Winter is here! It is still a great time to get outside to enjoy nature. Here are some evergreen plants you can see in State Parks while hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing this season. These plants are all native to NY state. Though popular for decorating, you should only pick them from your own lands or look for decorating greens at your local nursery or Christmas tree farm. Please don’t pick the plants in state parks or on other public lands so that others may enjoy seeing them in the wilds. A number of the plants below are designated as exploitably vulnerable (http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7135.html) to prevent their over harvesting.
American holly (Ilex opaca) is most common in our Long Island parks and also planted in many landscapes. Its red berries provide good food for wintering birds and the sharp spines on the leaves protect the leaves from being eaten by deer or rabbits.
Several plants go by the common name of Wintergreen. This one is Gaultheria procumbens. Its thick waxy leaves stay green all winter and also contain wintergreen oil, like the smell of Canada mints or gum.
Clubmosses (lycopods) look like little small Christmas trees or candles on the forest floor. Some types grow along long runners that were popular for garlands. Today, this plant is on the protected list to prevent over harvesting.
You may have read about this one in our November blog. The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) that is found in boggy places in parks. And the less common look-alike below is snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) – oddly more closely related to the Wintergreen above than the cranberry plant. Look hard and you can see the white berry.
A few of our ferns are wintergreen too like the common polypody or rock-cap fern (Polypodium virginianum). As its name suggests, it grows on rocks, often in large patches.
Here one that is easy to learn – the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Each leaflet looks like a little boot or stocking!
And what do Santa’s reindeer eat? Reindeer moss of course! This is actually not a moss, but a large group of gray-green lichens that are common in our forests and mountain tops and even more abundant in the tundra of Canada and northern countries where caribou and reindeer live. Shown here with wintergreen and clubmoss.
Do you know your evergreen trees? What has long soft needles in clusters of 5? Or sharp needles with a strong odor? Or flat needles that are soft to the touch? All of these trees provide important shelter and food for wildlife during the winter and add to the beauty of the winter landscape.
So get out and enjoy the greens of winter!
Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program