winter landscape January

Frozen lake in January

“Feeling a little blue in January is normal”

  • Marilu Henner

The one thing I like about January is that at least the days are getting a teeny bit longer. We still have the cold weather and probably a bunch of snows will fall, but the nights are shorter and I am fooled into thinking spring will soon be here. While I like to escape into the wilds in the warmer, more colorful months, it can be a more difficult enterprise now. Snows may not allow an easy walk in the woods, but the roads are clear, and they will have to do as a means of checking out the January happenings outdoors.

winter stream

A winter stream and beech trees still holding onto their leaves

Although cold, the air is nice and clean (it seems!) and crisp, providing a refreshing change to an extended existence in an indoor environment. And there is still much to see in the winter. Bird species may not be as abundant, but the ones that are still here provide a nicer experience for me than watching fish in a tank would.

Coot Pamm Cooper photo 2016

Coot sporting its ivory bill

Pileated woodpeckers may be elusive, but they are quite vocal, and so they often give away their location as they gad about in the woods. Water birds are still around- a kingfisher is still finding stuff to eat in areas of open water- and mallards and Canada geese are, too. Coots may be seen in open water near the shore, and merganzers and ruddy ducks can be found in small or large flocks in the coastal areas. And Cooper’s hawks, as well as sharp-shinned hawks, small accipiters that prey on birds, can be seen buzzing bird feeders for easy pickings on a winter’s day.

Coopers hawk in yard Jan 8 2018

Cooper’s hawk waiting near a bird feeder

In my town, there is a large population of black vultures now, which is a remarkable development as just a few years ago avid birders would ‘flock’ to an area where a black vultures was reported to be. During the 1990’s, black vultures were considered very rare visitors to Connecticut, but in the last few years, they are definitely staying year- round and breeding here. You can tell black vultures from turkey vultures in flight by the white bands on wing tips, versus the half silver wing undersides of the turkey vultures.  Up close, the gray faces of black vultures are readily distinguishable from the bald, red faces of turkey vultures. Black vultures will often congregate on chimneys on cold days.

black vulture in 5 degrees

Black vulture on a 5 degree January day


Turkey vulture spreading wings- black vultures in the foreground

We had very cold weather the last two weeks- down in single digits on a few mornings and not much above the teens the rest of the time. Today, it is raining and fifty two degrees. If warm conditions keep up for a few days, fireflies may come out from their winter hiding spots in bark crevices, Look for them on sunny sides of trees in wooded areas. They will not fly, too logy for that, and will return to their resting places as the weather gets cold again.

fireflies in winter

Fireflies out on a warm winter day

When we have snow cover, that presents an opportunity to check out animal tracks in the snow. Deer tracks require no great hunter-like skills to figure out, but others may be tricky. I get a kick out of mouse tracks- don’t’ know why- maybe because they are one of the few animals that leave a tail print between the footprints.

two mice headed for a tree trunk as seen by their tracks in the snow

Two sets of mice tracks leading to a tree


Two of my favorite native plants that give interest to the monotone winter landscape are the redosier dogwood, Cornus sericea and winterberry, Ilex veticillata. Both plants offer a splash or red to a snowy landscape, and winterberries offer a food source for many birds and some small animals. Winterberry is found in the wild along edges of woods and swamps, and redosier also prefers similar areas in the wild.

red twig dogwood winter color

redosier dogwoods in winter

Even though it is not a native plant, I do love the Norway spruces when they have established mature stands. Red squirrels, at least, also appreciate the seeds that are one of their important food sources in the winter. You may come across piles of the spruce cone scales where the little pissant red squirrels take off the scales to access the seeds inside.

Norway spruce forest in winter 2-27-16

Stand of Norway Spruce in the winter

Indoors, though, it is warm, as well- lit as you may desire, and a better relaxing environment in January. Until the warm weather comes, perhaps an orchid in flower may providing a charming blush of living color, while we wait for nature to do the same.

Pamm Cooper

orchids in January





Winter finally hit us with measurable snow and cold, real cold that hurts breathing, skin and arthritic joints. Winter weather can also affect us psychologically, putting us in a ‘down’ mood. Well a cure can be had by visiting a warm, indoor plant growing facility. Nothing lifts my spirits more than basking among foliage and flowering plants, and soaking up the heat and sun. They can found locally just about wherever you live or seek them out when traveling. Plant conservatories are living museums of plant material on view, usually not for sale. Garden centers with heated greenhouses are a lovely substitute, and you might just find something to purchase and enjoy at home.

