Tuesday, January 31, 2017

We are finishing off the month of January with some beautiful clear and sunny weather that isn't too cold.  I took advantage of the dry and relatively mild weather to explore a part of forest that I have always been interested in walking through adjacent to a popular trail.  If you are not walking on a human constructed trail here in SE AK, your "hike" is generally more similar to bushwhacking through a jungle of sorts.  Fallen trees, dense undergrowth, sudden cliffs, deep ravines, and predominantly steep terrain make this type of "hiking" more akin to climbing fairly often.  There is also a similarity to swimming at times as the motions made to negotiate the sometimes dense understory vegetation is similar to that of a breaststroke or crawl.  Learning how to fall safely is an important and often relied upon skill to have for anyone spending much time off trail in this temperate jungle.  I know I am not the only person who has been driven to a fatigue and misery caused state of near utter despair and defeat by this country.  I am not ashamed to admit to having screamed profanities into the uncaring forest after getting smacked in the face yet again by a Devil's Club stalk.  And yet, a lot of us love it and can't stop going back for more as the rewards typically far outweigh the potential misery!  Yesterday's "hike" was relatively easy and uneventful and I only have about 5 Devil's Club spines in my hand to deal with.

This is the bark of a pretty big Alaska Yellow Cedar, Chamaecyparis nootkatensis.  Yellow cedar is a beautiful tree with beautiful wood that is coveted for certain building applications and firewood.  It is extremely rot resistant so is often used instead of chemically treated lumber for ground contact or wet area construction.  The wood is also a beautiful yellow color that can really be brought out with certain wood finishes.  A dead standing or fallen yellow cedar also can make excellent firewood that doesn't necessarily need to be cured before being thrown in the woodstove.  It is also light in weight for its size and is easy to split.  Yellow cedar trees have been dying off in certain areas for over a century now with the most likely and scientifically accepted cause being freezing of roots where the trees grow in wetter areas that are not getting enough snow cover to insulate them.  These trees that are weakened and dying because of their frozen roots are then more susceptible to being attacked by cedar bark beetles, fungi, and other invaders.  Yellow cedars are typically found in higher elevations than our other cedar tree, the western red cedar, Thuja plicata, and can be distinguished from them by their needles and bark.  My preferred method of identification is by stripping off a strip of bark and breaking it in half across the fibers.  There are small light colored specks visible in the bark of yellow cedar which are small resin pockets absent in red cedar bark.

More fungus!  This is a particularly glossy and pretty Red Belt conk, Fomitopsis pinicola,  that I lucked upon growing on a dead fallen tree.  These are very common here but I have never seen one with so many separate "shelves" coming from one central spot.  This one was also particularly shiny, black, and the red belt particularly red.  Fungi are very interesting things.  They are more similar to animals than plants in some ways - they can't make their own food like plants and they also have chitin rather than cellulose in their cell walls.  Chitin is the same compound that makes up the exoskeletons of insects, cellulose is the compound that makes up the cell walls of plants.  Fungi can also break down lignin which is the compound that makes wood impossible for most things to digest or break down.  If not for fungi, our forests would be much more crowded with the remains of dead and dying trees. 

 Old claw marks of a bear on an alder tree.  The tree is about 12" in diameter and these marks have been in this tree for at least 15 years.  I don't know this because of any particular skill I have, I first noticed them on this tree about 15 years ago.  This tree is visible from the bridge of a popular trail near here.  There is another bear clawed tree about 100 feet from this one on the other side of the creek spanned by the bridge.  Bears have 5 toes therefore 5 claws at the end of those toes which you can count in this photo.  Canines and felines only have 4 toes.  I can't tell if this is from a black bear or a brown bear but I feel okay about making a somewhat educated guess of a black bear.

Lichen?  mold? fungus?  I don't know to be honest.  It isn't an uncommon sight in this forest on decaying wood and I'm pretty sure I've seen it on rock as well.  Whatever the hell it is, it is kind of cool looking so I took its picture.

This is a really interesting root section of a log on the beach just below where I live.  There is probably a better picture to be gotten from this thing but this is my best so far.  It is about a 3 minute walk to this from my house so I'll be working on getting better photos.  There have got to be some better black and white photos somewhere in this thing too.  The colors were nice and the white spots are once again some kind of lichen? mold? fungus?


  1. Yellow cedar is one of my favorite trees, now with a new scientific name, Callitropsis nootkatensis. When its bark is still smooth it can be colonized by the leafy liverwort, Frullania californica. The presence of that taxon in Alaska has been questioned in a 2016 research paper. In other words, its is pretty easy for a naturalist to make a valuable contribution in SE Alaska!

  2. The image below the bear clawed alder, is Icmadophila ericetorum a lichen with a common name: "fairy barf". The images below are also of a lichenized fungus, perhaps in the genus Ochrolechia, but for that, you will have to take a more detailed photograph of its surface!

  3. Thank you Martin for your comments and for filling in the information that I don't know! You will teach me and keep me on my toes!