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Katie Eberhart - Writing & Observations


northern forest 2006 ~ Alaska blog archives ~ Nature & Literature Blog

northern forest 2005

Northern Forest - Early Spring (2005-05-04 12:31:41)

The progression of spring through the forest is, thankfully, predictable. Today, May 4th, it still qualifies as early spring. Although from a distance the forest appears green, inside the light and ambiance is somewhere between the decay of , winter’s skeletal bareness and the overarching blanketing foliage of summer...

Dry leaves and wind blown twigs crunch under foot and the bones of last summer’s vegetation are clearly visible. Sturdy hollow cow parsnip stalks mark the place where this year’s growth is emerging, brown curly remains of ferns and bleached stringy ‘leaves’ of equisetum lay along the trail. The mass of leaves that dropped in the fall and lay covered with snow all winter are dried and gray, soon to be absorbed into the forest floor’s humus mat. The excitement that is spring though is in the progression of growth. Right on schedule (give or take a few days), the equisetum, pale and prehistoric, has emerged, like clones that for now own this section of forest floor. The large plants that will take over by mid June are just emerging. I recognize their shapes: cow parsnip, cow parsley, monkshood, mertensia (a bluebell like flower), and watermelon berry (also called twisted stalk). I see no sign of the woods fern which fills in as the equisetum fades. The wild red currants are blooming tiny understated ruddy flowers, and the first flush of leaves are out on the highbush cranberries. Across the top of the small ridge there is a patch of dwarf dogwood with leaves that are changing from a reddish-purple of winter to summer green. And the Fairy Slippers, my rescue plant that I bought from a nursery some years ago and planted into it’s preferred habitat, the moss covered remains of a rotting log that fell long ago, has buds just beginning to open.

Fairy Slipper


Fairy Slipper orchid blooming (2005-05-06 16:55:58)

Fairy Slipper, Calypso bulbosa, an that is found wild in the Matanuska Valley, blooming May 6, 2005. See bloom image from 1999

Talkeetna (2005-05-07 15:46:27)

Mt McKinley dominates the horizon north of Talkeetna.

Photo of Mt McKinley taken about 9PM May 6, 2005 as clouds are lifting.

Spring comes slower at Talkeetna in the northern Susitna Valley. Black brackenish water fills low areas, snow melt held in by still frozen ground. Snow is still piled in protected and low areas, making walking less convenient.

Mid-morning sun (May 7, 2005) highlights the new, bright green birch leaves. The is noisy with many song birds -- robins, chickadees, juncos and maybe some warblers.

Lichens drape from dead spruce branches, swaying in the breeze, creating a spectacular, living fractal pattern.

images from the forest, May 8, 2005 (2005-05-09 01:08:40)

Watermelon Berry (also called Twisted Stalk, latin: Streptopus amplexifolius) is a member of the Lily family.

Club lichen (cladonia) and mosses.

The presents an interesting picture of complexity, and seeming impossibility. its fronds are packed tightly in the 'fiddlehead' and it unrolls itself in several directions.

Equisetum, also called , early in it's growth before the branches get their full length.

This had woven a very large and seemingly messy, but thorough, web anchored by rose bushes. Several insects were lodged in the deadly and nearly invisible net.

These photos were taken at about latitude 61, Alaska, in a mixed birch and spruce forest on 5/8/2005.


Afternoon Walk, May 9, 2005 (2005-05-09 17:55:36)

Walking through the is really like being inside a large living organism., especially in Spring. It is a busy, buzzing place. (Actually no mosquitos this afternoon.) Growing plants clearly have some powerful physics...

Equisetum that speared through and lifted up one of last summer's leafs. Even the leaf has a fascinating texture, somewhere between leather and a 3-D 'skin.'

Fairy slipper - texture, color, shape and pattern.

The has unfurled slightly since yesterday, with the fronds that will emerge becoming visible.

Ok, mating stink bugs. From eye level they looked like a piece of leaf on another leaf, you actually have to bend down close and look at the odd bits of leaf and stick to see whether they are what they appear to be.

The watermelonberry is not to be outdone by the equisetum for sheer determination to grow, no matter what.

And as part of the spring chronology of this wood I have to include the first wood fern that I've seen. These are small low growing ferns that, in a month or so, will carpet much of the ground beneath the trees. As they emerge though it is as single stems, spread out, and understated.

