Posted on 29.11.2022 |
Added in Tales From My Wildlife Allotment

We have had a very mild autumn with only one frosty night so far. Leaves are still hanging on many of the trees and some plants are still flowering. It is quite unusual that plants which normally flower at the end of winter have started flowering already such as one of my hellebore plants and the Japanese plum, . This is probably not good for the plants as there will be some cold weather coming eventually which will kill all the premature flowers off which is a bit of a shame. It would be better for plants if we had consistently cold winter weather so they can have a proper rest. The mild weather has also brought a lot of rain which has hopefully alleviated the drought conditions we still have here in the South East. Seed heads, such as the fluffy seed heads of Symphyotrichum novi-angliae, are still looking good but we did not have many dry and cold days to really make them stand out; they look best on a cold frosty morning with the sun just coming up, all sparkling and glittering.

The allotment looking very autumnal

Prunus salicina has opened the first flowers

Symphyotrichum novi-angliae seed heads

Some of my trees are still showing good autumn colours, especially my little tree. I love the crimson-red colour which is positively glowing when seen against the sun. I have seen lots of Liquidambar trees in their native habitat in swamps and moist woodlands in South Carolina, USA, where I was on holiday two weeks ago, but more of that later. Another tree with good autumn colour is Parrotia persica. The leaves turn a pretty yellow and pink colour in late autumn and stay on the tree for quite a long time. I have also planted after seeing a tree in full autumn glory in Harcourt Arboretum near Oxford last year. The tree not only has wonderful red and yellow autumn colours but also beautiful mottled bark on its stem which looks great in winter. In spring the tree has quite large white flowers, similar to a magnolia flower.

Liquidambar styraciflua
has pretty crimson red leaves in autumn

Parrotia persica
has yellow and pink leaves in autumn

Stewartia pseudocamellia
looks pretty in autumn as well

had burning red leaves earlier in autumn which have now all fallen to the ground. What is left are curious-looking orange seeds which continue the interest well into winter. It will be interesting to see if the seeds will eventually be eaten by birds. has long finished flowering now but even better than the flowers, in my opinion, are the leaves which are out now. They have the most beautiful mottled green and white pattern, which seems to differ quite a lot between plants; some have a lot more white patches than others. The leaves of , which are much rounder, are out now as well and will soon be followed by the pretty flowers.

The frog in my greenhouse seems to have decided that he likes it in there so much that he will stay there for winter. Every time I go into the greenhouse I see him hopping around. He looks well-fed so there must be enough for him to eat. The door is still open all the time so he can come and go as he wants.

The orange seeds of Euonymus alatus look good

Beautiful mottled leaves of Cyclamen hederifolium

My greenhouse frog

When tending to my bonsai trees I noticed a curious looking yellow string-like creature on top of the moss in one of the pots. Having a closer look it turned out to be a centipede in the Geophilidae family. They normally hide under rocks or bark and are rarely out in the open so it was interesting to see one in broad daylight. These centipedes are mainly predators and eat smaller animals such as springtails. A few years ago I had planted a strawberry tree (Arbutus uneo) next to the shed on the new allotment. This year it is in flower for the first time and has attracted quite a lot of winter-active buff-tailed bumblebees (Bombus terrestris). I have seen a few workers and even a large queen, all enjoying the copious amounts of nectar the flowers produce. Wasps are still active as well thanks to the mild weather. I have watched one of them catching a spider and discarding the legs to better be able to carry the body away to the nest.

A centipede in one of my bonsai pots

A buff-tailed bumblebee
is enjoying the flowers of my Arbutus undedo tree

A wasp eating a spider

Two weeks ago I was finally able to travel to South Carolina, a holiday I had won in the BBC Gardener's World ‘Garden of the Year' competition last year. We stayed in Charleston first which is at the coast, visited Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, and did some nice walks before moving on to Myrtle Beach. The countryside in South Carolina is quite interesting as they have a lot of wet woodland and swamps with a lot of standing water everywhere. The swamps are especially nice as they look so different from anything we have here in the UK. Taxodium distichum, the bald cypress, grows directly in the water, together with other trees such as water tupelo, Nyssa aquatica, and Liquidambar styraciflua; while loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) also grows in slightly drier places, while dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and switch cane (Arundinaria tecta) often cover the ground. Taxodium distichum has the interesting habit of growing knees which help stabilise the tree in its swampy home. It was formerly thought that the knees help the tree breathing in water-logged soil but this idea has now been dismissed.

A swamp near Charleston, South Carolina, USA

Knees of Taxodium distichum

Cyperus sedge in a swamp near Charleston

As there are such high humidity levels in the southern parts of South Carolina, trees are often covered in epiphytic plants such as ferns, especially Polypodium species, and tillandsia, mainly Tillandsia usneoides, also called Spanish moss. With the tillandsia hanging down from almost every tree it looked quite magical and otherworldly, especially when walking through the woodlands. All the standing water everywhere unfortunately also means a great breeding ground for mosquitos. We were lucky that it had turned unusually cold when we were in South Carolina so we did not encounter many of these bothersome insects, but in summer you are probably eaten alive by mosquitos without adequate protection. I liked the mosquito meter we saw in Congaree National Park and I was glad it only showed a harmless mild mosquito level when we were there.

Polypodium ferns
growing on a tree in a woodland near Charleston

Tillansia usneoides hanging from an old tree
in Magnolia Plantation near Charleston

Mosquito Meter
in Congaree National Park, South Carolina

For the final part of our holiday we drove to Greenville which is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The mountains look not so much different from mountainous areas in Continental Europe; in fact driving through the mountains there reminded me of mountainous areas in Germany. Woodlands were mainly dominated by different oak trees such as chestnut oak (Quercus prinus), northern red oak () and eastern black oak (Quercus velutina), also white oak (Quercus alba) and scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea). Hickories such as bitternut (Carya cordiformis), shagbark (Carya ovata) and mockernut (Carya tomentosa) are found here, as are black tupelo (), red maple (), white pine (Pinus strobus), and white ash (Fraxinus americana). Understorey plants were dominated by mountain laurel, , and to my surprise Rhododendron catawbiense (Catawba Rhododendron), which is apparently native to the eastern United States. There was also an interesting Rubus species which had turned a bright orange- red autumn colour and several different Vaccinium species. A relatively common herbaceous plant was Asarum shuttleworthii, commonly known as mottled wild ginger, which has aromatic leaves which are usually mottled with silvery grey markings. The white pine, Pinus strobus, is such a beautiful pine that I have now bought a young tree for growing as a bonsai on my allotment (it will grow too large to have as a full-sized tree). I also already grow Nyssa sylvatica, Acer rubrum and Quercus rubra on my allotment, which will now always remind me of our holiday in South Carolina, as well as the Liquidambar tree I am growing.

Mountain forest in the Appalachian Mountains
near Greenvilee, South Carolina

Interesting Rubus species
in the Appalachian Mountains

Asarum shuttleworthii, a pretty low-growing plant
in the Appalachian Mountains

This is my last blog post I will write for the Hardy Plant Society for now. If you are interested in seeing more pictures and read about what I am up to on my allotment you can look at my new Mastodon account (I have stopped using my twitter account). Thank you for reading my blog posts and hopefully you enjoyed the tales from my wildlife allotment.

Nadine Mitschunas