Winter Sampler


I was at the Arboretum and ready to give a tour on Sunday, but the nearly 7” of snow that had fallen overnight must have scared all the visitors away. The hikers, anyway – skiers were much in evidence, and very happy.
We’d done our best to put out the welcome mat: the Arboretum road and parking lot were beautifully plowed, and the front steps were clear and dry. Since I was all suited up and ready to go, I took a short stroll anyway.
It had only been a couple of hours since the snow had stopped falling, so not many animals had been out and about leaving tracks yet; but conditions were ideal for “snow geometry”.
Now, I am as math-phobic as the next person, but THIS, I love. Snow highlights the unique shapes and structures of all the plants, from large trees on down to what is still standing in the prairie and savanna. Every stem, seedhead, and branch wears a custom cap of white, fitted by wind and gravity, perfectly suited to it alone. Mother Nature and Jack Frost teaming up as custom milliners??
In the grasslands, Canada goldenrod and

snowflake by Chuck H

cupplant are crowned with triangles of snow; dried flowerheads on stalks of sawtooth sunflower are topped with tiny rounded “beanies”. Indigo, bush clover, prairie dock, bergamot, beebalm)hyssop, various asters, and more can be identified by their shapes alone, and each is wearing personalized, fluffy white headgear.


And then there are the trees. Snow settles and sticks on the upper surface of every branch – even on trunks, if the wind is strong. The stark contrast between dark bark and spotless white reveals horizontal, angled, curved, and twisted lines which might have otherwise escaped our notice. Jagged snags stand out in sharp relief. Round holes, perhaps homes to owls or other creatures, sport a white crescent of snow at lower edge.
Are you understanding my use of the term “geometry” better now?
One of the most interesting combinations to be seen right now is our old friend the autumnal witch hazel. This shrub/small tree can be seen in Longenecker Gardens, and also kitty-corner from the Jackson Oak (which, by the way, is impressively mantled with snow on its lateral branches).
As has been referenced many times before at


this time of year, Hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) is our latest-blooming woody plant, bearing its yellow flowers in November and December. Currently you can see these lingering golden petals topped with snow – a sight worth hiking to see. Not to worry, the plant will not be harmed by the cold. Find it and enjoy!
Naturalist: Kathy Miner

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.