Cherokee Rose

White blooms of the Cherokee Rose (Rosa laevigata) are a common sight along southeastern Louisiana roadways in early March. A native of southeast Asia, in the United States it is an invasive species. It has thrived in the southern US since its introduction here long ago (~1780), and was adopted as the state flower of Georgia in 1916.

Cherokee Rose climbs aggressively over other vegetation forming dense mounds of thorny canes. So, even though its springtime bloom is impressive, it is not always welcome in the landscape.

The name Cherokee Rose comes from its association with the Trail of Tears, the route taken by Cherokees and other native tribes when they were forcibly relocated to the west from the southeastern US.

Southern Trees; Southern Live Oaks with Spanish Moss

Oaks are common both in Minnesota and Louisiana. Like pines, oak species are different in the north vs. the south. Southern Live Oak (Quercus virginiana ) is a distinctive and beautiful oak species found along the Southeastern Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Florida, and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. Live Oaks retain their leaves nearly all year, which is why they are named “Live”. They are not true evergreens because they shed their leaves in the spring just prior to emergence of next year’s leaves.

Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is draped across the branches of the oaks in the pictures below. It actually is not moss, but rather a flowering plant in the Bromeliad family. While Spanish Moss uses trees like Live Oak and Bald Cypress for physical support, it is not parasitic. Plants like this that have no roots but absorb nutrients and water from humidity and rain are known as epiphytes.

The pictures above show a majestic Live Oak along the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain in Mandeville LA. The largest Live Oak registered by the Live Oak Society is only a few miles from this oak. It is known as the Seven Sisters Oak, and has a trunk nearly 40 feet in diameter.

The pictures above show the “oak alley” located in Fontainebleau State Park, a few miles east of Mandeville LA. These oaks were planted around 1850 when the site was a plantation and sugar mill owned by Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville.

Southern Trees; Pines

Pine trees are prevalent in the Southeastern USA, but the species are completely different from those native to Minnesota. The Southern Pines native to St Tammany Parish, Louisiana are Loblolly, Longleaf, Shortleaf, Slash, and Spruce Pine. However, locally I’ve only identified Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda).

Loblolly Pine is the most common tree in Louisiana, by far. According to a survey by the Southern Research Station of the US Forest Service, Loblolly Pines in Louisiana numbered about 2 billion in 2005, twice as many as the second place tree, the Sweetgum. The only other pine in the top 20 Louisiana trees was the Slash Pine, which Loblolly outnumbered by about 6X.

Loblolly Pine is the most important commercial tree in the Southern US, planted extensively for lumber and pulpwood. It grows fast, about two feet per year, in a wide range of environments.

Loblolly, like most of the Southern Pines has three needles growing from each fascicle. Pine trees in Minnesota have either 2 needles/fascicle (Red, Jack) or 5 needles/fascicle (Eastern White). The cone of the Loblolly Pine has distinctive protruding barbs. The bark of the Loblolly is rather thin in comparison to other pines, such as Longleaf. A consequence is that Loblolly is less able to withstand fire than other pine trees.

Loblolly is a word of Southern origin that refers to a swampy area, or a mudhole. Its name reflects that Loblolly Pine thrives best in wetter settings.

Southern Trees; Bald Cypress

We have returned south to Louisiana for the winter, so this blog will have to change a bit. To start, there will be a few posts that compare trees in the south to counterparts that grow in Minnesota. The first tree to be featured is the state tree of Louisiana, the Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum), which is a deciduous conifer, like Minnesota’s Tamarack.

The native range of Bald Cypress stretches south along the Atlantic Coast from southern New Jersey to Florida and west along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas; it also extends north along the Mississippi river valley to southern Missouri. The picture on the left above is a Bald Cypress at the northern edge of its range, near New Madrid, MO, while the picture on the right is a specimen much further south, in Mandeville, LA.

Like the Tamarack, the Bald Cypress is one of the rare conifers that loses its leaves (needles) in the fall/winter. Around this time of year in Louisiana Bald Cypress needles change from green to yellow and orange before falling off. This does not happen uniformly, as shown by the trees in the two pictures above. They were both pictured on November 13 and are only about 50 steps apart. The tree shown on the left may be staying greener longer because of better access to water or less sun exposure.

Lumber from the Bald Cypress is valued for its toughness (another similarity to tamarack). Remarkably, in the Gulf of Mexico divers recently found a well-preserved forest of Bald Cypress 60′ below the sea, 15 miles off the coast of Alabama. It is thought that these ancient trees had been buried by sediment, but then uncovered by Hurricane Ivan.

The forest is a relic from 50-60,000 years ago, when sea-level was considerably lower than now — this was during a period of colder global climate, when much of Earth’s water was tied up by extensive glaciation. There is much more to this story, and it is well told in a web page provided by the Alabama news site “Al.com”.