Changing of the Seasons at Japan House Pond: January 29

Yesterday, I made my second visit of the year to the Japan House Pond at the University of Illinois Arboretum to see what changes had occurred in the past two weeks. Snow still covered the ground, although there are spots where soil peeked through the white blanket. The day was mostly overcast, with a hazy sun occasionally peeking through the clouds. Across the pond, the whitish-grey bark of Crataegus mollis (Downy Hawthorn) looked almost dusted with snow, while the emerging red bark and buds of Acer rubrum (Red Maple) colored the background.

On the pond’s eastern edge, a stand of Platanus occidentalis (American Sycamore) reflect the soil and snow in their mottled bark.

The dried seed heads of Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s Lace) join with other wildflowers to soften the edges of the pond.

The buds of young Magnolia wear their fur coats, bundled until warmer weather in spring signals them to open. Although there are a large number of cherry trees (Prunus sp.) planted around the pond, the magnolias are a new addition in the past couple of years.

Among the younger trees at the pond is this willow (Salix sp.). I’m unsure if this is a weeping willow (Salix babylonica) as I’ve never seen one in juvenile form, but it is showing the characteristic yellow bark in later winter of the species.

On the north side of the pond, in the grove of hawthorn, maple and oak, hints of blue sky shone through the canopy of barren branches. The red maples have one of my favorite winter habits, reaching skyward in a beautiful network.

A branch of one of the older hawthorns was split at the trunk and dying, creating a feeding spot for some sort of woodpecker (perhaps a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Spyraphicus varius)). There is a significant amount of branch damage in the north-side grove — some that appears to be simply aging, while others look snapped and twisted by the frequent high winds we get in Central Illinois.

My wife, who joined me yesterday for the visit, noticed this white mottling on the bark of a pair of red maples. It seemed to be present only on middle-aged branches, absent from the oldest and youngest. I suspect it’s a characteristic of the specific Acer rubrum cultivar, but I haven’t been able to find information about it yet.

I ended my second visit to the Japan House pond by photographing a large Viburnum (perhaps V. prunifolium) behind the hawthorns. The shrub was dotted mahogany-colored buds whose pubescence reminded me of the felt on deer antlers. The discovery of these details is what keeps me coming back to the Japan House Pond as the seasons progress.

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