Posts Tagged Tulip Poplar


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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Eastern Tiger Swallowtails sunning on leaves of Halesia diptera

Abundance abounds on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont. As summer winds down, plants are multiplying with enthusiasm, and native animals are taking full advantage of the bounty.  My area saw a week of what the weather seers call “unsettled weather,” which means thick humidity, uncomfortable (but not intolerable) heat, and random thunderstorms. As usually happens of late, my patch of Piedmont was ignored by most of the rain clouds, but we got enough to push plants and animals into a bit of a late summer frenzy.

Butterfly multiplicities are evident on every blooming flower in my yard. Species diversity seems to be multiplying too. I’ll show you in another post. I caught the two above as they were basking in the first sunshine we’ve seen in several days. I think they missed the light as much as I did.

Most of the plants are in the final stages of seed production, filling up seed heads and capsules, preparing to release their progeny into autumn air when it arrives in a few weeks.  Here’s a pair of Tulip Poplar “cones.”

All the Tulip Poplars reproduced well this year. I predict I’ll be sweeping their seeds off walks all fall and winter.

Another member of the Magnolia family — Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) — was kind enough to produce one of its spectacular seed heads within range of my camera:

Seed “cone” of Magnolia tripetala

Animal multiplicities include the deafening, constant, ebb and flow of cicada thrumming. They are maximizing their time in the humid air that makes me stick to myself after two minutes outside. Also present in astonishing numbers are the American Robins. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many this time of year. These are not the flocks of spring and autumn migrators that I’m accustomed to seeing. These are local birds — newly adult ones, judging by their very motley breast feathers.

The American Robins are here because of the bumper crop of Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) dominating every untamed corner (we have a lot of those) of the property. Easily eight feet tall with stems thicker than my wrist, these magenta and green very poisonous natives are currently weighed down by the biggest crop of berries I’ve ever seen them produce. The American Robins have claimed this crop for themselves. From dawn to dusk, I hear their muttering and exclamations as they devour every purple berry they discover.

Poisonous to humans, Pokeweed is a favorite food of American Robins and many other native animals.

I admit I don’t argue much with this plant. Unless it pops up in a spot that just won’t work, I usually let it have its way. However, if I had children or dogs with a habit of eating fruits in the wild, I would eradicate this plant from my yard. It is extremely poisonous to humans, from its roots to its leaves and berries. Yes, young leaves, if boiled for long periods, are consumed by some as “poke salad,” but I think the dangers aren’t worth the risk. Proceed with caution if you welcome this species into your Piedmont yard.

Photogenic and important to wildlife

Also multiplying in my yard: spiderwebs! I can’t walk anywhere without walking into one.

The builder was probably hiding in the leaves of the shrub that holds its web.

The arachnids even build across our often-used front walk. Every morning this time of year, it’s best to wave a stick in front of you to intersect the webs before your face does.

Multiplicities of fungi are also popping up all over the yard. Today, I encountered this large collection of delicate beauties:

A fairy picnic area perhaps?

They are quite exquisite up close, as you can see here:

The delicate folds in the caps remind me of outspread paper fans.

I am not an expert on fungi, so I assume they are all poisonous. I leave them to adorn the landscape and only consume mushrooms I buy at grocery stores.

As summer begins its reluctant transformation to fall, Nature’s multiplicities ensure that next year’s growing season will be productive — barring the usual weather catastrophe caveats, of course.

I revel in the beauty and diversity of this abundance, but I’m also hoping for a real winter this year — one with prolonged bouts of weather cold enough to freeze the ground and kill problem insects, diseases — and maybe even a few Pokeweed plants. One can only handle so much magenta and purple in the landscape after all.

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Houston, we may have a problem…

A tomato miscalculation?

I thought I was being clever by pushing ahead my greenhouse planting schedule. After all, temperatures soared to May levels by mid-March. Native flowers were blooming three weeks ahead of schedule. Soil temperatures were above 60 degrees. Yes, average last freeze for my area isn’t until April 15, and frosts can occur a couple of weeks after that. But surely not this year, right?

Um, well, maybe not. The weather forecasters just came out with the temperature forecast through mid-April. My region is now forecasted to have a better than 50% chance of below-normal temperatures. This after the warmest March on record, of course.

