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Needle Palm

My needle palm looks quite perky after a 17 degree night.

Last night the mercury dipped to 17 degrees and signaled the unofficial beginning of winter here in my little world.

The dramatic temperature drop and the fierce wind that accompanied knocked the leaves off most of the trees.

This morning the camellia flowers had turned to brown mush.

When I gazed out the back window, however, the needle palm reigned supreme.

The needle palm in my back garden is beautiful in every season.  It is particularly striking in winter like a tropical mirage amongst the bare branches.

Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) is a small shrubby palm with fan shaped evergreen leaves.

This needle palm is in my own Lauderdale County, Mississippi perched on the banks of Okatibbee Creek.

It is native to Florida , Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.

The Needle Palm, however, will thrive much further north than its natural range and is possibly the the most cold hardy palm in the world.

I have a lot of native plants in my garden and I incoporated most of them after seeing them in their native habitats.

The needle palm earned a place because of its hardiness claim to fame.  I purchased a 5 year old gallon sized plant from Plant Delights Nursery without ever having seen it in a natural setting.   I made an educated guess and planted it as an understory plant on a gentle slope in my back garden.   I sited it close enough to my deck and to the walkway for easy viewing.  My palm has been in the ground for over 12 years so it is pushing 20.   It is about 5 feet tall with an equal or greater spread.

Earlier this year, I finally did see needle palm in the wild on a trip to Torreya State Park which is in the Florida panhandle.    The palms were blooming in clusters near the ground.  Since they are dioecious, there are “boy” and “girl” palms.   The flowers on the showy staminate (male) plants were blooming among the clusters of sharp slender spines or “needles” at the crown of the plant.

I was excited to see my first needle palms in Florida but then in late summer I discovered a large population of them on a friend’s land in my own county.  The land is on steep slopes that overlook Okatibbee Creek.

Fuzzy needle palm fruit is nestled in the wicked spines that give this palm its name.

The day before Thanksgiving I visited the site for a second time.  I very carefully collected the fuzzy oval fruit that was  nestled among the wickedly sharp needles.

I hope to clean and plant the seed soon.  I am excited to grow needle palm from seed but most importantly, the pulp is emitting a very funky odor and I need to get it out of my house!

Later that day my friend Keith Hayes and I floated down Okatibbee Creek adjacent to his land and found more needle palms perched on the creek banks.

So now I have seen needle palm in flower, in fruit and in my own county.

I am increasingly more impressed with the landscape value of this wonderful palm.

Without ever encountering it in the wild, I stumbled onto an appropriate site for my little palm in my own back yard.

It is a stellar member of my winter garden.

I just wish that I had given it a little more room to grow.    Needle palm is reported to reach 8′ with an equal spread.  Now, in year 20-ish, it is crowding the walk and I’m thinking the walk might have to go.


 

It’s Fall – Yip!!!

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

Twinberry

Cool temperatures inspired this twinberry to bloom out of season. The result is a rare autumn combination of twinberry fruit and flowers.

I am blessed to have a section of woods that is carpeted in twinberry .

Twinberry – a.k.a partridgeberry or Mitchella repens – is a trailing evergreen with small deep green leaves.  Technically it is a vine that runs along the ground instead of climbing.

In late spring, partridgeberry bears pairs of small funnel shaped flowers.  The fragrant blooms are produced in abundance in my woods.   During May, it looks as if there is a galaxy on the ground.

The flowers appear to be two separate entities.  A close examination, however, reveals that they share a common calyx (collection of sepals).   At maturity, the ovaries of the two flowers merge and a red berry-like drupe is the result.  Technically the fruit could also be called a multiple fruit since one fruit is formed from twin flowers.  The only sign of these origins are the two dimple-like markings on each “berry”.

The fruit matures to a fire engine red color and is a welcome spot of color in the woods for most of the winter.  It provides useful forage to wild turkeys and other ground birds.

I think twinberry is a wonderful fine textured ground cover.  I wish it were more widely available in the nursery trade.  It is beautiful in all seasons and is very tolerant of dry shaded sites.

Since it is rare in nurseries, I feel especially lucky to walk out my back door and find it in my shade garden in spots where I have transplanted it in from the woods.

Right now the scarlet fruit is just beginning to fully color.  It is the beginning of twinberry season.  The fruit will be with me all winter, sometimes etched with frost.  By December it will look as if someone took a handful of jewels and flung them onto the ground.   They landed perfectly in a emerald carpet of twinberry leaves and are on display for all to admire.


 

You say Mistflower, I say Mabon Flower!

Mistflower communes with a galaxy of elephant foot (Elephantopus carolinianus) flowers.

Today is the Fall Equinox or Mabon as the Pagans would say.

Day and night are almost equal in length – both 12-ish hours.  This phenomenon occurs when the Earth’s axis is vertical and the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are an equal distance from the sun.

This equalization marks the first day of autum.

Summer is over – effective 11:00 p.m this evening.

