Dust storms and Magnolias

I apologise for my lack of blogging activity recently.  The end of term tests being held essentially mid-term, graduation ceremony preparation, preparing for a karate grading (which I failed miserably…), getting ready to change schools, and various other factors have been keeping me away from the keyboard, or at least, distracting me enough.

The weather has been unstable lately – days of 22℃ or more followed by days reaching barely half that, sudden bursts of cherry blossom catching the catering industry off-guard, and dust storms.

A group of Mississipi red-eared sliders sunning themselves on an unsually warm day in mid-March.

Cherry blossoms out earlier than usual.

This year has been notorious for its pollen levels.  The March 9-10 weekend allegedly produced more cryptomeria pollen than the total for the previous season.  People who have never suffered from hay fever before have developed symptoms.  I thought I might be developing an allergy, although the doctor suggested a sinus infection.  It’s still too early to tell, and anyway, the medicine I was prescribed is the same one my wife takes for her hay fever!

The media has been having a field day with the levels of PM 2.5 blowing over from China (the domestic media loves bagging China), but for some reason neglects to mention localised dust storms, which are possibly a much more real and present health risk.

Local farmers have ploughed their fields, but not planted cover crops or irrigated.  Then 30m/second winds pick up the fine dust and, you can guess the rest.  Oh, well.

A WSW gale blows dust across route 50, and into my face!

Flowers are out in increasing numbers and some of the deciduous trees are shooting bright green leaves.  While the cherry blossom is the perennial star of spring, it is hard to overlook the magnolias.

They’re flowers, they’re white, they’re on trees, but they’re not cherry blossoms… magnolias.

Two kinds of magnolias are frequently seen in parks and gardens, the Yulan magnolia (sometimes confused with the Mulan magnolia), and the kobushi magnolia.

The Yulan magnolia (Magnolia heptapeta or Magnolia denudate) grows to between ten and fifteen metres tall, and is famous for its large white flowers.  Its Japanese name, hakumokuren (白木蓮), indicates that it is a white tree flower that resembles a lotus.  Certainly, the six petals and three sepals – also white – are reminiscent of lotus flowers.  The flowers give off a pleasant citrus fragrance.

Side view of the Yulan magnolia opening.

The same flower seen from above. You can see the similarity to a lotus flower here.

The Mulan magnolia (Magnolia quinquepeta or Magnolia liliiflora) – also known as the lily magnolia, tulip magnolia, red magnolia, purple magnolia, Jane magnolia and woody orchid – is quite similar except for the colour and the length of its petals and sepals.  The elongated petals and sepals give it an orchid-like appearance, and this was reflected in the older Japanese name mokuran (木蘭), literally “tree orchid”.  Today it is taken to be more lotus-like, and the modern names are mokuren (木蓮) – “tree lotus” or shimokuren (紫木蓮) – “purple tree lotus”.

Although the Mulan magnolia made its debut into the English-speaking world as the Japanese magnolia, neither it nor the Yulan magnolia are Japanese natives.  Both originate from China.

The kobushi magnolia (Magnolia kobus) is native to Japan.  Its flowers are easily distinguished from the Yulan magnolias by the lack of obvious sepals.  It produces clusters of red fruit that look like a clenched fist, which give it its common Japanese name kobushi, although the characters used to write the name (辛夷) are identical to those used in China for the Mulan magnolia.

The kobushi magnolia flowers are said to resemble cherry blossom when viewed from a distance – although the magnolia flowers earlier – and some regional names reflect this.

Kobushi magnolia flowers. These trees blossom earlier than other magnolia species.

Count the petals… six slightly elongated petals and no obvious sepals… it’s a kobushi magnolia.

I’m hoping the warm weather will continue (no guarantees there – I remember when we had heavy snow on the last day of March one year), but even more importantly, I’m hoping we get a few more nights of rain so we don’t get any more dust storms.  I’m sick of washing topsoil out of my eyes!


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