Sunday, July 5, 2009

7-3-09 Return to Zealand and the Seach for the Elusive Sundews.

I was feeling like a tennis ball bouncing once more between Lakes of the Clouds and Zealand Falls, between the high ridge and the valley, as I headed back to Zealand last Friday. It was partly social influences as there was going to be a small gathering of friends there for the weekend, but there's also the inside story involving the search for the wayward Sundew plants (Drosera rotundifolia) along the shore of Zealand Pond (that I failed to locate two weeks ago). Anyway, Friday found me again on the Zealand Trail under towering thunderheads, with all their splendor, looming over the mountains. There was a definite, noticeable change from two weeks before. There were far fewer flowers out. The brilliant Lady Slippers had vanished and even the Bunchberry blossoms didn't seem as prolific as two weeks ago.

There was lots of green, though, infinite gradations of it everywhere. This is a view east from the trail across the bogs caused by past beaver dams. The tall shrubs with the white flowers are Vibernum cassinoides, also called Wild Raisin or Witherod. Fred Steele (1982) explained that the name witherod came from the popular use of the wood stems from the plant being used for basket making a century ago. The name Wild Raisin comes from the fruit which is first white (see below) and then turns dark blue. It is edible although there's a rather large pit, or stone, in the center that makes eating the fruits somewhat arduous. Birds like them as do myriad insects.

The V. cassinoides flowers form a compact cluster that's big and showy, 2-4 inches across (like V. alnifolium or hobble bush). The flowers have 5 stamens. It also looks like the flower of the Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandica) but the leaves are much different. V. cassinoides' leaves are oval with a finely toothed margin.

This is the fruit that by late August or early September be a dark blue color. The shrub ranges in height from 3 to 10 feet and is very common in the lower valleys particularly in and around bogs. The white flowers make it more noticeable in June and early July. When the flowers petals fall to the ground the shrub with its green foliage fades into a kind of anonymity.

This V. Cassinoides flower head is not going to make to September as it already being attacked by a small, sap eating fly.

There was almost a full moon Friday night and there was also a lot of clouds as a weather front began moving in but the valley was strikingly beautiful flooded with moonlight and animated, too, by clouds' shadows as they moved across the valley and up the steep flank of Whitewall Mountain on the left. At about midnight it began to pour. It rained all night and at 5 am the valley was filled with clouds as it continued to rain.

At 6 am the wind began to shift into the northwest and there was a clearing trend as the clouds shifted and began to lift but it continued to pour.

At a little before 7 am the rain stopped and the clouds lifted to reveal the mountain summits and for a brief moment there was a large patch of blue sky overhead, big enough "to fill the seat of a Dutchman's pants" as a weather proverb phrases it. Believe me, there have been a lot of arguments about just how much blue sky that is. There's another old weather proverb used by farmers and fishermen that predicts: "Rain ends before 7, clear by 11." I guess we'll find out.

Breakfast is at 7 am in the huts and to celebrate July 4th the cook of the day, Uli Botzojorns, made "delicate coffee cake" that was somewhat addictive.

There were several families with young children staying overnight. Zealand is a great hut to bring kids to particularly for their first hut experience. It's relatively easy to get to and there's lots of things to do there particularly with the ledges and the river near by.

On Saturday morning the rain swollen river pounded down the ledges with a deafening roar.

I put on old sneakers to get ready to wade around the shore of Zealand Pond in search of the Sundews that once formed a colony on the west shore of the pond. I hadn't checked on them in years and was curious if they were still there and if the colony had increased in size, moved, or stayed in the same place. These photos of the pond stitch together as a panoramic view so you can visualize the size and aspect of the pond with the exception of the western side where I was standing. The above photo is looking north.

With all the rain the water level was high. The pond is divided into thirds by two long and old beaver dams that dissect it from west to east. This photo is looking northeast and taken midway up the west shore. It's not possible from this vantage point to see the open water towards the northern end of the pond. For some reason, probably the depth of the water in the middle of the pond and currents, the center of the pond is eutrophying more than other parts of the pond. The vegetation includes grasses, rhododendrons, heaths and a ferns.
This is looking southeast and the next two photos are looking south. The pond is of glacial origin. I found the bottom to be covered with about 4-6 inches of decaying organic matter which probably decreases the amount of oxygen in the water by a small percentage as it decays. Below the organic stuff there's a real bottom made up of glacial till that probably contains granite. The bottom is firm. There are some trenches and holes caused by strong currents from inlet streams during high water.

When I last saw the Sundews they were approximately in the location this photo was taken only a few feet back on the actual shore line. As I waded in this area I saw nothing that vaguely looked like a Sundew which was disappointing. Sundews are not rare in the White Mountain National Forest by any means but they are small and unobtrusive. They reside in bogs usually at the water line. Sometimes you will find them perched on rocks at shoreline.

