Monday, April 9, 2018

The 1675 Grove: A Virgin White Pine Forest

What better lesson in American history than natural history, of which intact virgin forest systems bear few close competitors. Hidden, scattered vestiges of old-growth groves offer a living glimpse into pre-European America, largely untouched by the ax or plow. They survived the industrial revolution, the hurricane of 1938, the extinction of the passenger pigeon, the saw mill and all its men. Such areas are sparse and kept secrete and protected often only by a good family deed passed down generations. They make up less than 1% of their original area in the northeast, with only some forest types represented. For those that remain, they are diamonds in the ruff - true national treasures.

In the small town of Brighton, NY in Franklin County, a stand known as Elder's Grove or 1675 Grove (aptly named after the date of germination) is all that remains of a once expansive northern hardwood forest. Here, stately white pine (Pinus strobus) - one of the rarest old-growth tree species - tower above surrounding second-growth pole size forest like tropic emergent trees, making a nostalgic natural cathedral.

As a vegetation ecologist with a deep love for forests, I expect a virgin stand to consist of trees of all ages, or "uneven aged," but this tract is different. Eldner's Grove was studied and age-class distributions were created by forest ecologists who wanted to know its structure and composition. They found that the brunt of old-growth pine was approximately the same age, ~347 years old this year, hence the name 1675 Grove. This suggests that a natural disturbance likely occurred prior to germination such as a micro-burst like the one that devastated the region in 1995. What resulted is a grove consisting of a lot of monstrous trees fairly close together.

P. strobus shoots high above the shade tolerant red spruce (Picea pungens), with one tree over close to 160 feet tall and 13 feet in circumference, making it nearly the tallest tree in New York state! Large black cherry (Prunus serotina), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), yellow birch (Betula allegheniensis) are some of the more dominant associates. I was surprised to find little to no evidence of pine seedlings and saplings, hinting at the possibility of a changing forest.

The bark has a much different appearance than younger pines, even mature pines that are near 200 years old. Virgin pine has deeply furrowed bark with deep fissures and a disproportionately small crown in relation to its overall size, reminding me of giant sequoia trees. There is some crown shyness offering protection to limbs of this relatively soft-wood species. Expansive buttresses help anchor the advantageous root system into the sandy, well-drained soil they prefer. They are straight as an arrow with self pruned lower branches, and they are seldom plum to the ground, giving an appearance of a sort-of "drunken" permafrost forest.

As an ecologist, I also know that big trees are not all that make up a true virgin forest system. Old-growth stands characteristically have unkempt signs of natural disturbance such as tip-up mounds left by roots that create uneven ground, or large standing dead trees that died of old age. It's hard to believe a tree so massive could be supported by such underwhelming shallow roots.

In this forest, many trees snapped near the base, likely from the micro-blast of 1995 that downed thousands of acres of old-growth forest in the Adirondacks. Natural disturbances like this open up the canopy for regeneration of other trees, and the dead and decaying wood adds nutrients to the soil. 

Virgin forests in the northeast have all but disappeared, and many paint an accurate picture of what the Native Americans, first pioneers, and sawyers saw. They offer a pathway back in time, a spiritual connection, and a laboratory to scientists. But with humans aside, they are simply an intrinsic beauty to behold if not only for their rarity today. Some land is just meant to be preserved - like this tract - free from direct large-scale human disturbance. I hope that after reading this post, you will agree.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Salter Brook Trout in Southeastern Massachusetts

Tucked away from the beaches, surf-casters, and tourists of southeastern Massachusetts lay hidden tidal creeks and streams filled with America's first sportsfish - the salt-run "salter" brook trout (technically a char). With a two-foot ice-fishing rod in hand, and a container of streamers, I climbed through thick brush to find the Quashnet River in Falmouth MA close to its drainage into Waquoit Bay. 

Only one species of brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) exists with two migratory populations: anadromous "salters" of the northeast, and potadromous "coasters" of the great lakes.  Salters migrate from the ocean to freshwater streams to reproduce. On Cape Cod, they migrate to saltwater in November after spawning, and overwinter there while striped bass and bluefish take vacation. They run again in April, and return to brackish or fresh water by mid-May. Brook trout can differ in appearance from stream to stream, but salters are typically heavy for their length and lighter in color, especially soon after returning from the ocean. 

