The Range of Winter Botany

by Carl Strang

Most of my focus in winter botany to date has been on plants that have remained standing, more or less. I have been interested in discovering what those dried tops, and particularly the flowers, become when they convert to fruiting structures.

Here is an example from wingstem.

Here is an example from wingstem.

As I run down my list of plants to seek out, however, I have been finding that a lot of them must be categorized differently. Some, for instance, retain green rosettes of live, ground-hugging leaves.

Pussytoes lost its fruiting stems months ago, but the leaves remain intact and recognizable.

Pussytoes lost its fruiting stems months ago, but the leaves remain intact and recognizable.

And then there are the plants that have utterly collapsed. If you are lucky, you may find a stem, but identifying it can be a challenge.

The only reason I know that this fallen rotting stem is a green dragon top is that I knew exactly where to look. The leaf lobes are present in the left side of the photo, but good luck recognizing them for what they are.

The only reason I know that this fallen rotting stem is a green dragon top is that I knew exactly where to look. The leaf lobes are present in the left side of the photo, but good luck recognizing them for what they are.

Here is that same plant when it was flowering.

Here is that same plant when it was flowering.

Finally, some plants vanish without any trace whatsoever.

Don’t strain yourself too much. As far as I can tell, there is no hint above ground of the may apple clone that was here last spring, and will rise again in the coming season.

Don’t strain yourself too much. As far as I can tell, there is no hint above ground of the may apple clone that was here last spring, and will rise again in the coming season.

Understanding such plants more completely thus does not involve finding them in winter, but following them to learn at what point in the season they disappear. I have some sense of what green dragon does, as it (like its close relative jack-in-the-pulpit) is reduced to a collapsed stem by September (female plants then ripening their fruits), but I haven’t paid close enough attention to may apple to be able to account for its disappearance: another item to check in the future.

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