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After our hot walk up the hill to the muskeg plateau, I was ready for a rest while David went off to explore some of the small town of Petersburg. He was intrigued by a building that we could see from the ship, one that had a viking ship beside it. David has been fascinated by the stories of the Vikings ever since his exploration of the Viking Islands a few years ago. The story of that trip is written up with photos on our other travel website www.dymusings.com.

Map of Petersburg by Google

Map of Petersburg by Google

A quick look at the town map shows that it is developed on a grid system of roads. It would be difficult to get lost! This is it. The only roads are within the town area. There are no roads from here to any other part of Alaska. The only way in or out is by water or by air.

The red marker was David’s first goal; the Memorial Park and Hall but he would explore further. As we looked at the streets on the map we noted at least five different types of church for a town of this size; Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Bethesda Fellowship. They were not actually on his list to find; he was looking for a book shop. We had seen a very good book on plants of Alaska and, as usual, we should have bought it when we saw it!

Norway Hall Petersburg

Sons of Norway Hall, Petersburg

Located along Sing Lee Alley, the Sons of Norway Lodge building dates back to 1912 when 60 charter members borrowed money and sold $5.00 shares to enable them to construct the hall. Their aim was, and still is, to share and promote the town’s proud Norwegian heritage.  In 1984 the hall was placed on the USA’s National Register of Historic Places.

The hall has been at the centre of the community. It has been witness to many wedding receptions, parties, dances, potluck dinners and coffee get togethers. 

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Fishermen’s Memorial © DY of jtdytravels; P1100537

Built on pilings over Hammer Slough, The Bojer Wikan Fishermen’s Memorial Park stands in front of the hall and was built in 2000 in memory of the many fishermen from this small town who have lost their lives at sea.

It was here that David found the viking ship, the Valhalla. It was built in 1976 in New Jersey to celebrate the Bi-Centenary of the USA. After appearing in many parades across the USA, including a Tall Ship Parade in new York, it was bought by the Petersburg Little Norway Festival Committee. The Lodge is now responsible for the boat’s maintenance; it stands proudly in front of their hall.

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Fisherman memorial © DY of jtdytravels; P1100538

Bojer Wikan, a long-time fisherman who promoted the idea of the memorial park, is remembered by this impressive bronze statue. He represents all fishermen.

Memorial plaques

Memorial plaques

Many memorial name plaques have been placed on the column beneath the Bojer Wikan statue and many more on the low wall that surrounds the park. Reading those plaques is a salient reminder of dangers that face the fishermen, especially in days past when ships were less seaworthy and help in the form of radios and rescue helicopters were not available.

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A backwater © DY of jtdytravels; P1100528

After visiting the memorial, David’s walk took him on into the town.

There are reminders everywhere that this is a fishing village.

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Ranunculus repens © DY of jtdytravels; P1100530

Gardens aren’t a great feature of this town, at least in the part David walked through. But there were occasional plants giving some bright colour like this Creeping Buttercup; Ranunculus repens. This plant is not native to Alaska and, as in so many parts of the world, it has become a weed, finding a root hold in disturbed soil along road sides in settled areas.

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Crow  © DY of jtdytravels; P1100534

Apart from seabirds, we hadn’t seen many land birds; but every town has crows!

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Petersburg Street© DY of jtdytravels; P1100544

Petersburg is not filled with souveneir shops; there are few tourists here.

David was still in search of the local bookshop.

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Rosa nutkana © DY of jtdytravels; P1100543

He not only found the bookshop, but it had a small garden with a group of rose bushes in flower; the Nootka Rose, Rosa nutkana. This native rose grows from northern California into Alaska. It’s named after Nootka Sound, Vancouver Island, where it was first described.

The Nootka Rose is undoubtedly a very good rose to grow here. The attractive five petaled pink blooms have a subtle sweet perfume. They appear from May through July. The round, red rose hips, stay on the plant throughout the winter, giving colour throughout most of the year.  The plant is hardy, grows in both full sun and partial shade, can tolerate flooding and drought and grows well in many different soil types. And, here in Alaska, it’s pest free. What more could you want?

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Museum © DY of jtdytravels; P1100546

The Petersburg Fisheries museum is housed in a rather attractive building.

Unfortunately, time did not permit a look inside.

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Plaque © DY of jtdytravels; P1100547

A plaque commemorates the founder of the town, and of the fisheries, Norwegian Peter Buschman. The plaque says that he “built a canner on this site in 1897. The business prospered and, as a result, the town of Petersburg grew up around it.”

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Totem poles © DY of jtdytravels; P1100553

Petersburg has two 35 foot high red cedar totem poles. They were carved in 2000 by Tlingit master carver Tommy Joseph and are placed in a small park directly across the street from the Municipal Building and Buschmann Park. They bring all sections of this community together, the original peoples and the “newcomers”.

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Creek view © DY of jtdytravels; P1100557

The tide was coming further in as David made his way back to the ship. Reflections of these old buildings in the slough were quite picturesque.

Rubus spectabilis ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100551

Rubus spectabilis © DY of jtdytravels; P1100551

On the way, he was able to sample a yellow variety of Rubus spectabilis. 

Salmonberry comes in both reds and yellows; equally tasty.

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Bridge over creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1100559

Even the old bridges need to be kept in good order here.

They are the only means of getting from one part of the town to another.

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Hieracium aurantiacum © DY of jtdytravels; P1100562

Here, by the roadside, David found another introduced plant, Hieracium aurantiacum, known in Alaska and western USA as the Devil’s Paintbrush.  It was probably introduced to these areas as a garden plant by immigrants from Europe who would have known it as Orange Hawkweed. It’s one of Europe’s native Asters. Lovely as it is, it’s an extremely invasive plant, a weed, if we take the usual definition of a weed as ‘a plant out of place’.

