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Digging Deeper: Take a Moment to Notice the Native Trees in Bloom with Brad Owen

We are excited to introduce a new feature in which we will invite you to take time out of your day to marvel at nature, applaud biodiversity, ooh and ahh over scientific facts, and admire the world around you! This week co-owner Brad Owen turns our eyes to the sky as he points out some stunning, yet under-appreciated native trees in bloom.

Take a Moment to Notice the Native Trees in Bloom At Painters we sell many species of native flowering plants, but it is easy to forget how many more spectacular blooms can be found in the wild! Our area of the country is well known to be one of the hotspots of biodiversity. But while we look to the ground and shrubs for beautiful blooms, we often overlook what’s overhead! Early spring is when most trees bloom, and I am amazed at how few people are aware of this. Sure, we all see the flowering cherries, redbuds, dogwoods, and cultivar or non-native magnolias, bradford pears, etc., but many other blooms are equally beautiful, if not often noticed.

The earliest blooming trees in this area are predominantly the red maples – usually in late February the hills around us start to exhibit reddish tinges in areas where the maples are abundant (they recently dropped their seeds, otherwise known as samaras or helicopter fruit). As spring advances, other trees bloom, mostly at the same time they are developing their new leaves. As in most cases in nature, there are plenty of exceptions such as our beloved sourwood trees that bloom in early summer, and others such as witch hazel that postpone blooming until late fall when most leaves are gone. But in my opinion there are two exceptional local tree blooms that many people fail to notice – the fraser magnolia and the tulip tree.

Fraser Magnolia, aka Mountain Magnolia
Frazer Magnolia, aka Mountain Magnolia

The fraser magnolia, often called mountain magnolia, is a smallish tree that displays foot wide (!!) whitish blossoms about the third week in April at lower elevations, and are often lost in the riot of leaf development of the time, but are truly spectacular.

Drawing of a tulip poplar
Drawing of a tulip poplar by Brad Owen

However, in my mind the undisputed king of the forest, is the tulip tree - locally called “poplar”! This tree is not a poplar at all, but a magnolia, and is the tallest hardwood of our eastern forests. Fast growing and straight, it has wood comparable to white pine and is a dominant tree in much of our local forests. The tulip tree blossoms are near peak locally and I encourage you to look up, up to see them. The problem is that these exotic blossoms which truly look like huge tulips, are usually at the tops of our tallest trees! Nevertheless, you may have seen the shed petals on the forest floor in mid-May, and you may be aware of the importance of this abundant flower to the local honey industry. Don’t let this great display go unnoticed this spring!

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