Michael Ecker, Director of Horticulture

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sunspray'; Sunspray hinoki false cypress (1)When it comes to plants possessing winter interest, some are mentioned over and over.   Nothing wrong with these commonly repeated plants, but how about some that do not come up as often?   Plants I tend to visit every winter, over and over.

Take a look at the trunk of the old specimen of dawn-redwood at the Daweswood House.   It reminds me of “The Blob”, a monster of older science-fiction fame.  Instead of covering cuts and stubs with surrounding new wood like many other trees, dawn-redwood’s trunk folds over, assimilating them.   In this process it creates valleys and grottoes that have acquired the lovely name of “arm pitting”.

Many are familiar with the handsome peeling bark on trunks and branches of paperbark maple, but a species known as three-flower maple also has wonderful tannish peeling bark.  However, not everyone sees peeling bark as a plus, which was pointed out to me once upon my extolling the virtues of such a plant.  “It looks like it’s dead.”  To each his own.

The kousa dogwood has gray, tan, and green bark typically described as mottled.   Most think it’s attractive, as do I, although anything else having the descriptive term “mottled” associated with it is usually bad.

A favorite plant group that provides colorful fruit in winter are hollies.  Birds and squirrels enjoy their fruit, and we enjoy the bright colors of red, orange, or yellow berries as eye-candy.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Sunspray'; Sunspray hinoki false cypressBut what about alders with their dark brown, cone-like woody reproductive structures?  You could collect them, spray paint them bright colors and put them into indoor or outdoor arrangements.  I won’t – but you could!

On a clear, cold, blue-sky day, Sunspray hinoki false-cypress leaps out from the surrounding landscape.  Its colorful winter foliage is a bright, happy yellow, not murky yellow as some other sick-looking plants have in winter.

Another “happy” looking evergreen shrub is Winter Gold mugo pine, which has banded green and yellow foliage.  Gold Coin Scots pine is light green in summer but upon cold weather turns a nice yellow. The colder the temperature, the better the color.

Typically loved and known for their flowers, not winter interest, are some of the evergreen rhododendrons that have foliage colors from dark purple, almost black, to red and maroon.

Another alluring winter trait is the horizontal, crooked branching habit of twisted European beech.  A dusting of snow highlights these contorted limbs, making the effect just that much nicer.

Not as much alluring as “alarming” are the green, robust(!) thorns on hardy-orange.   Bent, curled, and congested dead branches from the last couple of winters have not been pruned out of our specimen – visit the Conifer Glen and take a look.  You’ll understand why.

Not an ornamental trait of sugar maple in the winter, but still of winter interest are buckets hanging from spiles on trunks where tapping for maple syrup is in progress.  Be sure to take advantage of Maple Syrup Madness, February 20 through March 6, 2016.  Learn the history, see the process, and taste a sample of Dawes Arboretum’s real maple syrup.