Late Summer Rambling in a Soggy Bottomland Forest

One and two-thirds inches of rain had fallen over the 36 hours ending late morning August 19, 1921, late summer conditions perfect for mushroom growth and development in the hardwood bottomlands along the Tennessee River in Limestone County Alabama, just fifteen miles from my home in Madison. I entered a forest still dripping as clouds thinned, slogging in nearly knee-high rubber boots, eyes peeled for fungal kingdom spore production organs…mushrooms! The mosquitoes and I love these maturing riparian hardwood forests. Well, they like living there, lying in wait for a blood-rich fur-free biped to wander past.

In the Kingdom of Fungi (Flora, Fauna, and Funga)

 

I’ve observed previously in my Posts that when I earned my forestry degree (1973), fungi sat within the plant kingdom, among the non-flowering plants. Shortly thereafter, fungi ascended to their own distinct kingdom, an epic promotion! Contrast that shift to the 2006 fall of Pluto from planet to simply a dwarf planet. The once proud planet fell from grace: Pride goeth before the fall.

HGH Road

 

My purpose with this Post is to show the rich diversity of fungi and associated life I encountered and photographed on a soggy mid-August late afternoon in a bottomland hardwood stand. Here is violet-toothed polypore heavily colonizing a downed red oak, depicting the ongoing cycle of life and death.

HGH Road

 

Closer inspection evidenced the dense mycelia growth, hidden from view, that surely resides within the dead wood. The close-up below right corroborates the violet-toothed moniker.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

The Grand Circle of Life and Death

I have often mentioned and presented photo-evidence of Nature’s grand circle of life and death. John Muir, ever the uber-observer and elegant synthesizer of Nature’s ways offered this relevant conclusion:

One is constantly reminded of the infinite lavishness and fertility of Nature — inexhaustible abundance amid what seems enormous waste. And yet when we look into any of her operations that lie within reach of our minds, we learn that no particle of her material is wasted or worn out. It is eternally flowing from use to use, beauty to yet higher beauty; and we soon cease to lament waste and death, and rather rejoice and exult in the imperishable, unspendable wealth of the universe, and faithfully watch and wait the reappearance of everything that melts and fades and dies about us, feeling sure that its next appearance will be better and more beautiful than the last.

Within this mature bottomland hardwood forest at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge a main canopy occupant (I am uncertain whether it is an oak or hickory) stands 3-5 years dead (my estimate based upon bark shedding and all but the largest crown branches already fallen). Nearby trees are sending leafy stems into the still evident canopy opening…and will close the void within another summer or two.

HGH Road

 

Much of the bark has sloughed from the trunk and lies as thick mulch at its base. Wood-boring beetles and decay fungi are weakening the stem so that near term, a fresh breeze will reintroduce its biomass to the ground and, in time, incorporate it into the soil. A fleshy polypore mushroom is disseminating countless spores to spread the fungal species via wind to other dead and dying woody biomass.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

This black staining polypore produced considerable weight in its fruiting bodies (mushrooms). From mushroomknowhow.com:

Black staining polypore mushrooms are parasitic and saprobic in their nature. This means that they parasitize or feed on dead or decaying tree matter. They can grow either on the ground (on or around the roots of trees) and on the stumps or logs of dead or decaying deciduous trees such as oaks, beeches and maples. The species is found exclusively in North America, although close relatives of these polypores known as Meripulus giganteus can be found in Northern Europe as well. Their peak season is late July to November.

When handled, especially the undersides, the surface bruises with dark splotches where touched.

HGH Road

 

The species is described as edible. I’ve found that only the outer 1.5-2 inches of the fans are palatable (the remainder too tough and fibrous). Their fragrance is strong and earthy. I clean and finely chop the harvested edges, boil with seasonings to create a stock for a thick rice soup. Delicious, but only if you are 100 percent certain of identity. Please don’t rely upon my photos to base your species identification.

HGH Road

 

I stumbled upon two fresh clusters of chicken of the woods, considered by many as culinary delights. From ediblewildfood.com:

Chicken of the woods is parasitic and saprobic on living and dead oaks (also sometimes on the wood of other hardwoods). It causes a reddish brown cubical heart rot, with thin areas of white mycelium visible in the cracks of the wood. It is considered an annual favourite. These mushrooms do not appear until well after the fungus has attacked the tree. Originally described in 1789 by French botanist and mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois (Pierre) Bulliard, this spectacular polypore was given its current name in 1920 by the famous American mycologist William Alphonso Murrill (1869 – 1967). This fungi typically grows in large clusters in the summer and fall.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Such a thrill to find those orange to peach beauties. I harvested perhaps half of each cluster, cleaned, sliced into 8-10 square-inch filets, battered, and fried like chicken. Delectable! Again, be absolutely certain before consuming any wild-foraged mushroom.

I switch gears now to some attractive and interesting non-edibles. First, here is Stereum versicolor, a woody, fan-shaped mushroom that is strictly saprobic, consuming dead woody tissue.

HGH Road

 

This is a white jelly fungus, a gelatinous decay fungus. I’ve read that some of the jellies are edible. I have not ventured into that zone of certainty.

HGH Road

 

This mushroom’s name, indigo milk cap, is descriptive, enhanced by its background of green moss.

HGH Road

 

 

 

I’m not sure what to say about this dog’s nose fungus (Peridoxylon petersii). I found little about it online, other than several sites showing an image alongside a closeup of a dog’s nose. The look and even the cold wet feel do indeed resemble a canine proboscis! Shall I throw this find into the forest fungus oddity category?

HGH Road

 

Another fungi curiosity is devil’s dipstick (also known as demon fingers, dog stinkhorn, elegant stinkhorn, and headless stinkhorn). From NC State Cooperative Extension online:

Elegant stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans) is a foul smelling fungus found anywhere woody material is rotting – old stumps and branches, mulch, lawns. The ‘horn’ is the visible fruiting body of the network of mycelia that has been growing through the woody material, breaking it down and releasing nutrients to other plants. At some point, this network ‘decides’ it is time to reproduce and creates a white egg like structure that is partially above ground. It is from this structure that the pink to orange columnar fruiting body develops. This development can take only a few hours. The top of the structure is covered in a slimy, greenish brown mass of spores that smells of rotting meat or worse. The smell attracts insects which become covered in the slimy spores and deposit them away from the ‘parent’ mycelia. This is a very unusual occurrence within the fungus world. Most rely on wind to disperse their minute spores.

HGH Road

 

Let’s shift from foul and repugnant to tasty! This delightful mushroom is a red chanterelle. I harvest, clean, slice into strips and sauté with butter, add a little salt and pepper, and either eat fresh with meat, rice, eggs, pizza, and sundry other dishes, or freeze for future use.

HGH Road

 

This flame chanterelle is another species of the same genus (Cantharellus). The bulk of my 30-35 pounds of frozen Cantharellus are smooth chanterelles, whose peak season extended from late June through late July. Yes, that’s a poison ivy leaf in the below left image. Unfortunately, poison ivy is a common ground cover, standing up to two feet, in the bottomland hardwood stands where I’ve found the greatest yields of chanterelles. I try to avoid direct contact with my hands as I harvest. Wearing calf-high rubber boots protects my lower legs. However, upon returning home, I immediately toss my outer clothes into the washing machine and head for the shower before cleaning and processing the harvest. All of that is a small price to pay for my woodland adventures and foraging bounty.

HGH Road

 

Burls, Mosses, Flowers, and Butterflies

Although I’ve concentrated most of this Post on the fungi kingdom, I must include some other observations. This three foot diameter willow oak sported a huge basal burl, a growth abnormality likely resulting from physical injury or fungal infection stimulating unregulated wood cell production. A human comparison is a benign tumor. Large burls such as this one are prized by wood workers who cherish their spectacular grain patterns.