Not all area streams are as healthy as the Quashnet. In the 1970s, Trout Unlimited began conserving habitat by placing rocks, stumps, native plantings and Christmas trees to add structure. Today ongoing sampling and GPS tracking helps monitor populations. With such success here and Red Brook in Plymouth, MA, other restorations are gaining steam. The nearby Lower Coonamessett River is slated for a wetland restoration this month to transform retired cranberry bogs into the sinuous, cold, and clean stream systems that harbored salters and other diadromous fish like the herring and American eel long before Europeans arrived.

Even without a bite, you will be hard-pressed not to find beauty and solitude in the hidden coastal streams of southeastern Massachusetts. During fall the red berries of winterberry (Ilex verticillata), hips of swamp rose (Rosa palustris), and the changing leaves of tamarack, oaks, maples, beech, and alder will keep you satisfied.

Some Massachusetts fisherman call salters the "fish of 1000 casts" and for good reason. I can attest that they are sparse, easily spooked, and mostly small in size. It was a treat to catch this 12" fish, but I dream of landing a large one this winter in the bay. If you make your way out to this hidden treasure, always make sure to respect the river, avoid disturbaing redds, and practice catch and release. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Alpine Vegetation in the White Mountains

As 95-South was bumper-to-bumper for the fourth, Ashley and I had a care-free ride up north to the presidential range in the White Mountains National Forest. We spent the night in AMC's Joe Dodge Lodge for an easy exit onto Tuckerman's Ravine Trail to summit Mount Washington today. We knew the weather and visibility would be great, but nothing could've prepared us for such a colorful display of blooming alpine vegetation. The White Mountains are known to have over a dozen fine-scale alpine communities with hundreds of species. Leaving the Krummholz behind, we made our way up to Lion's Head lookout where the vegetation began to shift to low-growing alpine species.

It wasn't long before we found sporadic species in the cracks of granite and schist.
Purple mountain-heath (Phyllodoce caerulea) and pincushion plant (Diapensia lapponica).

 Greenland stitchwort (Minuartia groenlandica)

Tufted clubsedge (Trichoophorum cespitosum)

 A terrible picture of moss-plant (Harrimanella hypnoides)

Before arriving at the junction from Lion's Head trail to Mount Washington, we came across a lush alpine snowmelt meadow filled with diversity. 

Bog labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum)

A diverse snowmelt meadow overlooking Tuckerman's Ravine filled with bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Indian hellebore (Viratrum viride), and many more.

 Little bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

  Blue-eyed lily (Clintonia borealis) among long beech fern (Phegopteris connectilis).

 Alpine azalea (Loiseleuria procumbens)

 Mountain avens (Geum peckii)

Bigelow’s sedge (Carex bigelowii) and Highland rush (Juncus trifidus)

Bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia)

 Pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) is often associated with waste lands, but grows sporadically in high-quality alpine habitats where windthrow, rockslide, and avalanches have occured.

After hours of botanizing, we finally made it to the summit of Mount Washington. 

What a trip!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Old-Growth Forests of the Smokies

Have you ever wondered what early pioneers saw when they first encountered the aboriginal temperate forests of eastern North America? How lucky were the Scots-Irish "Ulstermen" who found refuge within the very same mountain range they emigrated from during the 1700s - their dialects, whiskey, music, and might continue to flow through the southern Appalachians. How devastating it must've been for the thousands of Cherokee Indians who were forced away from such a spiritual masterpiece during the trail of tears, and the range of management practices that have since ravaged the landscape. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSM) has undergone great change in the past 200 years, but remains the largest example of the biologically diverse Arcto-Tertiary geoflora in the world, home to large swaths of old-growth forest. 
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a trip through time to explore some of the many old-growth forest patches in GSM. Of the 500,000 acres of land, roughly 100,000 are considered old-growth forest and, with only ~4% of original forest remaining in North America, GSM is undoubtedly a special place worth conserving for future generations. Although we have all come across large trees in the woods, there is something uniquely different about old-growth forests that few will ever witness.

