Sunday, April 6, 2014

What Is That Yellow Blooming Tree?

Driving along the highway offers opportunities to see some of our native blooming trees tucked into the woodland edges. The season starts early with the red maples (Acer rubrum) followed by redbuds (Cercis canadensis) peeking out from behind the pines, thickety plums and tall cherries (Prunus spp.), and the gracefully layered flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida).

Of course, we also see non-native opportunists like the ornamental pear (son of Pyrus calleryana ‘Bradford’), the upside down wisteria tree (Paulownia), chinaberry (Melia azedarach) and a few others. They love disturbed roadsides.

None of these trees has bright yellow blooms. Yet along the southern roadsides in the spring, there is a striking yellow flower to be noticed. Sometimes it is blooming at shrub height and sometimes it is blooming up to heights of 20 feet. It is one to catch your eye, even at 60 miles an hour.

What is this tree?

I drove along many a roadside this past weekend and saw this “tree” blooming everywhere. I knew it wasn’t a tree. I knew it was Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). But I wondered how many other travelers might whiz by and think it was a tree.

This evergreen vine has no clasping method so it must rely on its ability to drape itself over the branches of trees and shrubs, climbing a bit higher each time. This casual approach on the roadside creates a rather open and airy plant, allowing the vine to take on the shape of the plant it is climbing.

Wiry thin stems pause along each branch of the tree it climbs while other branches turn upward. That is why it looks like a tree. But it’s not a tree. It’s pure Carolina gold. Enjoy.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

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