HGH Road

 

I could not resist photographing this moss-adorned and lichen-splotched sapling backdropped by a three-foot diameter oak.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

 

Snow squarestem in full flower lined a gravel access road entering the forest. An eastern tiger swallowtail visited the squarestem, allowing me to snap a quick photo. Summer in our riparian forests offers all manner of bounty…abundant soul-sustenance, as well as victual delights for the palate.

HGH Road

 

Long ago I read Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus (1962), a best-seller, presenting a species-by-species accounting of his foraging for wild edibles. I was eleven years old, a budding outdoor enthusiast who devoured the book’s content, imagining that I might learn to live off the land. Gibbon’s once said:

My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker, or nature tourist. I crave a more real and meaningful relationship. The spicy teas and tasty delicacies I prepare from wild ingredients are the bread and wine in which I have communion and fellowship with nature, and with the Author of that nature.

Clearly, my communion and fellowship with Nature depend on far more than the few species of edible wild mushrooms that I recognize, harvest, and consume. My relationship with Nature extends from body to heart, soul, mind, and spirit…a communion far stronger and rewarding to my own Life and Living. A summer woodland hike through a southern bottomland hardwood forest yields delight and satisfaction beyond measure.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” I say the same of communing with Nature.
  • Like Euell Gibbons, “My love affair with nature is so deep that I am not satisfied with being a mere onlooker.”
  • Wherever I roam, Nature inspires and rewards my heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

Fighting for Light and Life in the Forest Canopy: Parsing Reality from Fantasy

March 20, 2021, I once again explored the hardwood bottomland forests on the eastern end of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge near Huntsville, Alabama. I focused my attention on the overstory, learning more about the fierce competition among trees for sunlight. I have found little in the scientific literature to refute or support my observations. I will continue studying forest canopies in subsequent dormant seasons. Dense hardwood foliage within the main canopy and vision-obscuring lower and mid-canopy foliage make growing season observations impossible.

Trees Talking to Each Other

Smithsonian Magazine (March 2018) published an article about Peter Wohlleben, titled Do Trees Talk to Each Other. From the article:

Wohlleben, a German forester and author, has a rare understanding of the inner life of trees, and is able to describe it in accessible, evocative language. Now, at the age of 53, he has become an unlikely publishing sensation. His book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, written at his wife’s insistence, sold more than 800,000 copies in Germany, and has now hit the best-seller lists in 11 other countries, including the United States and Canada.

Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry. The timber industry in particular sees forests as wood-producing systems and battlegrounds for survival of the fittest.

There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence that refutes that idea. It shows instead that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.

Ah, the magical stuff of fairy tales and Harry Potter! I suppose that anthropomorphizing trees and forests is in vogue. I give this much to Wohlleben: much of the action is, in fact, taking place below ground. I have known about the essential role of mycorhizae since my undergraduate days, the synergistic interplay between fungi and plants, trees in particular. The relationship increases the tree root absorptive capacity (water and nutrients) by orders of magnitude.

I confess to being an old timber industry forester (1973-85). And I admit to holding steadfast to my belief that forests are battlegrounds for survival of the fittest. The National Geographic perspective on Wohlleben’s characterization of the inner life of trees is becoming commonly accepted dogma. In my objective applied ecology world, dogma stands as the enemy of science. Science is never decided by popular opinion.

From Fantasy to Reality

Let’s look at the bottomland hardwood forest below, composed of mixed hardwood species, well-stocked, with trees reaching more than 100 feet skyward. Certainly, its mycorhizal community is vibrant.

HGH Road

 

I simply do not subscribe to Wohlleben’s principal thesis: Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. Instead, I see intense competition below ground for moisture and nutrients, and above ground for light and life. The overhead canopy view below shows oak crowns fully occupying the overstory, each, for now, having staked out its zone of occupancy, suggesting a stasis that simply does not exist in stands still developing, growing, and maturing. The trees have not agreed upon the terms of an armistice, a cessation of hostilities.

The tree extending over the top of this photo is a vibrant 30-inch diameter red oak. It is not, in my view, a caring larger sibling tending its slightly smaller and a little shorter neighbors. It is a ruthless competitor, as Darwin concluded, intent upon thriving and surviving so that its progeny extend to the next generation. Life in the forest is a zero-sum game. Essential resources of crown light and soil moisture and fertility are finite. What one tree gathers is at the expense of its neighbors.

HGH Road

 

Here’s a 16-inch-diameter shagbark hickory reaching into the main canopy (below right). It has secured its position, but it is not living in loving harmony with its neighbors. The much smaller tree to its lower left (appearing to emerge from the lower left corner of the photograph) is the same age as the hickory. It occupies a fraction of the canopy space. It will lose the battle for extended life in the crown. None of the adjoining trees, in some wave of generosity and compassion, will sustain it. They seek its small share of main canopy sunlight and below ground resources. In a very non-egalitarian manner, they will overwhelm it, and then fight the survivors for the resultant bounty.

Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony? No, not in the forests of my experience!

HGH Road

 

During the most recent dormant season (2020-21) I have for the first time over my fifty-plus years as a professional forester and applied ecologist, begun to study inter-tree crown competition. I’ve learned that white oaks in our forests demand a lot of crown space. That’s a white oak below at the top of the image. A shagbark hickory, with a relatively smaller crown rises from the lower left of the photograph. The trees are of similar diameter. Note that none of these main canopy dwellers are touching. They seem to agree not to invade each other’s space; the operative word is seem.

HGH Road

 

However, they are not respecting each other’s space. Instead, I am convinced that over thousands of generations of evolution, trees are hard-wired to avoid interlacing crowns. Such interlacing results in friction and abrasion as wind rocks and sways the crowns. Perhaps the old nursery rhyme has its basis in this crown shyness phenomenon:

Rock a bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Regardless, evolution…and not neighborly love and respect…dictate that tree crowns do not physically touch!

Competition for essential site resources will result in less capable individuals succumbing. However, inability to compete effectively is not the only cause of stem mortality. Here’s a 20-inch-diameter red oak that wind-snapped 12 feet above the ground. Why this one? I can only speculate that it broke at some point of structural weakness. Unlike white oak, red oak does not demand a seeming inordinately large crown space. This individual dropped within just the prior 2-5 years…yet, already the crown opening it left (below right) is closing. Life in the forest is dog-eat-dog!

HGH Road

 

Let’s turn to a 22-inch-diameter dead white oak. I have no idea what resulted in its demise. I saw no evidence of lightning strike. The scientist in me seeks a direct cause. The fatalist simply observes that its time had come. I confront forest mysteries of all manner. Simply, a seeming vibrant and dominant individual died, leaving (below right) a standing skeleton of what once was a massive canopy, typical of dominant white oak trees in our forests.

HGH Road

 

It left a large void and considerable now-available sunlight. The adjacent survivors will battle to secure their share.

HGH Road

 

I see a ferocious ongoing competition for canopy light and life. I do not embrace the notion of a loving and caring community practicing intra- and inter-species communication and cooperation. And while I’m reacting to his basic premise, allow me to react somewhat viscerally to Wohlleben’s apparent hubris and assumed moral superiority to the knuckle-draggers in the forest products industry. I spent 12 years in that industry at the outset of my career, employed by a company that owned 2.2 million acres of forestland across the southeastern US, and responsibly practiced forest operations within the context of a deep land ethic. My final three years with the company, I led a unit directly charged with managing 500 square miles of company-owned forestland in central and southern Alabama. Although I did not anthropomorphize those forests, I did recognize the interconnected reality of the entire forest ecosystem: its plants, animals, other organisms, water, soil, and atmosphere. I had not by then run across this Albert Einstein quote: It’s not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle. Yet, I knew from my forestry education, my personal passion, and the company’s expressed land ethic that the whole thing is a miracle, including that I was privileged to work with such a magnificent natural system and work for a company embracing a land ethic.

Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry. I adopt Darwin’s view with respect to competition among trees. He did not say that the forest is not an integrated system, nor do I. I see our forests as complex meritocracies. The system and the individuals work best when the strong survive. Nature sets no quotas on species composition, nor does it seek some specific admixture of strong and weak. The whole thing, no matter how the pieces assemble, is a miracle.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

  • I offer two observations from my mid-March trek:
    • The forest’s visible action occurs high above us; her invisible dynamism lies beneath our feet in the soil.
    • The forest is a living miracle of biology, beauty, and fierce competition among trees.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

A Different Perspective on the Early March Forests at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

March 7, 2021, I once again visited the bottomland forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve begun to focus my attention during my wanderings more and more on the forest canopy, the photosynthesis engines of our incredible terrestrial ecosystems. I’ve discovered that my iPhone’s “selfie function” serves a purpose far more valuable than taking my own mug shot. I reverse the shutter direction, hold the phone horizontally at waist level, extend my arm far enough to remove my cap’s bill from the image, and snap a photo vertically of the crown above me. The images are pure magic; here’s one among others that I’ll reflect on later in this Blog Post.

 

Look for more such images as I continue my forest wanderings. I’m finding glee, inspiration, and magic by gazing above. Each image stirs me to think deeply about Nature’s art, as well as the science of my forestry and applied ecology disciplinary roots.

View from the Tennessee River

 

I wandered that day west of the bottomland forest onto a causeway from where I photographed the forest profile to the west across fields intentionally winter-flooded for migratory waterfowl.

Refuge RoadRefuge Road

 

Here’s the nearer forest northeast and southeast of where I stood, providing a similar and closer profile of the forest where I captured the many crown images deeper in this Blog Post. Although the images belie the reality, these forests contain dominant trees reaching heights in excess of 100 feet.

Refuge Road

 

This image of a strip of bottomland hardwoods, drawn in with the telephoto function, gives a truer representation of vertical scale.

Refuge Road

 

The Hardwood Bottomland Forest Up Close

 

All but the most elevated sites within the bottomland forests retain some surface water this time of year. This is typical inundation; most areas I can explore without encountering depths greater than 3-6 inches.

Interior

 

I swung the camera at the same photo point first to 30 degrees (below left), then to 60 degrees, placing the afternoon sun behind the tree’s upper bole. The crown architecture varies by species. Merriam-Webster defines dendritic as resembling or having dendrites, that is, branching like a tree. Dendritic is a common pattern employed by Nature for gathering, whether it’s the tree accessing sunlight in the canopy, tree roots exploiting the soil below ground for its bounty of moisture, nutrients, and aeration, or animal nervous systems feeding information to our brain, or our circulatory system returning blood to the heart, or a stream network collecting water into trickles, runs, creeks, and rivers, routing surface flow to the oceans. The dendritic network system functions well enough that Nature has universally adopted it, and dictionary writers have used tree branching to define the term.

Interior

 

I see poetry, art, and a spirit-presence in the tree-top backlit by the sun (above right). I observe often in these Posts that I prefer Nature paintings that look like the real thing, and I see no better artwork than Nature’s own images (photographs that remind me of artwork). I would hang the image above right, properly matted and framed, on my office wall!

A New Perspective: A Growing Fascination with the Canopy

 

The power of my new-found discovery of the forest canopy is what now directs my attention into the canopy above me as I explore the forest realm. I realize that the canopy exploration season will pause with full leaf-out. I am drafting these words April 10, a time of rapid foliation. I am trying to squeeze leafless canopy appreciation into these final 7-10 days before the show ends. Yes, I will continue to gaze vertically during the growing season, but I expect relative disappointment. Regardless, I promise to report back to you as the growing season unfolds. Although the water-saturated site above is common within the hardwood bottoms, I am devoting the remainder of these photos to an upland (perhaps five elevation feet higher), better-drained, loblolly pine-dominated stand.

Refuge Road

 

Here’s the 60-degree view into the crowns reaching 100-plus feet into the heavens.

Refuge Road

 

And, the vertical views below peer up and into a pine-dominated, stand of loblolly and mixed hardwoods. Note that the individual pine crowns do not touch their neighbors, in contrast to the more common conception that the entire canopy is a vast network of overlapping and interlacing branches. The hardwood branches that from this perspective appear interlaced are, instead, sub-dominant canopy hardwoods below the dominant pine crowns.

Jolly B Road

 

I plan to study crown structure more intensely next fall and winter. In the meantime I’ll begin discerning what I can of our fully-foliated summer forests.

Jolly B Road

 

I decided to isolate a single nearly two-foot diameter loblolly, among the larger individuals, and shoot up along its high-reaching trunk, which supports the crown far above. This view typifies what the forestry field terms crown shyness. Its extended branches simply do not touch the adjacent pine neighbors. The trees demand reasonable social distancing. To be clear, the trees are practicing what has been genetically hard-wired into them. If the adjacent crowns interlaced across this boundary, any stem-bole wind-bowing and rocking would result in branch/foliage friction, wounding, and breaking.

Jolly B Road

 

Bear with me as I deepen my knowledge and understanding through observation and digging into the literature.

Another Tree Story

I often observe in these Posts that every tree (and every stand and forest parcel) has a story to tell. This oak earlier in its life forked within a foot of the ground. Two or three decades ago, the fork nearer to the camera broke away leaving a wound where the twin severed from the remaining stem. The twin snapped long enough ago that no decaying evidence of it is evident on the ground nearby. Since the event, the surviving stem has slowly calloused over the wound. Within another decade or so, the visible hole will have healed over, likely leaving a base hollowed from decay introduced at the time of breakage.

Jolly B Road

 

Spring Emerges

 

This spring beauty, one of earliest spring ephemerals, greeted me March 7, marking for me the first unofficial day of the season!

Jolly B Road

 

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early March trek through the bottomland forest:

  • The forest’s visible action occurs high above us.
  • Her invisible dynamism lies beneath our feet in the soil.
  • The forest is a living miracle of  science and beauty. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

A New (for me) Tree Growth Phenomenon

I’ll begin this Post with the teaser photograph immediately below, offering it without explanatory text, which you’ll see after the A First Time Encounter heading.

HGH Road

 

A forester, I’ve long found fascination in tree form… whether the veneer-quality cherrybark oak below left, or the distorted, burly Bigfoot oak below right. I’ve included these photos in previous Posts. So, I won’t include any location or explanatory text. My real intent is to lead to revealing more about the unique curiosity in the photo above.

HGH Road

Common Oddities on Living Trees

 

The two photos above capture the range of tree form I’ve encountered across my Alabama forest wanderings, and that I have discussed in prior Posts. These two curiosities below result from non-fatal viral or fungal infections and the resultant growth abnormalities.

HGH RoadTree Form Oddities

 

As does this odd form associated with a broken and now calloused-over branch stub.

 

And, this curiosity originated with a severed (e.g., wind breakage) companion bole (a twin stem), which left an infection court (the wound) for decay fungi that are actively hollowing the trunk and misshaping the base.

Jolly B

 

I now have a full portfolio of odd tree forms and curiosities, including the spherical two-foot diameter burl below left and the primitive spirit face below right. Both are viral or fungal-triggered growth abnormalities.

Monte Sano

Less Common Curiosities

 

Root grafts with an adjacent living tree of the same species maintain active growth in the remaining rind of this yellow poplar stump, which is root-grafted to a large and vibrant yellow poplar tree just off-camera. The pole-sized (12-inch root collar diameter) trunk fell long enough ago that even its decaying remains are no longer present.

 

This poplar lost its twin fork (again, wind?) likely decades previous. The raw wound continues to callous and within another decade the scar will have closed. Decay fungi are nearly certain to be consuming interior wood.

 

These two beech stumps (eight and twelve inches diameter, respectively) enjoy root grafts with a mature beech nearby.

 

Some in our contemporary popular literature attribute such oddities to a caring and nurturing parent tree, one that shows love and compassion for the unfortunate smaller neighbor. I say “rubbish.” Physical contact (above or below ground) of like species often results in a grafted union. I simply will not accept that such union has its basis in affection, love, emotional embrace or any form of tree-attributed anthropomorphism. In this case, the larger neighbor feels no sense of commitment, obligation, or adoptive spirit for the still-living stump. Instead, I believe that the reasons and explanations are physiological.

