Rose hips still present on December daysThough we’ve had some cold during the first half of December, the little amount of precipitation continues. The small snow cover, about only one inch in most places, has been dry and translates into just a fraction of an inch of moisture.
The last few months, especially those of autumn, have been warmer and drier than normal. Though we’ve had some cold during the first half of December, the little amount of precipitation continues. The small snow cover, about only one inch in most places, has been dry and translates into just a fraction of an inch of moisture.
With these mild conditions, I have noticed few birds coming to the birdfeeders. It seems that the days with the greatest numbers have been the coldest times. I think the birds have been demonstrating again that they really don’t need our handouts to deal with winter. And with the little snow, they are finding plenty of food elsewhere.
During my walks and other travels in the last few weeks, I have seen many of their food sources. The plants in the fields are filled with a multitude of seeds. Birch and alders abound with cones packed with seeds. It is here that I’ve seen a few redpoll flocks. And there is still a plethora of tree fruits and berries hanging on from earlier in the fall.
Out on the woods edges are the small trees of sumac, hawthorn, crabapple and highbush cranberry. In the swamps, I’ve seen the winterberry holly with branches filled with berries. And mountain ashes are holding plenty in yards. Each is laden with red fruits and berries that have not yet been chosen by the local wildlife. These red berries get the attention of passing birds, and by feeding on them, they help to disperse the seeds.
Recently, I watched as a huge pileated woodpecker balanced on the tiny twigs of a crab apple as it proceeded to devour a tasty morsel. Now the fruits and berries are shriveled in the chilly arid air and are often frozen, but they still provide some needed food values for the hungry feeder, and the seeds within are still viable.
Another plant very common in the Northland – the wild rose – is still holding many of its fruits from summer. Back in midsummer, we delighted in seeing its big pink blossoms lighting up the roadsides. Large petals, scattered on the many branches of this three- to six-foot shrub, added to the numerous other wildflowers of that time. The fragrant flora attracted the attention of myriads of insects and pollination occurred.
As summer faded into fall, the petals dropped off, and the lower part of the flower (the receptacle) developed into a thickened growth and turned red. Now the shrub with the pink flowers became one of red berries. And later, when the leaves dropped, the fruits became much more apparent, as they continue to do so now.
Now, well after the leaf drop, after the cold and frosts have moved in during the short days of December, we still see the results of the wild roses’ summer. The fruits, known as rose hips, are still on many of the plants in large numbers, not yet taken as food.
Perhaps it is the thorny and prickly stems that keep many of the small mammals and birds from devouring them. Perhaps they are not preferred by the local foragers as much as others until late in the season. Whatever the reason, rose hips can often be seen along roadsides and fields on these December days. But as we move through the season, I expect grouse, other birds, and small mammals will discover and devour them.
Rose hips are also picked by many humans. Though their uses may vary, most speak of the delightful and nutritious tea (high in vitamin C) that can be made from them. Gatherers of these fruits also say that the best results are for those who wait to pick them until after the cold, frosts, and ice has moved in. Rose hips are only one of the many winter wild fruit and berries that our wildlife neighbors will locate.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.