PAWPAW, SPIKENARD, SPICEBUSH, and WITCH HAZEL
October Golden-leaved Plant Community
A group of unusual plants grows along the south end of the savanna in Potawatomi Park that is located between the parkbuilding and the Fox River. Shaded by a gigantic Linden or Basswood (Tilia americana) tree, the low ground never completely dries out.
Paw Paw at a distance
The Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) trees are the most exotic looking of the unusual grouping. A small tree, it grows up to 20’ tall. While It will grow in mesic or wet woods, in deep moist alluvial soils it will form large colonies. Its stupendous leaves turn a luminous gold in fall, ravishing when seen against the dark coffee brown bark of the trunk and branches.
I must admit I have never seen it in flower in May or fruit in August, but I understand both events are spectacular. I will put it on my calendar for next year. How many of you have seen these phenomena?
The Chicago area is the northern range of PawPaw. Further south, it is grown for its fruit production.
Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) appears to be a shrub–it grows up to 6‘ tall and around–but it is an herbaceous plant. Rare in the wild, it is found in rich, springy woods. It blooms profusely in July, followed by striking clusters of berries in August and September. The dazzling golden fall foliage in October lasts into November, giving Spikenard star power for three seasons.
Underplant these plants with Wild Ginger, Solomon’s Seal, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Big Merrybells, and Carex sprengellii.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is marginally hardy west of Chicago away from the lake. i planted one many years ago; the top half winter-killed the first winter–the second winter finished it off. In nature, it is found with the above mentioned plants in the well-shaded understory of wet to mesic woods.
Spectacular in its golden fall dress, it has other seasonal attributes, as well. In earliest spring, in April, dense clusters of tiny yellow blossoms appear before the leaves; then in mid-September, profuse shiny red berries appear, a favorite of myriad birds. It will grow up to 10’ tall and around.
Plant Carex muskingumensis at its feet or nearby. A bed of Ostrich Fern (Pteretis pensylvanica) grows nearby, also; but they turn brown at the first frost. .
Another small tree with golden leaves awaits us in the savanna on higher ground.
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is an open, multi-stemmed shrub or small tree, up to 18’ tall. Its rounded, oblong leaves turn to a luminous gold in the fall, while a stunning surprise waits for us in November. (stay tuned) It is common in the high dune area, in rich woods, and the slopes of ravines on the west side of Lake Michigan. it’s easily obtainable in commerce.
The golden autumn leaves of Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum canaliculatum) add charm and grace to the floor of the savanna.
All these plants are native to mesic or wet woods. Do any of them grow near you or do you grow any of them yourselves? Please share.