Posts Tagged ‘Chamerion latifolium’’

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!


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.  


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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

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After our magic cruise amongst islands and icebergs, it was a smooth journey up the fjord to  the small settlement of Tasiilaq… our home for the next two nights.

The Court Boat in Tasiilaq Harbour ( P1010033  © DY of jtdytravels )

In the small harbour there was a largish, for this part of the world, orange-red boat.   This, we were told, was the Court Boat.  It visits once a year when anybody who has committed a crime is brought before a judge to answer for his, or her, misdemeanour(s).  There is a jail on the other side of the island in Nuuk, the capital, 900km away.  It would seem that September is the appropriate month to commit a crime as it will be 11 months before the ship calls again!  However, Tasiilaq only has a population of 1930 (in 2010) so everybody knows what everybody else is doing, therefore nobody is game to put a foot out of place.

View of Tasiilaq from my room (P1010060    © DY of jtdytravels)

We stayed in the Hotel Angmagssalik, a long low, deep blue-painted, wooden building which is stretched across one of the hills that back the all important port.  A hotel vehicle met us to take us, and our bags, up the steep hill to our lodgings.  We were given our room keys, and had time to dump our bags before there was a walking tour of the town.

The museum and old house   ( P1010045    © DY of jtdytravels)

Our first stop in Tasiilaq was up to the local museum – we only just made it as it closed within the half hour.  It’s a quaint place set up in the town’s first church.  Various artefacts, photos etc. make up the displays.

Out the front of the museum is a reconstructed semi-buried house of the kind that was in use up until around 30-40 years ago.  It is constructed of timber and has a sod roof.  This ‘display’ home is about 5-6m square and would accommodate around four families, maybe 25 individuals, in very primitive conditions.  Cooking, and the melting of snow for water, was done with whale oil, which also provided the lighting.  Each family group would have their own cooking place.  The whole family slept on a raised platform, the underneath being used for storage.  Seal skins were used for blankets.  There were sheets of newspaper stuck to the walls which was said to help with insulation.  Just how much benefit a sheet of newspaper would be in a frozen climate where the sea freezes over for around 6 months of the year beggars the imagination!  I’m afraid I enjoy our under-floor heating and other mod-cons.  Of course, now the locals here do to!  They live in well heated timber house that are brought in flat-packed from Denmark.

However, there is no sewerage system except for the ‘honey’ cart that comes around up to three times a week depending on how much you are prepared to pay and that perhaps also depends on, I guess, how big your family is!

Canon outside museum   ( P1010040  © DY of jtdytravels )

Also outside the museum are three small canon.  These still work and are fired on three occasions each year.  The first firing takes place when the first supply ship arrives after the long winter when the sea is frozen over, the second firing takes place on the National Day (21 June) and the last firing for the year takes place as the last ship for the season leaves.

There are two supermarkets, both owned by the same company.  These sell everything, including rifles which were on display, albeit chained up, along side other household items.  A twelve year old is entitled to own a gun as they are such a necessary part of one’s existence in this land (there is a dead polar bear on the outskirts of town). There are no banks but there are ATM’s in the supermarkets, a hospital, school, new church and a pizza shop that was opened last year when the community brought a guy out from Sardinia to run it.  He’s since gone home, couldn’t stand the conditions (don’t blame him!), but the pizzas keep rolling out, made now by a local!  There is to all intents and purposes no employment in town.  Subsistence hunting, mainly seals, keeps the community going.  Tourism numbers are steadily growing.

Huskies in the cotton grass   ( P1010054   © DY of jtdytravels)

There are huskies everywhere, with all but the youngest chained up.  Appears that once a dog reaches six months old it must be chained up, or it is shot.  Every family needs numerous dogs as dog hauled sleighs are the usual way of getting around during the winter months.

There were a couple of covered up Skidoos.  Of course, they are pretty much useless during the summer months.  These can only be afforded by the wealthiest people in town, which includes in its ranks, the ‘honey’ cart man!

I had the horrible thought that these huskies would whine all night, but thankfully, it appears we are not near a full moon.  However last night the sun set at 20h01, with a long twilight that followed.  The blessed thing got back up at the ungodly hour of 03h04, and we are nearly 2 months passed the summer solstice.

Arctic Cottongrass [Eriophorum scheuchzeri]  (P1010051 © DY of jtdytravels)


A carpet of Harebells – what a sight. ( P1010067  © DY of jtdytravels)

A couple of the group joined me after dinner for a walk up the Valley of Flowers. And, yes, there were many flowers, especially harebells. I had never seen a carpet of harebells before . Usually we get excited when we see a small group. Here there were hundreds.

Common Harebells [ Campanula rotundifolia ] (P1010096 © DY of jtdytravels)


The small lake in late light ( P1010104 © DY of jtdytravels)

We walked for a couple of kilometres up the valley to a small lake, so still and peaceful in the evening light.

The cemetery at Tasiilaq ( P1010114 © DY of jtdytravels)

On our way we passed the town cemetery complete with plain white wooden crosses and loads of plastic flowers.  The degree of fading obviously indicated how long ago the dearly departed, departed.

???? ( P1010076  © DY of jtdytravels)

There were some nice patches of wild flowers as well.  These cheered me up somewhat even when I didn’t know what they were. Any suggestions welcome!

River Beauty [Chamerion latifolium] (P1010073 © DY of jtdytravels)

I did know this one – well named River Beauty as it is indeed a beautiful flower and I saw it growing near water. It’s other common name is Broad Leaved Willow Herb.

Alpine Lady’s Mantle [Alchemilla alpina] ( P1010072  © DY of jtdytravels)

J had asked me to look for this special northern Alchemilla with its deeply divided leaves and white leaf edges. I was pleased that I found it for her. She has a great affection for Alchemilla – this one a wild flower of northern climes.

Alpine Hawkweed [ Hieracium alpinum ] (P1010115  © DY of jtdytravels)


Common Harebells in late light (P1010116 © DY of jtdytravels)

The walk back to Tasiilaq (P1010109 © DY of jtdytravels)

After our walk, it was time to fully inspect the spartan, but adequate rooms. I removed the ‘stuffing’ from the doona cover, a process I need to go through in every hotel.  I opened the window as well, to make the room bearable. And then I explored the shower.  At first glance, the plumbing could have been a trial, but the taps to the shower turned out to be quite simple to operate and very adequate.  How nice that shower was, and sleep came quickly after a perfect day.  D


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