Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Back to Brown

 Well, that snow didn't last long! It rained a little, warmed up for a day, and now we're back to cold air and bare brown earth. There wasn't much about the day today to tempt me outdoors, except that I hadn't been out for a walk since before Thanksgiving, what with holiday feasting and then hostess duties over the weekend.  So I went to Woods Hollow Nature Preserve in Ballston Spa.  There are many nice trails there, through several habitats, from sandplain to piney woods to woodland pond.

Entering the preserve through an open wet meadow (now frozen), the first thing I noticed (see photo above) was a whole miniature forest of baby White Pines in the middle of what I always think of as a huge wildflower field.  The photo below shows the same meadow in summer, full of goldenrods, bonesets, daisies, Black-eyed Susans, and other flowers tall enough to hide those little pines.  I'm afraid those pines will soon grow tall and begin to shade out this wonderful wildflower profusion.

As for today, there certainly weren't any wildflowers blooming to add any color to the landscape, only the tawny browns of fallen leaves and the dark green of the conifers.  Even the sky grew colorless, as clouds moved in.

But it was still pleasant to walk the trails at an easy pace, breathing the sweet cold air and admiring the swirling patterns of ice on the woodland pond that lies at the center of this nature preserve.

Here and there I found little patches of green -- such as these ruffly evergreen leaves of Dalibarda -- to remind me of what a fine place this is for hunting wildflowers during growing season.

Tucked in among the glossy purple-tinged leaves of Wintergreen were fat red berries that would cling to the plants all winter.

Here was a colorful surprise!  A bright-yellow rosehip still clung to its thorny branch.  What an unexpected color, since rosehips are usually red.  But what else could this be?

Update:  My friend Lois Klatt from the Thursday Naturalists group had suggested what else this could be, and I believe she is absolutely right.  This looks exactly like the yellow fruit of Horse Nettle (Solanum carolinense), a prickly plant of sandy soils.  A survey of Google Images confirmed Lois's suggestion.   Thanks, Lois.

A young willow tree along the path bore these galls that look very much like furry pinecones.  They are caused by a larva that will winter over within the gall, escaping in spring by pushing open the scales of the gall.

It's always a treat to find Earthstar fungi growing on the sand, accompanied by these tiny Pixie Cup lichens.  Curls of Sweet Fern leaves were scattered across the same ground.

Although Sweet Fern loses many of its leaves in winter, clusters of these graceful mahogany-colored curls remain on the ends of the branches,  where tightly closed male catkins also cling to the stems, already in position to puff out with pollen when spring arrives.  Here's another delightful thing about Sweet Fern:  even brown and dry as they are, those leaves are still filled with fragrant resin and will release their delicious scent when rubbed between your fingers.

How many times have I posted photos of these Virgin's Bower seed heads?  Probably as many times as I've stopped to delight in those gracefully curling tendrils  of feathery fluff.


The Furry Gnome said...

Even at this time of year you manage to find stunning pictures! Well done. It's harder than I think it should be to keep your eyes attuned to all those little bits of beauty.

Virginia said...

I took my father here again this year. We walked about half the distance we did last year, but it was still a great outing. It was brown a few weeks ago when we were there too, but we collected little acorn caps and watched the sun sparkle on the water.

Woody Meristem said...

Winter's not as bleak a season as many people think -- and your photos demonstrate that there's always something both beautiful and interesting.