The sloping bank of our lot that leads from the house to a 30' cliff to Wheeler Lake, part of the Tennessee River system, is called a riparian zone. That is the official term for the margin of land that lies between a flowing surface of water and the upper grounds. Plant communities along these river margins are called riparian vegetation. These plants are critical for maintaining the health of our river system and influence aquatic ecosystems.
I learned about riparian zones at a TVA seminar last year, and consider myself a fledgling student of the subject. Check out wikipedia if you're interested to learn more. However, I find that plants along these strips are usually vastly different from plants on higher ground. Although I'm a native North Alabamian, Red Buckeyes weren't known to me until I moved onto the river system. They are here in abundance along the river banks alongside various native hydrangeas and laurels that also bloom in spring. Red Buckeyes can be found alongside wooded roadways and within our woods, but they tend to be found near streams or a water source.
These small native trees start out as a rich, mahogany-colored seed wrapped up in a luscious textured seedpod. These seeds are supposedly bitter and poisonous, but of late I've had a hard time finding any to photograph. This, above, was taken several years ago.
The bare winter branches are very straight and a pale gray. In early spring they are dotted with fat, light green buds which open up into the most alien-looking formations. From the center a long, multi-faceted flower bud emerges from which come the eventual red blooms.
The blooms last a long time, and attract the spring migration hummingbirds, offering them immediate food after their long journey.
As mentioned before, most folks here are not as enamoured with the Red Buckeyes. They are deciduous, and by mid-summer their leaves begin to dim and yellow, some dropping. Japanese Beetles like to eat the leaves as well, turning them into skeletons. However, I have a soft spot for these trees.
Imagine my delight our first spring here, waking to a riot of red blooms cascading down our bank. And they were free. Planted by God. Hummingbirds love them. They wave in the wind and hold my soil on these sharp slopes. We've been through hurricanes and tornadoes, torrential downpours and even an earthquake since we've been here and we've not lost an inch of real estate while those who have stripped their land have to purchase more rip rap in hopes of not losing any more.