Woods Update May 10, 2005 (2005-05-10 22:39:19)

The continues to unroll itself.

This looks like a cottonwood catkin. It's about 3 times life size. The unusual thing is that I discovered it dangling from a wild rose stem in the forest, not near the edge of the forest. I looked up and around at all the trees, all were birch trees, no cottonwoods nearby. However, we get hellacious winds here so it's conceivable that this catkin could have traveled some distance. Anyway, there are several interesting things about it -- what appear to be seeds are purple, there are flat plate like structures with threads dangling off them that the seeds are attached to, and all of it seems to be attached in a spiral pattern. I've seen numerous instances of the alien looking 'plates' stuck in spider webs and found myself wondering what kind of carcass it could possibly be.

Woods May 11, 2005 (2005-05-11 22:48:18)

Bits and pieces: today's forest photos are the fern, a web and a stink bug.

Notice the curl at the end of the emerging frond which mirrors the arc of the stem, also the first leaves are perfectly formed and will replicate down the length of the frond.

The stink bug has a metallic looking shell with a geometric pattern.

Anyone have any idea what this web is all about? It appears that there's an insect trapped (wrapped?) in what seems to be an excessive amount of silk, and there was only a very tiny spider near the bottom of the web. I will check on it tomorrow and see if anything has changed.

Woods - fern and spider update (5/12/05) (2005-05-12 21:54:00)

The weather has turned crummier. All afternoon the air was laden with a glacial silt haze thanks to the Knik Wind blowing out of the south at about 20 mph...

Here, over 10 miles from the Knik River, it seems more breezy than windy but the extremely fine airborne silt is clearly visible as a light haze. It's overcast and threatening rain, which would improve the air quality

Now the update from yesterday: the fern and the unknown inhabitant of the messy web.

I realized the 'web' - messy as it is - was conical and managed, despite the breezy conditions, to get a photo looking into the bottom of it. The insect inside the conical structure is a spider and either the back or front end of it is visible along with some legs. Anyone want to contribute any ideas on this?

The fern is continuing to burst out of it's spiral casing and with spiral replication patterns -- see the spiral shape of the fern leaf in the upper left. The unrolling 'fiddlehead' of this fern is about 2 inches across. Once it is finished unfurling it will be many, many times that size.


Forest May 13, 2005 (2005-05-13 23:26:36)

Winnie the Pooh had the hundred acre wood. I have a four acre wood as well as access to several public ‘woods’ which may be every bit as fascinating as Pooh’s wood, if you look closely and have a little imagination...

Ben and I ran the trail between Crevasse Moraine and Long Lake today. There is still mud in places which we skirted as much as possible while still staying on the trail. The entire trail is through the woods, primarily birch and cottonwood with some aspen and black spruce. We spent awhile speculating on why the leaves seem to be so surprisingly green, a level of green that you just don’t see in regular life. The mall, the store, any other public places I can think, are drab compared to the northern forest's luscious green. The leaves are approaching full summer size but still have the fresh, bright spring color. Ben speculated whether vibrant green had something to do with production of chlorophyll this far north. I wondered whether it could be the way sunlight travels through the atmosphere at this latitude. But, indisputably, here in the spring the leaves are greener than other places. As we ran a section east of the landfill we heard gulls squawking and then what sounded like gurgling water, high in a tree. A raven? Last year when I ran this same piece of trail I invariably saw a raven fly overhead, above the tall trees, speaking – in the language of the bamboo wind chimes. Although it may sound dull to run through the for over five miles, not so. The trail crosses many moraines which means hills, corners and a constantly changing perspective, and the steeper hills provide an excuse to walk. We startled a spruce hen who flew into a spruce tree (of course) next to the trail and watched us pass by. It was a gray day, temperature in the low 50’s and the wind hadn’t come up yet so the air quality was good.


Afternoon 5/14/05 (2005-05-15 01:39:19)

The Wood Violet (Viola renifolia) bloomed second, after the Fairy Slippers. It is so tiny and low growing, barely 3 inches high, that it’s hard to identify as any more than white specks without putting your face down at trail level...

To photograph the violet I lay on my stomach on the trail, elbowing aside a prickly rose stem, and balancing the camera on top of my hand which was flat on the trail.

Notice that as the fern unrolls, the spiral pattern is replicated (see lower left).

Notice the strategically planned wrinkles of this watermelon berry.

