Winter Colors, Forms, and Textures

Many trees and shrubs brighten the winter landscape with their fruit. The autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellatus) and the possum haw (Ilex decidua) have a show of red fruit throughout much of the winter. The autumn olive has silvery red fruit. The possum haw is heavily covered with large red fruit about the size of cherries. The Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) has an abundance of clusters of shiny red fruit. The Lalandei firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea ‘Lalandei’) is one of the hardiest and showiest of the firethorns, with scarlet-red fruit covering the shrub well into January.

In addition to adding color to the winter landscape, these fruited trees and shrubs attract birds for your winter pleasure. If you have a flowering dogwood within your view, you must have a variety of birds. Records show that 85 kinds of birds prefer the shiny red dogwood berries to all other berries. The autumn olive’s silvery red fruit is enjoyed by at least 25 species of birds.

Evergreen trees or shrubs add significantly to the winter landscape with the varied form of the plants and the texture of their foliage. Notice the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences in color. Evergreens range in color from shades of green and olive to silver, blue, and rust. In winter, the greens often take on more rust and purple tints.

However, all of the forms and textures of the season are not to be found in the large view. A winter walk will uncover the smaller elements. The dried seed heads of summer’s flowers are brown and rust against a snowy back drop.

The sweetgum balls, acorns, nuts, and cones may only be a nuisance when spring clean-up comes, but for now, search for them for their beauty. They can be fascinating. Explore the spirals in pine, spruce, and fir cones. Look at the design for flight of the maple samara, its winged fruit. Be awed by the different ways that nature protects the delicate life in a seed throughout the winter.

Closely examine the twigs around you and you will be further awed by nature’s complex protection of life at rest. Each dormant bud that will become next year’s leaf or flower is sheltered by bud scales that protect it from dry air that would cause it to wither during the cold winter months. The dormant buds are unique to each species and can be used in identifying trees and shrubs when no leaves are present.

While looking closely at the winter bud, look also at the bark. Touch the bark of many different trees. Discover the “wings” on the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) and the winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Notice that the bark on the birch and sycamore is not smooth, but is exfoliating; that is, shedding off in long strips or flaking off in irregular patches.

Winter is the ideal time to gain new insights into the nature of nature.