Winter Interest: Sycamore


Platanus occidentalis; Platanaceae

Have you ever looked at a riverbank in the winter and wondered “what’s wrong with all those trees”?  The ones that looks like ghost trees are sycamores.  They are among the largest trees in the eastern US, growing to 140 feet tall and as much as 12 feet in diameter!  They prefer the moist soils of bottomlands but in parts of their range can be found colonizing old field uplands.  The bark exfoliates,


leaving much of the tree white, and giving the impression that it’s dead.  But it isn’t. Just a little more naked than most, and patiently waiting for spring to get its green back.



a lovely old tree frames the Great Falls Tavern, C&O Canal NHP.






sycamore reflected in the canal





(All images from December, 2014)

What’s Green Now? Partridgeberry


Mitchella repens; Rubiaceae

Last one for the “what’s green now’ feature.  Growing in tiny pockets of soil, cascading along rocks, never more than an inch tall (but often many feet long), partridgeberry is one of my favorites.  Look for the twin blossoms


in late May, and the two-eyed fruit

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in late July.

How can you not love this plant?  It’s adorable.  And tough.

What’s Green Now? Dwarf Cinquefoil


Potentilla canadensis; Rosaceae

I can find no source to confirm that this plant is a true evergreen.  There are still-green leaves of it, but not many – and dwarf cinquefoil is everywhere.  So I have to conclude that there are some leaves that are protected enough to last.

Some authorities consider dwarf cinquefoil to be weedy.  It is very low-growing and prefers disturbed, low-nutrient soils, but does that make it a weed?  Not in my eyes.  Look for the charming rose-like flowers starting in late April.