Contributed by Thom Mrazik, Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Master Gardener 


 Chimonanthus praecox var. grandiflorus (wintersweet)

When we least expect it, Mother Nature delivers in memorable ways. I recently witnessed nature in action at the Morris Arboretum. It was last weekend, with temperatures in the upper-30s, a murky grey sky, blanketed with low-hanging clouds.  A hearty group of people gathered in front of the visitors’ center, all bundled in our warmest winter wear. We’re here for the Conifer Tour. Rightly so, throughout winter, conifers show off their best display, as flowering woody trees and shrubs are resting.

Just before the tour started, nature’s handiwork caught my attention. Along the walkway, I noticed a prominence of yellow color amongst a dull background. Hmmm! Only flower petals have color of such depth and purity. But flowering of most woody plants doesn’t begin until early spring!  For certain, conifer trees don’t have flowers, only woody cones. Even flowering of witchhazel (Hamamelis spp.) isn’t in full force until later (plan to join the Arboretum witchhazel tours, which begin on February 18th).


Mahonia × media ‘Lionel Fortescue’ (mahonia)

But, on this winter day, nature also showcased the flowering of woody shrubs at the Arboretum. I discovered a multi-stemmed shrub, Chimonanthus praecox var. grandiflorus (large-flowered wintersweet) covered with bright yellow flowers and emanating abundant fragrance too. Nearby, a small Chinese witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis) shrub eagerly bloomed, showing off its strap-shaped yellow petals.

Minutes into the conifer tour, I saw the yellow flowers of winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) running along arching vines layered upon the roadway’s stone wall. Among a cluster of tall conifers, there were upright shrubs of Mahonia × media ‘Lionel Fortescue’ (Lionel Fortescue mahonia) with brightly colored yellow flowers on long racemes framed by shiny green, spiky leaves. So memorable!  

With every passing week, you’ll find more and more woody shrubs and trees flowering at the Morris Arboretum. Visit any day on your own or for a Wellness Walk on weekends. Take a witchhazel tour. Either way, enjoy nature’s revealing floral show!