On the one hand, this is great news. Maybe my spring vegetable garden will be one of my most productive ones ever. Of course, the Sugar Sprint Snap Peas still haven’t produced one flower bud. But maybe it’s been too hot for them, even though they have been climbing their trellis. Maybe now they’ll be happy and make peas for me.

On the other hand, the tomatoes in my greenhouse are already so large that I’m having trouble moving in there without snagging one and nearly pulling it down on top of me. And it’s only April 4.

For comparison, I went back and looked at my records for last year. According to this post, my tomatoes were about the same size as they are now on May 17. No, that’s not a typo. We’re talking five weeks later. Time for Plan B — or is it Plan C. This has been the most improvisational gardening season I’ve experienced in, well, forever. I can’t remember ever being faced with such problems.

Meanwhile, the natives and ornamentals are still hurtling through the season as if midnight is approaching and their coaches are becoming pumpkins. Case in point: I found this on the ground today when I was walking around:

Tulip Poplar flower

Last year, I took a photo like that on April 24 as you can see here.

And my beautiful deciduous azaleas? They are blooming so early and fast that one finished before I could even document it here. Right now, the Alabama azalea is at its peak. Here’s the whole shrub:

Alabama Azalea in full bloom

That’s the Ashe Magnolia in the back left corner. It’s just beginning to open its buds. Here’s a close-up of the Alabama Azalea flowers so you can appreciate their beauty:

Last year, I documented peak bloom of this specimen on April 22, as you can see here.

One more example and I’ll stop for today. I documented the gorgeous blooms of Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20’ last year on April 14. It’s at maximum bloom this year today, as you can see here:

Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20″

And here’s a close-up:

It smells wonderful too.

All the oak trees except the big Black Oak have finished blooming. The Northern Red Oak that towers over my house is raining fat caterpillars. I always wonder if they leap off the tree to avoid birds. Why else would they abandon their food source before they’re ready to metamorphose?

Most of the oak leaves — and the leaves of other native trees too — are rapidly achieving near-summer size. I’m hoping — praying, actually —  this means that they’ll have time to toughen up enough to avoid being killed by a late freeze.

The good news? The same long-range forecast for my region has my area right on the line between above-average and normal precipitation. Maybe if it stays cloudy — and ideally rainy — the cold temperatures won’t drop low enough to kill my precocious plants. Of course, below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation could also mean snow. It has happened here in April — not lately — but it has happened. A light snow probably wouldn’t kill spring growth. But it doesn’t solve my biggest problem.

What I am going to do with the gigantic tomato plants in my greenhouse?


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Tulips in the Treetops

Of course, I’m talking about Tulip Poplar, also known as Tuliptree, Yellow Poplar, Whitewood, and Tulip Magnolia – the latter common name refers to this Piedmont (and mountain) forest giant’s membership in the Magnolia family.

One look at a flower shows you the kinship with the Magnolia clan, like this one Wonder Spouse photographed that had fallen to the ground beneath the large native Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) growing within our fenced north-facing slope:

Fallen Tulip Poplar Flower

The tree this flower came from is between 70-80 feet tall, and as is typical of its species, it has self-pruned its lower branches, leaving a straight clean trunk reaching about 35 feet before the first branch appears. Right now, it is covered in the gorgeous green and orange tulip-shaped flowers that give the tree its name.  Here’s a photo of one of those flowers — still attached to a branch — that I took this morning:

As is true of all Magnolia family members, the flowers of this native tree are pollinator magnets, and Tulip Poplar honey is a favorite of many honey connoisseurs.

Tulip Poplars are not trees for small landscapes. It’s not unusual for them to reach 90 feet in height, and some specimens have been recorded at nearly 200 feet. These trees occur naturally along stream bottoms and moist forests. Mine grows on the lower half of our north slope that ends at the creek – ideal habitat.

This native is an economically important hardwood to the timber industry. Its straight trunks make excellent lumber, and large volumes of timber are harvested annually for veneer and furniture production.

I prefer my Tulip Poplars in forests rather than furniture. In winter, their tall, straight trunks provide visual interest, spring brings myriad flowers and happy pollinators, summer foliage cools everything beneath its embrace, and autumn turns the leaves a pure golden yellow that is visible along Piedmont ridge tops for many miles.

If your landscape can accommodate this fast-growing large native, and you’ve got a moist spot for it, I heartily recommend this beautiful Magnolia family member.

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