Orange hawkweed is not just a problem in Alaska and the USA. It’s on the ‘Alert List for Environmental Weeds’, in Australia; a list of 28 “nonnative plants that threaten biodiversity and cause other environmental damage”, especially in alpine areas and the temperate tablelands in eastern Australia. The problem is that it quickly fills spaces that are necessary for the regeneration and survival of native species. It squeezes out the native plants.

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Fishing Decorations © DY of jtdytravels; P1100564

Back down at the marina, David found buildings decorated with fishing floats…

evidence that this place is home to fishermen.

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“Sea Lion” at Petersburg Dock © DY of jtdytravels; P1100565

“Sea Lion” awaited his return; and so did I.

Like you, David’s photos were my window on the town of Petersburg.

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“Sea Lion” maintenance © DY of jtdytravels; P1100568

While we’d been out exploring during the day, crew members had been doing maintenance; a never ending task especially when the ship is in port. All crew members have to multi-task!

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© JT of jtdytravels; P1130777

When everyone had returned to the ship, we farewelled Petersburg and set sail back out of the channel towards another wilderness destination.

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Island homes © JT of jtdytravels; P1130889

Near the head of the channel, this small home was bathed in late evening light. Very soon, we were turning north into Frederick Sound and sailing off into the twilight after another very special day in Alaska. But there was another treat to come! Down in the dining room, a feast of freshly caught Dungeness Crab with grilled corn awaited us. It was indeed delicious.

More anon

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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Muskeg bog plateau © JT of jtdytravels; P1130820

Once we had reached the border between the forest and the wet boggy Muskeg Plateau on the hill above Petersburg, the walking was much easier, the steps were not so steep and we had a different lot of plants to look for and photograph. The first one was obvious. All the way along the side of the path were the fluffy white seed heads of cotton plants, Eriophorum. 

Eriophorum chamissonis ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130833

Eriophorum chamissonis © JT of jtdytravels; P1130833

David and I have seen various cotton grass species in many wet boggy areas in Europe, especially in the peat bogs of Ireland.  Eriophorum chamissonis, is one of the two cotton grasses common in the muskegs of this part of Alaska. This species has a solitary spikelet at the tip of a rounded slender stem. The plant grows from spreading rhizomes, so if conditions are right, they can spread rather quickly.

In fact, cotton grass is so extensive on these muskegs that, in a good year, the whole plateau can look white like snow because of the fluffy heads.

Blechnum spicant ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130816

Blechnum spicant © JT of jtdytravels; P1130816

One of the plants growing just at the border between forest and bog was this upright fern commonly called Deer Fern; Blechnum spicant. I’ve read that some indiginous peoples used to chew the very young leaves as hunger suppressants! Others used the leaves to treat skin sores. Apparently, the people had noticed that the deer, who love to eat this plant, would rub their antlers on the leaves after their antlers had fallen off.

The problem for us as plant photographers here in the muskeg was that plants were often just tantalisingly out of reach; we couldn’t step off the boardwalk onto the grass to take photos as it was very, very wet; and, in any case, our footsteps would harm the environment.

Moose fotsteps in the bog ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130842

Moose footsteps in the bog © JT of jtdytravels; P1130842

Of course, the native animals didn’t use the boardwalk, as these moose footsteps show… at least we were told that they belonged to a moose. That’s all we saw of any moose.

Our naturalist, Caroline ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130828

Our naturalist, Caroline Jezierski © JT of jtdytravels; P1130828

A single file line up of walkers is not the easiest place to give a talk about muskeg bogs. However, our very knowledgeable and delightful naturalist, Caroline Jezierski, solved the problem… she found a dryish patch off the boardwalk so that she could talk to us all about this very different environment. So what is muskeg? The name is used in Western Canada and Alaska to describe peat bog that is formed, often over millennia, by an accumulation of slowly decaying matter in undrained or poorly drained land. Because of the wetness and lack of phosphates and nitrates in the soil, trees are scattered and generally stunted. 

The land behind Caroline clearly shows the line where the muskeg, on the plateau, meets the forest, on the downward slope of the hill. It’s all about drainage and decomposition.

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Reflections in bog pool © JT of jtdytravels; P1130821

Muskeg forms in areas that have abundant rain, cool summers and very poor drainage. It’s permanently waterlogged with stagnant pools. The soil is acidic and relatively infertile, preventing the growth of the large trees to 33 m (100 ft) such as those we’d seen growing further down on the slope where drainage is more normal.

Down there, in the forest that we’d just walked through, the soil is drier and, when a plant dies there, it is attacked by bacteria and fungi and rots away relatively quickly. But here in this bog, dead plants decompose differently.  Cool temperatures and less oxygen in water-logged soils combine to cause bacterial and fungal growth to markedly slow down and so the whole process of decomposition is much slower; so slow that, over time, as plant debris gradually accumulates, it forms peat and eventually becomes a muskeg environment of specialised bog loving plants.

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Bog plants © JT of jtdytravels; P1130826

It was hard to believe the notion of cool summers as the sun beat down on us that hot afternoon. But this was a dry summer; many of the bog pools were drying out and conditions were too warm and dry for a normal month of June. The roots of these bog plants would soon dry out if normal conditions didn’t soon return. The balance of nature is very much effected by changes in climate and June had been the driest month on record for the area.

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Dry bog pool © JT of jtdytravels; P1130852

This ‘pool’ was already too dry to support any of the usual bog plants.

Dry, warm summers might be good for visitors to the area

but they are not good for muskeg plants.

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Jake’s Seat © DY of jtdytravels; P1130838

At this point in our walk, there was a small rest platform for which a number of us were very thankful. I was also grateful to the family of “Jake” who had placed a wooden seat on this platform. I took the opportunity to rest for a few minutes and take in the scenery.

