Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Heavy Snow, Hard Going

 Finally, after several days of freezing rain that drenched and then ossified what had been a lovely base of fluffy snow, the sky cleared and the sun shone warm on what still LOOKED like a lovely landscape.  As I strapped on my snowshoes, I couldn't wait to start moving across the surface of Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park yesterday.  With the pond still solidly frozen with thick ice, I hoped to explore some areas of shoreline that in warmer times are way too muddy to walk on, as well as being thick with skin-clawing plants that can slice bare shins to a bloody mess.  My legs now armored with sturdy snowpants, I set off across the frozen expanse.

But I didn't get far.  That deep snow had been honeycombed by the rain, and then coated with a thick icy crust.  My snowshoes plunged deep down through the weakened snow, and the icy crust prevented me from pushing ahead.  I had to lift my feet clear of each footprint to proceed.  I soldiered on for about 50 yards, huffing and puffing from the effort, and then my sore knee hollered at me:  NO MORE!  So I headed back the way I had come, the effort a little easier, now that I'd already broken trail.

Ah well, the excursion wasn't a total loss, since I managed to amuse myself by admiring the remains of last summer's plants, still possessing their own kind of beauty or interest.  These dense tapering clusters are the remaining flower heads of Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa).

These spindly stalks rhythmically dotted with tufts of floral bracts could be either of two  species of Lycopus, either L. uniflorus (Northern Bugleweed) or L. americanus (Water Horehound), two Mint-family plants that are difficult to tell apart even when in bloom and in possession of their leaves.

I was surprised to still find clusters of Hazelnuts (Corylus americana) dotting the shoreline shrubs, since these nuts are a favorite wildlife food.  Perhaps they were wormy or moldy.  Or maybe the squirrels are saving them for later?

I think it's funny how wormy these Hazelnut catkins look, as if the shrubs were infested with crawling larvae.  But these are the immature male flowers, formed last fall, that will open in spring to shed their ripened pollen on the April air.

The persistent seedheads of Round-headed Bushclover (Lespedeza capitata) are easy to spot against the white snow, looking like clusters of baby hedgehogs atop their tall stalks.

The flaring bracts of Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) were easy to spot protruding from the snow.  These stalks will not yield new flowers come summer, for they have completed their reproductive role by shedding their seed.  New plants will emerge from basal rosettes of leaves that are wintering under the snow.

Along the powerline clearcut that runs across the top of Mud Pond, many Bear Oaks (Quercus ilicifolia) had been toppled by the power company last year, a completely useless operation in my opinion, since this shrubby species of oak never would grow tall enough to interfere with the overhead wires.  The felled branches shed their acorns long ago, but the acorn caps still cling to the twigs.  I love how they resemble intricate Native American basketwork.

I love everything about Sweet Fern (Comptonia peregrina), and in every season.  It's actually a woody shrub and not a fern, although its marvelously fragrant leaves do have a ferny look when green.  These leaves retain much of their fragrance even when the leaves have completely dried and become gracefully curled.   Those fuzzy nubbins are the male catkins, which will open to shed their pollen in the spring.


The Furry Gnome said...

You're amazing at identifying the dried plants in winter!

Woody Meristem said...

Since you really like sweet-fern, have you ever tried tea made from the leaves? An old friend of mine would make tea from the dried leaves.