Today, we understand the term "old-growth" to be synonymous with virgin forest, primary forest, primeval forest, and the like. Generally, they are characterized as attaining great age without significant disturbance, and thereby exhibits distinct ecological properties. Since archival records do not exist for some tracts of land at GSM, it is impossible to understand the exact legacy of land within the park. However, the tracts I visited were previously cored and aged to over 250 years old and signify some of the most pristine old-growth remnants of temperate deciduous forest in the country. Of the 28 main watersheds in GSM, only 6 contain old-growth patches - I visited patches in the Roaring Fork, Little Prong Little Pigeon River, and West Prong Little Pigeon River watersheds.

The park is home to five main community types, including the Spruce-Fir forest, which dominates the highest elevations >4,500 feet, and has the largest unbroken tract of old-growth red spruce forest in the world; Northern Hardwood forest, composed of many species typically found in New England; Hemlock forest, which has greatly been affected by the exotic insect, Hemlock Wooly Adelgid; Pine and Oak forest, existing in the driest areas; and the Cove Hardwood forests that not only exhibits the greatest species diversity, but make up over 80% of the park area. 

Besides the obvious difference in tree size upon entering old-growth patches, there were other attributes characteristic of undisturbed forests. For example, the structure seemed to be clearly stratified compared to younger forests, defined by a distinct separation between the ground, sapling, sub canopy, and canopy layers. I also noticed an increase in sheer diversity at all levels, and evenness in the tree canopy. In other words, there seemed to be far more species in older forests, with numerous co-dominant tree species in the canopy versus younger forests characterized by a dominance of one or two prolific species. Further, I didn't see one exotic plant species.

The GSM has over 10,000 documented species, and over 100 tree species within the park, and since the first published flora in 1964 by H. L. Hoffman, there have been over 1600 plant species found. In the Cove Hardwood forest patches I encountered, the canopy was mostly comprised of massive yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolinia), and tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Aside from composition, the trees are noticeably larger and taller with moss covered trunks. The soil is loose, moist, rich, and uneven due to pitfall gaps from fallen trees, with large fallen logs strewn about that act as nurse logs for numerous species. Although trees in the temperate forest often have taproots and a lack of prominent buttresses, as opposed to many tropical trees, I found buttressing on all old-growth trees I encountered, which help support their increased height and size. 

As I ate lunch below the tall canopy in the Cove Hardwoods forest, I took in the vibrant chorus of spring migrants such as the worm-eating warbler, warbling vireo, blue-headed vireo, cerulean warbler, and many more, while cautiously scanning the horizon after finding multiple instances of bear sign. In the old-growth Hemlock forests, black-throated green warblers kept me company, as I navigated through a labyrinth of rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) at the bases of gigantic eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum). Sadly, many of the hemlock trees have already succumbed to HWA, but some remain.

Having visited many other forests throughout the country, there is something intrinsically nostalgic to me about an undisturbed, old-growth woodland in eastern North America. They are well protected gems that are nearly extinct. Upon entering, I felt as if I was viewing the world through the eyes of an ancient denizen from a simpler time. Beneath the neon new-growth of this rich mesic forest did I find a deep respect not only for the ancient organisms that have persisted through luck and mercy, but also for the sad story of the natives, and the immigrant mountaineers that lived tough lives, or the calloused CCC men who helped build this country - this forest is a living history of North America. The cool, misty understory, vibrant bird songs, colorful spring ephemerals, and cultural connection is nearly indescribable, but eternally unforgettable. 

Even today, after almost a century, we would be wise to remember the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt when he designated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940: 

"We used up or destroyed much of our natural heritage just because that heritage was so bountiful. We slashed our forests, we used our soils, we encouraged floods, we overconcentrated our wealth, we disregarded our unemployed - all of this so greatly that we brought rather suddenly to face the fact that unless we gave thought to the lives of our children and grandchildren, they would no longer be able to live and to improve our American way of life."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mount Washington During Autumn

A spontaneous mid-semester trip in October to the granite state proved to be a great way to recharge from graduate school and to visit one of the most rugged and alluring areas in the east. We originally set out to attempt the challenging bucket-list "Presidential Traverse" hike that includes ~10 peaks above 4,000' in elevation, and makes up part of the presidential range including Mt. Washington - the second highest peak (6,289') in eastern North America (second to Mount Mitchell). Mount Washington not only draws adventurists from afar with its vista views, but also with unpredictable weather that makes hikes challenging and refreshing year round.

