Bones of the Winter Landscape Hike

Sunday afternoon, January 15 provided an unseasonably mild day for our Bones of the Winter Landscape Hike on the Byron Shutz Nature Trail.  Betsy Betros, local naturalist and butterfly book author, took the following pictures of our hike and I thought I would share this “nature of” Powell Gardens experience here.

We began our tour at the Visitor Center and talked about the beautiful evergreen Southern Magnolias at Powell Gardens and that the Gardens has been designated an official magnolia collection of the North American Plant Collection Consortium by the American Public Gardens Association.
We looked at the tapestry of deciduous and evergreen shrubs along with winter grasses left standing and how they are all excellent examples of the “bones” of the winter landscape.
The sky was beautifully blue and the temperature approaching 60F.  You can tell by our long shadows that we are not quite a month past the winter solstice.  It is amazing how this backlit landscape looks entirely different than the picture above.
We stopped to talk about one of our fallen giant tree: a Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) that we are allowing to decompose in place.  The tree fell right across the trail and we made a cut at that point so visitors could count the rings of the tree ( approximately 92) and see all the interesting fungi that are returning the tree back to Earth.
We talked about the Osage Orange or Hedge Trees (Maclura pomifera) along the trail.  It was a rare tree when settlers arrived in the Midwest — first brought back to the East by the Lewis & Clark Expedition.  The tree was on its way to extinction when we discovered a use for it beyond the Native Americans premier wood source for bows (The French explorers called it Bos’d Arc).  The tree was soon widely planted as a living fence throughout the Midwest before the invention of barbed wire and old hedgerows of it can still be experienced along the trail.
We found this abandoned American Goldfinch nest with 2 eggs still intact.  Goldfinches are one our last birds to nest and we pondered why this one still had unbroken and unpierced eggs in it.  Bird and Squirrel nests, cocoons of moths and even a butterfly chrysalis shell were discovered along the walk in the January bare and dormant landscape.
The trail crosses areas we have restored the remnant native prairie in with help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation.  The wintertime native, warm-season grasses were in beautiful hues from brunette to blond.
Cattails (Typha latifolia) with their fluffy seed heads and Lotus (Nelumbo lutea) frozen in ice grace the Clay Pond along the high ridge of the trail.  What an odd place for a pond!  It is simply spectacular when the lotus are in bloom from mid to late summer.
The trail passes through an old orchard that now has become a naturalized pine woods complete with the scents and sounds so indicative of such a place.
Virginia Pine (Pinus virginiana) makes up most of our pine grove.  It is a bushy pine with short needles and abundant prickly cones whose seeds are great for winter birds.  This pine is somewhat susceptible to pine wilt that is killing all our Scotch pines in the landscape.

Here’s one of the old Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda)admired by the hike participants.  This pine has very long needles and is very tolerant of our wet or dry clay soils and has also naturalized extensively in our “pine woods.”  This is one of the farthest north places this normally Southern tree grows on its own. (see the little pine seedlings in the foreground and larger “teenager” pines behind it)  It’s only problem is that the long needles collect ice and make it susceptible to ice storm damage. The final leg of the hike returned to the Visitor Center while admiring emerging blooms of Vernal Witchhazel in the Rock & Waterfall Garden and Snowdrops blooming on the Island Garden.  Everyone got a good workout and I hope learned more about our winter landscape.  February’s hike will focus on birds and the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Powell Gardens staff lead walks and hikes at the Garden’s trails each month from January through April.  Stephanie Acers, Youth Education Coordinator leads a Family Fun Walk on our mile-long short loop nature trail while Alan Branhagen, Director of Horticulture, leads a Season Highlights hike on the 3.25 mile Byron Shutz Nature Trail that transverses the wilds of our 970 acre site.  If you are interested in learning more about the “nature” of Powell Gardens, attend one of these hikes — see our Garden Culture or visit our website www.powellgardens.org or call Linda Burton at 816-697-2600 x209 to register.
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