlife that autumn's days are numbered.

Looking like Christmas ornaments, the laden Magnolia cones signal wildlife that autumn’s days are numbered.

Have you tucked in your outdoor potted plants and other cold-sensitive items in your yard yet? If not, make haste. Our first taste of wintry air is almost here.

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Currently blooming trees and shrubs

Ka-bloom!

Ka-bloom!

The first heat wave of our not-yet-officially-summer season is well underway, alas. And the thunderstorms that doused many neighborhoods near me missed my house. Entirely. As in, no rain. At all.

Wonder Spouse and I are doling out water carefully to the vegetables and a few tender transplants, but otherwise, all we can do is hunker down in the shade and pray for rain.

So far, the veggies are doing great, and I’ll provide updates soon. But today I wanted to share with my fellow piedmonters a few of the shrubs and trees that you can grow to continue your spring bloom period in your landscape well into summer.

First up is that lovely flower known to all southerners — Southern Magnolia. Technically, it’s native to more southern parts of the US, but it thrives here.

My 50-foot specimen has been blooming for several weeks, and continues to perfume the heavy near-summer air every morning as the Yellow-billed Cuckoo tries to call the rain with its “kowp-kowp-kowp” call. The fragrance is especially intoxicating in the evening as fireflies flicker among the trees and Eastern Whip-poor-wills call repeatedly from a clearing on the other side of our creek.

On the floodplain, the Poinsettia Tree (also called Fever Tree) is displaying its flower-like, showy bracts.

From a distance, the pale bracts are not as obvious, but I wanted you to see how well it has grown.

From a distance, the pale bracts are not as obvious, but I wanted you to see how well it has grown.

The showy bracts are evident when the tree is viewed more closely:

This tree is native to SC, but technically not in NC. I've sited mine well, and it has responded accordingly.

This tree is native to SC, but technically not in NC. I’ve sited mine well, and it has responded accordingly.

My native Oakleaf Hydrangeas are almost in full flower now. I grow “Peewee,” which is supposed to remain no taller than four feet. I’m not sure mine know that.

The leaves of this hydrangea really do resemble oak leaves, and their fall garnet color makes this shrub gorgeous year-round.

The leaves of this hydrangea really do resemble oak leaves, and their fall garnet color makes this shrub gorgeous year-round.

Flower clusters on the Oakleaf Hydrangeas are about the size of a volley ball.

So pretty, and they dry beautifully to a soft tan color that looks lovely in autumn dried flower arrangements.

So pretty, and they dry beautifully to a soft tan color that looks lovely in autumn dried flower arrangements.

A non-native shrub that is favored by bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds is my pink abelia. I’ve forgotten the variety name, but this shrub blooms for at least six weeks. The flowers are fragrant, especially first thing in the morning.

This non-native shrub withstands any kind of pruning --or none at all.

This non-native abelia withstands any kind of pruning –or none at all.

The heat has made my non-native Chindo viburnums bloom faster than I like, but they’re still putting out flowers. I have two specimens growing side by side. These non-native, evergreen shrubs (really small trees) are at least 15 feet tall, probably more like 20 feet. Their flower clusters routinely attract an astonishing diversity of pollinators, and the shiny evergreen leaves look handsome year round.

To get the entire shrubs in the photo, I had to step pretty far away from them.

To get the entire shrubs in the photo, I had to step pretty far away from them.

Chindo viburnum flower cluster

Chindo viburnum flower cluster

The native Sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum) are just starting to open their graceful flower clusters. This four-season understory native should be part of every piedmonter’s landscape.

Sourwood flowers are beloved by bees -- another reason to include this native in your yard.

Sourwood flowers are beloved by bees — another reason to include this native in your yard.

A native that is just finishing its bloom period is Elderberry. You can see this shrubby tree growing in almost any wet spot in the landscape. Mine line the creek that borders our property, providing food for wildlife.