I visited Rawlings Conservatory & Botanic Gardens in Baltimore last weekend while visiting my daughter and new grandson. The baby seemed to enjoyed the outing, as much as a two month old can. He didn’t cry anyway, and he did watch the orange koi fish in the water feature. Rawlings was a great escape outing for the new mom.


Plants growing vertically to cover the wall.


Turtle and Koi fish make unusual playmates.













Rawlings Conservatory has five separate environments suitable to the corresponding plants they hold. The Mediterranean House, the Tropical House, the Desert House, the Orchid Room, and the Palm House all showcase plants from around the world.

The Mediterranean House held citrus trees of various types, lavender, rosemary and scented geraniums to name a few among the many plants in this glass house.

I spotted insect feeding damage on an citrus leaf, but could not find the pest. Even well managed garden settings must deal with some offending creatures. After all, they are part of the environment, too.


Insect feeding damage on a citrus leaf.

The Tropical House held rain forest plants over our heads and below our feet.

The Desert House contained cacti of many different species. Its  air was warm and dry, perfect for growing succulents.


The Palm House contained plants typically collected during the Victorian era, 1838-1901. Some palm trees were very large with orchids growing up and into their canopy.


sago palm, cycas

Sago Palm

The Orchid Room is filled with different types of orchids. The scent was incredible and intoxicating, radiating from the multitude of pots mounted on a metal grid walls to elevate and allow light exposure to the plants within this incredible room. I didn’t want to leave.


Find your own escape from the cold at indoor plant venues available around our State of Connecticut at the links below. Let us know in the comment section of ones you would like to share with other readers here.

UConn EEB Greenhouses –

CT Flower and Garden Show – Feb.18 though 21, 2016.

Elizabeth Park in Hartford,


-Carol Quish





When my husband and I headed to Boston to board the Norwegian Dawn to the beautiful island of Bermuda we were very excited. The first item on our list of things to do while on the island was to visit the Bermuda Botanical Gardens. Having kept an eye on the weather reports we knew that Hurricane Gonzalo could make landfall on Bermuda on Friday the 17th of October. We were not scheduled to get there until Sunday, the 19th, and ever the optimists, felt that we would still be able to dock in King’s Wharf. We even discussed going to the Botanical Garden to help with any clean-up that was needed after the storm.

The hurricane made a direct hit on Bermuda causing $200 million in damage and leaving 90% of the island without electricity. As such, the cruise ship would not be able to dock there. We were then redirected to Nassau, Bahamas and Great Stirrup Cay. Off we went to the ship’s library to look up information on the Bahamas. I was very happy to discover that there is a Botanical Garden in Nassau and that across the road from that is the Ardastra Gardens and Zoo. The day that we docked in Nassau we jumped on a city bus and headed for the Botanical Garden, ready to get some amazing pictures. Once again, it was not to be. There had been a big food festival on the grounds of the Botanical Garden over the weekend and it was closed so that they could clean up. Ok, a deep breath and then a walk across the street to the Ardastra Gardens and Zoo. It did not have an amazing array of flowers but there were several tropical varieties that were new to us.

Epiphytic orchids at the Ardastra gardens

Epiphytic orchids at the Ardastra gardens

Epiphytic Orchids

Epiphytic Orchids

It was very interesting to see the orchids that were growing on the sides of the trees. Known as an epiphyte, these orchids are not parasitic to their host plant. Their roots are used primarily for support and for attachment to the host plant. As autotrophs, they derive their nutrients and moisture from the air, the rain, and the debris that collects around their base. They use available sunlight for the process of photosynthesis. In turn, they provide a habitat for animals, fungi, and bacteria. Epiphytes can also create a cooler and moister environment in the host plant canopy to the benefit of the host plant. Many other familiar plants also in the epiphytic category include mosses, ferns, lichens, algae, cacti, and bromeliads.

Ferns growing in the limestone at Fort Fincastle

Ferns growing in the limestone at Fort Fincastle

Plants growing in the limestone

Plants growing in the limestone

And while these species of ferns and plants are not epiphytic, we found them growing in the cracks in the limestone walls of Fort Fincastle, Nassau. We also saw many plants that had adapted themselves to grow in the sandy, rocky areas of the beaches. These plants can greatly reduce the damage that can be caused by wind or water erosion.

Great Stirrip Cay

Great Stirrip Cay

Although we didn’t get to visit our first or second choices, we still saw some beautiful and interesting things. And we even got to see the trained marching flamingos at the Ardastra Zoo!

The marching flamingos!

The marching flamingos!

Susan Pelton