A Walk in the Late Autumn Woods


A good show of brave souls turned out for our walk – despite the steady drizzle and the ominous dark rain clouds on the weather map. It was, after all, 66 °F – warm! The day’s total rainfall was quite a bit: 0.72 in. I think that much of that fell during the last 20 or so minutes of our walk!

The walk theme was Fall Woodlands, so we started off in the direction of Gallistel Woods. We checked with the witch hazel at the edge of the native plant gardens (going into Longenecker) to confirm that it is, indeed approaching winter: the latest-flowering native plant is done flowering. In the native plant gardens, Longenecker, and in Gallistel, we paused for fall tree appreciation. This is, of course, my favorite time of year to study and enjoy the beauty of trees—when all (or at least most) of the leaves are out of the way. We compared bark patterns, colors, and textures, growth habit, bud color and shape, and other subtle differences that are lost in the cacophony of the summer leaves. Take a close look at tree buds, if you haven’t before. You will see that the buds of different trees look completely different from one another. The buds of basswood,

Basswood twig

for example, are (anatomical) heart-shaped and a very distinctive brown-maroon color. Red maple, in contrast, has rounder, redder buds.

Sugar maple, however, has hard, sharp, brown buds.

Shagbark hickory has some of my favorite

Hickory bud

buds—large and ornate, they remind me of a crown, with curved extensions coming off of either side. With practice, you can distinguish one tree species from another just from their buds.

Out of Gallistel, we were feeling pretty good. It was still warm and the rain was still falling pretty softly. So we decided to continue over into Wingra Woods. We noticed a large dead tree branch on the ground that had relatively newly broken ends. A nearby tree trunk also had newly scraped exposed wood. We studied the scene and tried to figure out what happened. It didn’t have the patterns that would suggest a living cause (animal, small or large). We figured it out: a very large (dead) branch had fallen from a standing (living) tree. On its way down, it scraped against the trunks of a couple of other trees. We gave thanks that it fell conveniently off of the walking path (and that we had missed its fall anyway). Predictably, the rain really started coming down just as we were reaching the point of our walk that was farthest from the Visitor Center. We picked up the pace and headed back.

Sara Cohen Christophersen

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.