Insects are abundant—at least I’ve positively identified spiders, stink bugs, a lady beetle type bug – all alive – and a dead lacewing, not to mention the very much alive mosquitoes.

A spider on her web holds a lacewing. Her legs are strangely translucent and hairy. The second photo of the spider was taken looking up from beneath the web.

Spider on web with captured lacewing (view 2).

Stink bug. Notice the colors and geometry of its shell.

Some spiders make places to hide by 'stitching' leaf edges together.

This lady beetle's shell has a geometric pattern of spots.

Some things you see in the woods are fascinating just because they seem so unusual. This pupa is attached to what's left of a prickly rose stem by an abundance of spider silk.

Movement is also part of the forest scene--birds in flight, insects walking or flying, breezes rustle leaves or wind pushes branches around. This photo, zoomed in on strands of spider silk, shows vibration due to wind or some other nearby pressure that caused the twigs to move.

The wood ferns are at all stages – from barely emerged to practically mature. These are different from the fiddlehead type ferns and clearly go through the stages of growth much quicker.


Woods at Sunset, May 16, 2005 (2005-05-16 23:28:24)

About 9:30 the sun slips behind the ridge northwest of the woods...

For a few moments the leaves near the tree tops are brightly lit before they succumb to a shadowless state. Dusk. Not brightly lit and not dark. There’s a different ambiance to the light at dusk compared to a cloudy day. Perhaps light with color still seeps into the forest from the brightness along the northern horizon. There’s a quietness, too. Most of the birds have settled down for the night, except for the occasional junco, and automobile noise has diminished. Dusk, however, is when the mosquitoes emerge from their day time hiding places. This briefest of spring seasons is strange this year. The cottonwoods are already taking on shades of dark summer green and yet, so far, mosquito repellant has been optional.

Photo taken with an Olympus E-10, on a tripod, at F-2.0 and 1/13 seconds.


Woods walk, 5/18/05 (2005-05-18 23:23:11)

Plants that have progressed to blooming are the Highbush Cranberry, Mertensia (also called Chiming Bells), Starflower (Trientalis borealis), and Baneberry (Actaea rubra).

The Starflower (Trientalis borealis) is very tiny, only a few inches high. Each plant has one elegant white flower and forms part of the complexity of the low growing plant community on the forest floor. (See photo from 1999.)

Baneberry is a poisonous plant that has understated flowers and by mid-summer spectacular spikes of plastic-looking berries that may be either red or white. Emerging from the soil, the baneberry sends up smooth purpleish stalks. Leaves followed by flowers develop at the top of the stalks, when the stalks are about 18 inches high.

Baneberry (Actaea rubra) flowers, blooming 5/18/05. Poisonous.

Close-up of Baneberry leaves.

Chiming Bells (Mertensia) will have a lot of hanging small blue bell shaped flowers. (See photo from 1999.) As the blossoms open and are still immature they are a pink color which is less visible to pollen collecting insects. Mature blossoms become blue which is a color that insects generally see better and thus they don't waste valuable energy visiting immature flowers but go directly to those that are most likely to have pollen.

Equisetum or Horsetail. Notice how the 'branches' have elongated since May 8th.

The fern is still unfurling at the top and has lengthened to nearly 30 inches high. The lower branches along this stem are becoming fully formed, notice that the tip is still uncurling and the leaves are still elongating. Spiders, a Caterpillar and a Hummingbird

moth (5/19/05) (2005-05-20 00:01:04)

Mid-afternoon, warm and sunny, near Palmer, Alaska, May 19, 2005. Sunny warmth and energetic insects pervaded the late afternoon forest. As I walked and photographed, I had to keep swatting at mosquitoes, part of a small, fast and hungry new hatching.

Although the green caterpillar is well camouflaged against the green of the Watermelonberry leaf, the holes that it chews are a dead giveaway to look closer. Initially I thought the elongated lump was part of the stem, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be walking across the leaf. Quite plump, the caterpillar had devoured sections of leaf, leaving empty space where the leaf should have been. An insect, dead now, was stuck in a bit of spider silk attached to the edge of one of the holes. It seems that just yesterday all the Watermelonberry leaves were perfect and unblemished. Now, on closer inspection, I see many already show the scars of chomping insects. I expect this caterpillar will become a moth, if it survives the hungry predators.

