We are well into winter in the northern hemisphere, and the plants in our landscapes have been dormant for weeks now. Trees and shrubs have dropped their leaves, grasses have gone brown, and perennial forbs have died back – their roots harboring the food they will need to return to life in the spring. What little green that is left is provided mainly by evergreen trees and shrubs, but even they are resting – metabolizing slowly and putting off further growth until warmer temperatures return. The view outside may appear largely bleak and dreary, but there is still beauty in a frozen landscape, and much of that beauty is provided by the same things that brought color and interest during the warmer months.
Many plants, though appearing dead, remain attractive throughout the winter. From fruits and cones to seed heads and seed pods, there are various structures that remain on certain plants even after leaves fall that provide winter interest. Deciduous trees and shrubs show off their branches in the winter months, which when freed from the camouflage of leaves are like sculptures – art pieces in their own right. Perennial grasses can continue to provide structure to a garden bed when left in place and upright, and color is provided by evergreen foliage and colored bark, such as the red and yellow bark of some dogwoods (Cornus spp.).
Beauty surrounds us, even in unlikely places. Things are quiet and frozen now, and foggy, dismal days abound. But winter won’t last forever. Plants can remind us of that. In them we find remnants of brighter days and an assurance that there are more to come.
Male and female cones on Sitka alder (Alnus viridis)
Seed head on rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa)
Flower stalks on strict buckwheat (Eriogonum strictum)
Cluster of berries on Cascade mountain-ash (Sorbus scopulina)
Ice crystals on the branches of young Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera)
Rose hips on cluster rose (Rosa pisocarpa)
Seed head on showy stonecrop (Sedum telephium ‘Autumn Joy’)
All photos were taken at Idaho Botanical Garden in Boise, Idaho.