Observing the winter woods

tree architecture
evergreen wood ferns

I have been having trouble knowing what to look out for in the winter when everything seems to be dormant, so I asked Walter Kittredge for some help. He gave me great pointers on where to start. 

He mentioned –

Looking at plant architecture. You could look at trees and shrubs seeing how they look when they are bare and nothing is surrounding them. If you look closely, you can see that they each have a unique growth form and branching patterns which will be easier to spot with no leaves. 

You could look out for what flowering plants look like when they are dormant in winter temperatures. Walter mentioned how they look evergreen like sheep laurel. Mountain-laurel is a flowering plant in the heath family Ericaceae that you can see. One plant you can find near the swamps would be leather leaf which can be seen in cold conditions. 

There are many ferns you can keep an eye out for. You can see evergreen ferns, Christmas ferns, rock polypody, evergreen wood fern and clubmosses. These ferns all last throughout winter. A fern you can see that has a “beaded” appearance is the Sensitive fern, also known as the bead fern. The bead fern’s fruiting fronds grow all year round. Most ferns release their spores in the fall but the bead fern releases its spores in the spring and matures in the summer and fall.

Wildflowers that are evergreen like spotted pipsissewa, partridgeberry and teaberry are great to look out for. Their fruits generally survive throughout the winter. Seeing the frosted wildflowers would be interesting to see how they survive even in freezing temperatures.

Lastly, he mentioned there are fungi that can be found even in winter. Mostly there are polypores that are found on rotting wood like turkey tails which are known to remain all year round. 

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