Winter is a fantastic time to appreciate the beauty and diversity of tree bark. Without the dense foliage of the warmer seasons, it becomes easier to appreciate the unique patterns and textures each species presents.
A few species are fairly easy to identify from their bark, like mature Shagbark Hickories, whose bark peels away in long, narrow, vertical strips that can appear “shaggy” from a distance, hence the name “shagbark.” White Birches, also known as Paper Birches, are also easy to spot with their bright, namesake bark that peels horizontally in thin, papery, white strips.
Others are more tricky to identify by the bark alone—Red Maple is sometimes called the “tree of a thousand barks” due to the high variability in texture, pattern, and color of its bark, ranging from smooth to shaggy to “plated”, sometimes even on the same tree! For most trees, other markers such as branching pattern or the shape of buds or leaf scars can be necessary to make a positive identification (a good field guide is helpful, or you can take a program about tree identification to dive even deeper)—that is, if a species ID is even what you’re after.
But very often it is enough to simply slow down and appreciate the beautiful diversity of tree barks that can be found in even the smallest patches of forest. So, on your next winter nature walk, get curious and turn your focus to the woody “skins” of our native evergreen and deciduous trees with both sight and touch—how many different patterns can you discover?
Here are five photos of tree bark from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. You’ll probably notice there are a couple that are not definitively identified in the captions—true to form, many trees are impossible to confidently pin down to species based on bark alone, even for seasoned experts!
As winter closes in, many species of wildlife look to fuel up for the challenging conditions of winter. Fortunately, several plant species take advantage of this in their seed dispersal strategies by producing delicious and nutritious berries that wildlife will eat then excrete, depositing seeds in a new location along with a dose of fertilizer. While many of the fall berries have long since gone by, some varieties last well into winter, providing a larder for the fruit-eating species that are active all winter long.
Before you mow them down or,
worse, reach for the herbicide, you might want to consider giving the
dandelions in your yard a second chance.
How They Got Here
The ubiquitous dandelions that pop up in our yards this time of year are actually native to Europe and Asia. They were brought here by European colonists who used them for medicine, food, and wine. The English name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning “teeth of a lion” which refers to the jagged leaves.
A Useful Weed
Many people think of them as a
noxious weed but they are actually quite a useful plant. They flower earlier
than most of our native plants so they offer early pollen and nectar for
honeybees and native pollinators.
They are host plants for the
caterpillars of several moth species including the spectacular Giant Leopard
Moth. Their long tap root helps to break up the soil and move nutrients and
water throughout the soil. And dandelion greens are delicious.
This year, help out our native
pollinators and be kind to Mother Earth by forgoing any herbicides and letting
dandelions do their thing. Dandelions are an important food source for
honeybees and others throughout the spring and most herbicides are poisonous to
these insect pollinators.
Ah…ah…AH…CHOO! Feeling a bit sneezy these days? Well, we’re here to clear the air—goldenrod is not to blame for your seasonal allergy woes. This bright, ubiquitous, late-flowering plant has been framed by the real culprit, ragweed, which blooms around the same time and often nearby. Ragweed’s light, dusty pollen is easily carried on the wind to hay-feverish noses but goldenrod’s pollen is much too heavy, making the latter all the more appealing for pollinators!
There are at least 15 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars that feed on the leaves and stems of goldenrods and the many species of insects that can be found on goldenrods, pollinating the flowers or feeding on their leaves and nectar, are far too numerous to count! Research from Cornell University suggests that Monarch butterflies actually face their greatest food shortage in the fall as they are migrating south, usually along the coast; so while milkweed is the primary food source for Monarch caterpillars, the adult butterflies rely on nectar from wildflowers such as goldenrod to fuel them on their long journey.
So before you go pulling goldenrods out of your yard or garden as a nuisance weed, give them a second chance. You might just be reward by a visit from some hungry butterflies. Here are five beautiful photos of goldenrod from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest entries. The 2018 contest is now closed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some gorgeous photography year-round!
One of the earliest native spring flowers to bloom is bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Look for a single white flower, typically with eight petals, emerging from a protective leaf. The stem, leaves, and roots produce a blood-red sap. The seeds have oil-rich growths called elaiosomes that ants relish. The insects carry the seeds to their nests, helping spread bloodroot across the forest floor.
Most think spring is the perfect time for planting. The nurseries are stocked with colorful plants and everything is in bloom…but that’s the problem. Spring turns into summer and before you know it the temperatures are in the mid 80s and it hasn’t rained for weeks.
In our recent New England springs, the weather has gone from a late winter freeze into summer heat wave within a few days. This puts stress on a plant that is pushing out new leaves to make food (going through the process of photosynthesis), trying to reproduce (make flowers), and grow new roots.
What most people don’t realize is that autumn is the perfect time to plant. Here are just a few reasons why:
Now that leaf, seed, and flower production are complete, plants have nothing but cooler days to contend with and roots are the only thing they have to grow.
Along with the cooler temperatures comes end-of-season sales. That Oxydendron (Sourwood) tree you wanted all season? It now costs less and it’s showing its beautiful burgundy autumn foliage.
Watering is also easier now because, unlike summer months, town water bans have usually been lifted.
Need to patch your lawn? Do it in the autumn! Spring and fall are seasons when grass is the greenest. Grass will sprout in the warm days of the autumn and continue to grow until the ground freezes.
Plant bulbs for spring color in the autumn. Bulbs need to be planted in the autumn to develop roots before the ground freezes. Early blooming crocus give pollinators such as honey bees nectar early in the season when very few other flowers are in bloom. Daffodils are deer and rodent resistant and live for many years. Tulips add late April and May color.
A little bit of work in the cool of the autumn will give you a beautiful yard in the spring. So what are you waiting for? Get planting!