Sunday, May 26, 2013

Magnolias, Southern Style

Few plants epitomize the floral beauty of the Southeastern United States like the native southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).  Tall and evergreen, with beautiful fragrant blossoms, this tree offers almost every characteristic that a gardener desires in a plant. The unique seed pods have always been interesting to kids (and birds). We would pluck out the fleshy red fruits out of curiosity … or throw the whole pod at each other. We had two big trees next door to us when I was growing up; they can also make for good climbing trees if the branches are allowed to stay low.

As iconic as this tree is, it is indigenous to only the coastal areas of the South, particularly in Georgia. It is widely planted as a landscape tree throughout the South now because it seems to tolerate urban conditions very well.

Magnolia grandiflora

I photographed this tree in a parking lot where it and many others were covered in blooms. The cultivar ‘Little Gem’ has found particular favor with landscaper designers that need a smaller sized tree. Homeowners seeking evergreen plants for privacy screening also use this species of magnolia. Natural areas in the Piedmont are experiencing some excessive amounts of M. grandiflora seedlings. I would urge you to reconsider using this species if you are not in the coastal plain and if you adjoin natural areas.

Magnolia macrophylla
Since I’ve learned more about native plants, I have found that we have many other species of Magnolia that are native to Georgia, most of which are deciduous.

I found a native bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) on my very first plant rescue with the native plant society. It was winter time and it looked like a big stick. I was thrilled to see those big leaves unfurl in the spring. Like the leaves, the blossoms are larger than those of M. grandiflora, and they are fragrant as well.

Magnolia tripetala

I’ve been enchanted with the deciduous magnolias ever since that first rescue. Another “bigleaf” magnolia is Magnolia tripetala, also called the umbrella magnolia because of the way the leaves are in a whorled arrangement.

I have rescued this one as well but I have since discovered that it grows naturally in my neighborhood where the properties adjoin the river. The blossoms are a little smaller and a little on the stinky side (but only if you get really close). It blooms about a month earlier than the others described here.

Other deciduous species are Magnolia ashei, Magnolia pyramidata, Magnolia acuminata, and Magnolia fraseri. The first two are more southern species while the latter two are more northern. There is one more evergreen species – the sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) which has a much smaller blossom than the others.

Magnolia virginiana
My little sweetbay magnolia needs more light than it’s getting, but it has bloomed several times. The sweetness of the fragrance is almost unmatched.

The leaves are a soft green color with silver backs. They are small, supple leaves without the stiff coating that is so characteristic of M. grandiflora leaves. A nursery near me has a mature specimen on site, and I was surprised to see how big it can get in favorable conditions. This tree is also tolerant of wet conditions but doesn’t require them. 

Some people seek out the variety Magnolia virginiana var. australis which is thought to be more reliably evergreen for more northern locations. ‘Henry Hicks’ is a cultivar of this variety and was selected at Scott Arboretum in Pennsylvania.

I hope this has helped you learn more about our mahvelous magnolias here in Georgia. They truly are a delightful part of our indigenous plant community as well as our southern culture.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Panola Mountain - Urban Treasure

Panola Mountain is a rare treasure that happens to be located very close to a large metropolitan area.  Protected by a state park, it is one of just a few natural monadnocks available to the public. As on other outcrops of exposed granite rock, special plants live here.

On the outcrop at Panola Mountain

I wrote earlier about my trip to Heggie’s Rock near Augusta, GA and another (much smaller) outcrop that I had visited. Like Heggie’s Rock, Panola Mountain was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1980. Unlike Heggie’s Rock, Panola is available to the general public for visiting during park hours. It even offers ranger-led guided tours of the outcrop for a small fee. That is a tour worth taking.

My visit to Panola was part of field trip held by the Georgia Native Plant Society. We were there to learn more about the plants that make the outcrop their home. Some plants were very special, others were able to live near the outcrop but live in other places as well.

Bignonia capreolata
It was enjoyable to see familiar plants mixed in with the ones that were new to us. On our way up to the top, we found blooming crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) and stopped to admire the showy flowers.
It was a drizzly day, so I apologize for water splotches on the lens. Of course the damp weather made some of the colors very vibrant, but it also made it difficult to photograph some things.

Our trip leader was very experienced in rock outcrop plant communities, otherwise I never could have told you that the name of this moss is Hedwigia ciliata

Hedwigia ciliata
It's presence and the presence of eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), however, allowed us to find a very special plant indeed: Sedum pusillum, known as granite stonecrop. According to our leader, this rare and threatened annual sedum grows in communities that have these other two plants. 

Sedum pusillum
Indeed, in the several places we found it, the other two plants were there as well. It was past bloom time for this sedum but we found a few stray blooms.

The beautiful red-leaved Diamorpha smallii was there in abundance on the outcrop. It was also almost finished blooming, but the color of the leaves ensures that it creates a handsome vista regardless of blooms. Click on the link to my Heggie's Rock post to see blooming pictures of it.