The plant physiology literature continues to explore the mechanism and its underlying evolutionary advantages. For example, some have postulated about the advantage to the vibrant living beech-neighbor via its grafted root-union with the above two stump-trees. Here’s my own assessment. By grafting to roots of the two stump-trees, the vibrant survivor now taps soil resources (water, nutrients, soil aeration) accessed and gathered from both its own original roots as well as the root system of the two stump-trees. I don’t buy the mother-love emotion rationale. So, rather than an act of commensalism (mutually advantageous partnership), the larger tree has out-competed the smaller (weaker) individuals, accelerating their demise… and now, via the graft union, the victor has appropriated the victims’ roots for its own purposes. All is fair in love and war… and, this is brutal combat. Love and peace are a myth among trees competing for scarce resources. Simply, to the victor go the spoils. Another iteration of Darwin’s survival of the fittest.

A First-Time Encounter

 

I have previously seen all of the examples above in my five decades of forest wanderings… some more frequently than others, but none have I seen rarely enough for me to dedicate an entire Post to its revelation and discussion. However, this one that I encountered February 24, 2021, within the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge spurred this Blog Post. The trunk and the 30x30x30″ cube are southern red oak. This adjacent growth anomaly brought to mind a piece of furniture lying on the forest floor, a portable barked-artifact that could be moved and repositioned. However, rest assured, it is securely anchored. I believe that, like the two beech stumps, this table owes its origin to a broken stump with roots grafted to the surviving southern red oak tree.

HGH Road

 

I offer four quarter-views to complete the 360 perspective. I feel somewhat like the magician giving a full-round view of the box his assistant has just entered… after he has closed the lid and before he begins sawing the container into two halves. I don’t want the reader to think I have hidden some secret facet of this forest anomaly.

HGH Road

 

I examined it time and again, marveling at its mystery.

HGH Road

 

Yet, isn’t almost everything in Nature a mystery of sorts? I recently found an apt Albert Einstein quote: It’s not that one thing is a miracle, but that the whole thing is a miracle. If not a miracle, then certainly a wonder, just one more element of Nature’s capacity to intrigue, inspire, and lift us. This barked-table…this astounding growth abnormality…falls within Nature’s trick-bag, her infinite reservoir of magic that stirs my imagination and stimulates the forest scientist within me to ponder and seek to understand.

I know from both my science discipline and my lifelong Nature addiction that nothing she presents should surprise me. Leonardo da Vinci observed 500 years ago:

While human ingenuity may devise various inventions to the same ends, it will never devise anything more beautiful, nor more simple, nor more to the purpose than nature does, because in her inventions nothing is lacking and nothing is superfluous.

Although this particular curiosity puzzles me, I know that the effect falls within Nature’s own laws. Again, da Vinci:

Necessity is the theme and the inventress, the eternal curb and law of nature. Nature never breaks her own laws.

As I’ve written many times during the frequent occasions when I’ve pondered Nature’s causes and effects, I’ve often wished I could travel back in time in decadal increments, returning to the series of events leading to creating phenomenon like this barked-table anomaly.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from contemplating Nature’s odd handiwork:

  • Nature’s capacity to intrigue and inspire is without limit
  • Grand mystery awaits the observant student of Nature
  • The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding Nature

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

Adding a New Dimension to my Tree Appreciation

I’ve observed since my undergraduate forestry education that trees grow taller on richer sites, a fact that doesn’t require a bachelors degree to confirm. The central Appalachian forests where I worked undergraduate summers clearly evidenced the correlation. Forests on lower concave slopes facing the northeast quadrant (i.e. cove sites) performed best, with white and red oaks, yellow poplar, cucumber trees, black cherry, white ash, basswood, and sugar maple standing fat and reaching tall. Upper convex positions supported chestnut oak, red maple, Virginia pine, beech, and mixed oaks standing far shorter and with fewer and smaller stems per acre. Upper west and south facing slopes performed poorest of all. Fifteen years later, my doctoral research quantified the relationship between such site factors and forest productivity within the Allegheny Hardwood forests of NW PA and SW NY. The same relationships hold in our southern Appalachians. Cove sites win the mountain tree-height medals. Here in north Alabama, our river bottomlands likewise reign supreme.

Since retirement, I’ve wandered our north Alabama wildlands observing much about soil-site and tree relationships, without aid of an instrument for measuring tree height. Alas, I’ve purchased a clinometer (measures vertical percent and degrees) and a 100-foot tape (below left). I celebrate being able to measure standing tree height. It’s so simple — measure 100 feet from the tree base and read percent down to the tree base (I’ve been using it to-date in relatively flat bottomland forests) and up to the center-top. For example, I measured a sweetgum recently: five percent down to base and 108 to the top. Add the two to reveal the tree’s 113-foot height. I plan to often include tree heights in future blog Posts as I continue to explore north Alabama wildness. Standing 100 feet from the base, Jerry Weisenfeld takes a reading to the tree top.

 

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

I offer with this Post some of my early measurements from the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge bottomland hardwood forests (February 24, 2021) and on the Flint River floodplain forests at the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary (February 25, 2021).

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

 

This 21.8-inch diameter shagbark hickory stands at 115 feet. Until procuring the clinometer, I could only estimate with eyes long-removed from my active forestry research days. My once reliable estimating skill had faded with the years. Now I can begin to recalibrate!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

A 20.3-inch diameter chinkapin oak stands at 110 feet. For rough comparison, that’s equivalent to an 11-story building!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Yellow poplars are often the tallest trees I encounter. This 32.9-inch diameter specimen stands at 118 feet. As I begin to incorporate height measurements into these Posts, I will reflect more deeply on the relationship between site quality and height, and the ongoing battle among trees for light, water, and nutrients.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Across the Refuge’s bottomland forests, loblolly pine intermixes as microsite shifts towards better drained soils. The loblolly (dead center in photo below), 100 feet from where I stood, is 24.7 inches in diameter and reaches 114 feet above the forest floor. These 100-foot-plus heights are impressive enough when viewed from below. However, I imagine standing on the roof of an 11-story building, gazing with head spinning (I am not comfortable with heights) over the edge to the ground way-too-far below!

HGH Road

 

Rich riparian sites along the Tennessee River, combined with our annual rainfall at 55 inches, produce forests worthy of admiration and inspiration!

Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary

 

Although not along the Tennessee River, the Sanctuary is similarly riparian-situated along the Flint River. This 22.0-inch diameter sweetgum reaches 113 feet into the canopy. The two photographs immediately below show the 100-foot tape attached to the base (left) and with the view along the tape back to the base (right). I’ve discovered that my trusty iPhone camera does not depict horizontal distances as I wish. The tree 100-feet away appears as tiny and insignificant.

 

Yet, under it, peering into the crown, the tree stands impressively.

 

I’m fascinated with tree height and the intense competition for available upper-canopy sunlight.

Gazing into the Canopy

 

I am growing fonder and fonder of the vertical forest perspective, gazing directly into the business end of our sylvan citizens. In fact, I vow to spend more time lying on my back looking into the canopy. I’ll make sure the area where I recline is free of snakes, poison ivy, and other distractions!

HGH Road

 

Over the course of my many years in forest practice, I seldom assumed such position. Now, retired, I will do as I please. No worry about appearing to loaf! In fact, I won’t accept the term loafing. Instead, we’ll refer to it as reclined deep contemplation!

