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It’s Fall – Yip!!!

Doreen and B celebrate the season by running gleefully through a grove of ironwoods on one of our nature trails.

The Hickory that Came With the House

I love my mockernut hickory in spite of his kinky leader.

I bought my tiny house about 25 years ago.  I could say that I chose it because the neighborhood was quiet and it was located near my place of work.    But the real reason I purchased the house was that it was one of the few in my price range and it had an incredibly beautiful 100 foot tall white oak tree (Quercus alba) in the back yard!

The oak, of course, was a remnant of the forest.  I have been quite happy living in its shelter for all these years.

The other forest remnants on the property (a smaller white oak, a southern red oak and a young hickory) were eclipsed by the giant specimen at first.  At one point, I even considered taking the hickory out.  It had suffered some storm damage and developed a kinky leader.

It was not perfect (but then neither am I) so I learned to live with it.

After a few years I identified the hickory as a mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa).  It is a fairly common hickory around here in mixed oak-hickory woodlands.  It feeds the squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife.  Its nut is edible to humans as well.  It appears to be big and beefy.  However after the thick shuck and shell are taken out of the picture, the kernel is tiny.  I’m sure the name “mockernut” was imparted by an exasperated forager who had put forth a large amount of work to release a surprisingly minute bit of food.

My husband Richard (the grillmaster) ofter requests that I gather green twigs from the mockernut.  He tosses the twigs onto the hot coals to give a wonderful hickory smoke flavor.  It’s easy to gather hickory twigs even in winter because they have enormous buds. The buds have to be big because they hold large compound leaves.

The leaves are so big and complicated that  it takes them a long time to emerge.  When winter is over, the hickory stands with bare limbs until the oaks nearby are fully clothed.   I’m usually watching anxiously and am relieved when the hickory leaves finally unfurl.

The thing I love the most about my mockernut hickory is its beautiful golden fall foliage.   This year was not the prettiest.  Like most trees in my woods which were severely afflicted by the drought, it dropped a good many leaves early.  The display was not as intense as in years gone by but it was golden and it served to remind me that winter was on the way.

I can see the mockernut out of every window on the back of my house and in spite of my criticisms that it was not up to the usual standards, I have stopped dead in my tracks to marvel at the glowing golden leaves quite a few times.  Right now it has the most spectacular fall foliage in the back garden.

The other wonderful thing about my hickory is that he was a gift from God or possibly from a squirrel.

Hickories are incredibly difficult to find in the nursery trade and do not thrive in nursery pots. They are also difficult to transplant.

If not for Sir Squirrel, I’m not sure where I would go in search of a hickory tree.  And now that I’ve lived with one, it would be hard to do without!

If you want to see some pretty fall color pictures check out Dave’s  Fall Color Project at his The Home Garden blog.


 

Isolated Showers

B wanders through a sunshower in our woods.

We rode through an ironwood grove on one of our nature trails today.

I heard the faint pattering of rain next to the golf cart but all was clear ahead.

A few minutes later, it began to rain in earnest.  The drops pattered on the leaves and the scent of rain permeated the air.  The soil released a wonderful earthy smell.

We sat for quite a while.  No words were spoken and time seemed to stand still.

The sun came out and raindrops sparkled on the leaves.

My Mama would say that “The devil was beating his wife with a frying pan.”

The raindrops made the woods seem green as springtime.  The dogs were muddy and happy.

As we cruised home, thunder rumbled in the distance.


 

Patience Is Rewarded

I love the way cowcumber's giant leaves refract the light.

I planted three bigleaf magnolias or cowcumbers  (Magnolia macrophylla) over 20 years ago.

This magnolia is a shade loving understory tree.   I purchased three gallon sized plants and sited them beneath the 100 foot white oak in my back yard.

The magnolias are clearly visible from my deck and for these 20+ years I have admired their giant leaves. They are bright green and up to 3 feet long.

That’s 36 inches long in case you are thinking that I made a typo.  On breezy days they undulate to reveal pale undersides.