From now until March 20 every night will be longer than the preceding day.  I like to make note of that.

But sometimes, it sneaks up on me.   Each year as the Equinox approaches, however, the mistflower begins to bloom and reminds me.

More Mistflower

I have decided to commemorate the beginning of Autumn by honoring the lovely and resilient mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum a.k.a. Eupatorium coelestinum).

So… I do Hereby Profess that These are the Top Ten Reasons I Love Mistflower

  1. Mistflower has a unique flower color – sort of a blue purple.  The color is illusive (like the mist) and the hue is impossible to capture on film.  It is a mysterious blossom. The color, sometimes called powder blue, is my favorite.
  2. Mistflowers are fringed.  Actually, being relatives of daisies, they are a mass of the same disc flowers that occur in the center of a black eyed Susan or on the stalks of blazing star.  The filament shaped stigmas that emerge from each disc flower make up the fringe.   It’s very Stevie Nicks!
  3. Mature Mistflower

    I’ve never purchased a mistflower plant.  It was gifted to me when I bought the house and/or the land.

  4. Mistflower consistently blooms on the Fall Equinox.
  5. Its blue-purple color mingles beautifully and perfectly compliments the more common yellow fall flowers.
  6. Mistflower is very easy to grow.
  7. Butterflies like it – especially skippers and swallowtails.
  8. Foliage is triangular and almost wrinkled due to the grooves on top of the veins.  It is groovy!
  9. Even though some people call it wild ageratum, its other common name ” mistflower” is the coolest plant name ever.
  10. The lovely wild ageratum is blooming now in cooling blue-purple shades even though we are in a horrific drought.

This evening we took a long dusky golf cart ride on the nature trails.  We stayed out so late that we had to stumble home in the dark.  Along the way we  admired the groovy fringed blue-purple free-loving mistflower…

And enjoyed a Mabon evening.


 

Complementary Colors

A lemon four o'clock complements magenta beautyberries. I left this pair undisturbed because four o'clocks were not made for vases.

Today, I took the dogs and went on a quest to fill my vases.

It was quite a chore.

I could not rely on flowers alone.

I gathered fruiting stems of beautyberry and hearts a busting.   I nabbed some trailing vines loaded with starry clematis seedheads.

I smiled as I gathered stalks of native grasses – big bluestem, switch grass and eastern gamma.   Learning grasses has not been easy for me and I was happy to know the names of those I chose.

I snagged the last of the spider lilies and new buds of Caldwell Pink and the maple-leaf rose.  I conservatively snipped a few of the last black eyed Susans  and Delta Snow phlox.

And for good measure I picked as many chartreuse budded goldenrod panicles as I could carry.

I walked all over my 6 acres and harvested enough fruit, buds, culms and slightly tattered blossoms to fill three vases.

The arrangements are pleasing but the expedition was priceless.


 

Remembering Ed Blake

The Pond Journey Trail meanders through the piny woods around the cypress gum pond

These young visitors pause to admire Pinecote Pavillion.

My friend Ed Blake passed away on August 30.

Ed was a talented Landscape Architect and an advocate for the Earth.

He designed gardens all over the world.

I do not intend to slight any of the wonderful spaces that Ed created.   But I know that I will remember him best as one of the movers and instigators of The Crosby Arboretum.

The Crosby is a wonderfully unique arboretum/botanical garden in South Mississippi. It celebrates the flora of the Pearl River drainage basin.

View from the Pond Journey Trail

Wild iris and azaleas mingle along the pond margin.

The Crosby’s exhibits showcase the plants of the region including those of the piney woods, a cypress gum pond and a longleaf pine savanna.

The arboretum is named for L. O. Crosby Jr., a Forester who loved nature. After Crosby’s death, his family had the vision to establish a foundation to transform 104 acres that was previously a strawberry farm into an arboretum.

It was an interesting idea.

But I believe that it might not have been implemented without the leadership of Ed Blake.

A boardwalk goes through the pine savanna with yellow pitcher plants in full bloom.

Ed was one of the Landscape Architects that the foundation interviewed. According to The Picayune Item, Crosby’s daughter Lynn Crosby Gamill remembered that, “When we started the Arboretum vision, which was in approximately 1979 to 1980, … Ed Blake met with us and we knew that he was the one.  I am proud to know that providence put us in contact with Ed. The Founders worked with him on all phases.”

Ed created the Master Plan for the Crosby and served as the first Director of the Arboretum.

Both Ed and the architect Fay Jones (who designed Pinecote Pavillion) won national awards for their work at The Crosby.   Among other awards, Ed won the 1991 Honor Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

From the boardwalk, visitors get up close and personal with yellow pitcher plants.

This is the highest national award given in Landscape Architecture and is the only one ever to be received in Mississippi.

Ed enjoyed working with clever talented people.

He motivated and organized an impressive group of professionals (Robert Poore, Sidney McDaniel, Bob Brzuszek and Chris Wells to name a few) to implement and sustain the project.

