Sunday, June 13, 2010

6-11-10 Lakes of the Clouds, Alpine Flowers

In Poem in October Dylan Thomas wrote "my birthday began with the water birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name, the water praying and call of seagull and rook, and the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall." My birthday (6-11-10) began with the the call of thrushes, finches and warblers in the tall trees arching over the Amonoosuc Ravine Trail and the sound of the river ecstatic in its light-headed descent of the mountain. The day started with a hint of clear skies and sunshine and I wasn't surprised when the clouds came down as far as Gem Pool and a gray-thread rain made soft drumming noises on new leaves and glistening water droplets hung from the balsam branches like tiny ornaments.

Here was another birthday boy (on the right), with his family, making a ceremonial hike to the summit of Mt. Washington on his 82nd birthday. He's climbed the mountain on several birthdays during the decade of his 70s and he was delighted to be back on the Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail, he said.

I was soon at the lower end of the area hit by the avalanche in late January. The section of trail hit by the slide has now been cleared of the fallen and tangled trees and the cleared debris lines both sides of the trail for several hundred yards

including this downed balsam fir with its root ball still intact.

The impact of the avalanche will be visible for many years to come. An interesting aspect is that some of the larger trees that were bowed over by the avalanche are making a come back. At the same time some of the smaller trees and shrubs that were already buried in snow were passed over by the avalanche and now they, as well, are turning green again with new leaves so there is a 'succession' already taking place. The contrast of the lighter and darker greens up the walls of the ravine show how Spring is progressing up the mountain.

This is my favorite stretch of the Ammy where it comes up out of the trees and onto the ledges just below the hut. It's finally free of snow.

It was great to see this character again! His name's Johannes Griesshammer and he's hutmaster at Lakes this summer. He's been working in the huts for several seasons and has a great croo for the coming summer including Arran Dinsdorf who worked at Lakes las tfall. Arran's dad, Mark Dinsdorf, worked in the huts shortly after I did.

The clouds were down to below 4,000 feet. This is that small plateau between the large Lake and Mt. Monroe photographed two weeks ago covered with Diapensia.

And these are two 'cushions' of Diapensia photographed two weeks ago with a number of blossoms on each.

There were still Diapensia blossoms in protected pockets around the lake and up Mt. Monroe but their numbers were far lower than two weeks ago.

Canadian Mayflower (Miaianthemum canadense) is beginning to blossom.

So is the Low Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium).

Mt. Avens (Geum peckii) will flower in about two weeks,

and Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) in about two to three weeks.

The tarn near the Crawford Path and Monroe Flats is full again which is a healthy sign. There's been plenty of rain and fog during the past two weeks so the water table is up at least for awhile.

This is one of the time-lapse cameras that AMC researchers have installed on Monroe Flats to track a few alpine species to pinpoint flowering times as part of a baseline study of variations in the times these plants flower from year to year.

My purpose on Friday was to photograph a Dwarf Cinquefoil (Potentialla Robbinsiana) in blossom but, alas, they had past the blossoming stage. I'd missed it again this year! But the good news is Caitlin McDonough (a research scientist with the AMC) took this exquisite photo of a Robbinsiana in full bloom on June 3rd or 4th, right at it's 'peak', and is graciously allowing me to publish it. She confided how proud she was of the photo and I would be, too. It's the best photo of a P. Robbinsiana that I've seen.

Next to Caitlin's photo my efforts from Friday look a bit dreary (like certain friends of mine on New Years Day) but this shows the array of blossoms and how they look at the end of the flowering stage when seeds have developed and are ready to drop. It's is the last bit of the Robbinsiana's reproductive cycle. The plants will continue to photosynthesize energy and grow for through the summer but the big push to produce its showy, yellow flowers and crop of seeds is complete. Most flowering plants, whether it's broccoli or irises, take more than 7-10 days to complete this cycle but the Robbinsiana and other circumpolar plants on Mt. Washington, the Diapensia and Lapland Rosebay, are uniquely adapted to do this in the extreme, early part of the growing season, even earlier than other alpine species. They take advantage of what, for them (configured to arctic conditions) is a tiny window of optimal conditions. Flowering plants growing at much lower elevations are adapted to a more elongated time frame. For instance, I missed coming to Lakes last weekend because I was planting tomatoes and other crops which take a more leisurely path to the flowering stage and they won't develop fruit for another two or three weeks. (Of course, tomatoes are spin offs of old, neo-tropical species that have hybridized so much that they really can't be compared with Robbinsiana or any wild plants.)

Reindeer Lichen (Cladonia rangiferina). It looks like corral. This is one of the Fructose Lichens and is common in the White Mountains. Lichens are amazing plants. There are 11 species on Mt. Washinton divided into three genera of Lichens: Fructose, Crustose, and Foliose.

Worm Lichen, (Thamnolia vermicularis) is another Fructose Lichen. These stalks, which grow close to 3 inches long, are actually hollow and quite fragile. It's rare and found only in a few places including Mt. Washington, the Adirondack Mountains in New York, and the Rocky Mountains

These are actually immature Worm Lichen but they look like a separate species.

There are several species of Cladonia on Mt. Washingon including this relatively common one, British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella) which grows in banks of moss and stand out because of the red fruiting bodies at the tip of the plant. Lichens are two plants in one and are made up of a singled cell algae, a green plant that photosynthesizes, and a fungus. The fungus determines the shape of the plant and the algae provides the food.

Bigelow (or Alpine) Sedge (Carex bigelowii),which is found everywhere on Mt. Washington and just about everywhere on Presidential Range.

Water droplets on Bog Bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum).

Looking up towards the summit from the Ammy and this mystical landscape that sometimes reminds me of Scotland, or Labrador, but in a word is beautiful!

Hobblebush (or Witch Hobble) (Viburnum alnifolium) near Gem Pool.

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