The continuing discoveries of a 21st century artist and naturalist …
I spend a great deal of time researching wildflowers and other blooming plants but this spring I’ve also paid a lot more attention to tree blossoms and buds.
Here are just a few of the trees I’ve photographed this spring.
The Yellow Buckeye is a deciduous tree whose range is limited to the Ohio Valley and Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States. Fortunately, I live in part of their range and see them every year including several that stand just over the river in front of our house.
They can grow as tall as eighty feet and the oldest known yellow buckeye is 410 years old and is in the state of Kentucky. The trees bloom from April through June with yellow, streaked with red flowers that remind me of the snap-dragon. The fruit seeds are poisonous unless they are put through a leaching process.
The next tree is in the edge of the wood in our backyard. I had not noticed it until this year when its long, white clusters of blossoms caught my attention. I spent a bit of time trying to identify it because, at this age, its bark has more of a birch look. I
thought hoped it was a sourwood but as I did more research I found it was a black cherry (a.k.a. rum cherry, a.k.a mountain black cherry). And while the fruit is bitter it is edible I may try making some jelly from it this year.
Black cherry trees average between sixty and eighty feet in height with only a two to three-foot average diameter. While the average lifespan for these trees is 100 years (and one has been documented to be 258 years old) the maximum is typically 250 years. The trees grow slowly but even old trees have sprouted from a stump after the tree was cut down. They bloom from April through June and produce black fruit in June to October depending on the location.
According to the U. S. Forest Service the fruit is important mast for
Numerous songbirds [which] feed on [mature fruit] as they migrate south in the fall. Passerine birds that make considerable use of black cherry fruits include the American robin, brown thrasher, mockingbird, eastern bluebird, European starling, gray catbird, blue jay, willow flycatcher, northern cardinal, common crow, and waxwings, thrushes, woodpeckers, grackles, grosbeaks, sparrows and vireos. Black cherries are also important in the summer and fall diets of the ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, wild turkey, northern bobwhite, and greater and lesser prairie chick. The red fox, raccoon, opossum, and squirrels and rabbits also eat the fruit. Black cherries have been described as a favorite food of black bears.
This might explain the persistent nesting of a pair of gray catbirds in the hemlock trees that run down the hillside from the black cherry. So perhaps I’ll not make jelly after all but leave it to the wide variety of animals that make it a big part of their diet. Note: If you raise livestock, or intend to, you should remove any cherry trees from the pasture area as the leaves, particularly when wilted, are highly toxic to them and is a leading cause of livestock illness.
The next tree puzzled me throughout the entire early spring. Driving around or hiking it seemed to be everywhere but while its blossoms reminded me of a magnolia tree it was deciduous not evergreen.
After combing through every field guide I own, searching the web, and image searching through Google I was finally able to identify it. I was not entirely incorrect in associating it with the magnolia trees of the south I’ve seen all my life (Magnolia grandiflora). The tree is a Fraser Magnolia which has a very limited range. Again, from the U. S. Forest Service –
Restricted mostly to the Appalachians, Fraser magnolia is found in moist habitats in the mountains of West Virginia, generally in the eastern half of the State, in western Virginia, in the southern Appalachians of east Tennessee and western North Carolina, and in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern South Carolina and northeast Georgia . It also grows in the Cumberland Mountains of southeastern Kentucky.
Perhaps that is why I was not familiar with them since most of my life was spent in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.