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Posts Tagged ‘woodlands’

For every beauty, there is an eye somewhere to see it.
For every truth, there is an ear somewhere to hear it.
For every love, there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
~ Ivan Panin

Messy woods that consist of a tangle of fallen trees are seldom considered worthwhile exploring. Yet there are wonders waiting to be revealed in the most unlikely places…

Though it’s now barely noticeable underfoot, millions of years ago, the creeping club moss shown above grew much larger.  The swamps that were filled with these club moss trees during the Carboniferous period were eventually transformed into the coal that’s mined today. 

Did a flicker make this hole? Standing dead trees (snags) in old growth forests offer places for wild creatures to nest. If flickers nest here this year, they’ll be looking for tasty ants, their favorite food, to feed upon in the neighborhood this summer.

Who treads the delicate stairs of this stair-step moss?   Utilized in the past as a covering for dirt floors and a gap filler between the logs of log cabins, it’s now being studied for its anti-bacterial properties.

The porcupine teeth marks on this tree reveal a delicate pattern.  Could we be missing a woodland delicacy by not including inner bark in our diet? It might be worthwhile trying in a survival situation.

Could this delicate creeping vine be partridge berry? Its rich red hue will turn to green later this spring when it will blend in more with the mosses surrounding it.

The forest is reflected in a woodland pool that will sustain a diversity of life before it dries later this summer. Do the faeries sit on this log at the end of day to relax and chat about the day’s adventures?

And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.
~ Roald Dahl

These photos were taken on a most enjoyable walk in the woods yesterday with my friend Sybil of Eastern Passage Passage who posted a very different version of our adventure on her blog :) You can read her post here.

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Boreal Felt Lichen

If there was the slightest chance that a rare organism existed in your neck of the woods, would you try to find it? 

The Boreal Felt Lichen  (BFL) is considered a critically endangered species globally.   Acid rain and forest disturbances have threatened its existence on both sides of the Atlantic.  Once found in Sweden, Norway and New Brunswick, it is now believed to only exist in  Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. 

The BFL possesses the remarkable ability to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form that can benefit forest plants and animals.  Like many of the earth’s rare organisms, it finds its home in forests that have not been disturbed by man and simply left in their primeval state. 

The color of the BFL varies from brownish-grey to bluish-green depending on its age and how moist or dry it is.  Velvety above, dried fronds curl to reveal a whitish edge.  Brownish-red berry-like nodules may be found on mature specimens.  BFL are usually found on balsam firs in the presence of the liverwort Frullania tamarisci.

Certain qualities are common to the woodland environments in which the Boreal Felt Lichen is already known to live:

  • The forest is within 25 km of the Atlantic coast.
  • Mature balsam fir trees grow in the area.
  • There is a North facing slope.
  • Sphagnum moss is found in the nearby wetland.
  • Ferns (cinnamon ferns esp.) are found among the grasses.
  • Red maples and black spruce trees are also found growing in the area.

Balsam fir needles and sphagnum moss

Although I’ve noticed all of the above qualities in the boggy woods behind my home, I’ve yet to find any BFL.  But I’ll keep looking.  You might like to look for them in your neck of the woods too.   Looking for rare lichens might not seem very exciting at first, but it’s an excellent way to spend an afternoon with a friend or a child in the woods.  Once you try it, you’ll never look at a lichen-covered tree or branch the same way again.

If you would like to learn more about the Boreal Felt Lichen, please visit the Newfoundland Lichen Education & Research Group’s Erioderma website.  It features the most excellent images of the BFL presently available online.  Many thanks to Eugene Conway of the NLERG for granting permission to use the two images of the Boreal felt lichen shown at the top of this post.

For further related reading, see The Benefits of Lichens on Trees  and  Don’t Clear Your Woodlands.

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A clever way for thieves to steal from a store is to switch price tags on items, putting low prices on items of higher value.  The thieves then purchase the  items.   This technique works best in stores where cashiers are oblivious to the true value of the merchandise and too busy to take notice of obvious discrepancies. 

Like the pre-occupied cashiers, we don’t know the value of our natural resources and are too busy to notice that they are grossly undervalued.  We might be tired and overworked, or so distracted that we don’t clue in.   Developers keen to turn a quick profit are the ones who stand to gain.

This happens in third-world countries where rainforests brimming with biodiversity are razed to make way for single crops that strip the soil of its nutrients and contribute to erosion.  It also happens in wealthier nations where scrub lands with shorter trees are filled with concrete by residential and business park developers focused on turning a quick profit. 

In resource-rich Canada, we take for granted the cleanliness of our seemingly endless supply of clean air and water, not fully realizing the role trees play in their presence.  In one year, a large tree can supply enough clean air for a family of four to breathe and a single medium-sized tree can filter over 2000 gallons of water.  We cut down old growth forests and pat ourselves on the back when we fill the bare spaces with tiny seedlings that will take several lifetimes to mature.  We fail to appreciate how much trees buffer noise, create windbreaks, intercept rainfall, hold and create soil, absorb carbon dioxide and provide a habitat for wildlife.  Even their beauty is uplifting.  But because we have so many trees here in Canada, we take them for granted. 

The law of supply and demand dictates that our trees will increase in value as they become less abundant.  But why do we have to wait until then to appreciate them?  The United Nations has declared 2011 to be the International Year of Forests in an effort to heighten awareness of their value to mankind.

