Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Winter Walk

Seeing as we were having a spell of dry weather on New Year's day, I decided to take a walk through the woods to see what was happening.  Now that essentially all the leaves are gone there's a whole other world of things to see.  Instead of focusing on the foliage, trees can be recognized by their bark, branching patterns and leaf buds.  On the ground level the few evergreen grasses and perennials are easy to find.  In particular, the evergreen ferns jumped right out.  Following are some photos of plant features that I came across.

The buds of this 2 year old seedling are
smooth and reddish brown.
The first place I checked out were some tree seedlings that I identified in the vegetable garden last summer.  Since I already knew what they were I could learn about how they look in the off season and store that away for future reference.


The end bud of the Sycamore was smooth and pyramidal.  Kind of like those of ash trees, but the sycamore has a single false-end bud (not centered at the absolute end of the twig), while ashes have a terminal bud flanked by two smaller, opposite buds.   

Another tree that sprouted in the garden was an Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides.  Here the bud end is true and the scales are visible.  To me the most notable feature is that the year-old wood looks like it has shrunken back. leaving the stem somewhat squarish with wings, or ridges along the corners. 

Cottonwoods are often considered rather messy trees.  This spring I will transplant it into a moist area of the meadow that I am clearing of invasives.






The  dry leaves on this American beech
make it easy to spot in the woods.

Moving into the woods a young American Beech caught my eye.  In the winter these can be recognized by their tendency to hold onto their leaves until the spring and by their smooth white bark.

Another tree that has smooth white bark is the American Hornbeam, Carpinus caroliniana.  While the beech has a smooth rounded trunk, The hornbeam's trunk is grooved, giving it a muscular or sinewy appearance.  Another way to distinguish these two white-barked trees is their leaf buds.  The buds of the hornbeam are small and dark brown while those of the beech are orangy-brown, long and pointed with many obvious scales.




Another tree with unique bark is the Hackberry.  Though highly variable many trees develop warty knobs and/or ridges that is easy to recognize.  Despite the unappealing name, the hackberry is a valuable wildlife plant, both as a butterfly host species and for producing a crop of 'sugarberries' in the fall for birds and small mammals.
The bark of the Hackberry is hard to miss.

Looking onto the ground plane I found several different evergreen grasses, which remain unknown.  More easily identified were the several species of evergreen ferns.  The most easily ID'ed was the Christmas fern.  This is a common species here growing mostly in shady moist areas.  

Christmas Fern is 'once-cut' and the pinna (leaf)
has a single lobe that makes it look like a boot.




A much smaller fern common here is the Ebony Spleenwort, Asplenium platyneuron.  This one is found in partly sunny location with average moisture.  Mine usually grow to about 6" long and hide in the undergrowth.



The frond of this Evergreen Wood Fern
appears to have been stepped on,
but otherwise looks pretty good.  

While poking around a steeply sloped area I found a fern that was new to me.  Unlike the previous two species this one was much frillier (thrice divided).  I took a bunch of photos and pulled out my fern ID books to come up with a name.  Turns out that I was an Evergreen Wood Fern, Dryopteris intermedia.  This is a common species in the eastern US, but just not that common to my piece of the woods.  It's relatively healthy green appearance in the middle of winter would make it a good addition to a home landscape.


When ID'ing ferns look on the bottom sides of the fronds for the sporangia or sori.
Their shape and location are distinctive for many species.

An unknown fern growing at the base of a tree.


There was one fern that I could not figure out.  It was small (3-4") and had fairly simple leaves (pinna).  It's grow in a gap between roots of a large tree.  I checked the underside of the frond for sporangia, but none to be seen.  I'll need to come back later in the spring to see how it develops.

I would appreciate any ideas on what this might be.


Underside of fronds shows no additional clues.

The last group of plants I checked on were some vines that I planted last summer.  My property is inundated with Japanese honeysuckle.  While I am trying to remove those I am also adding some native ones to fill the voids,  I put in a native Coral Honeysuckle along a fence in the spring.  It quietly grew to a span of over 6'.  Looking forward to seeing some blooms in the spring.  I also added some cultivars, 'Honey Coral' and 'Sulfurea'.  
Can see some flower buds forming on this Coral Honeysuckle.

The leaves of this Carolina Jasmine have turned red,
 but are holding on.

On an impulse I also picked up a Carolina Jasmine cultivar called 'Margarita'.  This species is hardy to zone 7, naturally occuring as far north as southeastern Virginia.  However, this 'Margarita' cultivar is good into zone 6.  So far it is holding onto its leaves.  This one may be too small to bloom come February, but I will be happy if it just survives and starts growing when the weather warms.