Stunted tree ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130869

Stunted tree © JT of jtdytravels; P1130869

The main group continued with the walk across the plateau towards the higher slope where the forest began again. Someone thought they could see an eagle’s nest. With fewer people on the board walk, David took the chance to get some photos of the plants that he found growing in these boggy conditions. Good plant photography can’t be rushed and, with most bog plants growing so low to the ground, you really do need a bit of space to kneel. David’s results were well worth the effort as we shall see.

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Eriophorum angustifolium © DY of jtdytravels; P1100500

The well named Arctic Cotton, or Cotton Grass, Eriophorum angustifolium is the other local species of Cotton grass plant on the muskeg. It, too, enjoys wet roots in peaty bogs. But,unlike the single headed  Eriophorum chamissonis, which I’d photographed earlier, this plant has 2 to 8 fluffy spikelets on each stem, drooping in a cluster.

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Fauria crista-galli © DY of jtdytravels; P1100518

This Deer Cabbage flower, Fauria crista-galli, had several small visitors!

David says he didn’t actually see the mites when taking the photo…

they are really very tiny!

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Drosera rotundifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1100503

My favourite muskeg plants were the Sundews; insectivorous plants that thrive here in the bogs where nutrients are low. These are Drosera rotundifolia, which are very small plants and you really do have to get down to see them clearly. But to see them was well worth the long, hot hike up that hill.

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Drosera rotundifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1100502

A close up of the stunningly beautiful Round-leaved Sundew; Drosera rotundifolia. The leaves are covered with sticky gland-tipped hairs that capture and digest insects. How amazing is the evolution of plant species! I always delight in finding plants like these.

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Drosera anglica © DY of jtdytravels; P1100508

And this is another species of Sundew found in a nearby bog pool.

This one is the Great Sundew;  Drosera anglica.

It’s much less common than the Round-leaved Sundew; Drosera rotundifolia

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Drosera anglica © DY of jtdytravels; P1100516

A close up of a Great Sundew;  Drosera anglica.

Different shaped leaves but the same mechanism for catching insects.

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Linnaea borealis © DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100484

Another very low-growing plant is Linnaea borealis or Twin Flower. I enjoyed seeing this delightful pink flowering plant which David had seen on an earlier walk. It seemed quite at home growing amongst the sphagnum moss on the muskeg.

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Sphagnum sp. © JT of jtdytravels; P1130872

Various types of sphagnum are the most common plants on the muskeg.

They are the original colonising plants of these areas and

they help to provide some nutrients for plants such as the Twin Flower.

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Unknown flower © DY of jtdytravels; P1100489

This is one flower we found that we haven’t been able to identify. Although David does know many plant names, when he is out of area in places like this bog in Alaska, many of the plants are new to him. We’ve had to search our books and the internet to name many of the plants in this Alaskan diary. We find that Images on Google is a great place to go to help in verification after a first effort at naming. Sometimes, however, we come up with a blank. If anyone can help with the correct naming of this flower, please leave a comment at the end of the post.

Platanthera dilitata ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100495

Platanthera dilitata © DY of jtdytravels; P1100495

The lovely White Bog-Orchid,  Platanthera dilitata, was much easier to identify. The waxy flowers of this orchid might be small but they are very fragrant, smelling, some say, of a mixture of cloves, vanilla and mock orange.  The plant is poisonous and extracts from it were used by some indigenous groups to act as bait for bears. Pretty but poisonous!

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© JT of jtdytravels; P1130848

While David was photographing all of these low growing plants,

I was enjoying the sculptural shapes of stunted trees.

And this one had a small visitor.

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Dragonfly © JT of jtdytravels; P1130859

A dragonfly; it seemed to take little notice of me or of my camera.

I was able to observe it closely and was delighted by those delicate, gauzy wings.

Sometimes it pays to be on your own… take time … and be still..

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Linnaea borealis © JT of jtdytravels; P1130873

Just as we left the plateau to make our way back down the hill, I noticed this patch of Twin flowers, Linnaea borealis. The small piece of wood beside them gives some idea of relative scale. They are tiny; but so beautiful.

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Rubus pedatus © DY of jtdytravels; P1100498

Back in the edges of the old growth forest, David found this perennial trailing plant that likes to grow on moss, Rubus pedatus, or Five-leaved Bramble. The leaves, as the name suggests, are divided into five toothed leaflets. They give the plant its species name, pedatus, or foot. The fruit forms a small juicy flavourful cluster, like a raspberry.

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Interesting leaf shapes © DY of jtdytravels; P1100519

More interesting leaf shapes caught David’s eye. A quick photo and after that there was no chance to photograph anything. The rest of the group seemed anxious to return to Petersburg and have time to explore there.

So it was a very quick and anything but an easy descent on those unevenly spaced and sized steps of the boardwalk. With my brand new bifocals, I was having a bit of trouble gauging the distances down the steps and there were no hand rails!  I was grateful to my companions, teenagers Alex and Rachael, who told me not to hurry and promised help if I should falter!

I was quite relieved to reach the level path in the lower forest that lead us back to the shore.

 

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Back to the jetty © DY of jtdytravels; P1100526

While we’d been out walking, the tide had come in quite a way. At least the ramp down to the pontoon would not be nearly so steep, but still steep enough.

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The view back to Petersburg © DY of jtdytravels; P1100527

While waiting for our DIB, David took one last view of Petersburg and the mountains beyond.

No wonder they call it ‘little Norway”!

More anon

Jennie and David

All Photography copyright ©  JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoyed this, please pass on the site to others.

