Banana palms growing in western North Carolina?

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I definitely believe climate change is real.

Here where I live, in the Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina, each summer seems to grow progressively hotter and longer, and each winter has been milder and shorter than the last (not that I mind this personally, since I really can’t stand cold weather).   This fall has felt more like a continuation of summer than fall, and even at night the temperatures are still pretty warm.    It’s also been extremely dry, and the trees, rather than turning colors, are going straight from green to brown to bare (not that the fall colors here, outside of the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trees are chosen for their fall color, are that impressive anyway).   Sometimes I feel like I live in Florida, not the mountains of North Carolina, where the climate should be temperate, not tropical.

I’ve noticed something very strange this year too, something that I’ve never seen before.  Banana palms growing in people’s yards.  Maybe it’s just a new fad, and people are planting them here, but I don’t think it’s just that.   I think the climate has actually changed in the past few years, to a more subtropical (and less temperate) one, making it possible for banana palms to grow here.

I decided to look this up on Google, and found out that there is a such thing as cold hardy banana palms, that can withstand mild winters, even if the temperatures sometimes dip below freezing, as long as the trees are protected.  So although they couldn’t grow in the wild (yet), they could grow and thrive in someone’s yard.

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I looked up the climate type for western North Carolina and found out we are a Koppen Cfa climate (humid subtropical!) climate.  Even more shocking was to find out that central to southern New Jersey is also a Cfa climate, making it possible to grow certain types of subtropical plants, including cold hardy banana palms, there too!   I do know that many beaches at the Jersey Shore now have palm trees gracing them, but these trees are removed and taken somewhere else to spend the winters (I have no idea how that would be done) and then returned to New Jersey in late spring.

In general, North Carolina does not have palm trees, although there are many flowering evergreen species (these usually have dark, waxy leaves) here in the mountains, and palmetto trees (not a real palm tree but they are related to palms) growing in the coastal areas (the palmetto is also the state tree of South Carolina).

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Palmetto tree.

 

But this might be changing.   I live 37 miles north of the South Carolina border, and almost as soon as you cross the line into that state, palmettos can be found everywhere.  Banana palms are also common there.  So we’re not far from the cutoff for tropical (or subtropical) types of plants.  But I think the cutoff has moved farther north now, even into the lower mountains.   That would make sense, with climate change being a factor.  I haven’t seen any palmettos here yet, but I wonder if that’s just a matter of time.

If food shortages due to climate change ever become a problem, maybe I’ll plant some banana palms.  Bananas are a fantastic source of nutrients and quick energy.

The weather lately and climate change.

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A tree in Missouri suffering from bacterial leaf scorch

Scientists said this past July was the hottest one on record.   Each summer has been, on average, hotter than the one before it, and the hottest summers have nearly all been since 2000.  I bet this past August will be the hottest on record too.

I don’t know about you, but I believe the scientists about this, not the orange narcissist sitting in the Oval Office, a man who actually ordered scientists at NOAA to lie about where Hurricane Dorian made landfall, in order to save his fragile ego from having to face the consequences of being wrong.

But I promise I’m not getting on my political soapbox today.   I just wanted to talk about the weather — and the strange things I’ve been observing that may be due to climate change.

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It’s the middle of September, and normally by now, even in a mid-South state like North Carolina, the weather is starting to cool down into pleasant, warm sunny dry days and cooler nights.  A few of the trees begin to show fall colors (even though “fall colors” around here often means some shade of brown, maroon, or sickly yellow).  September in this part of the country looks like summer past its expiration date:  still summer, but the trees and plants all have a tired, overgrown, overripe look about them, like fruit that’s still edible but on the verge of going bad.

But this September has been the hottest I can remember.  In fact, it’s hotter than it was in August, and August heat here is almost unbearable every year.    The temperature has been soaring up into the high 80s and 90s nearly every day this month so far, with a heat index that’s about the same or even higher, and the nights are muggy and bring little relief.

It’s a humid, oppressive heat, the kind that makes a person literally drip and plasters my hair down to my head like a helmet and makes my hair straightener almost useless.   It’s the type of heat that makes you not want to do anything, but at the same time you can’t really get any rest either.   At night in bed, without the air conditioning going at full blast, I toss and turn as if in a fever dream, and in the morning my bed is soaked with sweat.  It’s as if Florida followed me back here in August.

