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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Groundcone’

Having explored the beach, the group now turned their attention to a walk that followed Fox Creek into the depths of the conifer forest. Here, they hoped to find plants that thrive in the under story in the moist, mossy areas alongside streams. This too, is the favourite haunt of grizzly bears, especially at the time of the salmon run in these creeks.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110400

Bear footprints © DY of jtdytravels; P1110400

As they entered the forest, the group soon found evidence of bears in the area.  Apparently, bears choose to regularly walk in these old bear prints. No-one really knows why. But, the size of the prints and the spaces between them show just how big these animals are! Hopefully none were out and about in the forest! But the thought always added an edge of excitement to forest walks in the Tongass. So, time out for bear drill!  Stay together. Talk while you walk. Bears don’t like to be surprised. And if you do see a bear? The first rule is simple, but it may be difficult; DO NOT RUN! A bear can reach speeds of 60km/h and you can’t. Stay still, slowly raise your arms to make yourself look taller, and slowly retreat. With luck the bear is more interested in berries than in you.

Now, what about those stream side plants?

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110401

Platanthera stricta © DY of jtdytravels; P1110401

Almost lost in the lush green undergrowth of the forest, the Slender Rein Orchid; Platanthera stricta, can easily be overlooked. It looks so elegant against the rough bark of a conifer.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110411

Boschniakia rossica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110411

Also in this moist, moss covered soil were several of the parasitic Northern Groundcone, Boschniakia rossica, which David had previously found growing under Alders. Here they were gaining their nutrients from Sitka Spruce.

© DY of jtdtravels; P1110405

Oplopanax horridus © DY of jtdtravels; P1110405

One plant to be especially wary of is the well named Devil’s Club; Oplopanax horridus.  Those thorns are horrid; the species name says it all! Despite that, this plant has been used by the native peoples for centuries for its medicinal properties. The roots and inner bark have been used to treat ailments such as arthritis and diabetes, ulcers and stomach upsets. Just getting to the inner bark must have been a daunting process. The stems were also used as fish lures. Some groups believed that charcoal made from burning the stems would protect the wearer from evil powers if used as face paint for ceremonial occasions.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110426

Oplopanax horridus © DY of jtdytravels; P1110426

The pyramidal terminal head of buds that forms the “Devil’s Club’ becomes a rather attractive head of white flowers. These are followed by bright red berries which aren’t edible for humans but are a favourite food for bears…. and this forest is known to be home to many bears.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110416

Arnica latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110416

Making a showy statement in the green of the forest was this bright and cheerful, yellow daisy, Mountain Arnica; Arnica latifolia. How can anyone resist the temptation to take a photo of such a flower? 

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110419

Arnica Latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110419

A closer look, shows many tiny flowers bursting out from buds which are clustered on the central disc. Those yellow bracts are strikingly veined. So intricate… and yet so many people often pass them by as ‘just a daisy’!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110421

A fallen tree over the creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1110421

A tree, fallen across the creek, its trunk now covered in moss, was surrounded by lush growth. When a tree falls, it opens up the canopy allowing light into the understory and that gives a chance for the forest floor plants to grow stronger.

Orthilia secunda © DY of jtdytravels; P1110422

Orthilia secunda © DY of jtdytravels; P1110422

A fairly common plant found growing in moss covered, moist soils alongside a stream is the delightful Orthilia secunda, an evergreen perennial with deeply veined elliptical leaves. These leaves contain an acid that has been used very effectively, we were told, to treat skin sores. The white to pale green, nodding bell-shaped flowers are all directed to one side of the plant. This has given the plant its common name, One-sided Wintergreen.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110425

The forest at Fox Creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1110425

This forest was the most dense and lush that David had experienced on the trip.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110428

Lysichiton americanum © DY of jtdytravels; P1110428

As usual in the wet areas of these forests, Lysichiton americanum, Skunk Cabbage, was in evidence. It also has the name of Swamp Lantern. Why?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Swamp Lantern from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A search on images on the internet supplied the answer! Lovely, isn’t it?

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110430

Pinguicula vulgaris © DY of jtdytravels; P1110430

A close up of the flower of the carnivorous plant Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris. This photo clearly shows the 2-lobed upper lip and the 3-lobed lower lip with a white ‘path’ of spots in the throat to lead a pollinator into the flower.