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel stories and photos are on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

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Tree hosting lichen and moss © DY of jtdytravels; P1100423

Up until this point on our walk with David in the forest at Ideal Cove, we’ve been looking down at small plants, mosses and fungi under the trees; but if we look up, we’ll see that many lichens and mosses have taken up residence on the branches.

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Beware of prickles! © DY of jtdytravels; P1100392

And while we’re looking up and out instead of down, it’s worth being very aware of the prickly plants in this forest. They don’t know not to grow over board walks!

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Streptopus amplexifolius © DY of jtdytravels; P1100429

Back down in the understory of the forest, David found this Streptopus amplexifolius, an unusual plant, commonly called Clasping Twisted Stalk. The base of each leaf surrounds or clasps the stem which kinks and twists after each leaf. The buds and bell shaped flowers hang down below the leaves at each leaf axil. They can only be seen by lifting the large leaves.

Another common name for this plant is Watermelon Berry, which refers to the water-melon coloured berries. Although the berries are very juicy, they are not very flavourful.

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Coptis asplenifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1100431

Another interesting plant which grows on the forest floor is Coptis asplenifolia, commonly known as Fern-leaved Goldthread. Its a delicate, evergreen herb, with fern like leaves.  It grows from gold coloured roots; hence the common name. The photo shows the unusual seed head; a ring of up to twelve seed filled capsules on an upright stalk. Each time a capsule is hit by  a raindrop, a seed is ejected. Because these plants are slow colonizers, when found in a place like this, they signify that this is an old growth forest.

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Aster sp. © DY of jtdytravels; P1100432

This delicate pink aster was a surprise find in the depths of this forest.

It’s not a garden escapee! There’s not a garden for many miles. It belongs here.

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Fauria crista-galli © DY of jtdytravels; P1100434

Fauria crista-galli is commonly called Deer Cabbage. The flowers certainly look attractive but they have a very bad aroma; a pretty sure sign that they are pollinated by flies!

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Platenthera unalescensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1100438

Platanthera unalescensis, is one of the Alaskan Rein Orchids. You need to be fairly observant to find this delicate plant with greenish flowers. It grows in dry to moist coniferous forests, so is happy in the area that we’ve been exploring with David.

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Linnaea borealis © Dy of jtdytravels; P1100440

The boardwalk crossed boggy, undrained land, known in Alaska as muskeg. It’s characterised by sphagnum moss vegetation and David found the very small  plant called Linnaea borealis growing in the mosses. Since the plant itself is less than 10cm tall and the drooping flowers are only 2-5 mm long, this was another case of needing to get down to ground level. By doing that, David was able to actually look into the flowers and show us that the bell is darker inside than out. It’s a shame that he couldn’t bring us back the smell of these flowers, too, as they produce a very fragrant perfume. All in all, a truly lovely plant.

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Linnaea borealis © DY of jtdytravels; P1100437

The plant is so lovely that it was said to be the favourite plant of Linnaeas, the Swedish botanist who became famous for introducing to science the system of using binomial Latin names. And so the generic name for the plant is Linnaea, in his honour.  The plant’s specific name is borealis, meaning northern. In Alaska the plant is found only north of Ketchikan.

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Linnaea borealis © DY of jtdytravels; P1100436

Twin Flower is the common name of Linnaea borealis and that’s very apt. Each upright flower stalk divides into a Y; and each branch of the Y bears a single, delicate, bell shaped flower. The stems themselves are rather hairy, slender, semi-woody. The plant is evergreen and spreads across an area from runners. Seed is also dispersed when the fruit, or dry nutlets, which have sticky hairs, catch onto the fur of animals and the feathers of birds.

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Lysichiton americanum © DY of jtdytravels; P1100444

Another plant very common in the wet, boggy muskeg is Lysichiton americanum. It’s common name of this plant with huge, rubbery leaves is Skunk Cabbage. The tiny flowers of this plant are arranged on a fleshy spike called a spathe. Deer enjoy eating these spathes and brown bears dig up the roots to eat. They don’t seem to be put off by the ‘skunky odour’!

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Carex lyngbyaei © DY of jtdytravels; P1100447a

Another very common plant is Carex lyngbyaei, Lyngby’s Sedge. They are grass-like but they are not grasses. The leaf base of a sedge forms a triangle in cross section while the the leaf base of a grass is round. The whole of this plant is rich in protein and is a very important source of food for bears, especially in spring before the berries fruit and the salmon run

Still no sighting of a bear today, though.

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Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels; P1100448

Moneses uniflora is a member of the Wintergreen family and is also known by the name of Pyrola uniflora. It’s common name is Shy Maiden, coming from the greek derivation of its name monos, meaning one and hesia, meaning delight. And delightful it is. However, it’s a difficult flower to photograph as it grows low to the ground (only 3 – 17 cm tall) in the shade of the deep forest. This was yet another time that David needed to get down to ground level.

Another common name for this plant is Wax Flower because of the single white, waxy flower that grows from a rosette of roundish leaves. However, the common name that I most like for this demure flower is Shy Maiden, for obvious reasons!

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Menziesia ferruginea © DY of jtdytravels; P1100441

A much larger plant, a scraggy shrub, is Menziesia ferruginea often called Rusty Menziesia, from the species name, ferruginea which refers to the rusty salmon colour of the flowers.  But this common forest shrub is also known as Fool’s Huckleberry or False Azalea. It seems to be masquerading as something other than itself!  The urn shaped flowers are somewhat similar to the huckleberry flower in both colour and form, hanging down. But when this plant is in fruit, the flower stems turn up and the fruits are not delicious berries, but very dry inedible capsules.

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Rubus spectabilis © Dy of jtdytravels; P1100442

One plant that certainly did have edible fruit was the Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis. Found close to the edge of the forest, they made a tasty bight for weary walkers on the way back to the shore line. They certainly look inviting and taste something like raspberries.