The highest surface wind ever recorded by man (231 mph) was observed on its summit in 1934 when the anemometer broke, which is in part why it was designated as having "the worst weather in America," and the cause of nearly 150 deaths since records began in the mid 19th century. There are plenty of taller mountains in North America, so what makes Mount Washington uniquely dangerous? It really boils down to its geography  in relation to weather patterns. The highly erosion-resistant geology of the white mountains shoots up high above the glacially leveled surrounding area to the west, where the summit of Mount Washington interacts with arctic air from the North American jet stream. The mountain range creates a funnel from the southwest to northeast that channels and accelerates air and virtually any storm system emerging from the west. To make matters worse, the North American jet stream often converges near Mount Washington with warmer systems moving along the cost to provide dangerous and unpredictable extreme weather conditions year round. Sign me up!

During this trip, we traveled southbound and only made it to Mount Washington, but we miraculously drove 1700 miles and hiked 12 miles in 39 hours - we live for short, cheap, refreshing trips like this. The photo below shows our route, which began at the Great Gulf Wilderness trailhead parking lot. Even in October, it was below freezing above tree-line, which made the stop at the Mount Washington Observatory for chilly and cornbread that much better!

The Presidential Range is part of the White Mountains, which makes up one-quarter of New Hampshire's land mass. Some states are ironically named after an unnatural occurrence. For example, Maine is "the pine tree state" even though old growth forests such as Big Reed suggest pines were historically a small component of forests during pre-settlement (on a human timescale) compared to other species. Though, New Hampshire was aptly named the granite state in large part due to granite bedrock commonly found in the white mountains, particularly Osceola (green) and Conway (Pink) stone. 

The white mountains have a long, complex history that can be traced back to half a billion years ago. Since then, a complex combination of processes over space and time helped form the White Mountains. Specifically, the Appalachian orogenies from the creation of Pangea, the White Mountain Batholith of volcanoes formed from the rifting of Pangea, and glaciation and weathering has shaped and greatly defined the region's geomorphology. First, the convergence of Gondwana and Laurentia  to help form Pangea paved way for the Appalachian Orogeny (Taconic, Alleghenian, and Acadian orogenies) to form the Appalachian Mountains. Roughly 200 million years ago, the Pangea rift began to push the North American Plate westward forming the Atlantic ocean, and the movement of New Hampshire over the New England Hotspot between 100 and 120 million years ago caused large volcanoes to create much of the White Mountains, and later formed the New England Seamount Chain. Since then, there have been two large glaciation stages (Illinoian and Wisconsinan) of the Laurentian Ice Sheet that left a great impact on North America. Today, we see evidence of all these processes in the form of folded rock outcrops, large cliffs such as Franconia Ridge and Cathedral Ledge that are cooled magma chambers, glacial erratics such as Boise Rock, glacial grooves, and large cirques such as Tuckerman's Ravine that once housed receding glaciers. To me, the White Mountains represent a beautifully unforgiving, harsh place filled with evidence from the past that is present everywhere you look if you have an eye for it. 

With such steep environmental gradients, change in vegetation also exists rather abruptly from trailhead to summit. At the base of this range, large sugar maples, yellow birches, and other deciduous trees line the path and creeks. It isn't long until spruce and hemlock take over before giving way to the flagging, stunted trees (krummholz) and eventually the low-growing alpine /subalpine vegetation that dominates the rocky outcrops, balds, and alpine meadows above tree-line. This contrast is partly what brings me to the area, where forests turn into a quilt of sedges, rushes, grasses, lichens, mosses, and mat-forming shrubs. In fact, over 60% of all plant species in the Presidential Range are restricted to above the tree-line, including some species that are endemic to northeastern US alpine region such as Boot's rattlesnake root (Prenanthes boottii), and Robbin's cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana) - a species endemic only to the White Mountains. High winds, a short growing season, low temperatures, heavy cloud and fog cover, high precipitation, and well-drained soils with low nutrient availability and high organic matter content all provide adequate conditions to make the White Mountains a great place for high alpine and subalpine biodiversity. Another important factor that dictates vegetation composition and structure in the White Mountains is snow accumulation, which is influenced by a host of landscape attributes such as slope and aspect. Even to native New Englanders like myself, it always feels like the short distance from base to summit is hundreds of miles with the abundance of disjunct vegetation. 

