With the short, cold days, and the long, also cold, nights… it can be easy to think winter is a time when everything stops. Although it may seem everything is slowing down, and the skies loom with a constant threat of frost, here are a few examples that life persists through the colder months from RSPB Scotland's Molly Martin.
The life of winter
Hazel is a tress sometimes said to be living a season ahead. It produces its catkins in the winter months, and its small red flowers bloom early in spring. The catkins are bright yellowy-green and hang from the bare branches, producing pollen which is carried by wind to other hazel trees.
There is a saying that you should only kiss your beloved when gorse is in flower. Luckily, gorse can be seen flowering at any time of year! A very hardy shrub, gorse can be found across the UK, with its thorny branches offering protection to many small bird species. The flowers are bright yellow and can be seen blooming even in harsh winters, and completely cover the bush during spring and summer.
Holly is synonymous with winter and all things festive for most people. With its dark green shiny leaves, edged with sharp spikes, and bright scarlet berries that can be seen throughout winter, holly is a very recognisable tree. The berries only grow on female plants and are a great source of winter food for birds such as the mistle thrush.
You can’t mention holly at Christmas-time without also mentioning ivy. This climbing evergreen plant is found across the UK and often gathered with holly to make winter wreaths of to decorate homes. Ivy flowers from September to November, producing small yellowy-green clusters that look more like tiny acorns rather than flowers! Over winter these flowers develop into dark berries.
Mistletoe is another evergreen plant which produces berries over winter, but these are bright white. The plant is hemi-parasitic, meaning it takes some of its nutrients from the tree it grows in. The pale green leaves and white berries make it an attractive plant, although it is poisonous and its population is declining, so it is advised not to gather mistletoe if you come across it. It is found mainly in the midlands of England, and very rarely found in the north or Scotland.
It’s not just plants that are active during the winter, in fact there are a few species of moths which are so well associated with winter, they are named after the cold months in which they appear. The November moth is a cream coloured moth with black marbling on its wings, and the adults can be seen flying through September to November. The December moth can be seen from late October to December, and has dark wings with brown edges, and a pale band running across the middle.
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