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Posts Tagged ‘Spruce’

1. Spruce

I’d be willing to bet that when most of us here in New England (and maybe the whole country)  hear the word evergreen we think of a pyramidal tree with needles that stays green all winter, but as I hope this post shows there is much more to the evergreen story than that.

2. Striped Wintergreen

Striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) loses its chlorophyll and turns deep purple in winter. This plant is relatively rare here and though I’m finding small numbers more and more most of them flower but don’t set seed.  I was happy to see this one had a seed pod on it. The Chimaphila part of the scientific name is from the Greek cheima (winter) and philein (to love,) so it loves winter and does not die from the cold.

3. Teaberry

American wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens,) is also called teaberry or checkerberry and it is the first wild plant that I learned to identify, with the help of my grandmother. We used to love to eat the bright red minty tasting berries. It’s probably the easiest of all wintergreens to identify because of the strong, minty scent that comes from its crushed leaves. If you have ever tasted teaberry gum then you know exactly what it smells and tastes like. The plant contains compounds that are very similar to those found in aspirin so it’s not good to eat a lot of it, but a taste of the berries shouldn’t hurt. Its leaves often turn purple as the nights get colder, as the plant in the rear shows.

4. Foam Flower

Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) has hairy leaves that look delicate, but they’re fairly tough and stay green under the leaves and snow all winter. The purple veins in each leaf become more pronounced as the nights cool and sometimes the leaves will have purplish bronze splotches. This plant makes an excellent flowering groundcover for a damp, shady spot in the garden. Plant breeders have developed many interesting hybrids but I like the native best, I think.

5. Partridge Berry

Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) is another native that makes a good garden groundcover. Small, heart shaped leaves on creeping stems grow at ground level and you can mow right over it. In spring it has white trumpet shaped flowers that grow in pairs and in the fall it has bright red berries which are edible but close to tasteless. I leave them for the turkeys, which seem to love them. My favorite parts of this plant are the greenish yellow leaf veins on leaves that look as if they were cut from hammered metal. I have several large patches of it growing in my yard.

6. Trailing Arbutus

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) is also called mayflower because that’s often when its small white to pink, very fragrant flowers appear.  Its oval evergreen leaves are tough and leathery and hug the ground but though it looks like a groundcover botanically speaking it has a persistent woody stem, so it is classified as a shrub. This was one of my grandmother’s favorite plants and she would walk in the woods to find and smell it rather than dig it up to plant in her yard.  It’s too bad everybody didn’t do the same because this plant was once collected into near oblivion. These days it can be found at many nurseries so there is no longer any reason to dig it up. Since it’s very fussy unless it’s given the right amount of light, water, nutrients and soil type it won’t grow except where it chooses to anyway. That’s true of most of these plants, in fact.

7. Gold Thread

New goldthread (Coptis groenlandicum) leaves are a bright, glossy lime green but darken as they age and by winter will often be very dark green. They’ll hold their color under the snow all winter and look similar to wild strawberries until late April or early May when new leaves and small white flowers will appear. Goldthread gets its common name from its thread like, bright yellow roots. Native Americans used goldthread medicinally and told the early settlers of its value in treating canker sores, which led to its also being nearly collected into oblivion like trailing arbutus and others. At one time more goldthread was sold in Boston than any other native plant, probably by its other common name: canker root. Luckily it has made a good comeback and I see lots of it.

8. Dewberry

Swamp dewberry (Rubus hispidus) is a trailing plant with fruit like a black raspberry and its stems are every bit as prickly. It also looks a lot like a strawberry when it’s in bloom and because of its strawberry like leaves, which stay green under the snow all winter. This is a plant that can trip you up when hidden by snow.

9. Intermediate Wood Fern

Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) is also called evergreen wood fern. It is said to be the only fully evergreen fern with a lacy appearance but it cross breeds with so many other ferns in the Dryopteris  genus that I’m not sure how an amateur botanist like myself would ever know for certain what he was looking at.  But it isn’t always the name that’s so important. Just the fact that you can walk through the forest in January and see some green is often enough.

10. Intermediate Wood Fern

Unlike the spore producing sori on the marginal wood fern (Dryopteris marginalis) which appear on the leaf margins the sori on evergreen woods ferns appear between the midrib and the margins. In this photo this frond looks very much like the spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana,) which it cross breeds with. It also crosses with marginal wood fern.

11. Christmas Fern

Evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) has deep green, tough leathery leaves that usually lie flat on the ground after a hard frost. They stay that way under the snow until spring when they will finally turn yellow and then brown to make way for new fronds. Christmas fern is so common that it’s hard to walk in these woods without seeing it. It’s also very easy to identify.

12. Christmas Fern

What makes an evergreen Christmas fern so easy to identify are its leaflets (Pinna) which some say look like little Christmas stockings. You can see why if you look at the part of leaflets near the stem in the photo. Each leaflet has a little bump or “ear.” This is the toe of the Christmas stocking and this is the only fern in the New Hampshire woods with this feature. One story says that the name “Christmas fern” is thought to come from the early settler’s habit of using its fronds as Christmas decorations.

13. Fan Club Moss

Fan shaped clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum.) was also once used as a Christmas decoration (and still is in some places.)  These forest floor evergreens were collected by the many thousands to make Christmas wreaths and they are still rarely seen here because of it. Clubmosses aren’t mosses at all but do produce spores and are called “fern allies,” which are vascular plants that don’t produce seeds. I think fan shaped clubmoss is the most elegant of any of the clubmosses and I’m always happy to see it, especially in winter.

14. Downy Rattlesnake Plantain

Not all evergreens look alike and some, like the downy rattlesnake plantain orchid (Goodyera pubescens) pictured, don’t look evergreen at all. Orchids are often thought of as tender, fragile things but not our native orchids. It’s hard to tell from the photo but this plant is covered almost entirely by short, fine hairs. I watched it get covered by feet of snow last year and in the spring it looked just as good as it does in the photo. I think its leaves are every bit as beautiful as its small white flowers are.

It is thought that staying green through the winter lets evergreen plants begin photosynthesizing earlier in the spring and that gives them a head start over the competition. This post has just scratched the surface; there are many other evergreens out there and I hope now you’ll see more than conifers wearing green this winter.

The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cottons into its winter wools. ~Henry Beston

Thanks for coming by.

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