HGH Road

 

Contemplation that triggers youthful memories. I recall summer days as a youngster, lying on my back peering skyward, and feeling as though I might fall up into the sky. I feel an echo of those childhood sensations as I now gaze into the canopy, drawing out greater appreciation for the ten-story height, somewhat mimicking a reverse fear of heights, a mirror-version of being on the rooftop looking down. One may think me odd, yet I accept the sensation with glee. Anything I can do mentally to deepen my appreciation for scale assists my embrace of Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations:

  • Understanding the forest requires gazing into the canopy
  • Good grounding and rich nourishment make all the difference… in tree height, and in people’s character 
  • A scientist, I multiply my admiration and inspiration with measurement

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, Humble, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

HGH Road

All Three Books

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

A Magnificent Cherrybark Oak on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

I revisited the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (near Huntsville, Alabama) January 29, 2021. I wandered this time through a stand I had not previously entered. I characterize this stand as two-aged, a 70-90 year-old matrix punctuated with much older individuals, perhaps 120-plus years. I stood in amazement admiring this 52-inch-diameter (4.5 feet above the ground) cherrybark oak (Quercus pagoda), standing tall, straight, and occupying at least a quarter of an acre of main canopy area. This species is one of the most highly valued red oaks in the southern United States. It commonly grows on moist, rich sites, such as this terrace above the seasonally water-logged lower bottomlands, which in late January supported ankle-deep standing water. Its strong wood and straight form make it an excellent timber tree. Many wildlife species use its acorns as food.

HGH Road

 

Drawing from my years in the forest products industry, I saw two sixteen-foot veneer quality logs and a third high quality timber log up to the base of the spreading crown. The tree is at least 100 feet tall.

HGH Road

 

It stands regally among surrounding individuals within the younger forest. Its wide-reaching crown evidences that it did not face overwhelming competition from individuals growing alongside it. Even the larger trees beyond it do not express the dominating crown features of this object of my deep admiration. I do not limit my appreciation to this specimen’s timber value. In fact, now, 40 years since I left the Paper and Allied Products Manufacturing sector,  I pay little heed to commercial timber value. Instead, I see a magnificent living organism, one standing (literally) the test of time. Whether hugging its girth to extend my diameter tape or standing back to snap these two lower images, my heart soared with delight. In retrospect, I should have sat awhile nearby… as one would sit in a cathedral, intent on resonating with its spiritual aura, and making sacred connection.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

My cherrybark oak was not the only member of its age class. I found two white oaks (Quercus alba) measuring 40- and 45-inches in diameter, respectively. Again, these individuals stand unique from the younger stand in which they are embedded. These two appear vibrant and healthy. Note, however, below right that a large neighboring red oak (Quercus rubra) has fallen directly toward the camera alongside the white oak, and lies decaying at the white oak’s base. The prostrate tree stood dead prior to falling, tumbling long after its roots lost firm grip on the soil. The distant base (at least 60 feet beyond the white oak) toppled with only coarse roots breaking, lifting no soil.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

When large living trees are blown over and uprooted, they lift a large volume of soil. I snapped this photograph of a wind-felled red oak February 9, 2021, as I bushwhacked a nearby bottomland within a half-mile of the two white oaks. This nearby site evidenced a higher water table, and shallower rooting zone than where the cherrybark and two white oaks grew. Still, this individual lifted 8-10 inches of soil, holding tightly to the roots standing 15 feet tall.

HGH Road

 

Just a hundred yards from the white oaks, this 48-inch diameter red oak stands dead, its top decaying and dropping, branch by branch. At some point the remaining top will fall earthward or, like the red oak that had fallen alongside the white oak, it will let loose from its roothold. One might ponder what agent or cause is weakening or killing these forest giants. Absent seeing direct evidence of disease and rot, lightning strike, or other physical injury, I pose a simple answer: Old Age and Natural Causes. I’ve said often that life and death dance an ongoing forest waltz. Nothing in Nature is static. Although individual trees die, the forest goes on. The forest will not mourn the loss of any one tree. Instead, it recycles the fiber and nutrients that composed the regal old soldier.

HGH Road

 

Our bottomland forest systems are closed. The progression of life and death recycles and reuses, demonstrated convincingly in this stand, where dead and down woody biomass may exceed the volume standing.

 

I never tire of the stories our forests tell to the patient and persistent observer. Dynamism is the predominant theme. The cycle of life and death defines the forest.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late January trek through the riparian forest:

  • Dynamism is a recurring forest theme
  • The cycle of life and death defines the forest
  • Each tree tells a story, demanding forest sleuthing 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Indian Marker Trees: Separating Folklore from Fact

January 22, 2021, I revisited the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I bushwhack this area at least monthly, especially during the dormant season, when understory vegetation is leafless, briars are easier to avoid, mushrooms are more visible, sweating must be earned, and redbugs, ticks, and biting insects are absent. Sure, saturated soils and some standing water (see below right) often re-route my passage, but waterproof boots handle all but the swampiest locales.

I decided in advance that on this visit, in addition to remaining alert for edible mushrooms, I would focus my attention and camera lens on Indian marker trees. The June 2017 online Treehugger:

If you’ve ever encountered a bent tree while hiking in North American woods, you may have simply happened upon a tree that was bowed by weather, disease or other natural causes. However, you might have stumbled upon an ancient trail marker created by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Known as trail trees, these markers were used to designate trails, crossing points on streams, medicinal sites to find plants, and areas of significance like council circles.

The online Trail Tree Project offers additional insight:

Hiking along the crest of our mountain ridge in North Georgia, one has little question that the bent trees along the path are the living relics of a lost civilization. Even a century and a half after the Cherokees were shipped west along the Trail of Tears, the shape of the trees themselves maintain the sharp angles that characterize human design rather than the gentle curves that nature carves with wind and climate – curves amply expressed in the neighboring trees. And, in this area, they seem to connect well known Cherokee tribal sites. But how can we know for sure? They’re not particularly huge trees to be centurions. Could their placement on the mountain crests roughly paralleling the path of the original Appalachian Trail have some simple physical explanation? How can we be certain that this isn’t just another romantic rural legend?

I offer this Post to shed some light on whether the tree form oddities and curiosities I encountered can be traced to Native American trail markings, memorials, or other physical demarcations of significant features. I’ve noticed that many of my trail-trekking acquaintances accept the romanticism of “seeing” Native American presence in our forests, embracing the palpable “evidence” of our present day connection to the Native populations forced to leave these lands for western reservations more than 150 years ago. Some see the two sweetgum trees below as interpretable messages left behind. There is no doubt that both trees point to something. I spent years managing industrial forestlands in the southeastern USA, where we achieved maximum timber value production on lands well-suited to intensive management (planting genetically improved stock, competition control, fertilization, and thinning). In gest, I often point out to colleagues that any two trees in our natural stands are arranged in a straight line. Of course they are — just as any leaning tree “points” to something.

The tree below right reminds me of a long-necked green-skinned reptile, head high above the photo frame, with its left foreleg (we can assume one on the other side as well) leading the creature toward the standing water ahead. Both trees at some point suffered a near-crushing blow from above, slamming the then-seedling/sapling to the ground. The left-frame individual sent two shoots (now twin main stems) from the point where the original smashed tree lost its top. The other bent severely, but was not damaged sufficiently to prevent it righting itself, straightening, and reaching toward the vertical again.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

During my nine-year faculty and administrative tenure at Penn State University, I often conducted weekend forestry workshops for forest landowners, who almost invariably believed that Pennsylvania’s forests date back as far as “the time of Christ.” However, most of that state’s forests had been clearcut at least once by the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century. Original and old-growth stands are rare. Similarly, most of north Alabama’s forests had been harvested at least once by 1900… nearly a half a century since most Natives had been ushered west. The particular stand I hiked January 22, had been clearcut to prepare for flooding of Lake Wheeler once the TVA completed Wheeler Dam construction and began filling the impoundment. These bottomland hardwood forests occupy lands acquired with purchase of what is now submerged, serving as a TVA-owned buffer to the reservoir. No Native American has hunted or foraged in these forests since well before the TVA acquired and clearcut them. Every tree form oddity and curiosity I encountered originated from Nature acting unassisted by the hand of man.

