Winter greens

No, not the kind you eat

Green is not a color usually associated with winter, unless perhaps you’re from the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of the things I’ve missed since moving back east – those moss and fern-saturated, green, winter forests in the Gorge and beyond.

A mossy trail near Portland, Oregon, taken in January 2016.

Today, however, as I hiked here in central North Carolina, I became acutely aware of the many winter greens coloring an otherwise brown and gray forest. The winter sun was shining brightly through the naked canopy, spotlighting a surprising variety of greens. I first became aware of many tufts of what my grandma used to call “spring onions” already popping up here on January 5th – it may be winter, but these little tufts of pungent greenery make it seem like spring is coming…

“Spring onions”

Then I noticed that some pine trees had carpets of moss and lichen covering part of their trunks…even though the pines tend to grow on higher, drier ground.

Moss and lichen on a pine tree

The cranefly orchids have shown up everywhere lately. They begin to leaf out in the autumn, but really become obvious on the forest floor in winter after all the other green plants turn brown and lose their leaves. I love that these little ground orchids overwinter as single leaves, which disappear altogether in the spring. Then a white flower stalk shoots up from the ground in summer, and the flower is pollinated by moths!

Cranefly orchid leaves

Next, I came across an area dotted with young red cedar trees. Their prickly green needles a reminder that life finds a way, even in the depths of the forest in winter.

Young red cedar tree

Another tuft of moss was growing on a nearly decomposed tree stump. It’s color more yellow-green and texture different from the moss on the pine tree. A closer look showed what I assume are fruiting bodies, though I admit I know very little about mosses and moss identification.

In addition to the ever-present, evergreen (and often too dense) loblolly pines of the Piedmont, a few beautiful specimens of holly trees graced the fields near a pond. Probably planted here by the farmers who used to work this land, they’ve grown into magnificent specimen trees.

Holly tree
Holly leaves and berries

I’ve walked the woods a lot this winter and this trail often, but have paid little attention to the greenery around. Today it was these greens that spoke to me, got my attention, and made me glad I’d come out to spend some time with them.

What is greening your landscape these days?


  1. Again, so much richness to take in with your writing. Every paragraph filled with beauty. Thank you. I’m back in Florida for the moment but haven’t been out to see what’s “greening” here. Palm trees, for sure!

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