I was happy with the foliage display but the years rolled by and my trees did not flower.

Cowcumber flowers are a foot across and intensely fragrant.

And while the foliage is quite spectacular, the flower are stunning as well.  They are cup shaped and about a foot across.  They are usually tinted pink or purple toward the center and are intensely fragrant.

Tiny beetle pollinators are drawn by the scent.  They bumble around in the flower intoxicated by the aroma and abundance of pollen and nectar.  Due to their clumsy revelling, a fruit forms that first resembles a cucumber and later a red seeded cone.

Since I know about plant propagation, I was pretty sure that I was getting no flowers because the trees were seed grown.  Seedlings of woody plants have to grow for many years before they begin to accumulate flowering hormones.  Whereas a cutting will usually have some of the hormone from the parent plant to jump start the process and will flower much earlier in life.

Even though I knew the reason, I was beginning to be impatient after 20 years.  Finally this year, all three of the cowcumbers bore a full canopy of flowers.

Needles to say, I am ecstatic.

It reminds me of my youth.  In college I studied Magnolia macrophylla in my Plant Materials class.  My teacher, Lester Estes, had shown us a small 6′ specimen on the Mississippi State University Campus.  He told us that the tree would get over 50 feet tall and described the bold fragrant flowers.  Soon after, I went camping with a pack of my plant pals in Northern Alabama at Bankhead National Forest.  It was spring and the most wonderful scent permeated the air.  We all wandered around following our noses and inhaling the aroma.  Finally someone looked up at a smooth barked behemoth tree with giant leaves and said “Wait a minute – is that a …?”  “Bigleaf Magnolia” we all chorused.

So now, my own trees, which have not quite attained behemoth status, are in bloom in my own back yard.  The scent is intoxicating but the time travel back to my youth is priceless.


 

Adventures With Bees

Here are my two new beehives sitting next to an ignored clover field.

So I decided to get a couple of bee hives.

Spring is a busy time for me so I didn’t get things in place until the last minute.  I finally decided exactly where the bees were going to go last Wednesday.  I sited them next to our old vegetable garden because it is grown up in white clover.

On Thursday after working at my consulting job all day, I rushed home and rubbed a blister on my hand trying to get the supporting concrete blocks and 4″X4″s level.  Then around dusk I headed off to Philadelphia (Mississippi not Pennsylvania) to pick up my bees.

I brought the bees home in the trunk of my car.  The brood chamber with its top and bottom were duct taped together and the back seat was folded down with access to the trunk.

Tulip poplar flowers occur so high in the canopy that I rarely see them until they fall to Earth.

The only scary moment was when the slow driving car in front of me suddenly slammed on brakes and, of course, I had to do the same.

I expected bees to come pouring out of the trunk at any minute.  But all was well, and it was a good thing that Grandpa and I did not hit any of the five deer.

On Friday morning, I un-taped the entrance, etc. early and then studied the foraging bees during the day.

Late in the evening, I finally decided to believe my eyes and I admitted that the bees were not working the clover patch at all.  So what was their destination when they left the hive?  I looked up at the sky and realized the the tulip poplar overhead was loaded with flowers!

Here are three of our big tulip poplars along the creek near the bee hives.

I did a bit of research last night and learned that each flower on a tulip poplar can produce a teaspoon of nectar.  We estimate that along the creek and drainage area on our land, we have at least 10 tulip poplars that are 80 feet tall or larger.  I can’t even imagine how many flowers are on those 10 trees.  Not to mention all the young 40 footers!

Tulip poplars are not considered to be the best wildlife trees but they do have some benefits.  They host the Easter Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar and also that  of the tuliptree silk moth.   Nectar feeding birds (like ruby throated hummingbirds) sip from tulip poplar flowers.  Squirrels and some songbirds feast on the seeds during winter.  I’m sure their abundant nectar attracts native pollinators as well as my exotic honeybees.

I am happy that these stately magnolia cousins grace my land.  Now I have one more reason to love them!


 

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