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December 2018: Winter Woods

The photograph depicts a forest during the winter. The trees are covered in snow and in front of the trees is an empty space of land covered in snow.
Don’t let the snow keep you from the beauty of the forest! Take the opportunity explore the different wonders of the winter woods!

The forest has so much to offer all year round! However, there are a few things that we may not notice during the spring/summer months that truly stand out during the winter. These things include: bark, mosses and lichens, and wildlife tracks. While they are also visible during the fairer months, these parts of the forest are magnified with the absence of leaves and other vegetation. 


With the absence of leaves and fruit (for many trees), bark gets the chance to shine in the winter sunlight. While bark is significant in protecting vital living parts of a tree, it can also be admired for the textures and colors it displays (Simeone, 2005).

A tree specifically noted for its beautiful winter bark is the paperbark maple (Acer griseum). To find this tree at The Morton Arboretum, use BRAHMS Online. Search using the ‘Plant Name contains’ box and you will be directed to a grid that details the tree’s location and other useful information. 

This image depicts the trunk of a paper-barked maple.The bark is brown and is peeling away from the rest of the trunk.  This photograph depicts a paper-barked maple. In the picture, you can see the entire tree. The tree does not have any leaves and the bark is a light brown. There are also additional trees in the background.


Another tree known for its exfoliating bark is the American sycamore (platanus occidentalis). You can use BRAHMS Online to find the location of this tree as well!

This photograph depicts a close-up of the trunk of a Sycamore tree. In the image, you can see the tree's grey bark peeling away from the trunk, exposing a white colored trunk. This photograph depicts a sycamore tree. The picture was taken at an angle so we are looking up and to the branches. In the picture you can see the tree's bark peeling and the bare branches.

Mosses and Lichens
During the summer it can be easy to overlook low lying mosses and lichens among the more vibrant woodland flora. However, since both mosses and lichens can adapt to survive on limited light and cold temperatures, they are much more noticeable during the winter months. 

This photograph depicts a tree trunk, rolled on its side, that is covered in a yellowish-green moss. This photographs depicts a greenish-blue lichen that appears to have grown on a rock.

                                                                    [Photograph by Daniel Schwen]

Wildlife Tracks
The fresh snow gives us the opportunity to “meet” the different animals that prowl around the forests. Creatures such as beaver, coyote, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and various bird species all make The Morton Arboretum their home. While you may not be able to see them in person, they leave behind tracks, nests, scat, and tunnels that are typically more visible during the winter. 

This black and white photograph depicts former Arboretum staff member, Alred Etter, taking pictures of geese and duck on a frozen lake with snow on it.  This photograph depicts the footprints of pheasant and rabbits in the snow.

Interested in expanding your knowledge on these topics? Check out some of the resources available through the Sterling Morton Library!

Trees and Bark
Tree bark: a color guide by Hugues Vaucher
Bark : the formation, characteristics, and uses of bark around the world by Kjell Sandved
Bark : a field guide to trees of the northeast by Michael Wojtech
Wonders of the winter landscape : shrubs and trees to brighten the cold-weather garden by Vincent Simone

Mosses and Lichens
Native ferns, moss & grasses by William Cullina
Moss : Classification, Development and Growth and Functional Role in Ecosystems by Jorma Mohamed*
Lichens of North America by Irwin Brodo

Wildlife Tracks
Animal tracks and signs by Preben Bang
Animal tracks of the Great Lakes states : Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin by Chris Stall
Tracking & the art of seeing : how to read animal tracks & sign by Paul Rezendes

Children’s Books
Over and under the snow by Kate Messner
Backyard birds of winter by Carol Lerner
Winter trees by Carole Gerber
Winter is coming by Tony Johnston
Owl moon by Jane Yolen

*Access the Library’s e-book collection by entering the number on the back of your Sterling Morton Library card.

Arboretum Courses
Winter Tree ID Class
Winter Wildlife ID and Tracking Class

Did you know The Morton Arboretum offers ski and snowshoe rentals?! Visit here for more information.