Yes, these sheetweb spiders are mating. Walking through the woods I noticed a two-layer spider web. It had enough mass (if spider silk can be said to have mass) to catch the afternoon sun. I noticed one spider and then a second. They seemed very tiny, but bending close and zooming the camera lens in on them I could see them moving around, coming together, coupling, then one of the spiders would drop down to the lower level of the web. In a minute or so they’d come back together. This repeated several times and no one was eaten.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe)

The garden is, basically, at the edge of the forest. The Rose Tree of China blossoms had not opened enough for this Hummingbird Clearwing Hawk Moth so he ended up methodically visiting several clumps of Arabis. On May 23, 2002, I photographed a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth feeding on the Bergenia. More about Hummingbird Clearwing Hawk Moths.


More notes from the forest (5/20/05) (2005-05-20 23:04:14)

Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum edule) is an understated shrub that grows in the forest understory. It’s a lanky bush about 30 inches high with dark green lobed leaves with serrated edges and very tiny, understated flowers. However, when magnified the flowers actually start as small pink tinged ball-shaped blossoms, opening into a cluster of tiny bright white blooms. I spotted the first Highbush cranberry blooms two days ago (5/18/05).

Prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) is a shrub with dark red spiny stems and pale green leaves. It’s a haven for spiders and their webs. The late afternoon sun filters through the forest canopy obliquely, backlighting countless shimmering strands and masses of spider silk attached to and between Prickly roses. The rose buds are tiny, less than an inch high and already these are becoming stretched and grooved.

The forest floor. It seems to me like each ‘forest’ has its own character. There’s a forest south of Palmer which is primarily black spruce and has very little vegetation beneath the trees. Pine forests in the Pacific Northwest have virtually no vegetative understory, just a thick layer of dried pine needles. The forest that this blog thread is devoted to has thick soil and a rich and complex plant community beneath the trees. Like the subtle differences between micro-climates, the plant communities vary even in this small area. Near the south edge of this forest a low ridge runs in an east-west direction. On the south side of the ridge there are many low shrub type plants. The north side is more open because many aged birch trees have blown over and some of the tall black spruce died in the spruce beetle infestation several years ago; in this area more grasses grow in the mix of meadow plants and shrubs such as Highbush cranberry and Wild currant. A second smaller ridge is north of and parallel to the first ridge. The birch trees are younger and denser north of this ridge and the underlying plant community is mostly Equisetum (Horsetail) in early spring which is then supplanted by the low growing wood fern and wildflowers. This time of year, before most of the flowering plants have reached their full height, the forest floor is a variegated carpet of green with the overall effect of a highly textured, complex green underscape. As summer progresses the height of these plants will become less uniform and the visual impact of the tiniest plants will be reduced as tall and large leafed plants such as Cow parsnip and Fireweed mature.

And yes I forgot the bug spray and the mosquitoes were bitingly fierce.


Lichens after the Rain (5/21/05) (2005-05-21 22:45:14)

Rain, dense and soaking, started last night and lasted through this afternoon. The rain is good for the land which is dry after so many warm, sunny days. The rain also exacerbated the mosquito situation – I remembered the bug spray and it didn’t help much. Blood thirsty whining insects attacked any exposed skin. Stepping into the moisture filled woods after a rain and, even though the temperature is only in the 50’s (F), there’s a humid freshness that suggests the idea of lingering and enjoying the quietness of the forest, except for the humming hordes of mosquitoes and the need to keep moving and whacking them before they bite...

Leaves with upturned edges or grooves and channels capture raindrops which run together, the molecules connecting and surface cohesion holding them in big shimmering droplets until scattered by the wind or evaporated. And one small petal slipped out of a Prickly rose bud.


Lichens. During dry weather the color fades from the Lobaria, a lobed leaf lichen, and it becomes desiccated and crispy. After a few hours of rain though it transforms to a pliable green. Lobaria is not actually a plant but rather it’s a symbiotic partnership between fungi and green algae. The algae does the photosynthesis, making food that both it and the fungus consume. The fungus wraps its fungal threads around the algae, providing structural support and collecting water from rain or airborne moisture which it also makes available to the algae.

Monks Hood and Cladonia

Other lichens like the Cladonia (a club lichen) are a combination of fungus and cyanobacteria.


