Sunday, March 6, 2016

A Winter Walk on the AT in Dalton

A week ago I walked with an AMC hiking group on the Appalachian Trail through Washington and Dalton. It was a beautiful day with only a few inches of snow in some sections and ice here and there on the trail.  With the shallow snow cover, what stood out to me were the club mosses. They were bright green in the background of white snow. We examined them more closely than I had ever done before and I researched them when I got home.

What I found is that club moss as a classification is being debated by biologists. They are not actually mosses because club mosses have a vascular system whereas mosses absorb water and nutrients directly from the environment without a vascular system.  Club mosses are spore producing like ferns but are not a fern. Closely related, they are called a "fern ally." So it's complicated!

From Mary Holland's book Naturally Curious, I learned that coal is made up of petrified giant club mosses (some were over 100-feet tall) that grew as a dominant species hundreds of millions of years ago. In the 1800s, powder made from their spores was used as a baby powder and a dusting powder for wounds. The powder was also used medicinally and even ignited for flash photography and stage lighting!

Club mosses today are only about 6-10 inches tall and are protected in many states because they are slow to reproduce and were decimated by being harvested extensively for Christmas decorations. When I was growing up in Otis, in November some of my classmates made some extra money by pulling up "princess pine" by the sack-full to sell to florists.

We saw at least three types of club mosses.
Using Mary Holland's book, I think I've identified them correctly.
This is a bristly clubmoss, a single spike from a running stem.

This is the ground cedar or fan club moss

This is the princess pine or tree club moss.

The trail is mostly flat with some ups & downs to make it interesting.

Evidence of lots of work by a pileated woodpecker searching for bugs in the wood.

On the way up to Warner Hill, last year's ferns were matted down
but I remembered how green this section had been last summer.

Warner Hill with a view north to Mt. Greylock.

The view south from Warner Hill.

Beautifully sunny open woods!

Some of the smaller beech trees were still holding their leaves.
As soon as the buds for this year's leaves start to swell, they will drop.