Leaf of the Day: The Simply Beautiful Fringe Tree and 3 More Crotons

I made a brief visit to the gardens today. The weather was beautiful, there were 4 weddings (hopefully, no funeral) and a camera club outing, so Leu Gardens was buzzing. There are some lovely things coming into bloom which I had missed last year, some very pretty cherry trees and the gorgeous American Fringe Tree, Chionanthus Virginicus.

It is also known by other picturesque names, Old Man’s Beard, or Grancy Gray Beard. It’s so dainty and had a light scent which reminded me very much of cow parsley.

Donald Culross Peattie in “Trees of Eastern and Central North America” describes it in his best lyrical prose.

“Only a little tree at its best… the Fringe tree is as gracile and feminine seeming as any that grows beside the rushing stream or climbs the warm slopes of the Blue Ridge under the shelter of sturdier growths. Close relative of the useful and mighty Ashes, kin to the fruitful Olive, the Fringe tree is the little sister of the family. If it is of no economic importance it contributes to the higher things of life (ahh.. how lovely) It is a raving beauty when in mid- spring it is loaded from top to bottom with the airiest, most ethereal yet showy flowers boasted by any member of our northern sylva. “

I thought how nice it was to be reminded that we do need some things in life that just make us feel happy, without actually being essential to our survival. William Morris’ suggestion to have only things around us that are beautiful or useful is a good rule. Ideas of use and beauty however do vary!
I would love to paint this pretty tree sometime, but today I was looking for some more colourful croton leaves, this time Pinnochio, Zanzibar, and Mammey.


Three More Crotons

Leaf of the Day:Samara of the Southern Red Maple

Today, to get back to painting, a study of one of the small samaras of the Southern Red Maple Acer rubrum v trilobum, native to Eastern United States and growing at Leu down by the lake overlook, with a small companion Sugar Maple, Acer saccarum ssp Foridanum nearby. There were bunches of these pretty winged seeds all over the ground a couple of weeks ago and I think, had I painted this one immediately, the colours would have been brighter. It’s very small, only 2.5 inches from the top of the wing to the bottom of the stem
This particular variety is distinguished from the regular Acer rubrum by its smaller and 3 lobed rather than 5 lobed leaves, which generally turn yellow rather than red in the autumn.

Trilobum leaves

Staminate, Male Flowers
These super photos by Will Cook, from the excellent reference page at “Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of North Carolina” site here

These beautiful small flowers are also much loved by bees in the spring, and the more I learn about bees, the more concerned I am about them, and the need to plant and encourage bee friendly plants.

And the Red Maple is not only beautiful but useful. The early European settlers learnt how to utilise the maples from the native Indians and the Red Maple was used amongst other things to make ink and dye stuffs. Peter Kalm the student of Linneus wrote of the Red Maple in 1750, “Out of its wood they make plates, spinning wheels, spools, feet for chairs and beds and many other kinds of turnery. With the bark they dye both worsted and linen, giving it a dark blue color.”

Despite the icy temperatures of last week we haven’t seen snow here but those in northern climes must welcome the splash of colour from this lovely tree.
Here is a description from Donald Culross Peattie’s “Trees of Eastern and Central North America” again.
” All seasons of the year the Red Maple has something red about it. In winter the buds are red, growing a brilliant scarlet as winter ends, the snow begins to creep away and the ponds to brim with chill water and trilling frog music. So bright in fact that if one takes an airplane flight anywhere across the immense natural range of this tree one can pick out the red Maples by the promise of spring in their tops, for no other tree quite equals them at this season in quality or intensity of colour.

Ah… the promise of spring, doesn’t that lift your spirits? We already have more vocal birds here and yes, the frogs are getting noisier too..


Red Maple Samara

Size, 3.5 “. Watercolour on Arches HP