Like the two individuals above, some force (falling branch, top, or tree) brought a younger version of the trees toward the horizontal. Both “recovered” by sending shoots vertically from the bent saplings. Were these the result of Native American handiwork, what message would you take from the convoluted branching below left? I just visited some of the Indian marker trees (or thong trees) web sites. I see images of larger trees that look just like the tree below left… trees old old enough, I suppose, to have been shaped by the work of Native Americans. Yet, I remind myself and readers that the forest I trekked is no more than 100 years old. In 1831, the U.S. government forced Native Americans to leave their homes in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama and relocate to Oklahoma, the procession westward becoming known as the Trail of Tears. We can deduce that any Native American-created marker trees would now be at least 190 years old.

HGH Road HGH Road

The area I hiked supports an even-aged forest naturally regenerated 70-90 years ago. The Native Americans that had roamed this land for 13,000 years, had already been forcibly relocated 100 years before all of the trees in these photos first reached for sunlight. Every tree form oddity and curiosity I encountered is the work of Nature, unassisted by human design, leather thongs, or purposed directional bending. I’ll repeat a 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci quote that I use frequently in my speaking and writing:

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

Please know that I am not debunking the notion that Native Americans had learned and applied a means of marking trails, springs, villages, burial grounds, and other such places and memorials of significance. I offer da Vinci’s observation only to remind us that those remarkable first Americans simply borrowed from Nature’s toolkit. Long before Native Americans crossed the Bering Land Bridge and ventured south and east into our state, trees and heavy branches had fallen onto other trees, bending, breaking, and laying them toward the horizontal. Through her inventions, Nature found ways to deal with those physical abuses. Recall the axiom: Necessity is the mother of invention. The driving imperative across Nature is to survive and reproduce, to ensure species (and individual) sustainability.

da Vinci also observed, Necessity is the mistress and guardian of Nature.

HGH Road HGH Road

 

Every tree in this photo-series suffered physical damage… and survived, continuing to reach into the canopy and achieve seed-bearing age. Native Americans survived and thrived over 13 millennia by learning from Nature and living in harmony with her. I am certain that they learned from Nature how to create marker trees. This sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), bent severely as a sapling, sent three sprouts vertically.

HGH Road HGH Road

 

The two sweetgum trees below recovered from being slammed to the ground as a seedling/sapling, and sending sprouts vertically, now reaching into the intermediate canopy.

HGH Road HGH Road

 

The pattern of battery and recovery repeats often and continuously. We’ve all heard the human wisdom, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I am not suggesting that these trees are stronger because the fates dropped a branch on them. Instead, Nature prepares for any eventuality.

HGH Road HGH Road

 

Our esteemed da Vinci did not miss much, observing that:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

I won’t speculate on the injury and response mechanism that shaped the two forms below. Nor did da Vinci, knowing the infinite range of possibilities within Nature, try to imagine and catalog all possibilities:

Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience.

HGH Road HGH Road

 

More than two centuries ago, English poet William Cowper observed, Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour. I found a forest of rich variety as I roamed the January bottomland forest.

HGH Road

 

I’ve travelled through time for nearly 70 years (at a constant pace of 60-minutes-per-hour) and made 13 interstate moves. We have friends who have across those seven decades resided in the same town where we graduated high school. They have lived deep; Judy and I have lived wide. I’ve now visited this bottomland hardwood forest a dozen times. My understanding is deepening. Each visit opens my eyes to the incredible richness of variety:

  • Hour by hour
  • Day to day
  • Season to season
  • Tree by tree
  • Stand by stand

Nothing in Nature is static. With his timeless wisdom, da Vinci noted, Nature never breaks her own laws. Whether instigated by a falling branch or guided by the hand of man securing a rawhide binding, Nature follows her own laws. She worries not of the cause (man or gravity-induced fate), but simply applies her wisdom to secure species/individual sustainability.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late November trek through the bottomland forest:

  • Everything in Nature occurs in accord with her own immutable laws
  • Folklore and fancy often reach beyond reality
  • Yet, woods-lore enriches our appreciation of Wildness

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Bottomland Hardwood Tree Form Oddities

I returned November 30 mid-morning to the eastern end of nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. As is often the case for my Refuge excursions, I bushwhacked through the bottomland hardwood forests. I saw and photographed enough magic and wonder to yield two Blog Posts. I focused the first one last week on the fungi and non-flowering plants I encountered:

I celebrate the bottomland hardwood and its forest tree oddities and curiosities with this second Post. I hope you’ll pardon a little mirthful image play!

The Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

Typical of these very productive bottomlands along the Tennessee River (now Lake Wheeler), the forests are diverse, generally 70-90 years old, and 80 to well over 100 feet tall. During this walk I found a recently wind-thrown oak and paced its height (well, okay, its length) at 112 feet. The point is, these are rich sites.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Although there is nothing unusual about this shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), the species’ signature bark is a curiosity in and of itself. Some species of bats seek shelter under the bark strips. I have long been a fan of shagbark hickory, even when as a practicing forester I had to maneuver my diameter tape under the strips to make an accurate measurement of a tree’s diameter. The sawyer doesn’t care what the diameter is of the shagginess; he cares only about the wood and its merchantable yield.

HGH Road

 

Okay, now I enter the realm of true tree form oddities and curiosities.

Tree Form Curiosities

 

Bear with me. Upon encountering this misshapen sugar maple (Acer saccharum), I snapped a photo because of its distorted burl shape, the few small stems protruding from surface warts, and its profuse covering of mosses. It wasn’t until I inserted the photo in this Post that I noticed the image of my favorite Wookie, Chewbacca, gazing to the forward right, just like he is in the photo I borrowed from a uncredited website.

HGH Road

Why Chewbacca Should've Died in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I discovered no hidden images in this wounded sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) that is fighting a losing battle with heart rot. The stem is attempting to callous over the old wound even as the decay is eating more deeply and most likely extending upward into the trunk. Keep in mind that the fungi is consuming only dead wood, the structural and load-bearing interior wood. Only the rind of any tree constitutes the living cambium, the conducting xylem and phloem tissue. Apparent in this view is that some living creature (e.g. chipmunk. squirrel, bird, insect) is working to increase the hollow, depositing excavated woody debris from within. The fight will continue until some tipping point is reached or the tree succumbs from other causes.

HGH Road

 

The Morton Arboretum website describes cankers, the growths below on a red oak species and a hickory: A ‘canker’ is really a symptom of an injury often associated with an open wound that has become infected by a fungal or bacterial pathogen. Canker diseases frequently kill branches or structurally weaken a plant until the infected area breaks free, often in a wind or ice storm. These are classic specimens. In effect, they act as benign tumors… a non fatal cancer. Both the oak and the hickory seemed otherwise healthy, the structural weakness not manifesting any detectable deterioration of tree vigor and vitality.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

This oak stands adjacent to the HGH access road, which leads me back to the gravel lot and my car after my forest ramblings. I’ve seen it many times, giving my brain ample time to construct a vivid image.

HGH Road

 

 

A visage that takes me back to my days as Vice Chancellor at NC State University, home of the Wolfpack. The wolf with the cap greets me with an imagined wink when I pass. No menacing growl from this canine. More a faint good-natured smile. I suppose that were I a Duke Blue Devil or a Carolina Tar Heel (bitter rivals of the Wolfpack on the field of play), the thinly concealed grin would transform to a vicious snarl!

NC State Wolfpack Team Spirit Bottle Cap Wall Sign-Wolfpack on White

Big Bad Wolf Gray wolf, bad, vertebrate, cartoon, fictional Character png | PNGWing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, nothing fanciful with this tortured sweetgum, yet another individual fighting the good fight with heart rot. The swollen trunk signals deep decay. Fungi fruiting bodies along the left side suggest cambium on that side is dying. Fighting the good fight may be an overstatement; this tree is, it appears, losing the good fight. As I have said with nearly every one of my forest Posts, life and death operate hand-in-hand. Nothing mirthful about the situation facing this sweetgum.

HGH Road

 

If possible, this oak may be in even worse straits, its life on the edge. Again, it wasn’t until I placed the photo in this Post that I saw proof that we are in Alabama, home of the National Championship Crimson Tide and its mascot Big Al. The photo speaks for itself.

