Posts Tagged Southern Magnolia
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.
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.
As the flowers fade, piles of spent stamens collect on the petals. And, oh yes, the perfume still sings.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Here’s hoping your Memorial Day holiday is as sweet as mine promises to be.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The showy bracts are evident when the tree is viewed more closely:
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.
Flower clusters on the Oakleaf Hydrangeas are about the size of a volley ball.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Every warm sunny afternoon, they emerge from their hiding spots to catch a few rays.
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.
Sometimes, they join the squirrels in watching the humans indoors:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
Aerial shots really are best for showing off the flowers:
Here’s a closer view:
That’s his quarter in there again for scale. Here’s what the flower buds look like before they open:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
No lingering autumn for us this year, folks. An unfortunate intersection of a late hurricane and a strong arctic cold front is about to blast the eastern United States from Maine to Florida. In the Piedmont region of North Carolina where I live, strong sustained winds will rip autumn color from the trees and whirl it away to parts unknown. Clouds will own the skies until next Wednesday, although not much rain is predicted to fall. And our electricity may blink, sputter, and perhaps even vanish for some time. But compared to what is forecast for the northeastern states, we are fortunate. My prayers are with the folks to my north. They are in for a very rough ride.
Knowing what was coming, I took advantage of the last sunny day to capture a few images of my yard. By the end of next week, it may well be winter bare. The Spicebush above (Lindera benzoin) is glowing on the floodplain beneath a canopy of already-bare ashes. The golden color is impossible to miss from our back deck.
In the front flowerbed, Pineapple Sage plants are busy pushing out as many scarlet blooms as they can before the first frost shuts them down for the season. Lethargic carpenter bees drowse on blooms on cool mornings, weighing down the flowers as they wait for the morning sun’s first kiss.
Also up front, the Southern Magnolia is playing hostess to a wide range of birds and squirrels as crimson fruits dangle enticingly from her many cones. The woodpeckers are especially boisterous, but any day now, I expect migrating flocks of robins to stage a takeover. They always do.
Walking along the creek that borders our property, I was delighted to discover the bright red fruits of a Jack-in-the-Pulpit lying among fallen leaves. I picked some of the fruits and spread them in other parts of the yard where I think these lovely wetland plants should thrive.
Looking up at the brilliant azure sky, I noticed reddening leaves high atop a large Sweet Gum tree, so I took a photo. It was only when I viewed it on the computer that I noticed the branches were weighed down by still-ripening seed balls. When they turn brown and crack open, zillions of little seeds will be released. Sometimes on quiet days, I can hear them hitting dry leaves on the ground, like a gentle rain. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings will appear when the fruits are ripe. They make quite a racket as they dangle from branches devouring seeds.
I’ll be sad to see all this autumn beauty scoured away by relentless storm winds. I really enjoyed the way it lingered last year well into November. But I didn’t enjoy the absurdly warm winter and early spring that failed to produce enough cold to kill problem insects and diseases.
And a bare-branched winter cold sky holds its own kind of beauty. I will welcome the short days and weak sun, knowing the important work that winter does for my garden.
Autumn 2012, we barely knew you. But it was beautiful while it lasted. Farewell.
It arrives when Southern Magnolia blossoms perfume heavy, increasingly hot air.
And after the succession of daylily flowers has progressed from early birds like ‘Happy Returns’ to show-offs like ‘Siloam Dan Tau.’
We’ve usually been eating summer squash for several weeks, along with the first few celebrated tomatoes.
Turtle Weather arrived last week — unusually late for the Piedmont region of North Carolina. It’s Turtle Weather when humid air begins to generate random afternoon thunderstorms, fireflies dance nightly in treetops, and the distant “Bob White” calls of quail from nearby fields punctuate sweltering high-noon sunshine.
That’s when I see them: Eastern Box Turtles in the middle of roads — little country roads and even four-laned roads. Hormonal urges to mate make them recklessly trudge into traffic.
Turtle Weather is really reptile weather. When I see the intrepid Eastern Box Turtles lumbering in search of love, I also begin to see Black Rat Snakes everywhere. I often see them flattened on roads; too many ignorant drivers go out of their way to kill snakes.
But I saw a healthy live one yesterday. It wiggled out onto the road just as I approached in my car. I slowed, and it wisely chose to reverse course, returning to the safety of vegetation growing along the shoulder.
Most startling this week, I came face-to-face with a smaller Black Rat Snake (maybe 2 feet long) at my front door. It was hunting mice that lurk around the built-in bench by the entry just as I opened that door. After two or three seconds of eyeball-to-eyeball frozen staring, we both fled in opposite directions.
Turtle Weather usually lasts a few weeks past the Summer Solstice, which this year arrives next Wednesday. After that, summer heat usually bakes the ground so hot that reptiles only emerge at dusk and dawn, when I usually remain indoors due to the voracious hordes of mosquitoes that own the air during those times.
When Turtle Weather arrives, I know I’ll be spending daily hours in the vegetable garden harvesting the fruits of my labor. Today, I harvested the first beans — enough for a celebratory feast tonight.
The Jade Bush Beans will also be contributing to this evening’s first-harvest bean feast. Here’s the modest row of Jades:
Only the large plant in the foreground had produced harvestable-sized beans, but the others are full of smaller fruits.
Turtle Weather means the wild blackberry thickets will soon be filled with raucous birds feeding on ripened fruits. Cicada thrumming should start up any minute. Weekends are filled with the scents of freshly mown lawns and meat grilling in backyards.
Turtle Weather takes me back to childhood treks through Piedmont woods, neighborhood kickball games on the dead-end street in front of my house, blackberry-picking expeditions from which I returned so covered in red juice and bloody thorn scratches that one could not be distinguished from the other until after a good washing.
Turtle Weather is finite and therefore precious. Reptiles know they must brave busy roads before the time is past. Children know they must play until full dark descends, so as not to waste a single night of no-school-tomorrow freedom. Gardeners know harvests don’t last forever. Fresh fruits must be celebrated, savored, and the excess stored for dark winter feasts.
Turtle Weather is the best Summer brings us. I encourage you to grab it while you can.
Wonder Spouse was wandering the yard with his superior camera this weekend, and I persuaded him to capture one of the open flowers on our large Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). She has been perfuming our front yard for about two weeks now, and judging by the number of unopened buds, she will likely still be showing off when the Summer Solstice arrives in a couple of weeks.
Now that our mornings have turned characteristically humid (and absurdly hot), the cloying sweetness of these flowers smacks you in the face when you head out the front door, where the tree resides. And when the air is really thick — as it has been lately — it still manages to tickle the nose when you head out the back door. I find magnolia perfume overpowering up close, but it’s diluted just enough to make it pleasant as it travels over the roof and down to the back deck.
I told you all the reasons I love this tree (despite it’s potentially invasive nature) long ago here. But it wasn’t blooming when I wrote about this species, so I thought it deserved an entry now while it’s showing off.
I was beneath this tree this morning tending to some hydrangeas when I noticed quite a few small magnolia branches on the ground. I had not realized that those gosh darn periodical cicadas had laid their eggs on these branches too! My poor southern belle looks quite off her game with so many of her end branches broken off by the boring of all those ovipositors.
She’s a big tree, so I’m hopeful that she’ll recover, dignity and beauty intact. She’s got thirteen more years to grow enormous enough that the next round of cicadas won’t inflict so much obvious damage.
At least the cicadas don’t bother the flowers. That’s good news for the pollinators who crowd her open blossoms from dawn to dusk — especially the ever-diligent honeybees, who make my front-yard belle hum happily, as they dine upon her nectar.
Happy almost summer ya’ll.