Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Into the woods - A walk at Mission Creek (Part 2) and the Wildflowers of 2016 (#1)

This is the second half of a lengthy write-up about a walk that I took through Mission Creek Woodland Park yesterday (08 March 2016).  For Part 1, please look here.

With all of the recent snowmelt, Mission Creek is running full and is full of sediment.  It has the color and clarity of chocolate milk.

Mission Creek is full of muddy water

Once I crossed over Mission Creek and into the Cedar-dominated swamp, it was like stepping into an entirely different season.  South of the creek the snow is almost gone, north of the creek the ground is still covered.  This has to do with a couple of factors.  The canopy cover in this section of swamp is much denser than the Red Maple section, blocking more sunlight from hitting the ground and melting the snow.  Also, the creek itself is bounded by a very tall bank, when the sun is at a low angle in the sky (such as during the winter months) it can't reach some sections of the cedar swamp at all.

This short stream originated from a series of hillside seeps

Instead of run-off from melting snow, the northern edge of the park is full of running water from  seeps where groundwater flows out of the ground and drains into Mission Creek.  This constantly running water means that much of the ground here never freezes solid, unlike other locations in the park.

This section of Mission Creek is my favorite place in any of Mt. Pleasant's parks.  It is such a different habitat compared to the other parks.  Cedar swamps are rare in this part of Michigan so this is like a small piece of northern Michigan dropped into the local habitat.

The trail runs through a cedar swamp along the edge of Mission Creek

Many years ago, when I worked for the Mt. Pleasant Parks Department, I hauled a bunch of lumber down along the Mission Creek and built two sections of boardwalk over very wet and eroded areas.  One of the sections was just laid as a tread atop sections of log on the floor of the swamp.  The other section of boardwalk was more substantially built up.  The log section has begun to decay because it was placed right atop wet soil - the higher section is still standing through a grove of cedars.  It's doesn't seem like much, but it has kept this small spot from suffering further erosion due to foot traffic.

A short boardwalk along Mission Creek

Although the trail through the park is fine, I always discover more when I move off the trail.  Even though I have spent dozens (maybe even hundreds) of hours in this park.  I often discover new things.  Yesterday I found an interesting old cedar stump.  The stump itself is not that interesting, the area was logged long ago and there are larger stumps hiding in the woods.  What was really cool about this stump was the pair of trees growing from the top of it. 

Sometime in the past, a pair of seeds landed on this stump and germinated.  One of the seeds came from a Northern White Cedar, the other belonged to a Yellow Birch.  Seeds often germinate on top of old rotting stumps, but most do not survive.  Both of these trees have managed to survive.  As the stump decayed, the two trees began to outgrow their home.  They both reached down toward the ground with their roots, seeking additional water and nutrients.  Eventually, the stump will decay completely.  If the trees survive, they will be raised above the ground by their stilt-like roots. 

The cedar has another twist to its story.  When it was a young tree, something bent it toward the ground - perhaps heavy snowcover or a fallen branch.  This caused the tree's trunk to curve downward, but the end of the trunk grew upwards.  The result was this S-shaped bend in the trunk

A Northern White Cedar (left) and Yellow Birch (right) growing from an old stump

I also found my first wildflower of the year!  Not surprisingly, Wildflower #1 of 2016 is the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).  I half-expected to find this plant.  It is not unusual to find Skunk Cabbage flower poking up through snow.  In 2013, I found my first Skunk Cabbage on almost exactly the same datemy first 2014 Skunk Cabbage was almost a month later.  I didn't find a lot of Skunk Cabbage yesterday, but I found enough to think that spring is on its way.  Many of these flowers are not yet fully mature.  However a few were open, exposing pollen to insect visitors.

Most of the Skunk Cabbage that I found was growing in flowing water

This Skunk Cabbage flower is beginning to open for business

Skunk Cabbage - Inside the flower on the left you can just see the pollen that shows this flower is open for business.

Although I photographed a few more things before leaving the park, this seems like an appropriate way toe end this post.  Now, I will probably have to wait several more weeks before I find my second wildflower species of the year.  I look forward to it...



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