This is the southern end of the pond and you can see a break in vegetation right at water level to the left of center of the photo that is where an outlet stream flows from the pond and dumps into Whitewall Brook, heads down through Zealand Notch, and joins the Pemigewasset River and eventually makes it to the Atlantic in Massachusetts. Water in the northern part of the pond flows north becoming the Zealand River which joins the Ammonoosuc River five miles north of the pond. The Ammonoosuc joins the Connecticut River and eventually reaches the Atlantic Ocean in Long Island Sound. (note. I originally wrote that the Merrimac flows into the Atlantic Ocean in southern New Hampshire but was corrected by a reader who reminded me that it joins the Atlantic in Massachusetts not New Hampshire. Thanks, Ari.)

The woods along the southern shoreline are glade-like, an ideal moose yard and, in fact, there were a lot of fresh moose signs where I was bushwhacking. The glade extended only a few hundred feet and the forest then transitioned to a dense forest of balsam fir, red and black spruce with hobble bush, red maple, mountain maple, V. cassinoides, blue berry, cranberry, and a lot of white birch.

Again, it's often difficult to differentiate between the evergreens. The difference between balsam fir and the two spruces is easiest to determine by looking underneath the needles. Balsam fir has two distinct, parallel white lines on the underside of the needles. Neither black or red spruce have anything similar.

This is black spruce and it is identified by the whitish "bloom" on the needles which is usually (not always) lacking in the red spruce. The black spruce needles are usually only 1/2 inch long and stouter than the red spruce needles which are typically 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch long and more pointed. A major distinguishing feature, too, are the cones of the two trees.

The cones of the black spruce are smaller, about 1 inch long, and the cones on the red spruce are almost round to oval shaped. Red spruce grows to be a large tree in the forests of the northeast; sometimes 60-70 feet tall. I've already written this several times but even I have to be reminded.

Under the balsam-spruce-birch canopy the ground cover turned to sphagnum moss and this photo shows an ideal habitat for Sundew plants but there were none. This location conformed to my memory of where I had last seen the Sundews but with the influx balsam and spruce there was now deep shade and cooler ambient temperatures that may have encouraged the Sundews to move to another location.

This is Twinflower (Linnae borealis) and would usually be found alongside Sundews. These have the characteristic pink color but sometimes Twinflowers are almost white. They're small and found in places where it's difficult to move about as it is usually under vines and dense shrubs. The Twinflowers are delicate and quite beautiful.

After traversing the entire west shore for a few hours without finding any Sundews I decided to try and walk and/or wade across the center of the pond relying for footing on the clumps of vegetation. This worked fairly well. I went into some "holes" that put me in water up to my arm pits once or twice but for the most part I was only in cold water up to my ankles and occasionally my knees. There was a lot of alder in the form of these small shrubs as well as the vegetation I already mentioned.

This photo is deceptive as it shows the surface here to be like a field or meadow but it is still a bog and there's a lot of water in and around those plants. It was easier to walk here, though. That's Zeacliff Mountain in the background.

I went into a hole here that was up to my waist and s I looked around for something to grab to pull myself out with I saw these Twinflowers and decided to photograph them because they're nearly white. What I didn't notice when I photographed them, though, was in the lower left hand corner of the photo is a Sundew plant that is plainly visible that I didn't see it until I downloaded the photo onto my computer. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can see the Sundew plant. It's light green and one leaf is vertical and covered with reddish spikes that are actually the glands the plant uses to catch insects. Another leaf is in the water and barely visible. It's hilarious that I couldn't see the plant when I was so close to it particularly since I was so focused on finding a Sundew. It's almost as if the Sundew found me.

Here on the eastern shore of the pond there's open water and a strong current that was flowing south. Since the pond drains into two distinct watersheds, as explained above, I found it confusing that a high volume of water from the northern end of the pond was moving towards the southern end. It might be temporal, the result of the recent rains, or perhaps new beaver activity has raised the level of the dam at the north end of the pond. Anyway, I left the pond behind thinking I hadn't found the Sundews. I went back to the hut and dried out in the sun on the rocks and ate huge left over pieces of Uli's coffee cake. Oh, it did clear by 11 am although there were some brief showers through the afternoon.


Ari said...

Hey Alex I love this blog (found it via Andrew Riely) but one thing--the Pemi merges with the Winnipesaukee to form the Merrimack and flows in to the Atlantic in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire.

Glad you found the Sundews, even if only several hours later.

Lionel Messi said...

Thank you
The subject of more than wonderful

Philip Werner said...

Have a question for you. The water in sides stream in the zealand area is very red, like tea. Is this due to the decomposition of red spruce or the erosion of the pink granite found in the area? I've seen trees rotting beside the trail with red wood - but wasn't able to determine their species. Love your blog by the way.