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Fern © DY of jtdytravels; P1100397

Some forest plants are easy to overlook simply because they are common… like ferns. These plants form an important part of the understory especially at the edge of the forest. They maybe common… but are really rather lovely.

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Fungi © DY of jtdytravels; P1100451

Something else on the forest floor that many people walk past without so much as a glance is fungi. But how stunningly simple and beautiful are these; another down on the ground photo!

Forest walk ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100457

End of the forest walk © DY of jtdytravels; P1100457

I’m sure there were more plants to find and photograph, but, as always happen in a group situation, someone calls ‘time’; time to go back to the ship.

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Fucus distichus © DY of jtdytravels; P1100462

But even as David left the depths of the forest and stepped back on the rocky shore, he found yet one more plant to share with us all, the Rock Weed, Fucus distichus. This brown alga grows in clumps or tufts from a basal ‘holdfast’ that anchors it to the rock. It lives in intertidal zones. When covered with water, this plant is erect, very stiff and cartilaginous. However, as shown here, when out of the water the fronds don’t stay erect but fall against the rocks.

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Ross Weinberg, Vidiographer © DY of jtdytravels; P1100466

Sitting amongst the Rock Weed, and also waiting to go back to the ship, and lunch, was our expedition’s professional videographer, Ross Weinberg. His task wast to prepare a video diary of the trip for everyone…. and he did an excellent job including places, people and some of the fun that we shared.  David often uses video but, on this trip, he chose photography to enable us all to share his plant hunting expeditions by means of this diary.

P1100458

‘Sea Lion’ awaits in the bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1100458

And so, the first walk of the expedition came to an end. It was time for lunch!

More anon

Jennie and David

All Photographs ©  David Young and Jennie Thomas of jtdytravels

More of our travel diaries can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More travel photos on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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One of our aims on this trip was to find and document as many flowering plants as we could. David is, after all, a horticulturist with “sap in his veins” and I’m enamoured of plants and flowers; what more motivation did we need!

P1130474

Nugget Falls © JT of jtdytravels; P1130474

So, now, let’s go plant hunting with David as he wanders towards Nugget Falls in the stunningly beautiful environment of Mendenhall Glacier. There’s not a lot of time for this exploration… time constraint is always a problem in the life of a plant hunter… but with David’s keen eye to find plants endemic to the area, there’s plenty to see and enjoy.

Plant names and notes are given to the best of our knowledge. Should you think otherwise, please let us know in the comment section below. I’ve also researched each plant that David photographed and have found interesting facts about each one to share with you.  

P1130473

Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1130473

One fascinating part of plant hunting is to look out for the “succession factor”; in this case the way different plants take their turn in colonising the moraines left bare by a retreating glacier. We look down at a green swathe now, but that has taken maybe a hundred or more years to become established to this point in its evolution. I’ve added David’s photos in a way that will, hopefully, explain how the plant colonisation has happened here in Mendenhall.

P1100188

Salix sitchensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1100188

The first pioneer plants here are usually the ones whose seeds arrive on the wind, like the spores of mosses; plants that help to bind the rubble into mats onto which other seeds can find a place to grow. Like moss spores, the fluffy seeds of willows such as Salix sitchensis, or Sitka Willow, are so light, they travel on the breeze for some distance, even many kilometres. However, the tiny Salix seed has to find a suitable place to germinate very quickly because it only retains viability for about 24 hours. Undoubtedly, many of the abundant seeds produced by a Salix plant will fall on inhospitable surfaces and die. Those that live are true pioneers.

These willows can survive harsh environments without much nutrient. They reproduce quickly and abundantly but, as early colonisers, they are often stunted in growth and short lived. On their death, their decaying matter provides some nutrients for the next group of colonising plants which naturalists sometimes call “the homesteaders”.

Sitka Alder © DY of jtdytravels; P1100190

Alnus crispa ssp. sinuata © DY of jtdytravels; P1100190

These are the developing cones of Alnus crispa sp.sinuata, known as Sitka Alder, one of the dominant “homesteaders”. They are the first plants to really thrive in recently deglaciated terrain in Alaska and are important because their leaf litter adds nitrogen to the soil (in much the same way as clovers and legumes). With that enrichment of the soil, plants such as willows and cottonwoods have a much better chance of thriving.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1100192

Alnus crispa ssp. sinuata © DY of jtdytravels; P1100192

Mature cones of Sitka Alder, Alnus crispa ssp. sinuata may hang on the trees for long after their seeds are dispersed. Such cones are sometimes electroplated with gold and sold in the gift shops as jewellery. (They might have made the perfect souveneir for our Christmas tree but we didn’t see any for sale and in any case we can’t bring wood products into Australia.)

Boschniakia rossica Northern Groundcone © DY of jtdytravels; P1100193

Boschniakia rossica  © DY of jtdytravels; P1100193

The Alders play host to this unusual plant, Boschniakia rossica, commonly called Northern Groundcone, which looks very much like a bunch of pine cones stuck in the ground. It grows in the dense shade under Alder thickets where not much else can grow. It needs no light as it produces no chlorophyl. It is, in fact, a parasitic herb which lives on the roots of the Alder. What look like cone scales are really brownish, two lipped flowers. Grizzly bears like to feast on these thick fleshy plants… but none were around on this day, fortunately!

The plant is named after a Russian botanist, A.K. Boschniak. That’s not surprising since the Russians had a base in nearby Sitka from 1799 until 1867… the latter being the year that Alaska was purchased from Russia by the USA. 

P1130481

Lupinus nootkatensis © JY of jtdytravels; P1130481

A plant that is also important in the plant colonisation process here in Alaska is Lupinus nootkatensis, the delightful Alaskan Lupin, or Nootka Lupin, seen growing here in a bed of moss.  Lupins also add much needed nitrogen to the soil, enriching the environment for other plants to survive and thrive. Grizzly bears like to feast on the Lupin roots.

