Category Archives: Shrubs

Winter Shrub ID: Sweetgale

Photo of Sweetgale

As I mentioned last week, Sweetgale (Myrica gale) is one of the few New England shrubs with catkins on white season twigs. The twigs of this short shrub are dark purple near the tips, typically red to brown to yellowish further down the stem, and covered with tiny white speckles. The buds and unopened catkins consist of overlapping dark scales with contrasting light tips, making for a sharp look. Some twigs may have persisting dried leaves; note how the leaves are toothed only near their tips. Fruit clusters resemble spiky cones. Scratch and sniff Sweetgale to experience a pleasant aroma.

This native shrub grows on the edges of ponds and streams, and in bogs and other wetlands. These photos were taken this morning along the edge of Etherington Pond in Biddeford, ME. To learn more about Sweetgale, visit Go Botany. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Winter Shrub ID: Beaked Hazelnut

Photo of Beaked Hazelnut catkins

There are few New England shrub species who have flower catkins on winter twigs. Among those who do include Sweetgale (Myrica gale), Sweet-fern, Speckled Alder, American Hazelnut, and the shrub featured here, Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). It won't be long before these male flower catkins elongate and release their pollen, but for now they wait. The closely related American Hazelnut (C. americana) typically has longer catkins, hairier twigs, and blunter end buds vs. the short catkins, mostly hairless twigs, and more pointed end buds of Beaked Hazelnut. Both species have bark marked with light-colored lenticels. You can increase your chances of finding the edible nuts of Beaked Hazelnut by learning to recognize this species year-round in your local landscape. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Fall Shrub ID: American Witch-hazel

Photo of American Witch-hazel flowers

I know of no native woody species who blooms later in the calendar year than American Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). While flowering occurs in October and November, fruit capsules don't develop until the following growing season. These fuzzy capsules eventually split open, launching their small seeds a short distance. American Witch-hazel is most conspicuous when in full bloom, but even after blooming, the plant can be recognized by persisting sepals, persisting open fruit capsules, and distinctive naked buds (see Winter Shrub ID: American Witch-hazel). This arching shrub or small tree lives in the understory of many New England forests. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Bog Plants: Mountain Holly

Photo of Mountain Holly

Finding the inconspicuous greenish-white flowers of Mountain Holly (Ilex mucronata, formerly Nemopanthus mucronatus) in late-spring, you'd hardly imagine their transformation to bright red fruits. The fleshy drupes ripen in mid-to-late summer and hang on long, thin pedicels. Though not a target food for human foragers, the fruits do provide important nourishment for certain furred and feathered foragers. Mountain Holly grows not only in bogs and fens but also in alpine areas and on the margins of lakes and streams. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Foraging Wild Fruit: Velvet-leaved Blueberry

Photo of Velvet-leaved Blueberry

This weekend, I had the pleasure of finding Velvet-leaved Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides) growing alongside other Blueberry species in the understory of a mixed hardwood/conifer forest here in southern Maine.

Photo of Velvet-leaved Blueberry branchlet

The leaves and branchlets of this native shrub are covered in short hairs, and the tiny bud scales have pointed tips. These features can be seen with the naked eye but are worth examining with a hand lens. Tasting the fruit, I detected a slight sourness, which paired well with some of the sweeter, neighboring berries.

Photo of Velvet-leaved Blueberry handful