Perhaps because of their unusual make-up, lichens grow differently from plants, exhibiting decidedly fractal growth patterns. Monks Hood or Lobaria have leaves that seem to be copies of leaves, attached to trees or stumps, creating a replicating biological pattern. The second generation of tiny ‘club’ shaped branches on the Cladonia protrude from the top of the parent, a miniature copy of the first generation, more like a fantastic plant from the literary realm than a biological reality.

Solstice Light lichen page. Wikipedia lichen page.


insects and caterpillars (5/23/05) (2005-05-23 23:15:03)

Things interest me about the natural environment and the woods: the ecosystem and the structure of things, from a functional as well as aesthetic standpoint. The Watermelonberry, for instance, grows oddly, unfolding more like a fern than a plant. Its stems look like pipes, which in fact they are in a way since water and nutrients travel through the stems to the rest of the plant. And the leaves are built on parallel lines rather than a network of veins.

One Watermelonberry plant had the top of it’s buds cut off, eaten I assume. See 5/19/05 post: caterpillar eating Watermelonberry.

As an ecosystem, the woods teem with insects. Most noticeable are the hordes of mosquitoes. This afternoon, with rain threatening and a periodic rumble of thunder from near the Talkeetnas, I walked through a whiny mosquito hum. I remembered the bug spray (necessary but sometimes of questionable efficacy) and so walked slowly, hoping the DEET would work and pretending I was invisible to the mosquitoes. Through the whine I thought about whether these might be mostly male mosquitoes that consume plant juices and nectars, rather than the blood thirsty females. This is a long post with quite a few pictures so I guess the strategy worked.

I saw a number of wasp-like flying insects. I think this one might be a digger wasp (Pemphredon sp.). It was walking across Equisetum branches.

Wikipedia: digger wasp | Garden Safari

And I wonder if this is insect is maybe a spider hunting wasp (Pompilidae family) or perhaps another digger wasp. I can imagine spider hunting wasps inhabiting these woods since there are many, many spiders. On a sunny afternoon countless spider silk strands shimmer, attached to Highbush cranberry, Prickly rose and other low growing plants. I’m pretty sure it’s a wasp, anyway. It was walking across Prickly rose leaves, up the stem, and across the next set of leaves, the whole time waving it’s antenna rapidly.

Wikipedia: spider hunting wasp

This moth was hanging on an Equisetum, an uncamouflaged mottled black and white against a totally green background .

I won’t bore you with the same spiders that I’ve included in previous posts, but this one is different. Its residence is the intersection of a couple of leaves. It looks like it’s taking care of something and it has a strange black and white pattern.

Eating. Probably don’t want to dwell too long on the plant eating insects and their capacity for destruction. However, considering the insects as being within the eco-realm of the forest, I assume each has a place and a function. It looks to me like there are enough cow parsnip leaves and if some are pretty much destroyed, well that’s probably ok…

Some years ago nettles showed up in a couple of disturbed places near the edge of the woods. Coincidentally, some years later we noticed Red Admiral butterflies, which happen to feed on nettles. This is the first hatch of caterpillars I’ve seen this year on the nettles. I hope they are butterfly and not moth caterpillars.

The first blooming prickly roses in 2005 are at the southern edge of the woods.

The exercise of leaves – thinking about forest themes (2005-05-26 00:12:57)

Stand back and look at the forest as if peering through a wide angle lens. It is shades of green, blended together. Step in and look closely and it is many shades of green, many shapes and textures, heights and growth habits, territories and preferences.

Index to plant names

Many plant communities reside within a forest. The obvious is the community of trees—they’re big and easy to see and name. Five full sized trees grow here – black and white spruce, birch, and cottonwood. Aspen is a newer arrival near the edge of the forest. Smaller trees include willow and alder, also easily identifiable. But the ground hugging plants are more difficult to name. It’s easiest to identify them when they’re flowering. The flowers present more obvious visual clues than just leaf and growth characteristics. However, this time of year few plants are flowering, and the clues as to their identity reside with the unique shape, texture, vein pattern and even hairiness of their leaves.

Consider individual plants or a small section of the forest floor that contains a subset of the forest plant community. Somehow these plants have worked out spacing and distance from their neighbors. Is this plant territory?

Consider the forest as if it were a musical theme. The music of forest plants. A two square foot piece of ground in the forest is composed of layers. Underneath everything are the dead leaves and detritus from last summer, slowly decomposing into forest mulch. Plants sprout from it, possibly where their ancestors grew or where seeds landed.

