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Winter Textures (What Time is it in Nature)

January 3, 2015

There might not be quite so much green at this time of year compared to the summer, but there are always interesting things to look at at Prairie Ridge!  Have you ever gone on a hunt for textures?  During the winter, there are endless textures to explore and touch (though we do ask that you please leave things where you find them so other people can enjoy them too), so now is a great time to go on a texture hunt.  This week, let’s explore some of the texturally interesting things you might find at this time of year!

A lot of people think deciduous trees are fairly boring in the winter because they don’t have leaves, but they have a lot of great textures on them!  This tree got a wound at some point and has a scar that breaks up the pattern of the bark:


Feel the bark of trees while you’re here (though do watch out for hairy poison ivy vines growing up the trunks!).  You might want to carry a few pieces of paper and a soft pencil or crayon to make a rubbing of some of the different types of bark you come across.  There’s a lot of variation in the textures and pattern of the bark on different types of trees, so look around and see if you can find any that are particularly interesting.  You may also find lichens growing on trees:


Lichens are fascinating organisms!  They aren’t quite plants and aren’t quite fungi and don’t really fit into any of the major kingdoms of life.  Lichens consist of algae (a plant) and a fungus living together and helping each other survive.  The algae take the energy from the sun and convert it into food.  Part of the food they produce helps the fungus survive.  In exchange for the food, the fungus provides a shelter for the algae and protects them.  Neither species can survive without the other.  Amazing!

Some trees start producing flower or leaf buds as soon as the leaves start falling from the trees.  There are several trees on the Prairie Ridge grounds that are currently sporting buds:


Some are furry, some smooth, some glossy, and some dull.  There are endless varieties of bud colors, shapes, sizes, and textures.   Walk around the grounds and you’re sure to see at least a few interesting types.

A lot of plants that aren’t trees or shrubs die off during the winter, but will leave behind dried stalks, seeds, or seed heads that persist through the winter months.  We had an amazing crop of Goldenrod this year, so you will see their seeds all over the grounds:

Goldenrod seeds

The Nature Neighborhood Garden is another wonderful place to search for interesting textures!  There are dozens of wildflowers inside, the remnants of which you can see throughout the winter:

Seed head

And you can see mosses on the grounds all year, adding a little splash of bright green color to an otherwise drab landscape:


This one was growing along the paved area just beyond the Nature Neighborhood Garden entrance, but you can find other mosses in wet patches in the arboretum, growing on trees, and many other places at Prairie Ridge.  How many different moss species can you find?  There are many different types, all with their own shapes, textures, colors, and favorite locations to grow.

Not all of the interesting winter textures come from plants!  You may find these dry, papery structures on the branches of trees and shrubs:

Mantid egg case

Inside are the eggs for hundreds of mantids, tucked safely away for the winter.  In the spring, the baby mantids will burrow out of the egg case and begin to hunt other insects.  Mantids make great pest control species and eat a lot of the insects you might not want hanging around.  We love finding mantid egg cases in the Nature Neighborhood Garden because we know that we’ll eventually have predators lurking about, feasting on things that might want to eat the garden plants – or us (our blood)!

If you’re lucky, you might come across a few animals while you search for textures.  You might see millipedes or slugs under logs.  Caterpillar cocoons dangle from some of our trees and shrubs.  You might even see some live insects that do well in the cold, one of which will be the focus of next week’s What Time is it in Nature.

It might look dull and brown out there, but there are so many cool things to see at Prairie Ridge in the winter!  I encourage you to carry a notebook with you on your next visit.  Make rubbings of interesting tree barks.  Sketch buds and seeds that you find.  Describe the different types of lichens and mosses you come across.  Once you start paying attention to some of the details, you’ll find that a whole new world of fascinating things opens up!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Museum’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)


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