Exploring a natural winter wonderland

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) — Many plants and trees can be dormant in the winter, but Vermont Fish and Wildlife says there’s more to do outside right now than you might think.

Just off North Avenue in Burlington, a sign points to: the Arthur Park sea caveswhere a short walk leads you to an outside area that changes in winter.

“This site is very well known. It’s kind of a winter wonderland where people come to skate in the winter, but you can see this in the summer, it’s a long open body of water with wetlands,” said Everett Marshall, a conservation biologist with Vermont Fish and Wildlife.

The site is inaccessible in the summer, but in the winter it brings in skaters and adventurers who want to check out the caves.

Marshall says it’s also a way to view wildlife, especially plants and trees.

“Right now we are in open water that has frozen over, so you can walk down and through a bulrush swamp that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily get to in the summer. It’s a nice time to go outside,” he said. “In the winter a lot of plants are dormant. So a lot of our deciduous trees – those are the trees that lose their leaves – are just there with the branches, but you can recognize many trees and shrubs by their bark, by their buds and by their branches. And there are also many other plants, there are remains of fruit.”

By taking an even closer look, Marshall can show some of the wildlife that we can see on the ice.

“In Vermont, most of our trees are deciduous. That means they lose their leaves. We also have some evergreen trees and one of our specialty trees that we have in Vermont that you’ll find along Lake Champlain and also in cedar swamps is our northern white cedar. And you can see that the leaves form a kind of mist. Many of our conifers, of which this is one, have needles and this has some sort of flattened needles or a spray. And if you point the camera up here, you’ll see that the base of the cedar tree up there just squiggles down. And it is interesting that cedar trees can live for 200-300 years that grow on these cliffs. This could be quite an old tree, even if it’s not that big in girth,” Marshall explained.

Without leaves in winter, you can also see something spooky.

“This is a boxwood tree, which is actually a maple tree, it has opposite branches. And it has a witch’s broom, that’s this dense growth and it’s caused by a bacteria,” Marshall said. “It’s something where the bacteria actually caused that growth of branches.”

Some of the wildlife is well known but just look different at this time of year.

“The ostrich fern, this is the fertile leaf of the fern, the large leaf that you find in the summer. It’s basically a rosette of leaves that has died,” Marshall said. “This is what’s left in the winter.”

There are dozens of other plants and trees that can be noticed. Marshall encourages you to get outside safely and learn a little more about nature.

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