Equisetum is a theme, dominating an area of forest early in the spring followed by masses of wood fern that emerge as thin, dark green curled stalks that then unroll and unfold into a large community of horizontal bright green, each fern plant seemingly identical to its neighbor. Starflower, wintergreen, twinflower and dogwood inhabit thin strips of ground. Single plants are an accent. A geranium may grow near a clustering of starflower and fern or some distance away with dogwood and Watermelonberry.

Index to plant names

Index to plant names

Woodland plants (2005-05-27 00:33:48)

I've added a plant key to the woodland plant photographs in the May 26th post: The exercise of leaves – thinking about forest themes.

mostly bugs (5/28/05) (2005-05-29 18:36:43)

Yesterday the woods offered respite from the gusty breezes and dust-laden air, where mosquitoes swarmed fiercely and many other insects went about their business. I'll spare you the photo of the aphid encrusted rosebud and I wasn't fast enough to get a photo of a butterfly but here are the rest of them.

Stinkbug on Mertensia (Bluebells).




Soldier fly dragging an apparently dead soldier fly.

Beetle at the end of the universe?

And the non-bug pic is a Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus canadensis).


Forest plants: blooming or nearly blooming (6/2/05) (2005-06-02 22:40:14)

Dwarf Dogwood (Cornus canadensis) See 1999 image.

Wild Geranium or Cranesbill (Geranium erianthum)

Late afternoon
Inside the woods
Cranesbill nearly flowering
Biting mosquito swarm

See 1999 image.

Watermelon Berry (Streptopus amplexifolius)

The Watermelon Berry flower is tiny and delicate. It doesn't call attention to itself like other more flamboyant flowering plants you'll find in the woods.

After the lightning strike (2005-06-07 22:56:01)

It's now several days after the lightning strike. We've been troubleshooting phone lines, Internet and antenna connections and are starting to get things working. As we pieced the evidence together Friday night, with no power and no (land line) telephones we saw that the wire holding the (empty) bird feeders between two birch trees was broken.

One bird feeder lay on the ground, all that remained of the other was little pieces of wood and broken Plexiglas scattered across the lawn in a debris field of 50 feet or so in diameter. The plastic coated wire the feeders hung from was burned and broken; one tree was visibly scorched with a section of bark peeled back and holes, apparently created by a steam explosion, emanated from the base of the trees.

I'm including this in the woods section since we live with nature and sometimes it is surprisingly powerful. The electrical field generated by this lightning strike entered the TV antenna and the telephone wires, destroying phone jacks, phone wire, and electronics.

birdfeeder pieces scattered after the lightning strike

plastic coated wire melted and burned by lightning

steam holes at base of trees, after lightning strike

Wild Geranium (6/8/05) (2005-06-09 09:43:39)

Blooms have opened on the first few wild geraniums inside the woods. Did I mention the mosquitoes? I took this photo at about 10PM June 8th. Used a tripod and neglected the bug dope so it was an exercise in concentration, inside the forest and surrounded by a whining swarm of mosquitoes. The wild geranium will bloom for a while but I think this is really early. (See record from 1999.)

Wild Geranium or Cranesbill (Geranium erianthum)

woods brief (6/9/05) (2005-06-09 23:01:35)

The character of the forest is going through its early summer transformation. Tiny plants remain in a few select locations but the large plants are growing rapidly, demanding that they be noticed. Fireweed is pushing through the 3 foot mark and cow parsnips are easily at 4 feet and developing thick, furry buds. Wild roses, three to four feet high, cluster along several sections of trail, giving the woods the appearance of a garden. Insects are moving through their life cycle--I saw the first spiders with egg sacks that I've seen this year. And walking along what is a trail during the other three seasons becomes a much more tactile experience since large plants (cow parsnip, monkshood, larkspur, Watermelon berry, baneberry to name a few) crowd the trail.

Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium)

Spider with egg sack, rolling (or stitching?) leaf.

Meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum)

after the rain (6/11/05) (2005-06-11 18:15:25)

Yesterday about noon a few innocent looking puffy clouds floated in front of the Talkeetna Mountains in an otherwise clear blue sky. A few hours later a front moved through, the sky became like slate unleashing a heavy, steady rain which continued through the night and into this morning. Being Saturdy, June 11, it's the start of the Colony Days celebration in Palmer which includes a parade. Amazingly, and right on cue, the rain stopped and the sun came out. What a day for a parade. I digress, though. In the woods, after the rain, water droplets glisten like an ephermeral rounded diamond (if there could be such a thing), lined up neatly across the ferns and along the veins of the Watermelon berry leaves.