Lupinus nootkatensis is one of the Lupin species from which garden hybrids are derived. It was introduced into Europe in the 18th Century and now grows like a weed in northern Europe, festooning banks with colour in summer. In Iceland, it was introduced to try to stabilise soil, but, it has done so well there, that it’s now endangering native Icelandic plants.

P1100177

Pyrola asarifolia  © DY of jtdytravels; P1100177

Another plant commonly found with the Alders are Wintergreens. This one, Pyrola asarifolia, or Pink Wintergreenis the largest of the Wintergreens in the Alaskan coastal forests. There may be 8 to 25  delightful bell or cup shaped flowers along a tall stem. These flowers seem to hang their heads demurely. Perhaps they are not sure what we might think of their secret! For these delicate flowers belong to a plant that is scientifically known as a semisaprophytic plant; it can make its own chlorophyl (hence the semi) but it lives mainly on dead plant and animal material. Saprophytic plants like these require the assistance of fungi to help breakdown the organic material. It’s a delightful but unusual plant!

Pyrola has been used in native medicine as a poultice for sores or swellings.

Lycopodium selago Fir Clubmoss © DY of jtdytravels; P1100203

Lycopodium selago © DY of jtdytravels; P1100203

Another plant used by the native peoples for medicinal purposes is the low growing Lycopodium selago, commonly called Fir Clubmoss or Mountain Clubmoss. It was used as a purgative, a “strong medicine”. It’s also reported to contain a chemical that may be effective against Alzeimer’s Disease. It seems that we still have so much to learn from plants!

Another interesting fact about club mosses is that their spore powder, known as “vegetable sulphur”, is very flammable and has been used to make fireworks and was even used in early flash photography.

The Club moss above is growing in amongst some other mosses. In general, however, many of the mosses and lichens don’t do very well in the leaf litter in the deep shade of Alders. They prefer to grow on the branches as epiphytes where they find some light.

P1130453

Emerging conifer forest © JT of jtdytravels; P1130453

The next stage in the colonisation process is the growth of conifers, especially Spruce and Hemlock. In this photo, Alders are in the lower right corner, while conifers have displaced them on the lakeside bank.  Young conifers may take 100 to 400 years before the Spruce and Hemlock forest, which is endemic to this area, becomes fully established.

Our time at Mendenhall was flying but we still just had time to visit the excellent “Discovery Centre”and take in the documentary made about this glacial area. The interpretative section of the centre was also very well done; I could have spent hours there. However, our time was almost up; the bus awaited our return.

As we walked back down towards the bus, the bank beside the footpath provided us with yet another opportunity to photograph flowers!  

Holodiscus sp. © DY of jtdytravels; P1130485

Aruncus dioicus © JT of jtdytravels; P1130485

This lovely plant is Aruncus dioicus (common name bride’s feathers).  It was growing on a moss covered bank of rocks which made a delightful back drop to my photo. It’s a hardy plant; there wasn’t much soil on this steep rocky bank.

P1100205

Holodiscus discolor and Ranunculus repens © DY of jtdytravels P1100205

Holodiscus discolor (Oceanspray) was growing on recently disturbed soil amongst a delightful swathe of Creeping Buttercup, Ranunculus repens. Note the reddish stems of the Oceanspray.  Another common name for this plant is ‘ironwood’, because of the hardness of those woody stems. Native peoples made these stems even harder by heating them over a fire before using them to make digging sticks, small spears, harpoon shafts, and arrows. Some native groups even used the stems for salmon barbequing sticks.They have also been made into knitting needles. Before the advent of nails, pegs made from the stems were used in construction projects.

As a medicine, some groups made an infusion of the brownish fruiting clusters to help stop diarrhoea. The infusion was also used as a blood tonic and to counteract measles and chickenpox.  Indeed, a particularly useful plant.

Epilobium latifolium © DY of jtdytravels; P1100211

Chamerion angustifolium © DY of jtdytravels; P1100211

On the same bank David found this very common roadside plant, a member of the Evening Primrose family, Chamerion angustifolium, formerly known as Epilobium angustifolium. It is known by the names of Tall Fireweed, Great Willowherb or Rosebay Willowherb. Is it any wonder we need the Latin names for plants; so many common names for one plant.

Unlike other types of Fireweed, this one has unbranched erect stems. The buds grow on tall red stemmed spikes. They burst into flower from the lowest buds first. Again, this plant looks delightful against a background of golden moss.

Locals in Alaska make a syrup from Fireweed and they also enjoy Fireweed honey. What they also know is that when Fireweed stops flowering, winter is upon them!

Yellow Daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130484

Yellow Daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130484

It always amazes to me that, almost anywhere you go in this world, at least one member of the daisy family, Asteraceae, will find a place to make it’s sunny presence felt. This is not a planted garden; it’s a natural bank of plants. They are always a welcome sight to me.

P1130488

Bank of white daisies © JT of jtdytravels; P1130488

And just before I climbed on board the bus after a most enjoyable afternoon, I stopped to admire a bank of white daisies; how appropriate near a glacier!

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Fly pollinating white daisy © JT of jtdytravels; P1130456

And, of course, I couldn’t resist a closer look! Simple, very common and yet…

so stunningly beautiful.

Our plant hunting in Mendenhall might be over but there is plenty more to come!

It’s now time to get ready to board our home for the next week,

the small, but good ship, “Sea Lion”

Jennie and David

Thought for today:

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed

and to have my senses put into tune once more.

