Ozark Woods Winter Greens

Looking over at the hills with their bare trees in browns and grays, it’s easy to overlook the winter greens. To see these, you have to go out walking.

These greens grow in the woods all year. Most of the time they are in deep shade under the tree canopy. Now that canopy is gone and these tiny plants can show off.

Where do you look for these winter greens? One place is on the ground where they show off some of their many shapes.

moss and lichen group on the ground of the Ozark woods show winter greens
How many different kinds of mosses and lichens do you see? This makes it easy to understand why some people study these plants. Unfortunately for me, they thrive when the weather is cold and I would rather spend most of my time inside by the wood stove keeping warm.

Mosses are among the first plants to grow on land. They have no roots, only tiny threads holding them to the ground or the rocks or the trees depending on where they happen to grow.

Don’t think moss and assume it’s all the same. Some moss looks like tiny cedar seedlings. Other moss forms tiny green tails. Still other moss coats rocks with soft green fur. There are many shapes and sizes, if you seek in different habitats.

mosses and lichens in Ozark woods
Ozark woods ground lichens come in so many forms. This branched type is spongy, although the lichen is stiff. The moss is growing up in columns getting ready to ‘bloom’ which is putting up spore capsules.

Accompanying the mosses are the lichens. These aren’t really plants. They are a partnership of a fungus and algae. The fungus provides the shape. The algae living in the fungus provides the color.

These too come in a variety of shapes and grow in many places. There are the foliose lichens that often coat rocks with flat tongues usually gray in color. Forming clumps mixed in with mosses on the ground is a branched lichen. This shape likes to coat honey locust branches. Orange lichens grow on black walnut trunks.

foliose lichen on rock
Sometimes a single foliose lichen is on a rock and forms a circle of flat tongues. Usually there are several on the same rock and they collide with each other.

The soldier lichen puts up little clubs topped with brilliant red. Still others have green cups.

Like the mosses lichens have no roots and are easily knocked loose from the ground. Step carefully while exploring the hills seeking these winter greens. They are as varied and lovely as the wildflowers that will tower over them when spring comes back to the Ozarks.