Elderberry bloom

Elderberry bloom

Cotinus x 'Grace'

Cotinus x ‘Grace’

The Smoketree (Cotinus x ‘Grace’) in my yard is a cross between a European species and a North American native, and now that it’s grown to a height of about 25 feet, it takes my breath away every year. It does look a bit like smoke, doesn’t it — or pink cotton candy perhaps? Technically, those are not the flowers. The flower clusters are relatively inconspicuous. Its the seed clusters that steal the show with this tree.

It really is pink, and if planted as an understory tree, where it remains shaded, Grace's leaves remain a deep purple-green all summer -- a lovely contrast to the pink seed heads that often persist for as long as a month.

It really is pink, and if planted as an understory tree, where it remains shaded, Grace’s leaves remain a deep purple-green all summer — a lovely contrast to the pink seed heads that often persist for as long as a month.

Those are not all the woody plants currently blooming in my yard, but it’s a fair sample. I’ll share more another time.

In my part of the southeastern piedmont, there’s really no reason you can’t have blooming plants in your landscape year-round. Every piedmonter with a yard should take advantage of this fortunate fact to enhance their landscapes with perpetual color and fragrance.

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Preparations

Winterized water feature

Winterized water feature.

Pardon my silence, loyal readers. It’s that time of year, when freeze warnings pop up for my region, and Wonder Spouse and I must scramble to prepare our yard and gardens for their winter sleep.

First up last weekend was the water feature in our front garden. It was full of murky greenish water. We knew we’d need to catch and relocate the two Green Frogs who lived there most of the summer, but we were surprised to find that about 50 or so tadpoles were still alive and well and not yet ready for metamorphosis. Some had sprouted back legs, but most were still fully tadpole in form. We spent over an hour painstakingly scooping up tadpoles as the pond drained to reveal their hiding spots. I have no idea what species of tadpoles we moved, but they seemed to be at least two different sizes, colors, and shapes.

Frogs and tadpoles were relocated temporarily to a bucket filled with pond water. When we were sure we had all of them, Wonder Spouse carried them down to a small pond on our floodplain, where he gently poured them out. We know it’s tricky for them to make their way into territory already claimed by other amphibians, but we figured at least this way they have some chance to survive.

They can’t stay in the water feature all winter. If we happen to have one of our colder winters, the water would freeze throughout, cracking the pond, and killing anything trying to overwinter in it. When Spring warms the air, we are always surprised at how quickly frogs and toads find the newly re-filled water feature. It is a favored courting and egg-laying spot in our yard, probably because it is more protected from predators than the pond or creek on the floodplain. Nothing says spring like a raucous nighttime serenade by amorous amphibians.

Reptiles in our yard move themselves to their winter homes. Many seem to prepare for winter hibernation by shedding their skins. We found several two-foot-plus-long recently shed skins from our resident Black Racers. One lives in the rock wall holding up the beds around my greenhouse. Another lives somewhere beneath our front deck, and I know several others nest somewhere on or near the floodplain. I encounter them on patrols every few weeks during the warm months.

Suddenly visible in great numbers again are the Green Anoles. About a dozen of these color-changing lizards spent last winter living around the west-facing front of our house and the south-facing wall of our garage. They dispersed when the weather warmed. I’d occasionally meet one hunting among my flowers or vegetables, but otherwise, they seemed to have disappeared. But now, my goodness, they are not only back, they have multiplied.

A number of them seem to also be shedding summer skins, as you can see here on this one I spotted on the corner of the garage:

It took me a minute to realize why this lizard looked so odd.

It took me a minute to realize why this lizard looked so odd.

Another anole seemed interested in the shedding process of his garage-mate.

Another anole seemed interested in the shedding process of his garage-mate.

At least a dozen anoles have reappeared along the west-facing entry to our house. We now must check our screen doors before opening inner doors, lest a dozing anole drop into the house. A recently acquired pot of chrysanthemums by the front entry has been adopted as a favorite resting spot.

Insects attracted to the flowers are likely providing handy snacks for this clever reptile.

Insects attracted to the flowers are likely providing handy snacks for this clever reptile.

Every warm sunny afternoon, they emerge from their hiding spots to catch a few rays.

