Sunday, March 19, 2023

We Had Some Snow. It Was Heavy

We had some snow this past week. At least three feet of it in the mountains a few miles north, but less than a foot in Saratoga Springs, and rain and sun then melted much of it around town.  Feeling warmth and seeing bare earth made me think it might be time to go looking for American Hazelnut flowers, one of our earliest flowers to bloom in spring. (Although most folks never notice the bright-red blooms, they are so very tiny.)  Lots of American Hazelnut shrubs (Corylus americana) thrive in a powerline clearcut near Mud Pond at Moreau Lake State Park, so that's where I went to look. The pond lies about 12 miles north of Saratoga.

Well, the ice was receding from the pond, but I should have brought my snowshoes!


But even if there'd been no snow on the trail, it would have been hard going, what with all the bent or broken branches leaning across it .

In all my years of exploring the winter woods, I have never seen so many flattened shrubs! And all from one snowfall.  Not even that deep a snowfall, either. But one that was wet and heavy. First it rained, and then it snowed, and then it rained again.

Many of the hazelnut shrubs were not just flattened, but also turned into masses of broken twigs. I sure wasn't going to find any flowers sprouting from these!

But I did notice some reddish stuff among the hazelnuts, not the wee little flowers, but a fungus called Glue Crust (Hydnoporia diffusa). This is a fascinating fungus that feeds on dead and broken twigs, specifically those of the Corylus genus. When dead hazelnut twigs break off, this fungus glues the dead twigs to living twigs high in the shrub, preventing the dead twigs from falling to the ground, where competing fungi could consume them more readily. Who knew that a fungus could strategize like this?  

Not that that strategy's going to be much use this spring.  For sure, there are lots of dead and broken hazelnut twigs for the Glue Crust to feed on now.  But most of them are already down on the ground, where those rival fungi can feed first.  Let's hope that warm weather and reviving rains will help our American Hazelnut shrubs stand up once more.

All that heavy wet snow did not affect the Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) one bit. Its fuzz-covered branchless trunks still stood straight and tall, having allowed that heavy wet snow to pass down its trunks unimpeded.

Nor were the smaller and much weaker stalks of Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina) bent or broken, but rather protruded unchanged above the deep snow.  Most likely, it remained intact because its wiry stems are flexible and not brittle.  The leftover leaves -- now dry but as fragrant as ever! -- still gracefully curved at the ends of the catkin-laden stalks.  Sweetfern is actually classified as a woody shrub,  but the fact that it's really NOT very woody is what saved it from the destructive effects of heavy wet snow.


threecollie said...

I'm hoping the snow squashes down some of the phragmites so we can see into our favorite ponds from the road. The past few years they have invaded several and shut off our chance to peek in for ducks.

Dana Stimpson said...

I had no idea Sweetfern produced catkins, Jackie! Wonderful.

A great blog post as always. Thank you.

Woody Meristem said...

Down here the snow was also heavy, but it didn't break many shrubs or tree branches. However the winds of the last two weeks have downed a lot of the ash that the emerald ash borer killed and broken many branches both living and dead.