I am standing along the back waters of an Ozarks Mountain stream. It is a hot day but the heavy shade above provides some respite from the heat of the fierce summer sun. I am always on lookout for the black bear I have seen here before; surely he, too, will be seeking a shady refuge on a day such as this. It is here, on a previous visit, that I had seen the great white heron, so why not a bear today? At each step, I am wary of reptilian critters that make these waters their home. As I look upward, I am amazed by the height of the tall trees - the oaks with wide reaching arms, and the beeches, dressed in their best splotchy grey bark, that seem to climb forever into the sky. I find myself wondering about a smaller tree which bears large leaves and a strange fruit that looks vaguely familiar, but isn't. The leaves have been nibbled on, perhaps by white-tailed deer that like to loiter here. There are more questions than answers really.
The bear did not come that day, but I did see the great white heron again. We had a nice picnic by the creek, and we sat for a time splashing our feet in the cool waters. When I got home, I went to the source of all sources for information on trees in our state, Trees, Shrubs, & Vines of Arkansas by Carl G. Hunter, and found all I needed to know about the small tree I had wondered about.
Umbrella Magnolia ~ A small magnolia with light gray bark and large, paddle-shaped leaves whorled or clustered near the ends of the twigs, about 2 feet long, without lobes at the base. The large white flowers are about 10 inches wide with 6-9 narrow petals that are shorter than the sepals, ill smelling. Fruits up to 6 inches long. Valleys, coves, usually in headwater areas of small streams. Mountainous counties of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountain regions. Flowers, April - June.
I hope I can be there next spring when the magnolias are in bloom. And, I hope the bear will be there, too!