Found on the Greenway: Evergreens
By: Elizabeth Rockholt, Catawba Master Naturalist
Regardless of the season, the colors of nature are in abundance on the Greenway. During the wintertime, after the fall flowers are only memories and the trees have shed their bright leaves, there is still color all around us if only you know where to look.
Most outstanding during the cooler days are the varying shades of the evergreens. These plants retain their leaves all through the year and only become more noticeable when viewed without competition. The most abundant of these are the pines (Pinus) of which there are at least four species along the trails. The Longleaf, (P. palustris) and the Loblolly (P. taeda) both have three needles in each bundle but the Longleaf needle is twice the length of the Loblolly. The Shortleaf (P. echinata) and Virginia (P. virginiana) pines have two needles to a bundle. However, the Shortleaf needle is straight while the Virginia needle is curly – think of Virginia as a lady with curly hair. These hints will aid in your identification as you look around.
Especially around Christmas time the American Holly (Ilex opaca) is noteworthy as a decoration with its shiny leaves and bright red berries. The birds and squirrels love the berries and the sharp spined leaves provide protection from predators.
One of the neatest trees on the Greenway is the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). It is a fast growing tree often found along fence rows or under other trees. These locations can be understood quite well as birds love to feast on the small bright blue berries then sit on fences or limbs and – well, plant the seeds! Because of its lovely smell and conical shape, the Cedar is often used as a Christmas tree, but it is quite useful in other ways as well. The berries, which are actually small cones, were once used to flavor gin. Squirrels will strip the soft bark to line their winter nests and the wood is used to line closets and chests to repel moths.
Many plants that are found closer to the ground add to the greenscape, especially the Christmas Fern, Ebony Spleenwort and the mosses. If you look carefully you can spot the green leaves of the Spotted Wintergreen or Pipsissiwa and the Cranefly Orchid with its purple undersides. Especially interesting is the sprawling Lycopodium, often called Ground Pine or Creeping Cedar. This clubmoss was often used as a Christmas decoration because it draped so well. Then there are the Magnolias and Laurels and on and on. Take a hike and see how many of the evergreens you can spot on the Greenway this winter.