Red fruits and new flower buds of
Opuntia humifusa
Other good plants that we saw included perennials like beargrass (Yucca filamentosa), Atamasco lily (Zephyranthes atamasca), hairy spiderwort (Tradescantia hirsuticaulis), eastern prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa), sandwort (Minuartia uniflora) and shrubs like painted buckeye (Aesculus sylvatica), sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), and mock orange (Philadelphus inodorus).

Ptelea trifoliata

New to me were wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata) and sunnybells (Schoenolirion croceum). Wafer ash, also known as hoptree, is not an ash at all. The compound leaves with 3 leaflets had a few of us looking at the young saplings cautiously as we walked among them. We found them in a wooded area as we wound our way back down the mountain.

Schoenolirion croceum
Sunnybells is a member of the Liliaceae family and was found on the outcrop itself. These pictures of dripping flowers do no justice to what I can see must be a spectacular plant. In some areas, they created large colonies of bright yellow happiness.

If you get a chance to explore Panola Mountain I hope that you will. As a State Park it is well maintained, informative, educational, friendly and beautiful. Be sure to check out their activities as posted on the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area webpage. Panola Mountain is part of this National Heritage Area, one of only 3 areas in Georgia.

Panola Mountain and the Arabia Mountain NHA are very accessible to metro Atlanta, a true treasure for all of us to explore and enjoy.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Special Plants, Special Places – Carolina bays

I wrote earlier about the Heggie’s Rock field trip that I attended as part of the Georgia Botanical Society’s 2013 Spring Pilgrimage. Another type of special environment that I went to was a Carolina bay. Carolina bays are isolated wetlands that are fed not by creeks or rivers but by rain and shallow groundwater. 

Craig's Pond
Their unique shape allows us to recognize them: an elliptical shape with generally a northwest to southeast orientation. They are shallow depressions and, as a result of their dependency on rainfall or groundwater, do not always contain water. According to a fact sheet provided by the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), observations over 14 years found that Rainbow Bay (as an example) has had water for as few as 5 days in one year and as many as 280 days. Generally water is most plentiful in the spring and at lowest levels in the autumn.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)
I actually visited two Carolina bays during the Pilgrimage, both of them in South Carolina. The first one I visited was Craig’s Pond. It is located on the Savannah River Site and managed by the staff at SREL. You can see a picture here:

It was fascinating to hear how important environments like this are to amphibian populations. Since no fish are present, frogs and salamanders have a safe place to lay eggs and to grow up. While there wasn’t much water in the bay, the view of the area was sufficient to give a sense of how it must look. The sweep of grass was a mixture of different species but a predominant one was maidencane (Panicum hemitomon). Mixed in with it were the dry seed heads of Carolina red root (Lachnanthes caroliniana), as pointed out to us by the trip leader.

No doubt how inkberry (Ilex glabra) got its name
The plants that live in and around Carolina bays comprise different communities based on their tolerance of saturation. I saw some of the best examples of inkberry (Ilex glabra) that I’ve ever seen. New to me was myrtle dahoon holly (Ilex myrtifolia). Several different pine species were there, but it was most special to see mature longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) up close. 

Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
Other shrubs there were several species of blueberry (Vaccinium), evergreen fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and what appeared to be a naturally dwarf form of wax myrtle (Morella cerifera). It was blooming at heights of less than 24 inches.  

Bog white violet (Viola lanceolata)

I saw bog white violet (Viola lanceolata) throughout the area, both in standing water and in dry areas.

Entwined here and there, truly the thread that tied it all together, was beautiful Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) - see the picture earlier in the post. I never got tired of seeing it. 

The second one I visited was Ditch Pond, and it is part of a 296-acre Heritage Preserve managed by SC-DNR. The bay comprises 25 acres of the site. This site is open to the public and has an excellent collection of trails.

At Ditch Pond we heard that it is home to all 3 "bay" trees: Magnolia virginiana (sweet bay), Persea borbonia (red bay) and Gordonia lasianthus (loblolly bay). I saw the first two but not the third. We walked some of the trails, including one that felt like it was crafted on a movie set.
That sandy area in the center is the path

Red bay (Persea borbonia)
While we certainly saw some of the same plants, a few others are worth noting. Here a few fruits of red bay (Persea borbonia) hang on while the Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) curls around it.

We also found the dried fruit capsules of swamp titi (Cyrilla racemiflora) as we got closer to the wet area. An evergreen smilax twined overhead, already sporting green fruits.

Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana)

Evergreen Carolina cherry laurel (Prunus caroliniana) was blooming along the trails. I'm sure their abundant fruits are popular with birds. We also saw plenty of wild plum (Prunus sp.) and a lot of hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) blooming. What an area for wildlife!

This site had a more open canopy so while we also found longleaf pine here, we were able to see a lot of young ones in the "rocket" stage (growing straight with very few branches).

Lonicera sempervirens

The showiest plant of the trip was the native coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). The blooms were an eye-popping shade of hot pink and even the leaves were tinged with pink. Wow.

Although my field trips were in South Carolina, Georgia does have Carolina bays of its own. Recent efforts by GA-DNR resulted in the documentation of 528 Carolina bays, with Screven County having the most (156).