And so, in honor of Ed, I’ve decided to post pictures of The Crosby Arboretum today.

But first I must remark that Ed was tall but he never made others feel small.

He was creative, intelligent and kind.

His smile was luminescent.

I am honored to have known him.

The pine savanna is colorful in late spring.

Ed’s close friend Bob Brzuszek is quoted in The Picayune Item as saying, “He was a poet and a painter as well as a landscape architect. He loved nature, and more than anything he loved the landscape of Mississippi with his whole being. He would sit and listen to the wind in the pines and would get up early to take photos of the misty landscapes that would be on display at those hours. He was consumed with an endless curiosity and love of learning about nature. He left a great legacy for all of us here now and for those that will follow us.”

The Blake family has requested that donations be made to the Crosby Arboretum Foundation in Ed’s memory.

It would be fitting if The Crosby is finally able to construct the much needed Education Center as a result of these donations.   Ed would have liked that.


 

Maypops

Maypop or Passion Flower is a native vine with unique flowers.

 Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is one of the flowers of my childhood.       

We often encountered maypop vines along fencerows and on roadsides or in abandoned fields.  We called the plant “maypops” because if you snagged the oval fleshy berry-like fruit and stomped it, the fruit “may pop”.       

The egg-shaped fruit is interesting but the flower is beautiful and fragrant.  The blooms are large (about 3 inches across) with 5  petals which may split and seem to form more.  The petals are fleshy and lavender to white above with green underneath.       

Maypops are one of the few flowers that have a corona.  The corona is an extra whorl or circle of flower parts. 

A maypop corona looks like a ring of fringe that hovers above the petals and below the raised stamens.  The thread-like corona segments are tinted with bands of lavender and white.     

The lovely Gulf Fritillary butterfly is drawn to maypop flowers but she is more interested in the bold lobed leaves.  This time of year, this beautiful orange and black butterfly visits maypop vines and lays her eggs.  The orange and black spiny Gulf Fritillary caterpillars soon emerge from the eggs and proceed to devour maypop leaves.     

When I was a teacher, I learned that the easiest way to teach about the butterfly life cycle is as follows:    

  • Step 1 – Find a maypop vine and search beneath the leaves until you locate a caterpillar.  The caterpillar looks spiny but does not sting.
  • Step 2 – Place the caterpillar in a large jar – at least quart sized.  Punch holes in the lid for ventilation.  Place a twig in the jar.
  • Step 3 – Pick several maypop leaves and put them in the jar to feed the caterpillar.  The caterpillar will also get water from the fresh foliage.
  • Step 4 – Add new maypop leaves each day until the larva begins to form a chrysalis.  The caterpillar will hang from the twig, become immobile and secrete a smooth covering.  A crysalis is similar to a cocoon but the covering is smooth rather than embedded with twigs and dead leaves.
  • Step 5 – Wait.  In about 2 weeks if all goes well, the chrysalis will split and an adult Gulf Fritillary butterfly will emerge.  As soon as the butterfly’s wings expand, it can be released into the wild.  The Gulf Fritillary butterfly is one of the few butterflies that can complete a life cycle so quickly.  In autumn this butterfly rapidly fosters new generations with the first frost as deadline. 

 

I was inspired to write this post because of the maypop vines that flourish in the disturbed soils on my land.  It is an amazingly versatile plant with stompable fruit and exotic flowers.  And even if you choose not to observe the metamorphosis inside a jar, maypops deserve kudos for providing habitat for the beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterfly.


 

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.


 

Anniversary Lilies

Formosa lily (Lilium formosanum) reminds us of our nursery roots.

Today is my wedding anniversary.

Richard and I are celebrating 24 years together.

We headed for the nature trails with six dogs and a bottle of champagne.

We sat under the ironwoods for quite some time and then rambled on.

A couple of  Formosa lilies were blooming by the bridge.

They are relics of our old nursery days.

Or maybe they are our anniversary lilies…

We stopped to admire them and then meandered toward home.


 

Anticipation

Richard was happy to find chanterelle mushrooms in our woods.

I am so happy to have some rain.

Last weekend as we tooled around on the nature trails, I spied an orange mushroom.  I checked it out and happily it was a chanterelle.

I knew to expect to see the golden chanerelle (Cantharellus cibarius) after rainy hot weather.  The season starts in July here in Mississippi and is said to extend until September.

We found four of these lovely funnel shaped fungi.  Richard sauteed them in butter.  They were a wonderful appetizer.

Three years ago the weather was just right and our woods were full of chanterelles in late July and early August.  We admired them but were too chicken to eat them.

I’ve since learned how to identify them.  However, it has been so dry for the past few years that none have appeared.

This year with the rain I’m hoping for a bumper crop.

I am also seeing budded Carolina lilies (Lilium michauxii) in the woods for the first time in at least three years.

If all goes as expected, we’ll have food for the table and food for the soul!

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