HGH RoadBryant-Denny Stadium – Alabama Crimson Tide | Stadium Journey

 

The woods are filled with fanciful images and faces. I suppose they are, in fact, as Robert Frost proclaimed in Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, lovely, dark and deep. Not dark and sinister, foul and repugnant, nor teeming with savage beasts. These bottomland hardwood forests fill me with their beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Hardwoods Straight and Tall

 

I captured these two photos during a previous visit this past summer, depicting the forest in its full majestic glory. Trees stout and towering… no tortured forms nor blemishes. These are the trees of forest glamour magazines, with coifed hair, flattering makeup, fresh from the gym, six-pack abs, and just-right lighting. Except that these are the real thing… no photo-shopping. Yet, this isn’t Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Even these rich sites produce forests of mixed vintage, with trees ranging from the beauties below to the misshapen forms and curiosities above. I suppose such is the way of Nature. Variety, in point of fact, whether within forests or of human populations, is the spice of life, survival, and evolution.

Jolly B RoadJolly B

 

Beauty surely is in the eye of the beholder. Retired Steve sees magnificence across the forest spectrum.

Amazing Find

 

November 30 brought a big surprise, one of a very positive nature. August 8, 2020, I had bushwhacked this same bottomland forest. When I emerged onto the gravel road for trekking back to my vehicle, I noticed the empty selfie-stick sling at my side. I re-entered the woods to search, the forest rich with undergrowth all about me. See the two photos immediately above. While not impenetrable thickets, the forest floor is not bare and open to finding an 18-inch collapsed telescoping rod. I abandoned the search after 30 minutes of trying to retrace the rambling pathway I had taken. On each subsequent trundle through these woods, perhaps three times since mid-August, I stayed alert for the rod, without success. As I was nearing the road for my return to the parking area, I saw a shiny object in the autumn leaf litter several feet ahead. Only the two-inch square reflecting pad (below) peeked through the litter, the rest of the rod effectively hidden!

HGH Road

 

I observe often that Nature keeps much of her beauty, magic, wonder, and awe hidden in plain sight. Apparently that is not all she hides. So, November 30, 2020, proved to be a good day. Lots of fungi, ferns, and mosses; fanciful tree form oddities and curiosities; a months-long missing piece of equipment revealed to a forest wanderer (and wonderer)!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my late November trek through the early winter riparian forest:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest… whether in towering trees or in strange and distorted sylvan Nature-creations
  • Each tree tells a story, demanding forest sleuthing and, occasionally, vivid imagination

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Winter Ferns, Fungi, Mosses, and Lichens

I make it often to the eastern end of nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, occasionally issuing Blog Posts from my ventures, for example: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/

I returned November 30 mid-morning on what for north Alabama was an unusually cold day following a wet (0.91″) overnight cold frontal passage. During my hike, a strong northwesterly breeze brought spits of sleet from time to time. Later that evening after I had returned home the sleet transitioned to snow flurries. That’s a big deal for us!

As is often the case for my Refuge excursions, I bushwhacked through a bottomland hardwood forest. I saw and photographed enough magic and wonder to yield two Blog Posts. I focus this first one on the fungi and non-flowering plants I encountered.

Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

But first, a broad introduction to the bottomland hardwood forest. These are rich sites, supporting high canopies of mixed species, including poplar, diverse oaks, hickories, sweetgum, elm, beech, and others.  Although I still have not purchased an instrument to measure tree height, I did find a recently downed oak that I stepped off at 112 feet. Tree height (at an indexed base age) is the best indicator of site quality in closed forests. I conducted my doctoral research on estimating site quality in the Allegheny Hardwood forests of SW NY and NW PA. I’m partial to deciduous forests…and consider these Tennessee River bottomland stands particularly impressive and inspiring. Before I shift to the associated fungi and non-flowering plants, I offer these representative photos of the stands I explored November 30.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Revealing another bias, this one seasonal, I so welcome the dormant season with cooler temperatures, no ticks, red bugs, or mosquitoes, no obscuring foliage, desiccated ground cover, and unobstructed views deep into the surrounding forest.

Fungi

 

Best of all, relevant to this Post, fungi are visible, even at distance. I can spot them and go to them, rather than awaiting them to appear as I proceed through the sometimes dense undergrowth during the growing season. However, the easier passage through the forest does not magically sharpen my ability to identify mushrooms. I’m still climbing a very steep learning curve. I will offer tentative identification on many based upon my iNaturalist iPhone App crutch, but even these without great confidence.

Both of these, I believe are species of Trametes, a common hardwood forest decay fungus. Because this forest is 70-90 years old, some overstory trees are fading from the stand, dying in place, losing large branches, uprooting, and otherwise crashing to the ground. Dead and down woody debris is within sight nearby wherever I stopped to observe my surroundings. As I’ve often observed, death is a constant participant in the life of our forests.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

There is no reason for me to introduce the following images by describing my uncertainty. Instead, I will simply say, for example, here is smoky polypore (Bjerkandera adjusta). Accept, unless I indicate otherwise, that implicit in my statement is “at least that is what I think this species is or may be.” From iNaturalist, “Bjerkandera adjusta, commonly known as the smoky polypore or smoky bracket, is a species of fungus in the family Meruliaceae. It is a plant pathogen that causes white rot in live trees, but most commonly appears on dead wood. It was first described scientifically as Boletus adustus by Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1787.”

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Below is a species of Trametes, very common in our Alabama hardwood forests. Life and death and life and death… the cycle is continuous. Life never outruns death. Death, in turn, brings life. Perhaps if I were once again a young forest scientist I would strive to find answers to my questions about life and death in a typical Tennessee River bottomland hardwood forest:

  • Total biomass per acre
  • Living and dead
  • Tree, shrub, herbaceous
  • Animals from mega-fauna to micro-organisms
  • Above ground and below ground
  • Plant, animal, and fungi kingdoms
  • Annual carbon turnover
  • My list is long

Wood decay fungi are major players in this cycle of living and dying. And Trametes is not an insignificant character.

HGH Road

 

Violet-toothed polypore (Trichaptum biforme) is a multi-story inhabitant of this standing dead white oak.  Wikipedia, I find, often provides a succinct description: a species of poroid fungus in the order Hymenochaetales. It is a saprobe that decomposes hardwood stumps and logs. It is inedible. The tree, however, is not inedible — the fungi find it quite palatable! The tree will stand until its ever-weakening wood crosses a threshold where physics prevail in form of gravity, wind, ice, or lateral forces to bring the decaying wood back to its soil home, where it will give life-force to other living organisms.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

I am confident that the orange mushroom is crowded parchment (Stereum rameale), another common wood decay fungus, in this case sharing a downed branch with foliose and bearded lichen, a rich community…a natural work of art.

HGH Road

 

The corticioid fungi are a group of Basidiomycete fungi. Wikipedia offered some description of this group, paraphrased as: This group typically have effused, smooth fruiting bodies that are formed on the undersides of dead tree trunks or branches. They are sometimes colloquially called crust or patch fungi. This one was a bit soft and spongy to the touch. It clearly occupied a dead and down branch, and was not growing on the underside of a dead tree branch. I viewed this fungus as quite unusual. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve previously encountered it in my recent, more-mushroom-enlightened woods ramblings. So unusual that I imagined identification being easy! My iNaturalist could only observe, “We’re not confident enough to make a recommendation, but here are our top 10 suggestions.” None of them resembled my specimen. A 2021 New Year’s Resolution — spend some time in the forest with someone who knows local mycology far better than I!  

HGH Road

 

Another species of which I am somewhat certain, cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae), is a fungus of the family of Hymenochaetaceae. The fungus primarily infests black locusts, aided by openings caused by Megacyllene robiniae infestation, but also grows on various other trees such as Carya (hickory) and oak (Wikipedia). Although I find this species growing abundantly on dead black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), this individual is on an oak.

HGH Road

 

This one, too, is quite distinctive, Ganoderma sessile. It’s shiny lacquered-looking upper surface calls out to the passer-by, particularly vivid before, in this case, dulled by deep tannish spores from neighbors. The literature attributes medicinal value to this abundant wood decaying polypore.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

I am learning, slowly and surely… and pledge to even greater effort in 2021!

