The Dead of Winter – but Signs of Spring are Showing

The Dead of Winter – but Signs of Spring are Showing
By: Priscilla Hollingsworth

I was walking in the nature park a couple of days ago, on a chilly, depressingly gray day. At this time of year, grays and dull browns predominate in the landscape at the Phinizy Swamp:

winter view towards Butler Creek

view towards Butler Creek

But it turns out there is still plenty to see.  For one thing, if you look up at the tops of some of the trees, you can see the swelling of growth that will pop out into leaves in a few weeks:

Tree swelling for spring

Trees swelling for spring

The effect is still subtle, but the smallest branches of the trees just look thicker than a couple of weeks ago.

And I saw a couple of plants up close that are budding:

Buds

Buds

And this one, which I am pretty sure is one of those trees that I wrote about recently, the Bradford pear/Callery pear wild hybrids that are rampaging through our landscape:

"Frankenpear" - wild Bradford pear/Callery pear hybrid, with buds

“Frankenpear” – wild Bradford pear/Callery pear hybrid, with buds

This tree will be so pretty when the blooms come out, I will probably take another photo.

I saw some other interesting things on my walk.  Here’s a view of hairy poison ivy vines, in their winter state, but very much full of life and able to blister the skin of anyone who tries to pet their hairiness:

Hairy poison ivy vines on trees

Hairy poison ivy vines on trees

Here’s what looks like a mud ball, hanging from a dangling branch:

Mud ball

Mud ball

Could it be a mud dauber’s nest?  I wasn’t able to identify it.

Note on 2/10: Aaliyah Ross, Environmental Educator at the Phinizy Center, advises that this strange-looking ball is probably a gall.  Thanks, Aaliyah!  I looked up galls, and they are growths on trees that can be caused by a variety of organisms foreign to the host tree, such as insects, fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and even other plants!  Sometimes the gall is harmful to the host plant, and sometimes not.

Winter is a great time for being able to see into the woods.  You can see structures that later will be covered over with green growth:

Small tree trunk twisted by a vine

Small tree trunk twisted by a vine

The vine that caused the young tree to swell and twist is still embedded in the trunk.

And finally, here is some really interesting-looking swamp water, as viewed right off the School Bus bridge:

Red patch and slime in the water

Red patch and slime in the water

I wish I could identify what is happening here.  My own research didn’t yield any real information.  At the lower left in the photo above, you can see a red growth or substance.  And in the middle, the water has interestingly thick and slimy-looking areas.

Note on 2/10:  Aaliyah Ross advises that the red substance is mosquito fern.  Mosquito fern, genus Azolla, is a tiny plant that grows rapidly on the surface of water that is not moving fast.  It can be red or green, at different times of the year, responding to temperature and sunlight changes.   Mosquito fern has some interesting qualities and can be a beneficial part of an ecosystem – or when there is too much fertilizer runoff into a wetland, it can grow too much and become invasive.  As for the slime in the water on the right, Aaliyah says this is the result of some kind of bacterial action, in which bacteria are decomposing plant matter.   Personally, I think slime is fascinating, and I look forward to learning more about it.

Even a dull winter day at the swamp yields some interesting sights.

-Priscilla Hollingsworth