Witch hazel

Connecting with the Beauty of Winter

The arrival of winter turns nature monochromatic, leaving what might seem like a bleak landscape. The leaves have turned and mostly fallen, and most native plants go dormant.

But take a closer look. Winter’s impending arrival doesn’t have to mean the end of nature walks.

Nature preserves are a great place to connect with the peace of the season. Whether it’s the stately old growth forest of Meltzer Woods in Shelbyville or the easily accessible Oliver’s Woods in the Keystone at the Crossing area, exploring the woods in winter offers its own delights.

From the red berries of the native wahoo to the frilly yellow blooms of witch hazel, the season brings intense color variations. Later in the winter, Eastern skunk cabbage emerges from the muck like a promise of spring.

When it comes to trees, autumn tends to get all the glory. But tree appreciation in winter can be a quiet, meditative affair. Without leaves clinging to their crowns, trees reveal their uniqueness and beauty in other ways: The fringed acorns of a burr oak. The thorns of a honey locust. The distinctive “alligator bark” of a persimmon tree.

For the third year, our team offered a winter tree ID outing at Oliver’s Woods. This nature preserve along the White River has many beautiful mature trees. It is well-loved for its views of the river and the potential for spotting bald eagles and other wildlife.

White River Steward, Grace van Kan, was joined by volunteer docents in leading the walk. Participants explored the riverine nature preserve and welcomed the turning of the season. They examined the difference between the distinctive yellow buds of butternut hickory and the flat, duck-bill-like buds of tulip poplar. The group discussed the features of the white oak family vs. the red oak family.

Trees they learned to ID by their bark included:

  • Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
  • Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
  • Boxelder (Acer negundo)
  • Black cherry (Prunus serotina)

The highlight of the walk was being treated to the sight of two young deer frolicking and playing on the other side of the White River.

The preserve is open to the public from dawn to dusk for family outings or more solitary rambles.

A version of this story first appeared in Urban Times online edition.

Shawndra Miller

Communications Manager

Shawndra is in charge of sharing our story and connecting you to our work. Through our print and online materials, she hopes to inspire your participation in protecting special places for future generations.