Get Outside


Ways to Connect With Nature

Not All Leaves Fall

Though most trees are without leaves this time of year, some species, such as young sugar maples, retain their dead, dried leaves throughout the winter. It’s easy to see them as you hike through the winter woods. This phenomenon is called marcescence (mar-SESS-ence), and it could help young trees in several ways.

  • The retained leaves might break the force of winds and protect the tree from the bitterest cold.
  • They might collect rain and snow and deposit it at the roots, increasing the moisture available to the tree.
  • Dropping leaves in spring instead of fall might cause the nutrient-laden mulch to fall at the base of the trees when it benefits the tree the most.
  • The dry, bitter old leaves might deter deer from browsing on the otherwise tender branches and buds.

Coffee in the Woods

Did you know coffee pods grow in Missouri woods? These aren’t the kind you brew, though at one time, Native Americans did. With the trees bare, Kentucky coffee trees (Gymnocladus dioicus) are easy to spot with their large, leathery-looking, unopened seed pods dangling from their branches or littering the forest floor just below.

Bundle Up

Don’t let the cold — and possible snow — keep you indoors. There is lots to discover in nature this time of year, but take a lesson from the adult opossum and stay bundled up! Adult opossums, particularly males, often end up with damaged ears and tail tips due to freezing. Always check the weather before you venture out and be prepared with plenty of layers.

Oysters in the Woods

As you are keeping that New Year’s resolution to get out and exercise more, why not do a little gathering while you’re at it. Oyster mushrooms appear year-round, including in wintertime, and are considered a choice edible. Look for these whitish-gray or tan-capped mushrooms in clusters on trunks, logs, and stumps of deciduous trees. Remember, only eat mushrooms you know are safe. To be sure, consult A Guide to Missouri’s Edible and Poisonous Mushrooms at

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