Just the photograph today -- exams for Katherine combined with a number of deadlines and meetings for me equals few entries, unfortunately.
Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.
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Dec 12, 2011: Whipsaw Creek Road
Nov 14, 2011: Picea glauca
I think I'll forego the plants and mammals series I had planned, and instead share an occasional entry on the topic. Today's photographs were taken near the same site as this photograph. I had returned to that area in early October to perhaps make similar photographs of the to-me intriguing palette of colours, but the leaves had not yet changed enough. While returning to the vehicle, I also decided to check an antler I noted the previous year in the nearby forest, and that's when I stumbled upon this American red squirrel midden I had missed seeing before.
Despite frequenting a forest inhabited by American red squirrels when growing up, I don't recall ever having encountered a squirrel midden before--if I had, certainly not one of this size. Constructed almost entirely of the cones and cone pieces of white spruce, this midden measured approximately 4m x 3m (13ft x 10ft), with a depth at the centre certainly exceeding 30cm (1ft.). It actually took me a minute or so to figure out the origin of this huge pile of cones (despite the obvious burrows), and I even recall looking up to see if the trees here were particularly laden with cones. Eventually, however, I was chided by the midden's proprietor and the obvious was revealed to me.
As squirrels go, this one was relatively uninterested in scolding me for being nearby. Instead, it continued to gather more food for the winter. I had one opportunity to photograph the squirrel beside the midden, but it was too quick for me; the next chance to photograph the squirrel occurred a half-hour later, shared above with it showing off its cone-gathering skills.
Picea glauca, or white spruce, is native to northern North America, one of a only a few tree species native to every province and territory in Canada. Its range extends southwards into the northern USA (and is also found in Alaska). Other common names include Canadian spruce, skunk spruce, and cat spruce, the latter two names referring to the unpleasant odour often associated with the plants.
Rodent middens, when they include a diversity of plant species, are helpful for palaeoecologists to understand the changes in plant communities over time. A recent article: Diaz, FP. et al., 2011. Rodent middens reveal episodic, long-distance plant colonizations across the hyperarid Atacama Desert over the last 34,000 years. Journal of Biogeography. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2699.2011.02617.x .
And, using that as a segue from Jasper to the Atacama Desert, I also thought I'd share a link forwarded to me this weekend: (Nov. 15 edit: apparently the next link only works if you have a Google Account, but you can find the story online if you search for the article title) Desert in bloom: colors explode in Chile's Atacama (additional photographs of the Atacama by Gerhard Hüdepohl).
Oct 20, 2011: Salix bebbiana (tentative)
A tentative species identification today, as making a positive identification of a willow is usually a non-trivial matter involving a wide-ranging suite of characteristics. In this case, I have some close-up photographs that more clearly show the leaf shape (obovate), the not-glaucous nature of the branches, and what appear to be yellow buds against the reddish-branches. Combined with the habitat, the known species from the area, and the habit (a small shrub not forming a colony), and I reached the conclusion of Salix bebbiana--but I am entirely willing to be corrected! For more on willow identification, see A Guide to the Identification of Salix (willow) in Alberta (listed in the references).
Assuming the yellow-leaved plant in the photographs is Salix bebbiana, then this is a representative of a species native to much of North America north of Mexico, with the exception of the southeast USA. Bebb's willow or beak willow is also found in far eastern Russia and Siberia. Like the Betula glandulosa from a few days ago, this is an important browse species (though not this particular individual, given its precarious location).
There are somewhere in the vicinity of four hundred willow species, in addition to a number of naturally-occurring hybrids. The majority of these are native to the temperate and arctic northern hemisphere. Unfortunately, when a few species were introduced into Australia for erosion control, they eventually became invasive.
Sep 26, 2011: Banff National Park
The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks are on my mind as I prepare for a near-annual trip to the region for autumn colours. While this photo won't win any awards for visual drama, do note the golden colours of the deciduous trees and shrubs at the base of the avalanche chutes (particularly evident in the larger version of the photograph). Looking akin to a flow of golden lava at this time of year, these are plant communities of frequent ecological disturbance from the physical effects of avalanches.
Avalanche ecology is a relatively new field of study (if the dates on cited papers are a good indication). Seemingly, the suppression of avalanches is somewhat like the suppression of fire in changing ecosystem dynamics (see the results of a study in the Swiss Alps: Kulakowski, D. et al. 2005. Changes in forest structure and in the relative importance of climatic stress as a result of suppression of avalanche disturbances (PDF). Forest Ecology and Management. 223:66-74). Fortunately for the biodiversity of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, I don't believe avalanches are suppressed (or, if at all, in only a few areas). For a broad overview of the importance of avalanches, see this video on the benefits of avalanches from the USFS National Avalanche Center, or, to learn about the importance for grizzly bears specifically, read grizzly bear use of avalanche chutes in the Columbia Mountains.
