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Spring in the Smokies April 11, 2015

Posted by Jenny in hiking, Life experience, nature, plants, Smoky Mountains, White Mountains.
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Nodding trillium.

Nodding trillium.

Hooray! I saw a trillium blooming today. As I started along my hike, I saw many trilliums that weren’t quite blooming yet. As I usually do, I go up the trail at a fairly good pace just for the aerobic benefits, and then as I come back down I stop and look more carefully and take photos. I kept thinking, “Somewhere I will see a trillium in bloom.”

As I got back down toward the trailhead, I was looking more and more closely among those unblooming trilliums. Surely I would find one at least that had erupted into blossom. Hate to say it, but I did not find it in some remote pristine area. It was almost back to my car. (Could the heat from my radiator have caused it to bloom? Ha, ha! No, not quite!) Actually, the woods near this trailhead are quite pretty.

To take the photo above, I very gently lifted the blossom on its stem and placed it atop one of the three leaves so that I could take its picture. (I couldn’t quite ask it to “say cheese.”) The trouble with nodding plants is that they hide from the camera. After I took the photo, I equally gently placed it back in the nodding position.

What follows is just a typical range of what you see in the Smokies in the miraculous month of April. I am not absolutely sure of all my plant identifications and I welcome corrections.

By the way, this place is not at all one of the famous Smokies wildflower spots. I won’t even tell you where it is (if anyone figures it out, I will be somewhat surprised). This is not Porters Flats with the carpets of phacelia, or Chestnut Top with its amazing variety.

This is just ordinary Smokies in spring.

Rue anemone.

Rue anemone.

Chickweed.

Chickweed.

 

Hairy buttercup.

Hairy buttercup.

Violets. According to one source, there are 31 species of violets in the Smokies. I will not try to specify any of my violets.

Violets. According to one source, there are 31 species of violets in the Smokies. I will not try to specify any of my violets.

One of these violets has a small insect enjoying itself.

One of these violets has a small insect enjoying itself.

Fuzzy new ferns.

Fuzzy new ferns.

Geraniums. An insect also visits here.

Geraniums. An insect also visits here (the left blossom).

 

Violets next to a very small stream.

Violets next to a very small stream. I think the water is more interesting here than the flowers.

Ah! Another one I really wanted to see! A bloodroot.

Ah! Another one I really wanted to see! A bloodroot.

A tiny, insignificant, beautiful stream. There are myriads of these in the Smokies.

A tiny, insignificant, beautiful stream. There are myriads of these in the Smokies.

Mayapples.

Mayapples.

Bee and violet. So much life going on around us, nearly invisibly.

Bee and violet. So much life going on around us, nearly invisibly.

The life of the Smokies is so vibrant, so flourishing, so exuberant in its variety. I will soon be leaving this place for another world (northern New England) where the life of the plants has a very different aspect. There is not nearly so much variety. But it is an interesting story. The plant life in places like, say, the region above treeline on Mt. Washington has adapted in the most incredible ways to the harsh environment. I find that equally inspiring, in a very different way.

Below you see a plant that has adapted to a world where the wind can easily blow well over 100 mph in the winter (as you probably know, it blew 231 mph sometime up there on George in the 1930s, setting a world record). This is rhododendron! Smokies bushwhackers may laugh, having wrestled endlessly through giant rhodo. But here this little guy pops up amidst the above-treeline scree. A mini-rhodo! Don’t think bushwhacking in northern New England is easy. You have that belt of scrub spruce that girds the treeline area. And you have all the complicated aspects of snow and ice, especially the freakish ice formations that you find above treeline in winter.

I will be writing about these things on this blog.

Lapland Rosebay, found on the Boott Spur Link approaching the summit of Mt. Washington. Funny little thing, right? Don't make too many assumptions!

Lapland Rosebay, found on the Boott Spur Link approaching the summit of Mt. Washington. Funny little thing, right? Don’t make too many assumptions!

Plants I’m fond of: Lapland rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) December 14, 2012

Posted by Jenny in hiking, plants, White Mountains.
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lapland-rosebay-close-up

Lapland rosebay

I took this picture along the Boott Spur trail on Mt. Washington. It was in June, at an elevation of 5000′. I had just connected with this trail via the Boott Spur Link, which comes straight up from the floor of Tuckerman Ravine.

Although I’m not usually into “trail-bagging,” such as becoming a “900-miler” (doing all the trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), one year I just happened to notice that I’d been on all the trails that take you up to the summit of Mt. Washington, directly or indirectly, except for Boott Spur Link. I thought I might as well fill in my “missing link,” especially since the steepness of the trail made it look interesting. (Its upper section climbs 500′ in about a quarter mile.)

Once I arrived on the broad Boott Spur ridge, I began to encounter pockets of Lapland rosebay nestled in among the screefields. You notice that the leaves have a downy texture. It’s as if they need to have a little extra fur to keep warm in that harsh environment. The headwall of Tucks still had snow at that point in the season. The photo below was taken on the same hike from the other side of the ravine.

Tuckerman Ravine headwall

Tuckerman Ravine headwall

Lapland rosebay grows only in isolated alpine environments, such as around Katahdin, Washington, and Marcy. It finds pockets of soil between the sharp-edged talus rocks to grow in. And during a brief period in early summer, it comes into its glory. Those beautiful flowers, although tiny in comparison with those of Rhododendron maximum and other more familiar species, are among the largest blossoms that you find in this environment.

As this article explains, the “felsenmeer” is a tough place for a plant to live in.  But if you look closely at the wind-blasted stone piles of this northern above-treeline environment, you start to see how plants of all kinds thrive in the crevices, the tiny seeps of high streams, the leeward sides of boulders. I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for human life amidst adverse circumstances.

Life among the rocks

Life among the rocks