Searching for Bigleaf Magnolia blossoms at Redlair

NCNPS members were very lucky to be able to visit Redlair Farm and Forest by the invitation of Catawba Lands Conservancy last week. You may think the Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) flower in the above photo looks a little dark…that’s because Haywood Rankin, steward of the Redlair preserve  cleverly toured our small group up hill and down, along the banks of the East Fork of the Catawba River before finally revealing our first Bigleaf Magnolia blooms at eye level, right before our evening hike ended. Even in the fading twilight, those white blossoms with a touch of purple on each petal were impressive.

Haywood Rankin

Nearly 740 acres in Gastonia known as the The Redlair Plant Conservation Preserve was added to NC’s Plant Conservation Program in 2014. This land was formerly a portion of Catawba Lands Conservancy as far back as 1995, because the Rankin family wished to preserve the land and its natural resources. The preserve contains state threatened Bigleaf Magnolia plants and the federally protected Schweinitzi’s Sunflower.  This exemplary property is a NC Natural Heritage site and only open with express permission from the Plant Conservation Program.

Our hike included views of the swollen and muddy South Fork Catawba River, and several delightful streams with small cascading waterfalls. The trails included  beautiful hardwood forest, beneath giant patches of the Bigleaf Magnolia in addition to winding Mountain Laurel thickets.

New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americana

As we walked the many trails that Haywood has created on this property we encountered New Jersey Tea, Pipsissewa, Black Cohosh and young stalks of Schweinitzi’s Sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii). We hope to arrange a return visit in September to visit these endangered sunflowers in bloom.

To learn more about the history and ecology of Redlair Farm and Forest click here. We were joined on this hike by Lesley Starke, Plant Ecologist, NC Plant Conservation Program. Many thanks to Mary Ann Harrison and Catawba Lands Conservancy for including NCNPS members in this outing. It was a wonderful treat.

Black Cohosh Actaea racemosa


George Poston Park, revisited

I said I never would. Revisit the park.

It was the site of our Chapter’s biggest plant rescue to date and occurred nearly 8 years ago. And, the site was a special one. Home to the only publicly owned Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) population in Gaston County, as far as I knew.  And, so much more.  Ancient Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Silverbells (Halesia tetraptera), Galax (Galax urceolata)  – mountain plants!  Catesby’s Trillium (Trillium catesbaei), Pinxter Azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides). I could go on and on. It was a heartbreaker. The fact that this was occurring in my home county made it all the more personal. Flooding this beautiful land for a fishing lake (and, it’s not like Gaston County didn’t have plenty of those already). Very hard to imagine a good outcome here. So, we came in with the Park’s blessing and assistance and took what we could. Left some plants to be replanted at the Park. And, tried not to look back. Until a couple of weeks ago when I saw some pictures posted on Facebook from there.  Bigleaf Magnolia. Mountain Laurel. Even, Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) which I’d never even seen there. Hmmm…


So, on this Mother’s Day – with neither a mother nor any offspring on the horizon – I thought I might go and take a peak. I even talked my husband into accompanying me.  And, what we found was almost glorious. We started with a completely new trail, across the road from the original rescue site. We didn’t get far before baby Bigleafs began to pop up here and there.  And, at the head of an unfinished trail down to the (Southfork) river, Black Cohosh. Beginning to bloom!

And, at the bottom, no Goatsbeard (I never did find it) but Leucothoe, great swaths of Christmas Fern, Spicebush. Lush biodiversity! And, on the way back up the paved trail, a blooming Bigleaf Magnolia! Lots of babies, too.Bigleaf Magnolia blossom (1)

Encouraged, we made our way over to the dreaded lake site. And, surprise! By and large, it was very well done.  The lakeside wasn’t turfed to within an inch of its life but vegetated. Mostly. With many of the same plants that we’d rescued all those years ago. I’ve never seen so many Christmas Ferns growing on an open bank in the Piedmont. Wish I’d taken a picture of that. And, the ‘lakeside’ trails meandered through the same beautiful and bounteous landscape that I’d remembered.  By and over the rocky creek that feeds the lake. Lined with masses of ferns, wildflowers, Bigleaf Magnolia, Pinxter Azalea and Mountain Laurel.

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I left feeling tired but hopeful and grateful. By days end, I’d even heard from all of the children and step-children and shared ice cream and conversation with the only child who still calls North Carolina home. More often than not, life is pretty darned good.

Wanted: dead – and alive?

It perches high in the tree canopy for most of the year, hidden from view. Then, after those trees have shed their leaves and revealed its presence, we try to shoot it down.  To use as a Christmas decoration/love potion. A Rodney Dangerfield “don’t get no respect” sort of native plant. Oak Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum.
So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when my nomination of Mistletoe for January’s “Eco-friendly Plant of the Month” was shot down. Nor was I offended by the joke that followed.

What do you call it when an astronaut gets athlete’s foot?


So, imagine my delight when Dr. Mellichamp brought a bunch of harvested and purchased Mistletoe sprigs (with berries) to feature at our December meeting! This being our seed exchange/plant propagation meeting, he explained how those translucent white, probably-poisonous-to-humans fruits were relished by birds. And, that if you squeezed the fruit, out would slide the sticky, sticky seed.  In nature, birds extract and deposit the seed – at one end of the digestive process or the other.  And, according to Dr. M, once the seed is deposited it stays stuck, until it germinates (slow process). And, grows (slower process). But, we were invited to take a piece and try the human method at home. So, I did.

Blurry sticky seed in Red Maple branch crotch.

It turns out that Mistletoe has tree preferences that vary from place to place. I did a little research and wiped the sticky substance and seed on a variety of tree species around my property – focusing on trees with branches that I could actually reach – and were mentioned … somewhere.  I chose Red Maple and Pignut Hickory, mostly.

Well, that was fun. But, while we’re pondering whether any of us will live long enough to witness the results of this exercise, why not look up and appreciate the Mistletoe that occurs around you?

oak-mistletoe-2Turns out that downtown Monroe, NC is a good place to observe Mistletoe. And with ever-decreasing human habitation in town, you’re less likely to be run over while mistletoe-gazing, than you would be in, say, Charlotte.

Mistletoe’s roots penetrate the bark of the tree on which it perches, producing nourishment for itself (and perhaps its host, too) through photosynthesis. Its fruits provide winter nourishment for birds. Oak Mistletoe also serves as the one and only host plant for the Great Purple Hairstreak butterfly. This time of year is an especially good time to consider this lowly, high-growing subshrub. I hope you will consider its quiet, unique beauty before the lovely noise of spring overwhelms it once again.