Lichens

 

Repeating my parchment mushroom photo from above, I give you a foliose lichen, and in the lower left a tuft of bearded lichen. As with the fungi, I need to learn more about lichens, a common resident in our southern forests. The US Forest Service offers one of the better descriptions I’ve encountered:

There are approximately 3,600 species of lichens in North America and those are just the ones we know about! New discoveries are being made every year. Lichens are found all across North America and all over the world. They are found in a vast diversity of habitats and climates, from the Sonoran desert on the Coronado National Forest, to the alpine tundra of Alaskan mountains on the Chugach National Forest, and in the tropical rainforests of the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.

Have you ever seen a lichen and knew that it was a lichen? Not many people know what lichens are, and who would? They seem as though they are from another planet! Lichens are bizarre organisms and no two are alike.

Lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga. The dominant partner is the fungus, which gives the lichen the majority of its characteristics, from its thallus shape to its fruiting bodies. The alga can be either a green alga or a blue-green alga, otherwise known as cyanobacteria. Many lichens will have both types of algae.

In North America alone, 3,600 known species! There will never be a paucity of things I do not know.

HGH Road

 

This bushy beard lichen is a member of the Usnea genus. I will attempt no further delineation, but surely a delightful organism of uncommon utility, beauty, and function.

HGH Road

 

Mosses and Ferns

 

From family Neckeraceae iNaturalist: “We’re pretty sure this is in the family N…” — Some compelling names among the top ten species: Tree-skirt moss; seductive entodon moss; dendroalsia moss; American tree moss. American tree moss has a nice ring to it.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Another New Year’s Resolution: spend some time in the forest with someone who knows local bryology far better than I!

I feel confident identifying this moss by genus. From the online Britannica: Hair-cap moss, also called pigeon wheat, any of the plants of the genus Polytrichum (subclass Bryidae) with 39–100 species; it often forms large mats in peat bogs, old fields, and areas with high soil acidity. About 10 species are found in North America. Hair cap moss is soft, delicate, and spring-green.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Here’s American tree moss with fully turgid resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides). I’ve included this fern occasionally in my Posts, with condition ranging from absolute desiccation to full flush in this case. For this tree- and rock-dwelling species, life is either feast or famine… and it copes quite well with the extremes.

HGH Road

 

Without attempting to identify the mushrooms, I offer this rich community of at least two species of fungi, thick American tree moss, and resurrection fern. Diversity is a common theme in these forests.

HGH Road

 

Once again, resurrection fern in its glory.

HGH Road

 

And our abundant Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), growing from Nova Scotia to Florida, and west to Minnesota and eastern Texas.

HGH Road

 

I love eastern hardwood forests, even as I am in love with our bottomland hardwood forests, where life is robust, diverse, and inspirational.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late November trek through the early winter riparian forest:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest… no matter the season
  • Trees alone do not make a forest
  • I am embarrassingly ignorant of forest fungi, lichens, and mosses!

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

TVA’s Marbut Bend Nature Preserve

October 26, 2020, I visited TVA’s Marbut Bend Trail, managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with fellow Nature enthusiast, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell. From the Marbut Bend Trail website (https://www.tva.com/environment/recreation/tva-trails/tva-trails-detail-page/marbut-bend-trail):

Looking for a lovely, hand-holding stroll for two? You’ll find it at TVA’s newly opened Marbut Bend Trail. This easy, flat and A.D.A.-accessible 1.1-mile walk will take you across boardwalks through a wetland and a pond created by a beaver dam, along the shoreline of two embayments (or coves) of the Elk River and through an open field filled with hay bails. The combination of wetland and field draws a lively mix of wildlife; expect to see migratory shore birds, wood ducks, blue-winged teals, great blue herons, egrets, deer, raccoons—and, of course, beavers. Throw out a blanket on the farmland and snuggle in for a romantic picnic. The trail is about 12 miles northwest of Athens, Alabama, on Hwy. 99.

I could not have prepared a better description. Located near Elk River’s entry to Wheeler Lake (the Tennessee River impoundment above TVA’s Wheeler Dam), Elk River at this point assumes the same level as the Lake. I spent little time off-trail. I do not intend for this Post to offer deep insight, reflection, and discussion of this very family-friendly slice of the broad Tennessee Valley. I feel more like a Chamber advocate than a naturalist with this Post. However, my motive for presenting this rather Nature-shallow Post aligns with my retirement Mission:

Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Anything I can do (and write) to encourage fellow citizens to immerse themselves in Nature helps achieve that mission. I had not heard of Marbut Bend Trail until Mike suggested we visit. I know that many residents of the Huntsville metropolitan area are also likewise ignorant of this wonderful preserve just 30 miles from city center. Importantly, all Huntsville citizens (USA) hold joint title to Marbut Bend, just as we do for all federal Forests, Parks, Preserves, Memorials, and Monuments.

So, allow me a quick catalog of natural features and landscapes along Marbut Bend Trail. Wet meadows and marshes dominate this view from the entrance.

Elk River

 

Diverse Wetland Habitats

I’m fascinated and inspired by wooden walkways across otherwise inaccessible ecotypes (below left). I snapped the lake image from a wooden deck later along the trail. Not visible in the photo are dozens of great egrets and a single great blue heron. Although a forester, I retain within me a closet meteorologist, obsessed with the firmament. The sky provides nuance and character to every Nature scene and viewscape, even as in and of itself the sky and its associated weather merit study and understanding. Perhaps this cloud deck presaged the October 28 deluge (I measured 3.25″) dumped by the remnants of hurricane Zeta. The lower right image confirms my memory of calmness, with not even a breeze to ripple its mirrored surface.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Excellent signage helps visitors understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature.

Elk River

 

Cattails grow in abundance (below left). Duckweed covered the water adjacent to the boardwalk (below right).

Elk RiverElk River

 

The cattails below left are releasing countless windborne seeds. The woolgrass is providing a feast for marauding birds. A fool for autumn, I cherish the signs, signals, and look of summer (hot, humid, persistent) in full retreat!

Elk River

Elk River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, signage assists the casual observer (and the forest naturalist) in understanding and appreciating Nature’s marsh-side wonder.

Elk River

 

Marbut Bend’s is a story of ecotones, one ecotype transitioning to another, including the forest edge with marsh (below left) and the forest edge to mudflat (below right). Wildlife of all manner capitalize on the panoply of habitats.

Elk RiverElk River

 

From upland forest to marsh to mudflat to open lake — a pure gift to biological diversity, all easily accessible along a well-maintained gravel path and boardwalk trail.

Elk River

 

This set of photos reminds me that there is a world of Nature’s inspiration close to home and within reach of a 1.1-mile easy stroll!

Upland Margins

Too dry for obligate wetland species, the transition zones support trees (shrubs) like black willow (Salix nigra; below left) and climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens; below right). Both species offered late October aesthetic value, the willow with its red twigs and the hempvine still in full flower.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Roundleaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) likewise occupied the transition and upland sites. Various birds will appreciate its contribution of ripe berries.

Elk River

 

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) verified the advance of autumn, providing a dash of fall color.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an aggressive invasive, and hickory (Carya sp.) likewise added seasonal color to the uplands.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Same for pawpaw (Asimina triloba) and basswood (Tilia americana) matching the hickory’s color.

Elk RiverElk River

 

 

 

 

 

I find our common mosses attractive occupants of forest floor, windthrow soil mounds, lower tree trunks, and rocks and outcrops. This patch has colonized and decorated a windthrow soil mound.

Elk River

 

 

I’ll end with a photo of an abrupt transition, where loblolly pine meets marsh. Mike stands in full appreciation of the vivid demarcation.

Elk River

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

A late October 1.1-mile hike at Marbut Bend Trail, a TVA property, afforded:

  • Diverse habitats
  • Rich biodiversity
  • Manifold fall indicators

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksElk River

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.