And the bugs.  Holy shit, the bugs.   Not bees and butterflies and other “nice” insects that do useful things for us, and don’t bother you and invade your personal space, but nasty, hateful, biting bugs that have no respect for personal boundaries.   So, the problem’s not an excess of bugs, it’s the kind of bugs.  Scientists have discovered there is a shortage of bees and other pollinating insects due to climate change, exacerbated by harmful policies that further destroy them.    I’ve seen the decline for myself.   Usually there’s a plethora of bees among the many flowering plants here, but this year there did seem to be a dearth of them.   I also noticed fewer butterflies.   But there’ve been mosquitoes in great swarms this year (probably due to the surplus of rain we had in July and August), and right now I’m covered in their nasty, itchy weals.  Blood loving insects, such as mosquitoes and fleas, seem unaffected by the hot weather, and in fact they seem to thrive in it.  There seems to be an uptick in other unpleasant, seemingly useless insects such as crane flies, fleas, and cockroaches.

Finally, there’s something wrong with the way the natural world looks.   As I mentioned earlier,  southern states don’t get the stunning array of bright Fall colors that states like Vermont or Colorado enjoy (unless you drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway, where the trees have been deliberately chosen for their autumn color), and most of the trees and other plants should still be mostly deep green anyway.

But the trees don’t just look past their prime.  They look downright unhealthy.   The other day I was driving down a pretty older suburban neighborhood whose streets are lined with huge, fat old oak trees.  These trees are probably well over one hundred years old, but I’ve never seen them look the way they do.  They looked like they were dead or dying.  All the leaves were still there, but they were a dried up, pale greenish brown, as if they were in a faded discolored old photograph. That’s not normal.   I don’t know what was wrong with those trees, but those weren’t fall colors.   They looked…dessicated or even burnt.  Perhaps the intense heat had done that to them.   There’s a fatal condition (shown at the top) that affects oaks and other types of trees called bacterial leaf scorch. Maybe that’s what it is, or maybe it’s some kind of blight.  Other trees and plants have that scorched, blighted look too.    I’ve also noticed a lot more dead trees.

One of my neighbors is growing a palm tree.  Palm trees don’t grow in western North Carolina naturally, but I have to wonder if, with the warm winters we’ve enjoyed the past few years (save a few days with temps in the single digits or teens), it just might survive if this winter proves to be even warmer.

For the past few years, I’ve also noticed the vegetation along the sides of the roads is dead.  Maybe it’s being sprayed with pesticides near the road, or maybe it’s the exhaust from the cars, but this seems like something new.  I don’t think I ever noticed it until a few years ago.

The sky has a strange look to it, a smogginess I don’t remember ever seeing in this part of the country before.   Sometimes near the horizon, it’s so heavy it obscures the view of distant objects, and it has an unpleasant yellowish gray tint to it, a color similar to a bruise, or an approaching thunderstorm even though there’s no storm coming.  In fact, it reminds me of the way the air looked on summer days in New York and New Jersey back in the pre-EPA 1970s. Could Trump’s relaxation of environmental regulations already be having visible effects?

Have you noticed similar changes too?  Let me know in the comments.

Spooky trees.

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This was taken looking up at a wooded area that had been partially clearcut to make room for an apartment complex (I took the picture from the parking lot, looking up a steep hill toward the forest).   New plants and shrubs hadn’t had a chance to take root in front of the trees, so you found yourself looking deep into the forest.  Behind the pale trunks the dark green depths appeared almost black.  Adding to the creepiness was the fact a thunderstorm was about to start.

ETA:  I iked this enough I decided to make it the new blog cover photo.   It was time for a change.

Spring in the mountains.

These three gorgeous pictures capture the Blue Ridge in April.   These photos were taken from about 3,000 feet.

I wasn’t lucky enough to get the flowering dogwoods or many other flowering trees (most have turned green by now).

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Sunday drive to Mount Mitchell.

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I had to get out of the house yesterday and clear my head.  I’ve been very upset about the situation with the children at the border.

Nature usually calms my soul and centers me, so in spite of the iffy, partly cloudy weather, I took a drive to Mount Mitchell State Park, about 50 miles to the north from where I live.   Mount Mitchell is part of the Black Mountains (eastern flank of the Blue Ridge) and at 6,683 ft is the highest mountain on the East Coast (Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the second highest, at 6,289 ft).

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It was noticeably cooler at the summit, almost sweater weather.  That high up, only conifer trees can grow, and the area is known for its Frasier firs, a species known only to this area that almost died out about twenty years ago due to an aphid infestation.  There are still many white skeleton-looking trunks of the trees that died off, mixed with the newer trees, giving the area an eerie but interesting look.

I took these photos.  Hope you like them.

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What is crown shyness?

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“Crown shyness” is a real term that means the pattern a canopy of trees make against the sky.   They seem to avoid touching, which is responsible for the pattern.

