Posts Tagged ‘Pyrola asarifolia’

After a wonderful day sailing in Glacier Bay National Park, we called into Bartlett Cove Ranger Station to see a memorial to a very special humpback whale called Snow.


Bartlett Cove Ranger Station © JT of jtdytravels  P1140368

Being permitted to dock here was yet another advantage of being on a small ship; the big cruisers can’t come here… the bay is not deep enough, the pontoon jetty is not big enough for them and the small public area around the Rangers Station and Snow’s memorial just would not cope with thousands of cruise boat passengers at a time.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1110674

So what was special about Snow? In July 2001, Snow, a 44 year old female hump back whale was killed in Glacier Bay by a large cruise ship. Not intentionally, of course.

P1140383 - Version 2


Snow, named for the white spots on her tail, was a favourite of the park rangers. They’d tracked her each year since 1975 as she returned from her long migration to the south. They knew her well… and all of her babies. As our ranger told us the sad story of Snow and her untimely death, I realised that this story had a special significance to me. I’d heard it before. I was here, sailing in this area on a cruise ship shortly after the drama of Snow’s death began to unfold back in July 2001.

I’d been sailing down the coast from Anchorage on a large cruise ship and I was really looking forward to sailing into Glacier Bay; a definite highlight of any cruise in Alaska. However, we weren’t permitted to enter… no ship was. Snow had been killed a couple of weeks earlier and all ships were barred from entry for quite some time. And that was one reason why I’d come back to the Inside Passage this time… to visit Glacier Bay. Now I had a chance to honour this whale and visit her very special memorial.



Snow was 14 m (45.5 ft) long and weighed 35 ton. These are BIG animals, as you can see from this photo of park personnel beside her beached body.

Snow’s body was left to decompose on the beach for 15 months. Her bones were then soaked in the ocean and later moved into compost pits to allow nature to help clean them. All of this took a great deal of work but many students and community volunteers donated hundreds of hours to help the rangers of the National Park Service. The bones were then transported to the east coast of USA to be properly cleaned and preserved. A settlement with the cruise line that had killed Snow, helped provide the much needed funds.



© JT of jtdytravels; P1140388

Now Snow’s bones form the world’s largest hump back skeleton display. She ‘lives on to teach the world about whales’. The memorial is an amazing example of how tragedy can be turned into triumph.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1140381

There are many signs around the memorial that teach more about these humpback whales which visit Glacier Bay every summer. The whales come from either Hawaii or Mexico. To get to Glacier Bay they travel 4025 kms (2,500 miles), the journey taking them 5 to 6 weeks. They arrive back in Alaska very hungry since they eat little while in their summer mating and calving grounds. The nutrient rich waters of Alaska provide a virtual ‘all you can eat’ buffet for whales. We had been privileged to spend hours watching them feed in several places during our journey through the Inside Passage.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140400

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140400

One of Snow’s legacies is the stricter rules that govern visits to Glacier Bay. Now the park service strictly limits the number of ships permitted to visit each day. Speed limits are also imposed and the approach distance between ships and whales are strict. Now the whales can swim and feed in peace… and visitors can once more enjoy the natural wonders of Glacier Bay National Park.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1100260

There was one more story our ranger told us about Snow. When the memorial was opened, the park service invited an elder from the local Tlingit tribe to welcome Snow back. At the same time as this ‘service’ was being held, the guests were amazed, and very moved, to see some whales come close into Bartlett Cove as if to welcome her back, too.

I was so glad that I was able to visit the memorial and glad, too, that I’d finally been able to visit Glacier Bay. It had been a very special day.  But there was still just time to go for a short walk in the forest area behind the ranger’s quarters before leaving Bartlett Cove.


Pyrola asarifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110681

Pyrola asarifolia, the Pink Wintergreen, is the largest of all the Wintergreens in the Tongass Forests.  David found most of the others on his other walks.

Sanguisorba canadensis ssp. latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110683

Sanguisorba canadensis ssp. latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110683

Sanguisorba canadensis ssp. latifolia, is known as Sitka Burnett or Canada Burnett. It’s one plant not seen before on any of the other walks. This is a most unusual flower. It has no petals; just long white sepals arranged around a cylindrical head.  Sanquisorba refers to the fact that a concoction made from the  roots have been used to stop both internal and external bleeding. Even today, herbalists recommend that the leaves can be made into a herbal tea.


Lupinus nootkatensis. © DY of jtdytravels; P1110687

A large patch of Lupins, Lupinus nootkatensis, made a great splash of colour. These were over a metre in height. The flowers open from the bottom to the top

The leaves are referred to as being palmately compound; as you can see, they radiate out from a common point and are not all the same size.

The plants die back in winter and are thus able to survive the harsh, cold winters.


Nuphar polysepalum © Dy of jtdytravels; P1110708

On the pond were some beautiful flowers and leaves of Nuphar polysepalum also known as   Yellow Pond Lily, a common name that one might expect. But its other local name is rather more unusual: Spatterdock Cow-lily.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1110711

A robin hopped around on logs among the lilies, insect catching , no doubt.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1110713

Various lichens and mosses adorned both rotting logs and rocks.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1110716

Equisetum sp. is a strange looking, but quite striking, small bog plant.

Listera cordata © DY of jtdytravels; P1110717

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110717

The tiny white flowers of Listera cordata hold their heads high on stalks above their heart shaped leaves… which give the plant its common name of Heart-leaved Twayblade.

Listera caurina © DY of jtdytravels; P1110723

Listera caurina © DY of jtdytravels; P1110723

The Northwestern Twayblade, Listera caurina, has different shaped leaves.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1110735

All of these plants grew around this small pond and bog. It was quite lovely in the evening light with the forest reflected in the dark, still waters.


© DY of jtdytravels; P1110743

On leaving the forest, David noticed this eagle Tlingit totem carving.

P1140456 2

© DY of jtdytravels; P1140456

Tlingit totem art takes many forms. This was on a poster back near the dock.


© JT of jtdytravels; P1140443

Darkness was closing in as we made our way back to the dock.


‘Sea Lion’ © DY of jtdytravels; P1110761

‘Sea Lion’ was waiting to take us to our evening anchorage outside of the National Park, to an area where we’d be able to take one last walk in the Tongass Forests.

More of that anon

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others


more of our travel stories and photos can be found on


More of our travel photos are on







Read Full Post »

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

More of our travel posts can be found on


and photos on


Read Full Post »