On the kitchen window screen

On the kitchen window screen.

Checking out the electric meter

Checking out the electric meter.

This year, I’ve spotted a least three anoles enjoying our back deck, which faces south and is protected from west winds. They even seem to be enjoying our deck chairs.

The metal arm of this chair warms in afternoon sunlight.

The metal arm of this chair warms in afternoon sunlight.

Sometimes, they join the squirrels in watching the humans indoors:

What are YOU looking at?

What are YOU looking at?

Of course, freeze warnings mean it’s time to relocate all summering potted plants to their winter quarters in the greenhouse. The pitcher plants and sedges that live in pots inside the water feature all summer get moved into individual trays that hold water. I refill them regularly, so that their favored moisture levels are maintained.

Pond plants don't mind the transition as long as I maintain their moisture levels.

Pond plants don’t mind the transition as long as I maintain their moisture levels.

All the potted plants that spend their summer beneath the shelter of the Southern Magnolia also move into the greenhouse, along with pots of still-flowering annuals on the back deck. By the time we move in the deck plants later today, the greenhouse will be very full.

It'll be a full house after I move in the deck plants later today.

It’ll be a full house after I move in the deck plants later today.

A packed greenhouse is actually better for the plants. Humidity levels are easier to maintain, and any insects or other critters who succeeded in hitching rides on the plants don’t usually cause much trouble. One year, a Cope’s Gray Treefrog snuck in for the winter. He just dozed quietly through the cold months until I moved him and his pot back outside the following spring. I keep my greenhouse cool all winter, so that plants mostly sleep but don’t freeze.

The plants growing on our five acres don’t need any help from me to prepare for winter. The Tulip Poplars have already dropped most of their leaves. Berries on the native dogwoods are almost gone, thanks to flocks of marauding American Robins and hungry Pileated Woodpeckers. They have moved on to the Southern Magnolia. Most of its seed cones are open now, revealing tasty red fruits coveted by wildlife of all kinds. I can lose an hour quickly this time of year just watching birds and other critters argue over magnolia fruits.

Scarlet fruits of the Southern Magnolia are irresistible to wildlife.

Scarlet fruits of the Southern Magnolia are irresistible to wildlife.

Fall color grows more glorious daily, of course. I’ll show you some examples soon. Right now, I’ve got to get the potted plants on the back deck tucked into the greenhouse. The weather seers are calling for a freeze tomorrow night. At my house, that likely means lows in the mid-twenties. Time to break out the extra blanket for the bed, find my cozy winter slippers, and wait for next season’s seed catalogs to start filling my mailbox.

The Pineapple Sages are always in full bloom when the first freeze hits them. But the hummingbirds and I appreciate every scarlet blossom before it is browned by ice.

The Pineapple Sages are always in full bloom when the first freeze hits them. But departing hummingbirds and I appreciate every scarlet blossom before it is browned by ice.

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Transitions

Signs multiply daily. Reddening leaves:

Cornus florida

Cornus florida

Virginia Creeper vine

Virginia Creeper vine

Fruits swelling.

Big-leaf Magnolia cone

Bigleaf Magnolia cone

Carmen Bull's Horn Italian Peppers and some yellow Italian heirlooms

Carmen Bull’s Horn Italian Peppers and some yellow Italian heirlooms

Cornus kousa fruits will redden soon.

Cornus kousa fruits will redden soon.

Halesia diptera fruits dangle from every branch.

Halesia diptera fruits dangle from every branch.

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.”

Pokeweed berries

Pokeweed berries

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.

Umbrella Magnolia cone

Umbrella Magnolia cone

Southern Magnolia cone

Southern Magnolia cone

Ash Magnolia cone

Ashe Magnolia cone

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:

Franklinia alatamaha

Franklinia alatamaha

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.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Seven Sons Tree.

An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoys the Seven Sons Flower Tree.

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.

The direction of the bend points to the fat weaver's sticky trap.

The direction of the bend points to the fat weaver’s sticky trap.

Yesterday, I saw her trap and devour at least two large butterflies. Today, she seems to have doubled in size.

