The Thielke Arboretum in winter

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Having heard that the skunk cabbage in the Arboretum wetlands is in active growth and the pussy willow buds are swelling, we walked there yesterday, only to find that last week’s ice storm had rendered all but the driveway impassable. There’s a nice path plowed along the driveway, but everything else is covered with a foot of frozen snow. However, Arboretum docent Lucy Malka was able to walk into the Arboretum before the last storm and take this picture of the skunk cabbage melting the snow above it.

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Amazing, right? According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Research Center, “This distinctive plant of marshy woods sprouts so early in spring that the heat of cellular respiration resulting from its rapid growth actually melts snow or ice around it.”

Our native woods are beautiful in winter. Young individuals of certain tree species, most notably American beech (Fagus grandiflora), retain their leaves through the winter, adding lovely but subtle color and shading to the winter woods (see pictures above and below). Beech trees are common in our area in moist but well-drained areas, such as near the banks of streams, where they often grow together with red maples. Mature trees can reach 100 feet, and they retain their distinctive smooth pale grey bark. Their nuts are eagerly devoured by many species of birds and mammals. If your site has moist soil, a beech would be a good specimen tree or anchor tree in a small woodland.

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