Mount Washington and the rest of the White Mountains will always have a special place in my heart, not only because I am a native New Englander, but also because of the vast display of changes in landform, geology, weather, and vegetation in such a short distance. It is really an environmental scientist's classroom. Not-to-mention, the surrounding town of North Conway isn't so bad either, with fresh lobster rolls, great local breweries, and rich culture and history in every nook. I could only imagine what this place would look like in winter . . .

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Springtime in the Smokies

From Ohio to Tennessee, below the gloomy, slow-moving cumulus expanse lay an assortment of tender, neon-colored new-growth with increasing lushness for every mile south I traveled. Phenological patterns on the hillside canvas revealed ecological secrets along the roadside, only told during autumn and spring - I live for road trips.

Up along the Blue Ridge Mountains, terpenes and isoprenes paint the horizon blue, deeper with distance. These hydrocarbons are volatile to the environment, produced naturally by trees as a defense against rising temperatures and other stresses; though, they sure do make for a pretty scene from Wythville to Knoxville. 

It wasn't long before I reached route 441, where meandering trout-filled montane streams, and an assortment of forest types from all latitudes greeted me. A quilt of subtropic magnolias of the south, sugar maples and yellow birches of New England, and firs and spruces from Canada all welcomed me through the gates of the Great Smoky Mountains, home to an estimated 90,000 species, ~150 acres of old-growth forest, and some of the oldest highlands in America - not-to-mention 21 national champion trees to boot!

With such diversity and charm, it's no wonder why the Smokies is the most visited National Park in America, with over 9-million visitors per year and up to 60,000 visitors per day during summer months. Though, with careful planning, you may be lucky enough to see more wildlife than humans. 

Although much of the surrounding population is Anglo-Saxon Protestant, earning this region the name, "the buckle of the bible belt," the Smokies borders the Eastern Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, which is home to descendants of 800 Cherokees that avoided the Trail of Tears - an enormous exodus that forced 15,000 fellow tribe members west during the 19th century. 

The Cherokee are the people who named the smoky mountain range Shaconage, meaning "place of the blue smoke." They weren't far off with their early designation, as the "smoke" is a product of the aforementioned toxic hydrocarbons mixed with natural fog. This range experiences the wettest conditions in the contiguous US outside of the Pacific NW, caused by a steep elevation gradient as warm, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with the high elevation mountains. Such a sharp environmental contrast creates another layer of spatial heterogeneity that promotes biodiversity in the landscape.

After a quick stop at Newfound Gap to refuel on Genoa and sharp cheese, I laid out a plan to hike Charlie's Bunion trail, Chimney Tops trail, Mt. Leconte trail, and fish the Oconaluftee river for trout. 

In five weekdays, I hiked over forty winding miles past bear traps, mule convoys, and carpets of spring ephemerals - rich bouquets of painted trillium, yellow mandarin, and trout lilies to name a few. Early morning drives kicked up dozens of wild turkey, deer, and even a large, groggy black bear. And I'll never forget the abundance of black-eyed junco nests along the trail, or the cerulean warbler doing a courtship dance on the top of Mt. Leconte within 10-feet of me, or the gang of Elk near smokemont campsite. Black-throated green warblers, scarlet tanagers, and eastern-towhees guided me with their harmonies through the fog, as I moved through labyrinths of rhododendron. 

Perhaps the most memorable experiences for me were made with friends - new and old. I was lucky enough to meet a fellow hiker along Rainbow Trail, who made an excellent partner for the rest of the trip. And an old college peer and her boyfriend invited me into their house in Knoxville for some homemade food and drinks - the southern hospitality was enormous and much appreciated! 

