Winter Shrub ID: Sweet-fern

As I've written previously*, Sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina) is the first wild plant that I learned to recognize by smell alone.  While simply breathing near a patch of this shrub is a reliable way to notice her in summer, she offers other clues to travelers in the white season.

Photo fo Sweet Fern in Winter

In winter, Sweet-fern is one of the few shrubs that bears catkins (Speckled Alder is another).  These clusters of petal-less flowers bloom in early spring and rely on wind for pollination. Most Sweet-fern plants retain dry reddish/brown leaves that can help identify this plant by sight. The leaves curl up gracefully, and I presume these brittle fingers, if not buried in snow, would make suitable tinder.

*Note: If you took my earlier advice in Foraging Fragrant Leaves: Sweet-fern, and gathered some leaves during the green season, perhaps you are enjoying this post as you sip a cup of Sweet-fern tea.

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