Dec. 21 marks the solstice, the traditional beginning of winter. In most of the northern hemisphere this means a quiet, cold time of the year, but in western Oregon it signifies the beginning of our alternate growing season. All the plants that require watering by rainfall begin their peak growth period; lichens, mosses and liverworts are the most prominent.
The licorice fern, which inhabits the tree bark community along with mosses, shares this cycle. A typical frond produces four to five million spores before falling from tree branches by late spring. The evergreen sword fern stores energy all winter. Pruning fronds now will keep it smaller and tidy in garden landscapes.
Incense cedar cones will drop this month, clogging untended gutters already full of Douglas fir needles. Threat of freezing periods incites us to attend to closing crawlspace vents and protecting outdoor faucets to prevent burst pipes.
Winter waterfowl migrants have returned to ponds and reservoirs. Buffleheads, widgeons, gadwalls, ringnecks and teal make sighting a dozen species on a short walk easy. Head to high vistas along the coast to see southbound gray whales. Fortunate are those who can leave on short notice when the occasional sunny day presents itself.
Clear nights make for excellent stargazing because nightfall comes early. Orion is high in the sky at bedtime. The big dipper is close to the horizon, where it appears it might hold water. It is hard to see in town as urban lights obscure that part of the sky.
David Wagner is a botanist who has worked in Eugene for 40 years. He teaches moss classes, leads nature walks and has made the 2018 Oregon Nature Calendar. It is available at Down to Earth in Eugene or by contacting him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.