Northland Nature: Don’t miss the yellow-gold of weeping willowsMost willows are found in wetlands and, though much smaller, they are also slow to drop yellow leaves in this season. And for the last month we could see just how common they are.
The time of early sunsets is now upon us. This is also when nearly every morning we wake to chilly temperatures that reveal ponds and swamps coated with ice (though such a cover is usually gone by midday). And the forest, devoid of foliage, takes on the bland and drab scene so often associated with this month. Yes, we are in the midst of gray November, but, as often happens, a closer look shows us there’s more in this landscape.
During a recent walk in the woods of AutWin — aka the time between the leaf drop and snow cover — I found five species of clubmosses (often called “princess pines”), two kinds of ferns and dozens of mosses, all of which were still green.
Besides these, some flowering plants such as wintergreen, pyrola and hepatica also have leaves of green. Most will remain this color all winter. While driving around in the region, I noted three kinds of trees that avoided the leaf drop of a couple of weeks ago, that continue to hold their foliage: lilac, European buckthorn and weeping willow.
All are common in the Northland, and anyone passing by these will observe their attire of early November. They will shed leaves, but not until well into the month. All are non-native and it is probably this fact that causes their late reaction to autumn. Though lilacs and weeping willows are wanted in our lawns and parks, the buckthorns are not. Lilacs and buckthorns do not give a colorful exit — as nearly all of our native deciduous trees do — but weeping willows do.
With these willows being so common in the area and growing so large, weeping willows demand our attention as we move through the first week of November. I find it hard to not notice such huge, yellow-gold arboreal displays that line the streets and yards. The fast-growing trees may be a couple of feet in diameter with long branches that droop down to the ground. Being big and thick with numerous thin leaves, they provide ample shade in summer and a golden glow in fall; most homeowners will gladly smile to have this weeping tree in their yard.
Native to China, weeping willows have been widely transplanted in many locations, including here.
Able to grow from energetic branches, they thrive. We also have many native willows in the Northland.
Most are found in wetlands and, though much smaller, they are also slow to drop yellow leaves in this season. And for the last month we could see just how common they are.
Black willows, frequently found along rivers and streams, are an exception, as they can grow very large and thick.
Though planted in this country for a couple of hundred years, weeping willows are still getting acclimatized to the North Country.
Their biological clocks are more akin to that of a sub-tropical tree, and they are quick to green in spring and slow to drop in fall, extending their season for as long as they can at this latitude.
Many Northlanders are most likely enjoying the slow turn of foliage on these large, drooping shade trees.
This too will pass and their leaves will join those of the maples, birches and oaks on the grasses and forest floor in anticipation of the impending snow blanket.
And the display of fall colors that began nearly two months ago now reluctantly ends with a yellow-gold exit of the weeping willows.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.