- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
One sultry, moonlit July evening a few years ago, I enjoyed seeing, and smelling, the large, white blossoms on a 30-foot-tall southern magnolia tree on a southeastern Pennsylvania lawn.
And I was thrilled by scores of fireflies twinkling their cold abdominal lights while perched on the tree’s flowers and long leaves during that lovely evening. The moon, blooms, and blinking fireflies made a charming sight. That tree, and all its beauties, made me think that a bit of the South came north.
Southern magnolia, crepe myrtle, and mimosa trees bloom in July in the eastern United States, including where they were planted in southeastern Pennsylvania. As trees adapted to warm climates, they are more commonly planted in the South. And all these trees have beautiful and fragrant blossoms, the main reason they are planted on lawns.
Southern magnolias are the largest and most handsome of these trees. They are native to the coastal plains of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts in the southeastern United States.
Their white, showy flowers are 12 inches across and have six to 12 petals and the scent of lemon citronella. And, I think, their big flower buds are shaped like candle flames.
These elegant magnolias have dark-green, leathery leaves that are 8 inches long and 4 inches wide and remain on the trees the year around.
Large, red fruits develop after the blooms are pollinated. Those fruits are eaten by squirrels, opossums, wild turkeys, and other wildlife.
Crepe myrtles are originally from India and Southeast Asia. I see them blooming most everywhere in Charlotte, North Carolina, when we visit there toward the end of July.
Many crepe myrtles have hot-pink flowers in July and into August, though some trees have white or purple blossoms. Green capsules, which turn dark, develop from fertilized blooms. Each capsule splits open and small, winged seeds fall out and blow away in the wind. Some of those seeds are eaten by finches and sparrows.
Mimosas are from Asia. And they are invasive, “weed” trees in the South, spreading abundantly along roadsides and in abandoned fields.
Mimosas have double compound leaves that resemble the fine foliage on ferns. And mimosas grow pink, fluffy blossoms that, to me, resemble explosions of cotton candy because of the silky, threadlike stamens that stand upright. Those flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
Flat, brown bean pods, which are 6 inches long and an inch wide, develop from pollinated blooms. The beans inside are consumed by squirrels and other rodents.
These introduced trees add beauty to lawns in the eastern United States. They are well worth planting and admiring.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.