October 2020 was a month that gave unpredictable weather. Looking back at the month is very interesting. The first half was warmer than normal with a record-setting 80 degrees on the ninth. Except for a hard rain on the 12th, it was mostly dry.

This rain and subsequent wind brought down leaves in huge amounts. After the leaf drop and before snow cover ("AutWin") began at this time.

Normally, I expect this interlude to last a couple weeks. But the second half of the month was quite different. By the 20th, we had a snow cover with cold temperatures that made the snow appear to be lasting. After only one week, it looked like AutWin was over.

This snow and cold continued and by the end, we noted October to be the second-snowiest October and the fifth-coldest. And then things changed. November began with temperatures far above normal with clear skies. In mild sunlight (70s a few times), the snow cover and ice melted and we returned to AutWin.

The present open woods reveals much of the forest that will not be seen later. A few northern birds — redpolls, grosbeaks and crossbills — may be seen. But I watch other small critters during these days. Crane flies do their undulating flight in the afternoon sunlight. A few late-season moths flutter about.

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It seems like many branches hold threads — telling of traveling spiders and dispersal flights called ballooning (kiting).

In addition to these AutWin animals, I like to see the plants that will soon be wearing a covering of snow. The big leaf color on trees is long past, but I see red leaves still on bushes like raspberry, blackberry, blueberry and bunchberry.

Others remain green, like hepatica, pyrola, strawberry and wintergreen on the forest floor. Besides green leaves on these flowering plants, there are many greens of non-flowering plants.

There may not be a better time of the year to see just how abundant mosses are in the woods than now. In many locations, it looks like every log, rock or base of trees are covered by these small green plants — diverse species as well as numerous. But mosses are not the only ones still green.

Clubmosses of several kinds abound on the forest floor. Although they are called clubmosses, they are more closely related to ferns. And I find a wood fern that continues to be green in AutWin while others have turned brown and faded. Lichens coat tree trunks while many trees also hold various fungi.

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Taking a closer look at clubmosses, I note that they are mostly about six inches tall. Like ferns, they grow from underground branches called rhizomes. Unlike ferns, the part that we see above ground will stay green all winter, even when buried beneath snow.

Most clubmosses have green spiny or scale-like leaves on branches. Above this leafy part, many hold candle-like spikes (clubs) — why they are called clubmosses. Spores (seeds) grow in these structures. They are also called lycopodium, princess pine, ground pine, ground cedar and firmoss.

One of the most common looks like small branching trees and known as prickly tree clubmoss. The Latin name of dendrolycopodium essentially means "tree-like." I find that they grow in groups of maybe hundreds and seem to do best on cool north-facing slopes.

Thanks to the recent warming weather and the return of AutWin, we can now see large numbers of these clubmosses and realize just how common they are in the Northland woods.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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