Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ground Zero

When it comes to plants, the ground is the beginning. That is where the seed takes root and begins its journey of growth.  So much happens at the ground level and being able to watch it during the winter is pleasure for those of us in Georgia. That’s because we rarely get snow in Georgia. Even when we get snow, it doesn’t stay around for very long because the ground is warm and the temperature is often above freezing.

A warm ground means that not only are seedlings able to grow, but all the critters that live in the soil can still be active. Here in north Georgia we can turn the soil in January and find wriggling earthworms and active centipedes. Mushrooms are abundant in the winter months thanks to ample rain.

Our year-round birds like the Eastern towhee and the brown thrasher actively hunt among the leaves for their meal of choice: bugs. American robins and Carolina wrens are avid insect eaters as well and seem to find enough to keep them fed during the winter.

Brown thrasher, looking for bugs

Turtlehead seeds (Chelone glabra)

Most perennial plants are dormant and have disappeared from view, leaving only the tattered, wispy remains of their summer foliage and some seed heads. At ground level, close to the residual warmth of the soil, some plants remain green and vibrant.

Thank goodness for the lack of snow – we can enjoy the green leaves of plants like cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor), rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), galax (Galax urceolata), ginger (Hexastylis arifolia) and groundcedar (Lycopodium spp.).

Winter-bronzed leaves of Galax

Instead of snow we get rain – long, deep soakings that recharge the ground moisture and prepare the plants for spring growth. On the edge of the woods, the leaves from the deciduous trees are already breaking down. The rain and the warmth of the winter days have paired up with small insects to turn those leaves into black gold, a source of nourishment to the roots that wait below.

Fungi threads

Scratch below the surface to find tiny rootlets intertwined with mycorrhizal fungi, thin strands of a white highway that transports nutrients to connected plants. Nearby might be an acorn, its thick root thriving and growing even now, plunging deep into this rich ground, perhaps making its fungi connections already.

Ground zero – it all starts here.

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