Sunday, November 18, 2007

Fall Colors

I was able to spend some time in a remote, off-the-beaten path glen in the Hocking Hills today, and it was well worth the hike. Many of the trees still retained splendid colors, and mosses and lichens are at their crusty best at this season. Following are a few of the few hundred photos that I snapped.

Sandstone outcrops define this site. A rocky mesa juts above the surrounding valleys, and the core rocks are fractured into crazy slump blocks. In places, it is like a rocky maze of narrow tunnels, each filled with a bed of newly fallen leaves.

The leaves still impressed. The orange-red mist is the foliage of Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum, our only tree in the heath family. It grows in the poor soils of rocky ridges, such as this one. The pale yellow leaves are those of Chestnut Oaks, Quercus prinus. It is another tree of acid ridgetop soils, and festoons sites like this in abundance.

That big, left-listing trunk is a Chestnut Oak. This photo really demonstrates the rocky nature of the ground they spring from. Soil on sites such as this is thin, and poor. A Chestnut Oak of this size will have taken lots of years to reach such girth. The bluish-green circular patches on the rocks are a type of lichen, Flavoparmelia baltimorensis. Lichens begin the long, long process of breaking down sandstone rock.

A Sourwood leaf adds an electric burst of flame to the somber tones of the bark of a Chestnut Oak. This old tree is garbed in thick coats of lichens, of several species. I believe these grayish foliose lichens are in the genus Hypotrachnya. Lichens are the products of commensal relationships between algae and fungus, collectively forming the organism we see above. They are hyper-sensitive to air pollution and are amongst the first organisms to vanish if air quality suffers.

North meets south in this special place. The rocky grotto in the backdrop is choked with a river of Great Rhododendron, Rhododendron maximum, in such profuse tangles that one might be excused for listening for Swainson's Warblers. This is nearly the northernmost outpost for this Appalachian heath. Overshadowing it are plenty of Eastern Hemlock trees (Tsuga canadensis), a northern tree nearing its southern limits here.

The stunted, twisted trunk of a Mountain-laurel, Kalmia latifolia. This smaller relative of the Great Rhododendron also has thick, fleshy evergreen leaves and is still bright. The gnarled trunks resemble wild bonsai, especially this one, as it springs from a lush bed of pincushion moss (genus Leucobryum).

The last wild flowers of the year - Witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, right on schedule. November is the time to look for the spindly pale yellow blooms dangling from the barren branches of these small, multi-trunked woodland shrubs. It's easy to miss them, and easy to wonder how you missed them once you see them.

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1 comment:

Jana said...

Thanks for the spectacular pictures and tour of some interesting facets of Hocking Hills.