The Great Smoky Mountains, as with any other experience, offers an abundance of awe and passion the deeper you look, and with the more you know. So bring your field guides to these mystic places, fore they will teach you memories. Cheers!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cape Cod Ecology

For my annual holiday visit home each year, I've made a tradition of stopping at a local Barnes & Nobel before seeing family after the long drive from Ohio to Massachusetts. Always with a warm coffee in hand, I scour the travel section in search of weekend New England haunts to explore while I let the nostalgia of my hometown sink in, and my legs stretch. This year, I came across a map of Cape Cod that brought me back to memories of family beach days and late-night fishing trips; then I remembered hearing about the Cape Cod National Seashore (CCNS) - home to the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline on the east coast. In my experience, national lakes and seashores are some of the most well-kept and scenic areas that always seem to be in the heart of a historical hotspot like the old whaling towns of the outer Cape - artifacts of what are now centers for culture and art. With minimal traffic, free parking, and uncontested views of the offseason, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Cape Cod from on ecological perspective. Even though the winter weather outlook was fierce for the weekend, I bought the map and began to plan. 

Cape Cod is an 18,000 year old glacial outwash that was formed as large terminal moraines at the end of the last glacial period in North America (Wisconsonian), and is one of the largest barrier islands in the world. Archaeologic findings suggest humans have occupied these lands for the past 12,000 years. Since the colonization of North America in the 17th century, Cape Cod has undergone major disturbances. Logging for agricultural lands, urban sprawl, and over-harvesting of marine wildlife (mostly via whaling) have all contributed to a worn land-use legacy; however, the creation of the CCNS in 1963 by John F. Kennedy was a huge step toward conserving this ecologically important area. 

Massachusetts is part of the Eastern Deciduous Forest, and has three distinct ecoregions: Northeastern Highlands, Northeastern Coastal Zone, and the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens. Cape Cod exists in the Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens ecoregion, which is a globally uncommon community only found here and New Jersey. This community is predominately made up of pitch pine, with a mixture of hardwood plant communities throughout.

Early Pilgrim writings describe the forests of Cape Cod as open woods that extended to the very "brink of the sea."  Although, in the 18th and 19th centuries, agriculture dominated the landscape, drastically impacting the forested landscape and ecology of Cape Cod. When Thoreau visited in the 1850s, he described an area completely devoid of trees. Soon after, an extensive effort to plant trees for erosion control took place as the shift to a tourism-driven economy arose. Today, forests are returning with a higher proportion of hardwood species for many reasons. Currently, the dominant tree species is still pitch pine (Pinus rigida), with greater levels of black oak (Quercus velutina), white oak (Q. alba), and bear oak (Q. ilicifolia) than ever before. Other  abundant species include red maple (Acer rubrum), American white cedar (Thuja occidentalis), and American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) groves can also be found in certain areas - they were introduced from southern states to assist with erosion control.

During this trip, I was fortunate to visit most of the top scenic areas throughout CCNS; Among the forest types, scrub forest (pictured) seemed to exist more than any other, which makes complete sense due to the poor acidic soils and harsh weather conditions of Cape Cod. This is an area with harsh winters and heavy salt spray from the ocean. Further, the sandy soils are very nutrient poor, acidic, and retain little to no water - it takes hearty, drought-resistant species like oaks and pitch pine to survive here, which they have proved to do for thousands of years. In the scrub forest I encountered, stunted pitch pine, bear oak, black oak, and white oak dominated the landscape. Their stature is not an indication of age as it takes a lot longer for trees to grow here than in more temperate areas throughout the country. The moisture from the ocean provides excellent conditions for a variety of lichens to take refuge, and the herbaceous layer consists mostly of grasses. Prior to fire suppression efforts, this landscape was well adapted to random fire events caused by lightening strikes.
Bear oak is a scrubby, slow-growing species that is found is harsh environments with low nutrient availability. The gnarly, stunted growth form is an indication of this species' toughness. Pitch pine grows predominately throughout the Appalachian mountains and Atlantic coast, where it does well in sandy, acidic soils. Here in Ohio, we find them on ridge tops, often on xeric ridge tops where soil nutrients are low. Although, in Ohio, I have yet to see the characteristic epicormic branching seen in many field guides like that of Cape Cod pitch pines. I wonder what this might be an indicator of. Pitch pine got its name from the pitch it produces, which was used to make turpentine spirits and other resinous products.

