Category Archives: Shrubs

New Moon Challenge: Shrub Twig Moon

Photo of Purple Chokeberry (Aronia floribunda)

My current moon challenge has been to find, photograph, and sketch the twigs of at least 15 shrubs. While I was already familiar with the 17 species I ended up choosing, there were a few I couldn't confidently identify in their winter form at the start of the challenge. Studying them closely in order to sketch their white season features has resulted in stronger field identification skills. I think next winter I'll repeat the challenge with 15 different shrub species.

Here's a list and below is a gallery of photos of the shrubs I got to know better this moon, 14 of whom I've featured on this blog:

American Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta)
Black Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Gray Dogwood (Swida racemosa)
Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)
Maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina)
Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)
Purple Chokeberry (Aronia floribunda)
Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense)
Sheep American-laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
Silky Dogwood (Swida amomum)
Small Bayberry (Morella caroliniensis)
Smooth Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
Speckled Alder (Alnus incana)
Sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina)
Sweetgale (Myrica gale)
Withe-rod (Viburnum nudum)

If you embark on a shrub challenge of your own, whether during the white or green season, I recommend consulting The Shrub Identification Book (1963) by George W. Symonds and the Peterson Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs (1973) by George Petrides. These and other helpful titles can be accessed through many public libraries. For updated scientific names, I recommend Go Botany. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

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.)