Eugene Weekly : It’s About Time : 11.5.09

By David Wagner

There’s no point in waiting to roll up the hoses to put them away for the season. They won’t be needed until next summer. Emptying them of water first makes them easier to handle and preserves them from freezing damage.

Notice that the winter annuals have already sprouted, some natives, but in town the exotic ones are ubiquitous. Stake out patches of common chickweed. Until it begins blooming sometime late January, chickweed is a fine green. Its fresh, nutty flavor is a treat. A single line of hairs up the stem distinguishes it from any other weed. Beware of foraging where herbicides might have been used.

As the broadleaf trees drop their leaves, the mosses and ferns on the tree trunks have greened up. Watch the spore cases develop on the licorice ferns. They are clustered in white dots this month; as the spores mature, the dots will become bright yellow mounds. After spores are shed in early spring, the mounds turn brown. Mosses have the same cycle of winter activity, producing new green, leafy shoots in late fall and shedding spores in late spring.

The sword ferns on the ground appear to be doing nothing. New fronds came up last spring and shed spores in late summer. However, they are storing energy all winter, the advantage of being evergreen. If you have too-large sword ferns in your yard, you can dwarf them by cutting the fronds now. The fronds will be only two thirds as long next year.


David Wagner is a botanist who has worked in Eugene for more than 30 years. He teaches mosses and is president of the Eugene Natural History Society. He may be reached at