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Published January 07, 2010, 03:58 PM

Northland Nature: Seeds are one way nature prepares for spring season

Talk is often of the morning chill that we all are experiencing. This cold time, combined with the snowpack left from the Christmas snowstorm, makes for a great Minnesota winter scene.

By: Larry Weber, Budgeteer News

We are in early January and real winter has set in. Several mornings in a row, Northlanders woke to temperature readings in the subzero range.

Talk is often of the morning chill that we all are experiencing.

This cold time, combined with the snowpack left from the Christmas snowstorm, makes for a great Minnesota winter scene.

Birds fluff up their feathers and add extra meals to their daily routine to cope with the weather.

Many mammals slow their activities. Some, such as raccoons and skunks, even sleep through the chill, waking in milder days.

During my walks at minus-20 degrees, I hear the crunch with each step as the boots grind the rough snow. Ice crystals collect around my face and I return with a frosty hat, moisture freezing from each breath.

On such walks, we may have thoughts of spring, but it can be hard to see some signs.

However, even in these harsh conditions, nature is in preparation for the warmth of the next season.

As I travel about on these days, whether on foot or by car, I see trees laden with seeds. Most obvious are the mountain-ash, crab apple, hawthorn, sumac and highbush cranberry that still hold reddish berries — but they are not alone.

Birches, box elder, ash and basswood are all bearing their brown seeds on the bare branches of winter. Sometimes the crop is so thick that it appears as though these trees still have leaves.

Not only do these seeds tell of the coming spring when they may take root, they also speak of a fruitful past.

Last summer was an excellent time for seeds, berries and fruits in the Northland. Much of this was seen in the bountiful harvest we partook of during that time. Others, not collected by us, still show the results of these days.

I saw this on a walk as I wandered through the white woods after our recent snowfalls.

The deep snowpack held a crust on the top that was subsequently covered by light, powdery snow. Spread out on this new white coat was an abundance of tiny birch seeds.

These minute, three-pointed structures had a scattering of strange-looking basswood seeds with them.

Basswoods are rather large trees that blend in with maples and oaks in our woods. Large heart-shaped leaves are diagnostic, but so is the summer flowering of these trees. Not blooming in spring like most others, basswoods open their clusters of flowers in the warmth of late July. The blossoms of July 2009 were outstanding.

Dripping with nectar, they attracted large numbers of bees. Several times I walked by basswoods that buzzed as myriads of these busy insects gathered food from the numerous flowers.

Pollinated by these bees, the trees produced the unusual fruits that now can be seen on the surface of the snow or still clinging to the branches.

Fruits are spherical nuts nearly 0.25 inches in diameter. About four to six are attached to small stems that lead to a large single leaf-like wing.

Taking advantage of winter winds hitting the exposed branches, the seeds drift on these “hand-glider” growths. Though now is cold winter with plenty of snow, the basswoods send out their seeds in hope and preparation for the months ahead.

We will continue to see these strange seeds on the snowpack in weeks to come.


Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now: “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Fascinating Fungi of the North Woods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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