Botany in winter

I spent most of this past week at a retreat center in western Massachusetts where there was no internet service, and my cell phone service was spotty. I was staying in an isolated cabin. And there was hardly anyone else at the center the whole time I was there. Just me and the wood stove and the outhouse, and a hundred acres of woodlands.

I went there to do some reading, but I also found time to do some winter botany. Turns out you can identify trees in winter by looking at their bundle scars, stipules, and bud scales. Then I had to learn what bundle scars, stipules, and bud scales were.

Close up photo of a bud on a twig

There was only an inch or two of snow on the ground, so I could also look at moss. I found Dicranum sp., Thuidium sp., Callicladium haldanianum, and several others.

So even though it’s winter, you can still do botany.

Tiny moss plants
Moss growing on the bark of an Eastern Hemlock

Rock

Today’s walk took me a little further than intended, and dusk was settling in before I started heading home. Though I was hurrying a little, I stopped to admire a large rock outcropping that rose about twenty feet above a small artificial pond. Although the face of the rock was only about ten degrees away from vertical, it was mostly covered with plants and lichens. The lichens ranged from crustose microlichens, to Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) the size of your hand growing in large colonies, the thallus of each lichen dangling from its umbilicus and showing bits of the dark lower surface. In addition to mosses growing in several large patches, there were a number of vascular plants, of which the most numerous were ferns, Rock Polypodys (Polypodium virginianum). But there were also two or three small trees that had rooted in the rock face, including a small Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) near the peak.

Rock outcropping with plant life clinging to it, reflected in a small artifical pond.

The different organisms growing on the rock created a patchwork of colors: greenish brown where the Rock Tripe grew, dark green for the Rock Polypody, and various shades of gree for the other kinds of lichen and the mosses. Here and there, the gray rock showed through the life growing on it.

It’s a trivial sight, something you see every day. I don’t know why it caught my eye today. I admired it for a minute or so, then hurried on my way.