John Burrough (1837 – 1921)

American Naturalist

More of our travel posts can be found on

www.dymusings.com

and photos on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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The small seaside village of Iluka is a very quiet, relaxing place on the north side of the mouth of the Clarence River in Northern NSW.  It’s a place far away from the hurly burly of the daily life of cities and towns.  As a holiday destination, Iluka’s neighbour across the river, Yamba, is a much bigger and livelier place.  But I wanted a quiet place to recharge my batteries, to slow down and enjoy the gentle things in life.  I found that place in Iluka.  So why not come with me for a quiet stroll along the riverside.

P1240838  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240838 © JT of jtdytravels

This walk will take us along the edge of Iluka Bay, a man made safe harbour and refuge on the edge of the river.  This was the first view from the path I followed down to the river.

P1240843  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240843 © JT of jtdytravels

There to greet me were two of those well known and much loved birds of the waterways, the Australian Pelican, Pelecanus conspicuillatus,  a very conspicuous bird.  We are so used to seeing pelicans in Australia that we often pass them by without stopping for a good look.   Common though this bird may be, there are some things we might not all know about this bird.  Here are some points of interest that you can use in a Trivia quiz!

1. There are seven species of pelicans in the world, all of them black and white except for the brown Pelecanus occidentals. That’s a pelican we have seen in the Galapagos Islands.

2.  Pelicans have a wingspan of 2.3 m – 2.5 m.  They need those big wings to help lift themselves off the water.

3. And even when they do get airborne, Pelicans can’t sustain flapping flight.  But they are excellent soarers, using the thermals to remain in the air for 24 hours at a time, covering hundreds of kilometres in search of food and water in dry seasons.

4. A Pelican’s skeleton weighs only 10% of its total body weight.

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P1240969  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240969 © JT of jtdytravels

That famous bill is about half a metre long.  Perhaps some of you will be familiar with Edward Lear’s rhyme about the Pelican’s long bill and massive throat pouch:

“A wonderful bird is the pelican; His beak can hold more than his belly can; He can hold in his beak enough food for a week; But I’ll be darned if know how the hellican! “

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P1240820 ©

P1240820 © JT of jtdytravels

Of course pelicans are much heavier with a belly full of fish and, after eating, they just cruise around or rest on a safe rocky ledge like a break water.  I expect this pair are ‘locals’ and don’t go far from ‘home’ at Iluka Bay where there’s plenty for them to eat.

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P1240813  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240813 © JT of jtdytravels

They no doubt wait for the next fisherman to come back through the breakwater with hopefully a load of fish – and fish heads that are not wanted!  And at the end of this bay is the harbour for the professional fishermen.  It’s a very good place for a pelican to live.

P1240815  @  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240815 @ JT of jtdytravels

Further along the beach, an Australian White Ibis was searching for food. This bird comes with a real tongue twister of a name; Threskiornis moluccus.  Using their long curved bills, they dig up food from the mud.  They eat invertebrates.  Best of all they seem to really enjoy mussels which they open by whacking the hard shells on a rock.

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P1240824  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels.com

P1240824 © JT of jtdytravels.com

I had hoped there was a path along the breakwater but it’s just a jumble of very large rocks protecting the bay from the river currents and strong tides.  This breakwater is essential to Iluka because the Clarence River is also known for very large floods.

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P1240814  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240814 © JT of jtdytravels

In a park beside the bay, is a rather smart looking shed for the rowing club and other aquatic sports.  The mural is very much in keeping with the scenery.

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P1240822  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240822 © JT of jtdytravels

A Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles novaehollandiae, kept an eye on me as it searched for insects.  Since it lives, nests and feeds on the ground, it is always wary.

This fairly common Australian bird is also known as a Masked Plover, a Spur-winged Plover or just Plover.  The distinctive black neck stripe on this bird distinguishes it as an eastern state variety.  The northern variety has an all white neck and larger wattles.

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P1240826  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240826 © JT of jtdytravels

A new addition to the foreshore here is a very good and solidly built workout station.  I tried it out with a lady who had ridden her bike down to do her morning exercises.  It was a very pleasant way to do exercise while looking out at the bay, the boats and the birds.

P1240853  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240853 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking back towards the other end of the bay and the professional fishing harbour, I enjoyed some shade in the heat of the day.  The path is in excellent condition and used by walkers and bike riders.  There’s one thing that is very certain about this village; people are encouraged to get out and about and enjoy the delightful environment. And they do.

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P1240829  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240829 © JT of jtdytravels

Even this pretty pigeon was out for a walk and followed along with me for quite a while.

P1240840  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240840 © JT of jtdytravels

Among the usual seaside flowers was this unusual one that I had never seen before.

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P1240832  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240832 © JT of jtdytravels

But this magnificent flower of the coral tree, one of the Erythrina family of plants, is well known to me.  It reminds me of our wonderful, kind neighbour, “Gran”, who lived next door to us when I was a child.  Between our house and hers was a row of coral trees and  seeing these splendid red flowers always brings me a special sense of joy as I remember her with love.  Our own Grans lived far away.  She was our special Gran.

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P1240861  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240861 © JT of jtdytravels

A white heron flew down to try its luck in the waters beside me.

I love to watch them stalking their prey.

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P1240862  ©  JT  of  jydytravels

P1240862 © JT of jydytravels

As usual in most Australian water ways, a couple of ducks came by to see if I had some food for them.  No such luck.  There’s plenty of natural food for the birds here. These ducks are Pacific Black Ducks, Anas superciliosa, a very common duck.  It frequents all types of waterways and feeds mostly on seeds, especially of aquatic plants. However, they also like to eat small crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic insects.

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P1240856  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240856 © JT of jtdytravels

On just about every coastal walk in Northern NSW you will come across the glowing pink flower of the Mesembryanthemum, a native of South Africa.  And since this flower’s name means ‘midday flowering’, you’ll see them at their very best in the heat of the day.

