Toothwort’s Winter Leaves

Even by tempestuous mountain weather standards, this has been a wild month to close out the year. At the end of last week, temperatures dipped to zero, with a blustery wind chill of minus 25. This must be hard on wildlife, and to be honest is not my favorite walking weather. This week it ranged from 7 to the upper 60s and could even reach a balmy 70 next week.

In spite of the wild swings, the plants still seem pretty predictable in their patterns. The first snowdrops are in bud, and most likely will open in the next couple days, almost exactly the same as last year. Most of the plants in the garden that have kept their leaves came through unharmed by the polar plunge, though a few are worse for wear.

In the woods, there are three plants that send up leaves beginning in late summer and early autumn though they don’t flower until the following spring or summer. I have written this year about two of this trio, puttyroot and cranefly orchid, and this post will talk about the third, toothwort. The cranefly orchid leaves first appeared on September 18th, the first puttyroot leaves appeared on September 28th, and the first leaves of toothwort on October 6th. There are hundreds of each of these plants in my woods, and there are still new leaves of all of them appearing, a pattern that will continue into the new year.

Toothwort is the first of these three to flower, generally in April here. Since I have several microhabitats and a slight elevation gain in my forest, their flowering period can vary by several weeks between the time the first and last plant flowers. Individual plants are very ephemeral, with flowers often only lasting a few days.

The toothwort keep their basal autumn leaves through winter and into early spring. Then when they are close to flowering, they send up new stem leaves. The leaves in this photo already show some slight signs of damage but are still functional and seem to be largely avoided by deer and other wildlife. At this time of year, they are very obvious since so few plants remain green in the woods. It is nice to see signs of spring, though it will be over a month before there are any flowers in the woods. These tough plants are proof that winter is not a time of complete dormancy.

With this post, I am winding up my yearlong project writing weekly about my garden. I have been in my yard part of every week for two years and decided this year to translate that to an ongoing record. Because of unfortunate circumstances, the death of my mom last year, and my sister this year, I have been in one place longer than I ever have before.

I have always spent quite a bit of time away from home every year since I was born, going to the Adirondacks for my mom’s summer concert season starting when I was just a few months old, and continuing through my childhood. This was followed by a lot of tropical travel, including assorted trips for ecology research, leading nature tours and teaching college field classes, and for nature recording expeditions. Some years I was away more than I was home.

I expect that I won’t again be in one place so consistently. At first, I had a hard time adjusting to a schedule where it was rare to have even a day or two without some important paperwork requiring my attention. But now as the pace of deadlines has slowed, soon I will no longer need to be tied to my computer and boxes of family papers. I am looking forward to more flexibility and freedom with my time, but also know I will miss this intense period of getting to know a wild place in minute detail. Though I have lived here over a decade, it is really only the past year when I have come to feel very little goes unnoticed, and the daily dramas equal anything I have seen anywhere in the world.

Though I won’t continue to post weekly on happenings in my garden, anticipating I will be moving around more this coming year, I will continue to post regularly to record seasonal changes and exciting events. I also will be posting on other topics. I have been writing haiku almost daily for the past 25 years and will share some of those on Facebook. I also have quite a few writing and photography projects that may become posts as they progress. Stay tuned for more from my yard, and beyond. I wish everyone a Happy New Year!