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Winter Buds: Looking toward next season

How good are you at identifying woody plants by their winter buds? The odds are pretty good that you are better than I am. How much do you appreciate the beauty of winter buds? That's where I might be able to provide some competition.

Early March in Nebraska is the time of year where it seems like plants should be erupting into Spring. We have daytime temperatures occasionally hitting the mid-60s. The snow is mostly melted.

"Bring on the green leaves!"

"Bring on the insects!"

But the plants know better. And for those of us who have lived in this state for more than a few years, we know better as well. The next two months still have the possibility of blistering cold, and emerging too early could be disastrous for plants and animals.

Just a few weeks ago, my observations of urban habitat spaces focused on relics of the previous year. I see the remnants of seedheads and burnt orange grass stalks. I even reflected on the variance of Echinacea seedheads. By March, my attention turns toward the future. I notice sedges starting to regain their green color. I see the purple leaves of Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander) that have either survived the winter under the warmth of leaf litter or have begun an early emergence. Mostly, I notice the buds on the woody plants.

Wind blew away a patch of fallen leaves in this Omaha habitat garden, exposing the early leaves of Zizia aurea.

The buds are certainly the result of last year's efforts. They form from the energy gained in the previous season. Yet, they are like an egg ready to hatch. And with that potential, comes the potential of a new season with new possibilities and new observations.

Let's play a little game. See if you can guess the species for each of the buds below. All of these species are found in the Omaha, Nebraska area and provide value for wildlife in our cities.

Bud A: A large shrub of incredible wildlife habitat value. It can form a great privacy thicket in urban areas.

Bud B: This is the bud of a large tree.

Bud C: Eastern Nebraska is just outside the native range of this widely-planted shrub.

Bud D: Even the novices (like myself) might be able to identify this one.

Bud E: Buds of low-growing shrubs are a favorite of hungry winter rabbits, but the thorns kept this one safe.

Send your guesses long with the name of your favorite insect, or add them to the comments. Winners will be selected at random from those who correctly named the most buds. Winners probably won't get anything, but you never know.

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