If a 24K bar of gold weighing 28 lbs is worth approximately half a million dollars, what is the value of a single tree? 

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.

~  Martin Luther

Gold bar photo credit:  Sybil Nunn

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sensitive ferns

Sensitive Ferns

Ferns add a touch of freshness and elegance to Nova Scotia’s forest floors in late spring.  These beautiful green plants can also be found growing along ditches and in rock crevices.

Ferns first appeared on the planet hundreds of millions of years ago and are still thriving.   They reproduce by spores or rhizomes and are quite resistant to disease.  Ferns provide the surrounding soil with mineral nutrients while the structure of their rhizome root systems reduce soil erosion.  The sensitive leaves of these bioindicators are easily damaged by acid rain.

Cinnamon Ferns

Even in Nova Scotia’s temperate climate, ferns can grow to several feet in height.  Their leaf litter is so great that mounds are often formed in forest areas where they thrive from year to year.

polypody ferns

Polypody Ferns

Moisture, shade and acidic soil attract the growth of both ferns and mosses.  Polypody ferns, shown above, crop out of rocks near the salt marsh.

Bracken Ferns

In springtime, many people enjoy eating fiddleheads, the shoots of young ferns.  Ostrich ferns are especially tasty.  However, the safety of bracken ferns, shown above, is questionable.  Its consumption has been implicated in cases of stomach and esophageal cancer, especially in Japan where it is widely eaten.  Water from sources near growths of bracken ferns is also considered suspect.  (For more information on the toxic effect of bracken ferns on water, see The Fatal Fern).

Northern Beech Ferns

Shaded northern beech ferns, shown above, capture bits of sunlight through gaps in the forest canopy.  The effect is enchanting.

In Finland, gathering fern spores on Midsummer’s Eve is believed to give the gatherer the ability to become invisible.  Also, if one was to perchance acquire the elusive fern bloom on this special night, one would be able to uncover the treasure hidden beneath the magical lights of the Will o’ the Wisp.

Even if you don’t believe in the magical powers of ferns, or partake of fiddleheads in spring, they nevertheless make a wonderful contribution to the biodiversity of the forest ecosystem.

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Red-backed salamanders are always a joy to find lying under rocks and beneath the dead leaves in the woods.  They are most frequently seen on moist days in spring and fall.

These woodland salamanders are amphibians but do not lay their eggs or have a larval stage in water.  Adults are lungless and breathe through their skin.  Consequently, moist surroundings are crucial to their survival and they are very sensitive to slight changes in their environment.  As the weather warms or cools, salamanders bury themselves deeper in the ground or under logs.

Years ago, salamanders became associated with fire, probably because they’d seemingly come to life when logs, to which they were clinging, were flung into the fire.  Considered by some to be magical creatures, they’ve been known to exist since the Jurassic period.

These small creatures eat tiny arthropods found in leaf litter.  Their numbers can be quite numerous in eastern American woodlands.  Although they keep a very low profile, salamanders contribute to the biodiversity of their habitat and play an important role in the natural recycling process of the forest. 

Their gentle nature endears salamanders to many.  Scientists see them as bioindicators,  and employ their numbers to indicate the health of woodlands.  Threatened by clear-cutting and extremely vulnerable to fungi and disease, their absence from an ecosystem is cause for concern.  Perhaps because of their fragility and silent presence in the woods, these red-backed salamanders are my favorite amphibians.

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.
~ C.S. Lewis

For more information about the mythology surrounding salamanders, see Dragonorama.

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City or suburb dwellers frequently decide to build their dream home in the country.  They find a nice spot brimming with wildlife and trees.  They look forward to waking up to the sound of birds in the morning and seeing hares and pheasants in the yard. 

But before you can say ‘Where’s my chainsaw?’  they’ve cleared out most of the trees and levelled the land.  Within a few years, their driveway’s paved and their lawn looks almost as neat and tidy as the one they left behind in the city.  (For my role in this, see Confessions of a Woods Cleaner).  They may plant some non-native ornamental trees and bushes and regularly weed their new flower beds.  Unfortunately, the hares and frogs have hopped out of the neighborhood as has much of the other wildlife.   

Does it have to be this way?  No, it doesn’t.

Wildlife and woods go together.  It’s almost impossible to have one without the other.  But woods are messy in their natural state, and most humans like to keep their environment looking neat.  However, the diversity of native plant and animal life shrinks astoundingly when land is cleared to make way for clean-cut lawns and pristine flower beds.

For example, many wild birds, such as woodpeckers, thrive in old growth forests.  When old trees are cut down, it’s no surprise that the woodpeckers leave the neighborhood.  They depend on these old trees for nests and the insect life within them for food.

Vernal pools created by toppled trees and an uneven forest floor collect rainwater and provide a habitat for amphibians and a greater variety of plants.  (For more information on attracting amphibians back to your yard, see my post on Why Every Princess Needs a Toad in her Garden).

The United Nations has designated 2010 as the Year of Biodiversity.  You can read more about why biodiversity matters here.  If you own land, you might consider leaving some of it in its natural state.  One simple solution is to allow wild spaces to thrive on the edge of your property.  Allowing the growth of wild hedgerows between properties provides privacy and a wind barrier between neighbors while sustaining native species of both plants and animals.  

By allowing a wild space to thrive in your yard, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the diversity of life that it will begin to attract.

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