It grows in damp environs such as bogs and swamps in places that have cold winters; in the northern parts of Russia, Canada and northern parts of the United States including in Alaska. At the beginning of autumn the plant forms winter buds so that it can survive being frozen.

(More about the carnivorous habit of this plant in #20 Georges Island walk.)

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110436

Aquilegia formosa © DY of jtdytravels; P1110436

One of my favourite wild flowers is Aquilegia formosa or Red Columbine. The common name apparently comes from the Latin, columbina, meaning ‘dove like’. The petals and spurs supposedly represent five doves gathered around a feeding spot. That thought had never occurred to me! The spurs attract sphinx moths, the plant’s main pollinators.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110440

Crossing Fox Creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1110440

Here, crossing the creek, was the most likely spot to encounter a bear.

But not on this walk.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110441

Tiarella trifoliata © DY of jtdytravels; P1110441

Tiarella trifoliata is a small perennial herb. The tall leafless, panicle of bell-shaped, white flowers rises above the basal leaves which are trifoliate. It always grows on a north facing slope in the understory.  Common names are many: Three-leaf Foam Flower, Lace Flower, False Mitrewort, Coolwort or Sugar Scoop; take your pick. The last name needs a bit of imagination! This is another example of the need to use scientific names.

Toadstools © DY of jtdytravels; P1110444

Toadstools © DY of jtdytravels; P1110444

Moist, mossy areas; toadstools and fungi are a common find.

Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels; P1110447

Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels; P1110447

The Shy Maiden; Moneses uniflora seemed to be present on every walk.

Moss © DY of jtdytravels; P1110451

Moss © DY of jtdytravels; P1110451

One of the many varieties of moss; each important to the ecology of the forest.

Back to the Beach © DY of jtdytravels; P1110453

Back to the Beach © DY of jtdytravels; P1110453

The creek path lead the group back to the beach.

This is obviously a much larger outflow when it rains heavily

or when the spring thaw brings water down from the mountains.

‘Sea Lion” was almost lost in the soft ‘mizzle’ that had begun to fall.

Heracleum lanatum © DY of jtdytravels; P1110454

Heracleum lanatum © DY of jtdytravels; P1110454

Alongside the creek, after leaving the cover of the forest, Heracleum lanatum, or Cow Parsley, grew amongst the grasses. This large perennial plant was used as a green vegetable by many native peoples. However, because handling Heracleum stems can cause severe skin problems and blisters, only the very young stalks and leaf stems were eaten and only after they had been peeled. They were also occasionally boiled.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110457

Rhinanthus minor © DY of jtdytravels; P1110457

Rhinanthus minor or Rattlebox was also growing amongst the grasses along the creek edge but outside of the fringes of the forest. The yellow flowers, protected by green bracts, have two lips; the upper one being hooded. This plant’s scientific name, Rhinanthus, comes from the Greek and refers to the unusual shape of the flower; rhin meaning snout and anthos meaning flower. The common name of Rattlebox refers to the noise that the numerous, winged seeds make as they rattle around in the seed box before they are expelled to the air.        

Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110458

Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110458

A delightful, small, ground hugging plant, Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica, or Silverweed, grew in soft, wet, sandy spots beside the stream. This is the only one of the cinquefoils which has runners and single flowers borne on leafless flowering stalks. The roots of this plant are of two types; long fleshy taproots holding them firmly in the ground, and short curly roots near the surface. Although bitter to the taste, the roots were boiled as a vegetable.

The clouds descend! © DY of jtdytravels; P1110468

The clouds descend! © DY of jtdytravels; P1110468

As the ‘mizzle’ turned to drizzled and the clouds came down ever lower, it was time to return to the ship, dry out, enjoy some lunch and share stories of the day with new found friends.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110470

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110470

A quick look outside confirmed the decision to stay on board for the afternoon!

There was to be a lecture on current whale research

and a briefing about Glacier Bay National Park, our next destination.

More of that very special place anon.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  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!

Nugget Falls © JT of jtdytravels; 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.  

Mendenhall Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; 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.

Salix sitchensis Sitka Willow © DY of jtdytravels; 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. 

Lupinus nootkatensis © JY of jtdytravels; 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.

© DY of jtdytravels; 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.

Spruce Trees © JT of jtdytravels; 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.

Bank of white daisies © JT of jtdytravels; 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!

Fly pollinating white daisy © JT of jtdytravels; P1130456

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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