A mid-spring evening in the South affords the senses many a treat. The passage of a weak front has delivered a brief cooling shower, and all looks new and fresh and green. A whippoorwill calls in the distance, and the lightning bugs perform a mesmerizing dance in the grass, while the faint scent of honeysuckle lingers on the breeze.
Mmm, sweet honeysuckle...Or is it something else? Deliciously sweet, with a hint of vanilla, definitely good enough to eat...
A careful look into the understory of the nearby wood, and the mystery resolves.
Carolina sweet bay, Magnolia virginiana, one of North Carolina's lovely native magnolias, a miniature version of the magnificent and definitively Southern tree, Magnolia grandiflora.
In the fading light of the setting sun, the bold white blossoms fairly glow in the heart of the shadowy grove, and the scent is almost overwhelming.
To approach too close is to feel an irresistable urge to inhale the flower itself along with the intoxicating fragrance.
According to one source, sweet bay was shipped back home by early European settlers and became established in gardens there as early as the late 1600's. This is not surprising, considering its attractive green foliage (it is an evergreen in the deep south), long-lasting and incredibly fragrant blossoms, and hardy nature.
This specimen is about 12-15 feet tall, growing in dense woods near the margin of a pond, which is fairly typical of the species. The sweet bay at Brother Henry's is of similar size and situated in the bottom not far from the banks of Moccasin Creek, and it is in full bloom as well.
So if you know of a sweet bay in your neighborhood, this week might be a good time to take a stroll outside and enjoy the wonderful sights and scents of North Carolina's mini magnolia,
Carolina Sweet Bay, Magnolia virginiana.
A Spring Sensation!