Late November, before the pandemic’s second wave, my partner Alex and I spent a few days hiking in and around Lion’s Head on the Bruce Peninsula. What a treat. I love the woods and meadows in the spring and fall when the lack of leaves allows the light to penetrate to the forest floor. I began taking photos of the different textures we came across from mosses to fungi to fallen leaves and pine needles. I’d fill the viewer of my camera and see how it looked. I’m not a great photographer and I was using my old iPhone, so the images I collected are not worthy of National Geographic. Sadly, my skill with pencils and a sketch pad are even less amazing. In truth, I couldn’t sketch my way out of a paper bag. Guess I’d better stick to writing — and, as it turns out, an app called Prisma. It has converted my so-so photos into sketches. Someday, I’d love to record a hike as a scrapbook. Now maybe I can.
I hope you enjoy these sketches and their explanations.
If you hike, you’ve seen tree fungi such as these beauties. I found them on a poplar tree. There are three types of tree fungi:
- Saprophytic, and
This is likely an example of the first type. While these fungi feast on the host tree’s store of carbohydrates, they help the tree absorb water and minerals by functionally extending the tree’s root system.
Saprophytic fungi are the ones that appear on dead or dying trees. While they are neither good nor bad for the tree, they contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem.
Parasitic fungi are the ones to worry about. They feed on and often kill trees. Dutch elm disease, for instance, is caused by a microscopic fungus.
Of all the texture photos I took those four days, I think this is my favourite. In a shallow pothole on a track that ran through the forest, I snapped this mosaic of white pine needles and sugar maple leaves. It almost appeared they’d been compressed by a heavy load of snow, but the timing didn’t add up to that.
The leaf litter in a forest is recycled into the ecosystem where it supples nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen. Despite what you may think (I did.), pine needles do not acidify the soil. As they decompose their acidity is neutralized. If nothing grows under a white pine, it’s because the tree has many small roots near the surface and often casts a lot of shade.
Lichens and mosses are prevalent throughout the forest on the Bruce Peninsula. They come in all shapes and sizes and colours and textures and, according to scientists, can be very hard to tell apart.
However, while mosses are true plants, lichens are not. Rather than roots, mosses have rhizomes, and reproduce via spores rather than seeds. They photosynthesize and require a lot of moisture.
Lichens are actually complex organisms created when a fungus and an algae (or cyanobacteria or both) form a relationship. When moisture is scarce, they dry up and go dormant, making them very hardy in extreme conditions.
Have you ever come across a bed of spongy moss (or lichen) and thought it would be the most divine place to have a nap?