Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Introducing the New Spring Line...

aesculus pavia

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.


Frances, said...

Hi Debi, thanks for educating us about riparians. I have seen the buckeyes for sale in the nurseries and really didn't know anything about them, other than the Ohio State U. connection. How wonderful that those beautiful trees are both holding up the bank and feeding the hummingbirds. Hooray for them!

Frances at Faire Garden

Threadspider said...

Sounds to me that the Buckeyes are growing just where they ought to be and doing a fine job. They are cousins to the Horse Chestnuts that grow here-I'll try to post pictures when they come into flower, which will be very soon, so you can see the family likeness.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh baby! You know I love those seed pods!!!!!! It's so nice to now know more about these beauties.


Daniel Spurgeon said...

Interesting post, Debi. One of the first photos I took at Bob and Marilyns were of a Coral Buckeye blooming while they were building their house. The Bottlebrush Buckeye should also bloom before too long- but I'm not sure if it is in North Alabama or not- I had taken photos of it along the river banks down south of Birmingham. I will be on the lookout for the seed pods- they sound interesting.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Thanks all for your nice comments! Daniel - I planted several Bottlebrush Buckeyes on the east side of our house last fall. Next time you're out and about stroll by and take a look at them. They're only now coming out, and I'm not sure if they'll bloom this year or not. Just ignore the weeds, okay? Better yet, yank some up while you're there - LOL!

Anonymous said...

gosh, some people may not like them but I sure don't know why -- it's beautiful and those blooms are lovely. I can see why they're attractive to hummers.


Carla said...

I always learn something here.

And I think the Red Buckeyes are beautiful.

The Garden Faerie said...

What a wonderful photo of the buckeye! (And the other photos are beautiful, too!)
~ Monica (also a snapdragon in that "What flower are you" quiz)


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