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

20141021-_DSC0063 copy

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.


What’s Green Now? Wild Pink

20150131-_DSC0172Silene caroliniana; Caryophyllaceae

This one just took me by surprise.  I went to a favorite area that has some unusual plants, and saw two that I didn’t know were evergreens (I’ll post about the other one next time).  Apparently this one is a semi-evergreen, which usually means the leaves will survive a mild winter.  Wild pink is endangered in Florida and exploitably vulnerable in New York.  Start looking for the flowers in early May.


Oh, and about that common name… one internet source says that the word “pink” used to describe color came from the common name of flowers in the genus Dianthus.  For some reason I had it in mind that the word “pink” in describing flowers of the Caryophyllaceae came from an old word meaning “to cut a decorative edge” – like what you use “pinking shears” for.  I can’t find a source to support that claim, though.  If anyone reading this is an expert in English etymology and would care to post a reply, I’d be grateful.

Winter Interest: Tuliptree


aka tulip poplar, yellow poplar, white poplar, whitewood; Liriodendron tulipifera; Magnoliaceae

Tuliptree blooms in late May; once the flower drops, these nifty seedheads remain, but are hidden from view until the leaves drop.


in flower, late May








ps – don’t confuse this with true poplars (genus Populus), which are in the willow family (Salicaceae)