One theory is this is due to branches rubbing against each other and then breaking off, leaving the jigsaw-puzzle like patterns.  Another theory is that the growing tips are sensitive to levels of light, and stop growing as they near the branch tips of other trees.

They’re better at maintaining good boundaries than humans are!

I never noticed tcrown shyness before, but now I’ll be looking for it whenever I walk in a forest or under a grove of tall trees.

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Photos not taken by me.  Credit: unknown.

Flowering trees.

We had a cold snap here over the weekend (and a little snow too) and I was afraid it would kill the blooms on the trees, but I guess it wasn’t cold enough because they still look great.   Here’s a couple of pictures from today.

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A reflective trip into our common past.

My son said he’s spent today feeling reflective and wanted to revisit some of the places he knew as a child, including the home he and his sister were raised in by us.   Compared to the last two days, which were fun and active, today was quieter and more reflective  for both of us. It was also very healing and put a lot of perspective onto things.

So we took the 20 minute drive to where he grew up, parked the car and just walked around looking (without trying to look too suspicious!)   Our old house has fallen into disrepair (I don’t know if anyone lives there) but back in 1993, just after we purchased the house, we planted some trees.

We had this nutty idea of importing 30 tiny Canadian redwood seedlings from a company in British Columbia, Canada.   I remember we had to wait a while for them even after they shipped, because first they had to pass some kind of inspection in Florida to make sure they were free of aphids and other microbes that they might have been carrying from outside the US.   I remember when we finally got the seedlings, I had to keep them in a tub for a few days to moisten and soften their roots before planting them.

Redwoods are not indigenous to North Carolina, but we did some researchh and found out the moderate humid climate here is actually conducive to their growth, which is why we took a chance on them.   Over the years most of the seedlings died, and when the house was finally sold (well, actually foreclosed on) in 2003, the next owners chopped most of the surviving redwoods (about 5 or 6 left) down.  I remember being so enraged by that.   At the time the doomed young redwoods were about 8-10 feet tall.

But there is one last survivor, a beautiful, majestic redwood that is now 30-40 feet tall and looks very much at home among the small grove of other large trees that were either non-existent or very small when we bought the house in 1993. Here is that redwood as it is today.   It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that twenty-three years ago it sat in my tub upon arrival encased in a root ball with a plastic bag tied around it.

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Closeup of the bark–beautiful, red and burled.

I got photos of the rest of the trees (the ones I was able to–I didn’t want to be caught trespassing), all so much bigger than they were in 1993 or even ten years ago.     Here’s a cherry tree that was very tiny, barely more than a sapling,  but is now a huge shady tree big and sturdy enough to support a tire swing.   When my kids were little, the tree was too small to climb, but they used to pick caterpillars from its bark and collect them in a bucket (to be released outside later, as per my instructions.)

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View of the property as it is today.  It was quite bare and almost treeless when we moved in.  You can see part of the house on the right.  The pink magnolia directly to the left of the house I planted there as a tiny seedling in 1996.

Here is a closeup of the magnolia:

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One of the many pine trees showing off its huge sturdy trunk:

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The tree pictured below was the only one that was already big when we purchased the property in 1993, but it’s at least twice the size now and wide enough at the bottom to make a perfect fort for kids to play under.  Hell, I used to go sit under that tree to escape from my then husband!  Sometimes I even read books under there.

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2 views of the remains of our old outbuilding.  The roof has collapsed.  My son and I are both attracted to the eerie beauty of abandoned buildings.  Seeing the shed we used to store our gardening equipment and other things in was a little bittersweet.  I didn’t dare go inside.

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A nearby “bamboo forest” growing behind the elementary school my kids attended.  It wasn’t there then.  Bamboo may be an invasive weed in this country because of its lack of natural enemies to keep its growth in check, but I find it beautiful.   I find the same to be true of Kudzu, which also grows here.

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Finally, a view of our old neighborhood from the top of a nearby hill:

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My son is flying back to Florida in the wee hours this morning.  I’m going to miss him, but I feel so happy we had such an amazing time together.

Tomorrow I’ll be able to return to blogging as usual.   I’ve been so busy the past few days that keeping up has been difficult.  I didn’t even have time to post a Monday Melody, but I promise there will be a new one this coming Monday.

I love spring!

It does wonders for my mood.

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Tree with ivy.

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I liked the look of this tree covered with ivy so I took a picture of it with my phone. I was standing directly underneath of it looking up, which makes its trunk look much bigger than it really is.

My favorite part about having a Smartphone is being able to take pictures whenever I want and having them immediately.  Instant gratification!