[Herbal Rootlets]: No. 84 – Winter Plant Identification (and a Freebie)

“Nothing in nature, even weeds, should be considered unworthy of study.”

– Quirky Science

Often we forget to get outside in the winter. Reasons are multitude. It’s too cold. It’s a hassle to bundle up the kids. It’s dreary. There’s nothing to see or do. Nothing is growing. There are no plants around to harvest.

Don’t let these excuses keep you inside! Winter is the perfect time to hone up on your plant identification skills. I’d like to challenge you to get outside and see what you can identify, you might be surprised! Grab your sketchbook, a pen or pencil, and the kids and head outside!

Look up! Look towards the sky for the tree line.

This is a great time to study trees. You can stand off a distance and check out their skeletons. What shape do they form? How do the branches spread out? Is there one main central trunk or is it branching? Or has it been coppiced and has a multitude of trunks?

Do a rough sketch of the overall tree shape then move in closer. Check out the tree bark. Is it rough or smooth? What color is it? Does it have lenticels? Can you identify the tree from the bark? Sometimes the bark gives us clues to the tree’s identity. Do a tree bark rubbing or sketch a sample of how it looks.

Now look at the buds. There are lots of clues in the buds as well. There are some great books that can help with identification through their buds, check my online book list under plant identification.  Sketch the buds too. Touch them, are they sticky, such as the Cottonwood buds are? Write down what you observe and sketch the buds. This is the perfect time to harvest those Cottonwood buds!

Make it a goal to learn to identify all the trees in your back yard or in your local park this winter. If that seems too overwhelming (parks can be huge!), try for 3-5 trees.

There’s a fungus among us.

Often overlooked, mushrooms can be abundantly found as well this time of year. Shelf mushrooms, such as Reishi and Artist’s Conk will be visible, as will True and False Turkey Tails. Surprisingly, I found Oyster Mushrooms growing on a dead oak tree in mid-January this year. As a bonus, most of these are found growing on trees so when you’re checking out your local trees, scour their limbs and trunks for any fungi that might be there.

Though it might be hard to identify the dried up remains of some of the mushrooms, others will be easy to identify.

Go on a scavenger hunt to see what the plants have left behind.

This is also a fun time to go on a wild weed walk and see what skeletons you can find. Many plants leave behind telltale clues where they are located. Turn your walk into a scavenger hunt! Can you find a Mullein torch?

How about Queen Anne’s reversed umbrella?

Or Echinacea’s pincushion?

Goldenrod’s plume?

You might even be able to find Evening Primrose’s fairy candle holders.

What other plants can you find? To get into the swing of things, I have created a fun little scavenger hunt printable to take on your winter weed walk. It’s free to download, just click here!

If you don’t have plants growing in your back yard to investigate, head out to a local preserve or conservation area. They typically do not cut down the dead plants giving you lots of specimens to observe. You’ll be surprised what you can find there.

This time of the year doesn’t have to be downtime for learning about plants! You’ll be surprised how many you can find and learn about even in the middle of winter! So go ahead, bundle up the kids, grab a sketch pad and pen and head on out to see what you can find. And don’t forget your free scavenger list printables!