Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Putting the pieces together

During our recent trip to the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, we encountered some interesting trees. The leaves were H-U-G-E! I had a vague recollection of seeing them during our previous visit to the same area 5 years prior, but I had no remembrance of the what the tree was called. Luckily, when we stopped in the Gladie Cultural-Environmental Learning Center, they had a sign up on the wall that said "What's up with the big leaves?" A question they had obviously heard many times, they must have decided it was time to inform the public of the answer to this burning question. The mystery tree was the Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla).

Leaves, with leaf bud sticking out from the middle.

Those are some big leaves!

The leaves were easily as long as my entire forearm, including my hand.

Looking up at some Bigleaf Magnolia leaves. This photo does not justice to their size.

The leaves can get as large as 30 inches! These understory trees put out magnificent blooms in June or July, and it's a shame we had missed them by a few months. Between the magnolias and the many rhododendrens that were around, I would imagine spring and summer to be a time of magnificent flowering in this area!

So anyway, once I found out the identity of the tree, I was happy enough, and considered the case closed. Until we got home, that is.

You see, during one of our hikes we came across an interesting piece of plant matter that I thought might actually be a mushroom of some sort.

Looks kind of like an artichoke, huh? I did a search for "artichoke mushroom" on Google, which only lead me to some recipe sites. Then I tried "artichoke fungus," and still no luck. After several more failed search attempts, I eventually stumbled upon a site that showed me that this was not a mushroom at all, but the shriveled fruit "spike" (cone, actually, just like a pine cone) of... the Bigleaf Magnolia tree. Aha!

Seeing this particular decaying Bigleaf Magnolia cone really made me think it was some sort of fungus.

Bigleaf Magnolia cone, aptly laying on a Bigleaf Magnolia leaf on the forest floor.

I love it when things come together like this. It took me quite a while to relocate the site that led me to this knowledge (no, I didn't bookmark it!): it was, a site that certainly warrants more study on my part.


The Early Birder said...

Whow Heather those leaves are huge.
Thanks for the Mushroom link I will find some time soon to check it out. FAB

Kelly said... leaves are huge! Looks tropical. Good sleuthing...... I have a Sweet Bay Magnolia in my front yard. The seed pods remind me of it (but they are not black....). The birds love to dig the red seeds out of the Sweet Bay pods. I wonder what color the fruit is when it's still on the tree.

Jim McCormac said...

A wonderful tree, the Bigleaf Magnolia - thanks for sharing! Ohio has the northernmost population, too, and the only sites north of the Ohio River for this tree. They occur in Lake Katharine State Nature Preserve in Jackson County, and one other spot nearby.


RuthieJ said...

Wow Heather, that's one amazing tree. I've never seen anything like it.

Heather said...

Frank - Leaves that large look really out of place among maple and sassafras trees, which is what they were mixed in with in some spots. I hope to check out that mushroom link some myself... I have lots of photos of unidentified fungal objects (UFOs!).

Kelly - They look especially tropical when mixed in with the rhododendrons. I would love to see that area in the spring and summer. According to one photo I found of the seeds, they are red, but I don't know about the fruit itself.

Jim - Yes, I read on the USDA plants database that Jackson county is the only place in Ohio where they are reported. Might have to try to make a trip to the nature preserve you mentioned to see these beauties in bloom.

Ruthie - Most of the Bigleafs that we saw seemed pretty young - not terribly tall, and with very small-diameter trunks, but the leaves more than make up for the short stature! Amazing, indeed.