Northland Nature: Clubmosses show up in the AutWin woodsEarly November is an ideal time to see the woods of AutWin, the interlude between the time when the leaves have fallen from the trees and before the forest floor is covered with snow.
Early November is an ideal time to see the woods of AutWin, the interlude between the time when the leaves have fallen from the trees and before the forest floor is covered with snow.
It is a blend of Autumn and Winter — AutWin. These weeks are a marvelous time to see sights during our woods walks that may go undetected at other times. It is now that we can further our views through the woods more than we can during the green leafy days of summer.
And now, among the drab browns and grays of the downed leaves and tree bark, we can more easily see what is still green in this landscape.
A few trees such as oaks and some sugar maples and ironwoods may still be holding brown leaves. Some tamaracks of the wetlands are slow to drop their yellow-gold needles.
But for the most part, we are moving through the forest as it will be all during the cold season. In this bland setting, the prevailing greens show up and we see plants that we would usually not see. With the exception of large green conifer trees that mix with the deciduous trees, the greens that are here in this unique scene are smaller plants.
Recently, during a pleasant November day, I wandered several trails through a large section of woods looking for plants that were still green: out in yards grasses and several non-native trees and shrubs, lilac, apple, weeping willow, Siberian pea and forsythia are holding green leaves.
But among the leaf litter of the forest floor, there are few. The trees still green at this date will drop their leaves in coming weeks, but the green in the woods will prevail. Most here are small and it took some searching to find them.
But once knowing what to look for, I found that logs, rocks and the bases of virtually all trees were coated with a growth of mosses.
At first they all appear to be the same, but a closer look reveal they are quite varied. Some lay flat, others tall. Some are branched, others not. And many mosses were growing right on the ground.
Also on the ground, I found some larger green plants. While mosses may be only a couple of inches high, the green ferns and clubmosses here are several inches or a foot tall.
Ferns abound in the Northland woods in summer. Despite all the shade caused by the broad leaves of the deciduous trees, they thrive.
In the cool shorter days, however, ferns are quick to fade and most stand here with dead brown fronds, but not all. Along the trails that I walked, I found several green wood ferns. These hardy plants will remain green even while being covered with snow, nearly an evergreen fern.
(We do have an evergreen fern in the Northland: the rock-cap fern, which grows on exposed sections of rocky cliffs.)
Among the ferns and leaves of the forest floor, I also find large and thick growths of plants called clubmosses. The suffix of “moss” can be a bit confusing since they are not mosses. (That is why “clubmoss” is written as one word.)
Instead of being mosses, these plants are cousins of ferns. They are also known as princess pines, ground pines, ground cedars or Lycopodium. The name of Lycopodium, meaning “wolf footprint” was formerly the scientific name of the plants.
Spreading by runners or horizontal branches over the ground, what appears to be a huge growth of many clubmosses may actually be a few connected ones.
Plants are well known to remain green throughout the winter and have been gathered by many as holiday decorations. Looking almost like miniature trees, these evergreen plants hold stems, branches and tiny leaves.
Most also produce a club-like stalk on the top of the plant where the reproductive spores are formed. (This is where the name of “clubmoss” comes from.)
The boreal forests are the habitat of these beautiful little green plants of the forest floor. They are not found in southern woods. As I walked, I located five kinds that varied in branching and growth patterns.
And once again, I was glad that in the AutWin woods, I was able to find these green plants. Soon, they will likely be covered with snow, but for a few weeks, we’ll see just how common clubmosses are in the Northland forests.
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 email@example.com.