Oak trees were mostly suppressed to the understory from the abundance of pitch pines - an allelopathic species that emits growth-inhibiting chemicals into the surrounding soil; but with the help of the turpentine beetle pest, forest gaps, and natural succession, oaks have begun to increasingly reach the canopy. Oaks are hardy, shade tolerant tree species that live longer than pitch pines. Although black oak is by far the most dominant representative of this genus on Cape Cod, red oaks are also found where the soil is more fertile. Also, post oak is an uncommon species on the Cape as well.

As secondary forest begins to grow, patterns emerge that indicate human disturbances have completely altered the vegetation of Cape Cod. For example, the area was almost completely forested pre-settlement. Half of the land was "improved" or, cleared for timber, and the other half was cleared for agriculture. Land that was plowed now seems to be forested with pitch pine. Although, land that was only cleared for timber retains many more oaks. Clearing forest also opened up the door for heath barrens that are important for erosion control on the Cape. 

Unfortunately, a lethal insect pest has recently made its way to Cape Cod and the islands, which preys on black oak trees - a species of tree that makes up a quarter of the trees in the area. The oak crypt gall wasp is worrying entomologists, especially because little is known about this insect. They suspect climate change has something to do with their spread.

American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) often grow in close procimity to one another, and serve similar functions in dune ecosystems. American beach grass has many strains, but the above-mentioned Cape Cod species was selected for use to replant along the eastern seaboard after a devastating hurricane in 1938 damages a lot of the dune systems. It is also planted along the great lakes to protect dues there as well. Beach heather is also common along the dunes in CCNS, and is well adapted for harsh windy conditions with its low-growing growth-form. The sand-loving earth star fungus was strewn about the dunes, and a terrapin diamondback turtle nest was found nearby.

One of the highlights of my trip was hiking the Great Island Trail in Wellfleet, which offered a glimpse of tidal marshes, pitch pine forests, and tall dunes. Along the way, I found dozens of Wellfleet oyesters, renowned for their sweet, fresh taste. Cape Cod has historically been surrounded by very fertile, clean waters that increase the taste of oysters, and foster many marine organisms. In fact, Stellwagen Bank is three miles from Provincetown and still draws various of species of whales for the abundance of zooplankton it harbors. The shallow waters there create a very rich ecosystem that fishermen still take advantage of today; although, due to years of over harvest, the whaling industry that helped build many the towns took a large toll on whale populations.

Two common plants found atop the dunes of CCNS are bearberry and bayberry. It is no surprise to see bearberry growing along the harsh dunes of Cape Cod since it is found in subalpine climates of the north. Bayberry forms fruit that have a waxy coating, which is still used today to make candles. The second picture from the right is broom crowberry - a regionally endemic plant that is found in coastal sand-plain communities from New Jersey to Newfoundland. It is listed as a Species of Special Concern by the state of Massachusetts. Cape Cod has long harbored some of the largest and best known populations of broom crowberry, with descriptions by early settlers depicting carpets of the plant and healthy seedling recruitment. Lastly, Massachusetts' state flower, Mayflower, can be seen blooming practically anywhere along Cape Cod.
Atlantic white cedar inhabits some kettle holes found on the Cape, which is close to the northern-most extent for this species. At one time, this species was very abundant, but has since declined due to climate change over time, and over-harvesting. 

Humans long favored the rot-resistant, durable wood from this species. Native Americans used hollowed out white cedars for canoes, and early settlers made cedar shingles, which is why in-tact cedar swamps like this one are difficult to find. 

This trip not only brought back childhood memories; it also proved to be a learning experience filled with the sights, sounds, and scents of New England's coast that I've missed dearly while being in Ohio. As my education is nearing its end, it feels more and more like time to head back home for some period of time before entering my field for the rest of my life. It is always exciting to return to a place I visited as a child, and see it from a new perspective - a much more informed and observant perspective. At the end of this trip, I felt like I had traveled full circle. Regardless, one thing is for sure - Cape Cod is one of the most beautiful places I've been.The Cape Cod National Seashore is well worth the trip.