Sep 22, 2011: Loch Maree, Scotland
It's been one of those kind of weeks at work, so apologies for too few entries. On the other hand, a nod of appreciation to boobook48@Flickr (aka Lorraine Phelan) for sharing this photograph of a serene scene from Loch Maree, Scotland. Thank you!
Wikipedia provides a well-rounded look at the historical and biological importance of Loch Maree, so that's worth a read.
Broadly distributed through much of Eurasia, the Scots pines of Loch Maree represent, I suppose, the northwestern present extent of the species, though there are a few populations further west in Portugal and Spain, and it is found further north throughout Scandinavia, Finland and Russia. It also previously occurred naturally in Ireland, but was extirpated there. The Loch Maree population is special; to directly quote The Gymnosperm Database entry for Pinus sylvestris: "Trees from the extreme west of the range, in NW Scotland (Loch Maree area, Wester Ross)...show resin chemistry and adaptations to oceanic climates not found in the rest of the species' range. These trees are thought to have survived the ice ages on nunataks off NW Ireland and/or W Scotland, or are possibly derived from Spanish populations (Forrest 1980, 1982; Kinloch et al. 1986); as yet there has been no research as to whether this small endangered population deserves taxonomic recognition."
Sep 7, 2011: Pinus contorta var. latifolia
Fortunately, a nearby forest fire didn't threaten UBC Botanical Garden last night and today. Had we had winds from the typical northwest direction overnight, the situation might have been different (more discussion on the fire).
Today's photograph is instead from Jasper National Park, in a forested area of lodgepole pines that had burned only a couple years ago. I assume this landscape will eventually look similar to this photograph of a lodgepole pine stand 10 years post-burn in Yellowstone National Park.
Aug 22, 2011: Wells Gray Provincial Park
The hike through the wildflower meadows of Trophy Mountain in Wells Gray Provincial Park has been called A Hike to Remember. That's indeed the case, as it is one of the best mass displays of wildflowers in British Columbia. In typical years, it peaks in early August, but thanks to the heavy snows and cool spring locally, it was delayed a couple weeks. Earlier in the year, about a month preceding this swath of colours, the hillsides are covered in yellow from the Erythronium grandiflorum (which I've not seen).
By the way, for those who don't often read comments from previous entries, you may have missed that you can click on the photographs on BPotD, and then sometimes enlarge them again (the square grey box in the upper right corner of the image).
Apr 14, 2011: Olympic Peninsula Forest
Today's entry was written by Claire:
This serene photograph of an enchanted forest on the Olympic Peninsula was submitted via the BPotD Submissions Forum by ferngirl42 of Seattle, WA.
If you are familiar with Pacific coastal forests in the continental northwest US, you'll know rainfall is one of the major factors in forest density and composition. The annual rainfall in some areas exceeds 350cm (~ 12ft.), permitting blanketing forests consisting mainly of western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). The vegetation cover is so dense, hardly any sunlight pierces through the canopy. Close to the shoreline, though, the forest stalls, and light penetrates to the forest floor.
Near the shoreline, the Sitka spruce are not only exposed to the light, but also to the constant salt-laced maritime breeze (and sometimes ravaging winds). The burls (or burrs) are wood deformations caused by a stress to the growing tips of the plant. Some hypothesize that the salt-laced wind is responsible for burl formation in these Sitka spruces, others suggest viral or fungal damage. In general, the largest burls are found further south on coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), but the first and second largest burls known are on display in British Columbia, at Port McNeill, with the largest weighing in at 30,481kg (69,200lb).
In the thread posting, ferngirl42 also makes mention of searching in this area for Polypodium scouleri, a fern commonly known as leathery polypody. Scouler's polypody (named for John Scouler), or leather-leaf fern, can be found across the western coast of North America. It is sometimes epiphytic, and ferngirl42 notes that she has found it growing on the burls of these huge conifers.
Jan 10, 2011: Thuja plicata
Though I'm responsible for the photograph of these old-growth western red-cedars, the image wouldn't have been possible without the efforts of the many people involved in preserving this area. Large individuals of Thuja plicata are (or were) common along the coastal rainforests of western North America, but the exceptional trees in today's image occur in a special environment: the inland wet-temperate rainforest of British Columbia.
Knowing that my route to Jasper National Park from Prince George would pass this particular site, my hosts in Prince George assertively suggested I visit the Ancient Forest Trail. I was not disappointed! This area is part of the only temperate rainforest in the world found at a distance of 400-600km (250-375 miles) from the nearest ocean -- and the only rainforest in the world with a majority of its precipitation from snow (perhaps it is a snowforest?). Despite hot, dry summers and long winters, the western red-cedars of this region have been able to attain significant size due to a high subsurface water table and protection from fire. The groundwater constantly flows throughout the dry summer by the melting snow pack from nearby high mountain slopes.
