End of Winter

Pussy willow catkins, Longenecker Horticultural Gardens shrub trials

Pussy willow catkins, Longenecker Horticultural Gardens shrub trials

A large group turned out for the Sunday, February 28, End of Winter tour. It was a seasonably warm(ish) day in the ’40s—warm enough that we were slipping on mud instead of ice. Because of muddy trail conditions, we stuck as much as possible to the wider fire lanes to increase chances of dry passage.

We checked on expected end of winter plant activity favorites—willow catkins and skunk cabbage—with an eye and ear to the skies for returning migrants. More than one visitor reported hearing sandhill cranes that week. We did not see or hear any during our walk, but you can expect their return at this time of year. Ditto for robins, bluebirds, and red-winged blackbirds, to name a few. If you haven’t seen these birds yet, you can expect to see them soon! There was some discussion of owls at the Arb and a question about whether there are any nesting pairs. I checked with Levi Wood, one of the naturalists who keeps close tabs on birds. He reported that currently there is likely a nesting pair of great-horned owls, possibly even more than one pair. They are heard, of course, but usually not seen.

Back on January 31, on our Halfway to Spring tour, there were just a handful of willow catkins peeking out. One month later, there were hundreds of catkins! The change in the skunk cabbage wasn’t quite as dramatic, but less snow made them slightly more visible.

While in Longenecker Horticultural Gardens enjoying the catkins, we also observed the brilliant reds and yellows of the dogwoods in the Salix and Cornus collection. Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) is a native plant with bright red or magenta twigs. Some cultivars of this species (in other words, plants bred for ornamental application) have bright yellow twigs. You can see examples of these in Longenecker, alongside the red ones.

Although we didn’t see m any birds on our walk, as I left the Arb out the Mills St. route a bald eagle soared in wide curves overhead.

About mud: As mud season continues, some trails may be closed because of wet conditions. Even on open trails, you will likely encounter mud at some point so remember to bring mud-friendly footwear for your next walk at the Arb. And when you encounter a muddy spot on the trail, walk right through it, not around it. When large numbers of visitors circumvent a mudspot, they inadvertently blaze a new trail—disrupting plants and other organisms. Please help to contain our foot-traffic disruption to within the established pathways—and happy walking!

—Sara Christopherson