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Those Green Balls in Our Leafless Winter Trees

There is something about a leafless tree in winter that can be quite beautiful. The branches, that for much of the year have been hiding in plain sight, are now exposed. But what are the round balls of bright green leaves on some of these otherwise leafless trees? At times, their numbers can be numerous enough to suggest that the tree hasn’t lost many leaves at all.

Mistletoe is the answer, and like the branches upon which they sit, these plants have also been hiding in plain sight. The story of this common parasite of trees was the subject of an earlier article in this series,  Mistletoe – A Christmas Tradition with a Twist, and includes the meaning of the name. Fun stuff, but I will not spoil it for you here. You will have to read about it yourself.

In any event, this story is also about taking the time to notice nature around you, another of my reoccurring themes. We often take the natural world for granted. We may well notice a favorite tree when it blooms or a patch of wildflowers, but then they return to being part of the background. A fun part of enjoying nature can be watching the seasonal changes in our natural world and finding those things that were, like mistletoe, hidden from view.

Think of it as finding Waldo. But as with that quest, it requires time and patience to sort through the common stuff to find the unique things hidden within. Opportunities are endless. Finding that bird singing its heart out in the tree. Tracing the path of a grape vine along a tree trunk. Noticing how many kinds of trees are on your street or backyard. Some of this depends on sight, some on sound, but the point is there is so much diversity in front of us if we take the time to discover it.

See if you can find those balls of green in your neighborhood. Once you start looking, the vines and other things that cling to the now bare branches will also appear. Those trees are holding up more than just themselves. And that, is cool.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!


Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.


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