Winter Trees

There are some who think Kansas is a wide, open, treeless prairie. Truth is, we have trees! In fact, at my Lansing Tree Board meeting last night there was an announcement that for 16 years in a row we have maintained our “Tree City USA” status. Yay for Lansing! Yay for trees!

Trees get a lot of attention when they are in bloom and when their bright spring leaves have burst forth. And everyone notices trees in the fall when their changing colors put on a show. But what about winter trees? What do you think of bare branch trees during the short days of winter? I used to think they were boring, dull, something to get through, like winter itself. I actually said so, out loud, to a neighbor, Jennifer, when I lived at Fort Campbell, KY in 1995. Jennifer, who was driving at the moment, nearly stopped her car in the middle of the road. Emphatically she told me, “Barb, you are wrong! The trees are the most interesting in the winter – it’s the only time you can study the shapes of the trees and see the lacy network of branches.”

It’s no secret, winter is not my favorite season – I complain about the cold, and the short dark days, and the cold, and the snow, and the ice, and the cold. But there are the trees. Ever since Jennifer taught me to study the structures of the branches I have enjoyed my winter tree watch. I admire the huge mature trees on the nearby army post, in commercial areas and in the residential neighborhoods. But best of all is a drive through the countryside, usually late in the afternoon when the winter light hits the bare branches and makes the trees glow.

Late afternoon sun hitting winter tree trunks.

Late afternoon sun hitting winter tree trunks.

Some trees aren’t much more than barren sticks poking straight up to the sky.(click on the image to enlarge)

Other trees have fine feathery branches that fan out.

Still others seem to have been wadded up and crinkled, their branches twisting and bending like a mountainous road.

Some trees have bold thick branches near the trunk that reach out get smaller and smaller until the final tips are nothing more than tiny wisps of twigs.Winter tree branchA coating of snow defines the branches even more.

Snow embossed winter tree.

Snow embossed winter tree.

There are trees that bend over and droop as if keeping an eye out for what is going on below.

Clinging seed pods and shriveled fruit add unexpected interest for the winter tree watcher.

And winter is the only time we can see if the birds really did nest in our neighborhood. (Bird nests could be a post of it’s own!)Winter tree with nest

Regular winter tree watchers will notice that trees have social personalities. Some stand alone.

While others prefer to be in groups.

Some trees seem to keep watch.

Others are more like daydreamers.

"I wonder where those geese are going?

“I wonder where that plane is going. I wonder how far those geese have flown?

All winter, I watch the trees. Last week, when I was looking for a tree with berries still clinging to it’s branches, I noticed this:

Late Feb. Are those buds?


I thought, “Hey! That tree didn’t have berries last week!” Then I realized, they aren’t berries. They are buds!

I rushed home to checked my magnolia tree (always the first to bud out in spring).

Then one day, this. The magnolia tree is always first in my yard to bud.

Magnolia buds

Sure enough, spring is coming.

If you want to start your own winter tree watch all you need is your eyes and a little imagination. Soon, you too, will be enjoying the wonders that bare branch trees bring to the short, cold days of winter.

And you will be the first to know when spring pokes forth.