The weight of the water pushed the equisetum, which have developed into a mass of long stringy 'leaves', across the trail so that walking was like walking through water.

And insects were gradually coming out of whatever places they go during a prolonged rain (except of course the mosquitoes which seem to appear immediately, the very instant the rain stops).

In the woods you might see the most amazing things, like a ball of baby spiders... (6/27/05) (2005-06-27 19:24:55)

The cottonwood trees are universally disliked, the power company dislikes their fast growth; gardeners especially dislike the way the female cottonwoods drop masses of unsightly fluff every summer; gardeners dislike how even one adjacent cottonwood will suck the moisture right out of the soil. I mentioned to my sister that, according to Wikipedia, favored food of Swallowtail caterpillars includes cottonwood, aspen and willow. She said, “send some over to our cottonwoods." In the woods the cottonwood fluff doesn't seem to make any difference to anyone, and it seems that the forest plant community has adapted to the voracious water needs of these fast growing trees.

In the past week a number of new flowers have emerged, these include Pink Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia), Twin Flower (Linnaea borealis) and Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). Larkspur, Monkshood, Fireweed and Wild Celery will probably bloom within the next week or so.

Pink Wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia)

Twin Flower (Linnaea borealis)

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) -- Notice the fractal pattern in the flowers, each level of stems repeating at a smaller scale, demonstrating expertise in packing a space with tiny flowers. Cow Parsnip is also sometimes referred to by its Russian name, "pushki" (pronounced poosh-kee). It's a good idea to wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants when bushwhacking through pushki since it can cause itching and rashes, and might make some people more sensitive to sunburn.

Baneberry (Actaea rubra) which is highly poisnonous, is developing berries which have become habitat for some sort of mottled caterpillar.

And the spiders' hard work is paying off. Along the trail this afternoon I counted 5 hatches like this one.

Although the Tiger Swallowtail butterflies seem to prefer the openness and brightly colored flowers of the garden, this one was deep in the woods, working its way through the grass and other thick vegetation to search out the Bluebells (Mertensia).


Woods Walk Update (7/31/05) (2005-08-12 09:54:50)

The summer of 2005 will be remembered as unusual--an unusually early and warm spring, an unheardof number of electrical storms lasting from May through late July, and warmer than usual days. On my walk through the woods July 31st I saw plants that seemed like they were at a mid-August growth stage rather than a mere end-of-July stage. The frequent rains and warmth had been a boon to fungal growth and insects have continued to chomp and gnaw their way through various plants. I saw fungi that were either only vaguely familiar or totally unfamiliar to me. I don't know what they're called, thus the images are labeled as 'unidentified.' Photos of some of my observations are below.

cow parsnip leaf

unidentified mushroom

unidentified mushroom

Leaf Miner tracks

damaged fireweed leaf

Watermelon Berries

Monkshood (poisonous)

Amanita mushroom (poisonous)

unidentified mushroom with rainwater in center

unidentified fungus and insect

unidentified (and oddly shaped) fungus

unidentified mushrooms in late afternoon sunlight

closeup of previous image

woods (9/16/05) (2005-09-18 22:59:50)

Leaves turned yellow, suddenly, overnight. Even though it's the middle of September there hasn't been much of a frost yet, barely cold enough to freeze the cucumbers and some outdoor tomatoes. The birch and cottonwoods seem to be sensitive to day length as much as temperature so they are shutting down for the year.

A wild frenzy of Autumn color throughout the forest.

Autumn (9/26/05) (2005-09-27 00:14:14)

Gradually the leaves are being stripped off trees, by the wind and rain.


Cottonwoods still holding onto some leaves. Cirrus clouds moving through, between storms, apparently.

The texture of fall.

Sun diamonds behind fireweed stalks, between gusts of wind.

water table rising - the fish tail (10/23/2005) (2005-10-23 23:39:02)

Remember how it was full of water in the early '90s (when some of you guys were little kids) then it dried out for years... and last August at Ruth's party there was a fire and people toasted marshmallows and made s'mores? Here's a picture of the 'fish tail' today.

northern forest 2006 Alaska blog archives ~ Nature & Literature Blog


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