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P1240865  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240865 © JT of jtdytravels

There are several paths back up from the river to the village.  This one was a little steep. A tree on the side of the path seemed to grow out rather than up, its trunk an art gallery of lichen.

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P1240950  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240950 © JT of jtdytravels

Grevillea is one of my favourite native Australian flowers and this one was a real winner. These were growing in someone’s front yard.

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P1240951  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240951 © JT of jtdytravels

Beside it, this beautiful creamy Grevillea was just beginning to uncurl.

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P1240871  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240871 © JT of jtdytravels

A standard garden plant in any northern NSW coastal garden is the bougainvillaea.

They provide wonderful splashes of colour – mainly reds and pinks.

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P1240874  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240874 © JT of jtdytravels

After a delightful morning walking by the water, I returned ‘home’ to the Iluka Motel for lunch, a rest and a quiet read on my private back patio.  This is a great country motel and I can’t thank Margaret and Les enough for the warmth of their hospitality.  I’ll be back!

Jennie

Photography ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

PS.  A good place to look for information on the water birds I had seen on this walk is

 http://www.birdsinbackyards.net

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Just south of Ulladulla on the south coast of NSW is Burrill Lake, a small shallow lake where flocks of Australian black swans often stop by to feed on sea grasses and to rest.

An inlet joins the lake to the sea.  Storms and high seas have scoured out a rock platform and it was this rock platform that was to be my challenge  – camera in hand of course.

After months of slow and painful rehabilitation from having my knee changed over from my ageing, crumbling, arthritic original to a new state of the art piece of  technology, I finally felt that I could tackle such a walk.  It was a glorious autumn day but nothing was sunnier or warmer than my feeling of joy and freedom as I carefully made my way across the rocks, checking out life in the pools and enjoying the smell and sound of the sea.

Very soon I was joined by one of my favourite birds, the Australian Pelican. Not exactly a winner in the beauty class but this is a bird with character – and an extraordinary bill.

And rock hopping with me was a very cheeky seagull.

In dry rock pools, a seaweed commonly called ‘Neptune’s Necklace’, ‘sea grapes’ or ‘bubble weed’, ( Hormosira banksii),  added a 3D dimension to nature’s abstract art.

The habitat of this Australian and New Zealand seaweed is between tide-marks, so that for one part of the day the plants are submerged, for another they are floating, and for the third, and generally longest portion, they are stranded high and dry, as they are here.

In rock pools where they were still afloat, it was easy to see that these strings of almost hollow ‘beads’ are coated with a slimy layer that conserves moisture during low tide. The beads also contain a gas that helps them to float higher as the tide rises allowing them to flow with any current and still receive sunlight at high tide.  Sea urchins, crustaceans and some fish eat this seaweed.  And because it stays moist, the plant also provides protection for small rock pool creatures during hot, low tide periods.

In the shallow pools, tiny sea snails rested, each in its own uniquely decorated shell.

These shores had recently been pounded by huge storm waves but now a gentle sea left glistening rocks in its wake.

At the end of the rock shelf, the sea made more of a splash on barnacle encrusted rocks.

Many thousands of barnacles are stuck onto the rocks in densely packed ‘communities’.

These tiny creatures are related to prawns, lobsters and yabbies. They are protected by calcareous plates which form a dome like a volcano. The top entrance is covered by another two plates. When the tide turns and the barnacles are once more covered by water, the two top plates open and feather like limbs, called cirri, beat through the water filtering the plankton on which they feed and directing the food into their mouths.

While the sea was relatively calm, a fisherman tried his luck from the rocks…

… and my sister and I worked out how to use our new cameras. (photo DY)

From the rock ledge, I noticed a path leading around the headland to the next bay… maybe another time… the tide was on the turn and it was time to go home.

But even in the car park there were plants to photograph like this Mesembryanthemum,  (Carpobrotus acinaciforme), a native plant of South Africa widely seen in coastal areas of Australia.  The long name means “midday flowering” and that refers to the fact that the flower head closes at night when there are no helpful pollinators around.  By closing, the flower can protect its ‘gametes’, or reproductive cells, from night-time dews, frost, wind and predators.  They are a drought tolerant ground cover with a tendency to form thick mats and thus stabilise soil or sand. They are invasive and can choke out native plants.

Sometimes it’s the leaves of a plant that are the most photogenic, like this Melianthus, another native of South Africa.  This evergreen perennial shrub of about 3m (10′) has the common name of “touch-me-not”because it has an unpleasant smell when touched.  In spring and summer it produces reddish-brown tubular flowers above the leaves which are  followed by pale green pods containing black seeds.  It’s a good bird attracting plant.

 Behind the dunes there were several Australian native Coastal Banksia trees, (Banksia integrifolia), with their yellow flower spikes, or inflorescence. Each spike is made up of several hundred flowers densely packed in a spiral around a cylindrical woody axis. One common name for this tree is Honeysuckle and birds certainly find the banksia’s nectar very tasty.  After flowering, old flower parts wither and fall away over a period of several months, revealing the seed “cone”.  The seeds are black with a feathery black ‘wing’ that helps them to ‘fly’ to the ground.  The tree has a twisted gnarled trunk with rough grey bark and whirls of dark green leaves that are paler underneath.

The young banksia flower spikes are also very attractive.

And when the sun is lower in the sky, and if you are prepared to lie in the grass to get the very best shot, then even the humble dandelion makes a very photogenic subject!

Photography    ©   JT  of ‘jtdytravels’

(Mesembryanthemum, Melianthus and Dandelion photos ©  DY of ‘jtdytravels’)

(NB: to enlarge a photo, click on it – then click the back arrow to return to the blog.)

More of our travel photos on   flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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