Look closely for nature’s holiday decorations

I took advantage of yesterday’s warming to hike around the University of Illinois Arboretum on a bright, sunny morning. The open fields and woods were still covered in a few inches of snow from last week’s storms, although the increased temperatures has melted the snow from most of the trees and shrubs.

When taking the winter landscape as a whole, we often are subdued by its grey lifeless tones. But if we look close enough, we’ll notice that Mother Nature has her own way of decorating for the winter holidays.

The first thing that caught my eye as I walked from my truck was the brilliant red of of Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericia). The contrast of the red against the white snow was the perfect holiday decoration.

A male cardinal hopped quickly through a nearby Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Although I missed capturing the cardinal with my lens, the honeysuckle berries provided a beauty of their own.

The winter ornaments in the landscape aren’t limited to red. The blue fruit on this Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum ‘Royal Guard’) dangle in clusters from mahogany stems.

The terminal bud of the Blackhaw remined me of one of my favorite Christmas decorations — single lit candles in the windows of houses.

Sometimes we have to find the beauty of nature in unexpected places. I walked towards a small European Hornbeam (Carpinus petulus) that was covered with the pendulous cases of bagworm, a serious pest of many evergreen and deciduous plant species. The bagworm cases became ornaments hanging from the bare branches of the hornbeam.

I even found some purple in the form of Japanese Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) fruit.

Finally, the shape of dried heads of Hydrangea paniculata reminded me of Christmas trees, the remaining flowers ornaments decorating their pyramidal form.