Winter seems drab to many people in southeastern Pennsylvania. Gray skies and deciduous trees, brown fields, and cold, ice, and snow dampen human spirits. But bright colors in nature beautify winter landscapes and lift people’s emotions.

Female American holly trees and winterberry shrubs, both wild and planted on lawns, have strikingly red berries that are decorative and a joy to see through winter.

The scarlet berries of American hollies are particularly attractive nestled among the deep-green foliage of those trees on lawns and in certain local woods. And the many breathtaking red berries of winterberries stand out vividly among their gray twigs, on lawns, and in some wooded bottomlands.

Red twigs of red-osier dogwood shrubs are lovely standouts among beige and brown wetland vegetation surrounding local ponds and marshes. Their clumps of slender, bright-red stems remind me of vertical red strokes in an oil painting.

Winter rye in fields, in grass, and on lawns and white radishes in gardens are hardy vegetation. They all hold down the soil and enrich it. Green shoots of rye are eaten by wintering and stately Canada geese, snow geese, and tundra swans, like sheep grazing grass.

And white radishes, with delightfully lush leaves in gardens, send thick roots into the soil. When radishes die in winter, leaves decay and fertilize soil and their tubers rot, creating holes in soil that conduct rain into the ground. 

Red juniper trees grow in abandoned fields and along roadsides. They have what appear to be many pretty, light-blue berries nestled among their green-needled boughs. Those decorative “berries” are tiny blue cones, each coated with wax that makes them look paler.     

Field mice and attractive berry-eating birds, including American robins and cedar waxwings, feed on those small cones. The birds digest the cones’ pulp but pass the seeds in their droppings across the countryside, thus spreading red junipers. 

Two-foot-tall clumps of broom grass are pretty associates of red junipers. Broom grass is beige-orange and particularly attractive in the low-slanting sunlight of winter. 

Dead leaves clinging to twigs on American beech and pin oak trees in winter add beauty to bottomland woods and lawns they were planted on. Beech leaves are curled and pale-beige, while those of pin oaks are ginger-brown.

Beautiful cones hang on planted, needle-limbed pine, hemlock, fir, and spruce trees through winter. Pretty little birds, including chickadees and finches, eat winged seeds from the open scales of those cones.

Snow, sunlight, and blue skies accentuate the lovely colors of plants and animals, helping make winter more tolerable, even more enjoyable. Winter is not as drab as it first appears. Go outside to see for yourself.


Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.

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