High humidity from near-surface water and an enclosed canopy contribute to extensive lichen diversity. In the Incomappleux River Valley (about 400km to the southeast), another section of the inland wet-temperate rainforest yielded nine species of lichen new to science, three not previously known in North America and an additional three not previously known from British Columbia. Lichenologist Toby Spribille proclaimed: "This is by far the longest list of lichen diversity ever published in western North America for an area of comparable size...Such levels of lichen diversity and rates of discovery of new species are basically unparalleled in northern conifer forests -- even in coastal temperate rainforest" (quoted from The Incomappleux Discoveries (PDF) in Menziesia, the Native Plant Society of BC's newsletter, October 2007, Volume 12(3)).
Unfortunately, these highly biodiverse and scientifically-intriguing forests remain under threat: as an example from one region, of the 9482 ha (23 430 acres) identified very-old wet forests of the Upper Fraser River landscape (including the area featured by today's image), only 356 ha (880 acres) are protected within provincial parks.
For additional photographs from this trail, see Ancient Forest Trail Pics.
Dec 9, 2010: Forest in New Brunswick
A quick entry today; Claire is busy with exams, while I continue to wrestle with the web server and the concurrent introduction of our new collections database here at the garden.
Of my two major trips this past autumn, I was late for the autumn colours in Canada's Rockies and early for the autumn colours in Quebec and New Brunswick. For the latter, there were a few--very few--areas that were approaching peak when I was there in late September, and this hillside outside of Val-Lambert was one of them.
For the interest of local readers, a couple of upcoming lectures you may be interested in. Tonight at 7:30, VanDusen Botanical Garden hosts its Cedar Lecture Series with Chris Czajkowski speaking on "Alpine Plants of Nuk Tessli". Attentive BPotD readers will note that Chris has contributed photographs to BPotD from time to time,. This is a great opportunity to see a number of Chris's images at once, complete with accompanying stories (and there are many).
Next week at Monday noon, I'll be giving my final lecture in UBC's International Year of Biodiversity series, and ending on an upbeat note with Plants Inspiring Technology.
Oct 13, 2010: Elaeagnus commutata
It seems I was fortunate that my early October 2008 trip to Jasper National Park occurred at peak autumn colours, as that certainly wasn't the case this year. Most of the leaves had coloured and fallen by the time I arrived there on October 3. Still, with a bit of effort, there were photographs of plants to be had. This small landscape found at the end of the easily-accessible part of the Snaring River road intrigued me, as it isn't often I've encountered such a palette of colours.
Elaeagnus commutata, or silver-berry / wolf-willow, was the dominant shrub growing on the margin of the rocky stream, a typical habitat for the species. Native to much of the northern half of North America (and extending as far south as Utah in its native range), Elaeagnus commutata has been planted elsewhere on the continent for use as a shelterbelt or erosion control, and has subsequently naturalized. Its silvery foliage also makes it attractive as an ornamental plant.
Daniel Moerman's Native American Ethnobotany book provides reference to a number of uses of silver-berry by First Nations peoples, ranging from food to drugs and fibre to jewelry. As an example of the latter, Botanical Beads of the World has an image of the seeds of Elaeagnus commutata being used in a necklace. Fibre usages include cordage (rope making) to clothing (the inner bark) to mat-making.
Sep 21, 2010: Forest in New Brunswick
Aug 9, 2010: Cathedral Provincial Park
Last week, I visited British Columbia's Cathedral Provincial Park for hiking, photography, and botanizing. Though I've yet to identify anything rare in what I photographed, it was a pleasure to visit the area for both the scenery and the sheer diversity of flora and fauna. I'm estimating, but I'd guess at least a hundred different plant species were in bloom, including mass displays of Lupinus, Valeriana & Arnica in the subalpine and, only hinted at in the bottom of this photograph, the yellow-flowering Dasiphora fruticosa (née Potentilla fruticosa) at or above treeline.
The trees in the valley above and around Glacier Lake (if clicking on the Google Maps link, it is misnamed Cathedral Lakes) are mainly Larix lyallii, or alpine larch (sometimes called subalpine larch). The populations in this part of southern British Columbia and adjacent Washington state (where it occurs in larger extent) are considered disjunct from the main part of the species distributional range in the Rocky Mountains. I have read that the hike from Quiniscoe Lake to Glacier Lake is spectacular in mid- to late September, when the needles of Larix lyallii turn golden and begin to fall like a light, soft snow. But that will be a trip for another year...
May 24, 2010: Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve
May 22, 2010: Temblor Range
...and another in the series on some of the spring botanical vistas I've seen this spring, hillsides of the Temblor Range within the Carrizo Plain National Monument, from April 5.