Female Writing Spider awaits her next victim.

Female Writing Spider awaits her next victim.

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.

Male Writing Spider. Note the smaller zigzag woven into his web. That's mist from the water feature on the right side of the photo.

Male Writing Spider. Note the smaller zigzag woven into his web. That’s mist from the water feature on the right side of the photo.

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.

Happy Birthday, Virgos!

Happy Birthday, Virgos!

 

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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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Refugee Refuge

Ripe Southern Magnolia Seed Cone

The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) in our front yard is about 40 feet tall. It was there when we moved in 23 years ago, growing taller and wider all the time. In May, the heady perfume of paper-white blossoms beckons bees from miles around. The tree hums, fertilized flowers drop browned petals, leaving fattening seed cones to ripen. In late October, the seed cones open to dangle scarlet fruits on gossamer threads. And then the fun begins.

Just as potent a signal as the spring fragrance of the flowers are the gaudy fruits that adorn this tree in fall. Every fruit-loving animal in the neighborhood stops by when the plump red fruits are ready. Squirrels, possums, and raccoons all take their share, but many of the cones dangle at the end of branch tips too thin for mammals. These cones are for the birds.

Dangling from the ends of most branch tips, ripe cones beckon the winged ones.

Tufted Titmice and Chickadees chatter constantly as they cavort from cone to cone. They are often joined by warblers in dull winter plumage, making them harder to identify as they flit in the shadows cast by the Magnolia’s thick evergreen leaves. Woodpeckers — Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and the most raucous of all, Pileated Woodpeckers all stop by often, feasting messily on the Magnolia’s abundance.

The ground beneath the Magnolia is littered with fallen cones and dropped fruits.

When the Blue Jays want in on the action, they loudly imitate the call of the Red-Shouldered Hawk. Not wishing to take chances, the little birds all fly to deeper cover, giving the crow-sized jays easy access to the good eats.

Flocks of migrating robins settle onto our property for several days at a time, alternately feasting on the tree, splashing in the bird baths, and resting high in newly bare branches of forest canopy trees.

Migrating robins have a habit of dropping fruits (and feces) in the bird baths.

This week, I’ve noticed three bird species I only see during late fall and winter. The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers started hitching up and down nut trees, tulip poplars, and magnolias about three days ago. These members of the woodpecker clan stay all winter, and we usually have several residents throughout this season.

The Dark-eyed Juncos showed up at the same time as the sapsuckers. This is unusually early for this species. I usually don’t see them until winter cold settles in for good — early December at the earliest.

And most unusual of all — Red-breasted Nuthatches are appearing at the feeders! We don’t see these lovely little birds every winter. Usually they only appear during profoundly cold winters full of deep snow, when our bird feeders become key to the survival of many feathered friends. I was stunned when I spotted one yesterday on the platform feeder dining on safflower seeds.

Although it’s been unseasonably cool here, it certainly isn’t truly cold, and the only early snows are in the mountains west of us. I think perhaps the northern migrants arrived early because of Hurricane Sandy. The after effects of this massive super storm that devoured the eastern seaboard last week are still causing much suffering in the northeastern US. Wonder Spouse and I have sent our donation to the American Red Cross, and we encourage everyone else to do the same if they can. Folks up north are going to need extra help for some time to come, especially with an autumn nor’easter heading their way later this week.

It’s easy to forget about the wildlife when human suffering is so evident. But those downed trees and drowned wetlands mean death and displacement to many birds and mammals. I think the birds that weren’t destroyed by the storm are opting to fly south ahead of their normal schedules, seeking havens in the southlands, where food and shelter remain fairly abundant.

It’s times like these that I am glad I’ve worked hard for two decades to enhance wildlife habitat — food and shelter — on our five acres of North Carolina Piedmont. Avian refugees are welcome to stay as long as needed. Feeders will remain stocked; bird baths will stay clean and full.

For every falling leaf of scarlet and gold, we send forth prayers for the recovery of humans and wildlife in devastated areas of the northeast — and anywhere else in the world where suffering prevails.

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