This newsletter was originally sent October 17th, 2006. If you would like to subscribe to our free newsletter, please type your address in the box on the upper right of this page.
Is global warming real? I can only add a bit of anecdotal evidence and my personal observations. Every time we have a cold winter, I wonder if it is true, but during years of record-breaking drought, I’m fairly convinced. Also, I’ve read ecological reports citing that populations of plants such as ferns are losing individuals in the southern edge of their range, and their northern edge keeps extending. It is a slow process, but happening none the less. As for my Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), there’s no way to tell if they are thriving due to climate change, or because of the varieties I have chosen.
Magnolia grandiflora has large lustrous leaves [right] that are fuzzy on the undersides – anything from just a little green nap to thick cinnamon-brown felt. I have yet to try ‘D.D. Blanchard’ but she is high on my must-get list. Then there is ‘Simpson’s Hardy,’ and ‘Twenty-four Below,’ named for obvious reasons. ‘Victoria’ is alleged to be the hardiest. ‘Little Gem’ is a small-leafed, small-in-stature tree that I tried - -it died. Perhaps the new warmth will let me try ‘Little Gem,’ again. For now, though, I am very happy with a similar, and I think more beautiful variety ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty,’ a tree with rich flannel backs to the small-for-the-species leaves that is doing very well.
Magnolias once shared the earth with Tyrannosaurus Rex, along with the first mammals and birds. The middle of the Cretaceous period was when the continental plates moved, and the accompanying volcanic activity created the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains in the American West, and the Alps in Europe. Until that time, the earth was mostly at sea level, tropical and there was no polar ice cap. As the Cretaceous period ended, about 65 million years ago, the sea level dropped, exposing more land on the continents, and greater temperature differences from the equator to the poles. The sub-tropical magnolias survived (the dinosaurs didn’t).
Even though it is very likely that several Magnolia grandiflora varieties can survive cold, they also have to look good. Burned leaves, or no leaves are not desirable traits for an evergreen. The winner in my contest for most hardy, good looking and vigorous Southern magnolia is ‘Edith Bogue’ [left]. The trees (planted to screen the road) are still young, but have produced flowers. The variety’s leaves do not have the richest brown of some, but the ‘Edith Bogue’ trees have also not been damaged by road salt spray, and the leaves looked lustrous and shiny in the winter of February 2006, following days that dipped to minus 10 degrees.
Is ‘Edith Bogue’ thriving in may garden because of her constitution, or because the climate has warmed? Hard to answer, but another completely unscientific observation has me thinking things are definitely changing.
Just a few weeks ago, I found, a gorgeous corn snake hatchling [below] sunning on the flagstone path in front of the house. The baby was over twelve inches long with a head about half the size of my pinky nail. Baby animals, even snakes, are so cute. I thought that because they had large eyes in comparison to the rest of their small bodies. But I guess large eyes aren’t the only factor that determines cuteness (at least not for me) because the pretty little snake was (dare I admit it) adorable.
After a little research, I discovered that the range of the North American corn snake is from Florida to the southern tip of New Jersey – a zone warmer and a thousand feet lower -- than the State’s northwest corner where I garden. I doubt the little snake was an unwanted pet tossed from a moving car, so how did it get here, if it’s progenitors did not migrate north, extending their range?
I vote for migration – the range of this Southeastern snake, like the ferns and Magnolia varieties, just might be inching northward.
Have you similar anecdotes to share? If so, I would be really interested in reading about your observations. Please email me , on this topic or any other interesting garden life thoughts you may have.