Friday - August 24th: The Sylvania Wilderness: Big Trees and Little Lycopods

Although both of us were getting a bit road weary by now, it seemed a shame to just book across the UP without doing a little exploring.
I am always tempted to try to relive past experiences by revisiting places I have fond memories of. But this can end up being like a "You Can't Go Home Again" experience. Betsy knows this and abides by it. I resist it - but I am trying to change. Pursuant to that we decided to visit some new places while crossing the UP, AKA "The Yooper".

During our last visit to the UP we let Eric Hansen's " Hiking Michigan's Upper Peninsula" be our guide. On that trip we hiked 9 of the 50 hikes listed in his book. All 9 were outstanding. Also outstanding are Eric's descriptions and maps. If you are thinking of visiting the UP and need a hiking guide, you can't go wrong with this one.
Since Eric has not yet led us astray, we decided to let his book guide us to our next destination.
A look at the overview map in the front of Eric's book helped us pick a couple of possibilities and we settled on the 8 mile Clark Lake loop in the Sylvania Wilderness of the Ottawa National Forest.

Considering this year is the 25th anniversary for the Michigan Wilderness Act which was passed in 1987, it seemed an appropriate choice. That law didn’t come without a fight. It took 10 years to pass. There are now fifteen federal wildernesses in Michigan covering 249,218 acres.
The trailhead looked to be about 100 miles from Washburn which meant we could easily get there in time to enjoy a leisurely hike and still find nearby lodging afterwards - or so we thought.

Route To Sylvania

The drive from Washburn to Sylvania Wilderness took us about 3 hours. The distance is only 100 miles but we try not to rush things when we travel.

Porkies and Trap Hills

The route took us to the south of some of our favorite places like Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park which is home to the "Porkies".
In 2010 Betsy and I hiked the Escarpment Trail in the Porkies. Amazing views on that hike!

We also passed to the south of the Trap Hills where in 2010 we hiked the " Trap Hills Loop", also listed in Hansen's book. What a great hike that was.

We continued on US 2 and about 5 miles west of Watersmeet we saw the sign directing us to the Sylvania Wilderness.

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We arrived at the Visitors Center around 10:00. It was already shaping up to be a beautiful day. A warm breeze was blowing and the blue sky was dotted with big puffy clouds.

Sylvania Wilderness is an 18,327 acres (7,417 ha) protected area located a few miles west of Watersmeet, Michigan. Sylvania is located entirely within the bounds of the Ottawa National Forest, and is currently being managed as a wilderness area as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System by the U.S. Forest Service.

Within its borders lie 34 lakes set against a backdrop of old-growth forests. It represents one of only a handful of such areas left in the Midwest.

Source: WikiPedia

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Sylvania is a fee area so we stopped in at the center to pay our dues.

In December 2004, Congress enacted the Recreation Enhancement Act, which gave federal agencies a long-term, multi-agency recreation fee program. Recreation fees provide crucial resources that allow the federal agencies to respond to increased demand on federal lands. The goal is to provide visitors with a quality recreation experience through enhanced facilities and services.

Source: US Forest Service

What a crock of shit!
As if we have not already payed enough in taxes! But Congress in all its wisdom decided that was not enough and we would be charged for using our public lands.
Oh, sure - there is much talk about what the fees pay for - picnic tables and fires rings and parking lots. But the fact of the matter is, we already payed for all these "enhancements" - with our taxes.

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After a false start which saw us wandering around the north end of Crooked Lake looking for the trailhead, we finally saw the error of our ways and soon were ready to go for our hike around Clark Lake.

Sylvania Wilderness Map

This cutout of the full size map shows our hike around Clark Lake. As you can see there are numerous boat-in camp sites.

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There were many nice views of the lake as we wandered though a forest of ancient White Pine, Hemlock, Sugar Maple and Yellow Birch. This was the first of many inviting looking beaches we saw on the hike.

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Photo by Betsy

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When I saw this wet meadow just off the trail, we went down to take a look.

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Photo by Betsy

"What does Mike see?" - Betsy wonders.

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The wet meadow was full of this little plant - Bog Clubmoss (Lycopodiella inundata).

Well, that is my identification. But, given the complexity of this group it is merely a superficial identification.

I recently found a letter from the late Joe Beitel dated 22 October 1977. He goes into quite a bit of detail about some of the Lycopodiums we saw while in northern Minnesota and the UP. A PDF of that letter is here.
Joe did some ground breaking taxonomic and field work on Lycopods. Sadly he died at the tender age of 39 years old before he could complete his work. And I am sure he would have had a very satisfying and illustrious career had he lived.
Below is a truncated version of Joe's obituary.

Joe Beitel - obit

Joseph M. Beitel (1952-1991)

John T. Mickel and W. H. Wagner, Jr.

Joe Beitel, horticultural taxonomist at the New York Botanical Garden for five years, died February 22, 1991, of a brain infection. He was one of the better rounded botanists of our time, with outstanding achievements in science (pteridology), horticulture, and teaching.

Joe's interest in plants began at an early age. In third grade he won a prize for a school project, an experiment growing sweet peas, and he was always begging his indulgent father to take him to the woods. He was strongly influenced also by a high school science teacher, Art Cooley, and went to Cornell University to study botany. He continued his studies with W. H. Wagner, Jr., at the University of Michigan, where he made an intensive study of the American species "gemma firmosses," the Huperzia selago complex. Two of Joe's missions in life were 1) to advise the public that this group had no cones so could not be called c1ubmosses, and 2) to convince every audience that the classic Lycopodium should be considered as seven or more distinct genera.

He became a research associate at the New York Botanical Garden in 1982 and took the post of horticultural taxonomist in 1986. Joe was a world authority on the North American clubmosses, published 25 scientific papers, and gave 18 papers at scientific meetings. Joe also co-authored with John Mickel the "Pteridophyte Flora of Oaxaca, Mexico," and a booklet on hardy ferns. Just before his death he helped Herb Wagner complete the treatment of Lycopodiaceae for the Flora of North America. His bibliography will be published in the American Fern Journal.

Source: Brittonia, 43 (2), 1991, 123-125
Copyright 1991, by the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY 10458

What a tragic loss. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met him all those years ago. I know Joe would be happy I am still out there looking for Lycopods and thinking of him.

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Cute! This a actually a pretty robust specimen. I have seen plants only 2 inches tall, if that.

Another LycopodLover I met back in the 1970s was Jim Bruce. I got briefly acquainted with him and then we met years later after he had moved to Virginia where he currently owns and operates the ground cover nursery Hanover Farms.

Jim published numerous scholarly articles about Lycopods such as: " Comparative Studies in the Biology of Lycopodium" an well as co-authoring a Field Guide to the Ferns and Other Pteridophytes of Georgia.
In fact, I even have my very own autographed copy which was given to me by Jim. Below is a scan of the flyleaf.

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We continued on our hike through a forest of many large trees. Notice the almost total absence of undergrowth. Limited light, moisture and nutrients make it difficult for any other woody plants to get established. I imagine at one time this is what most of the forests in eastern North America looked like. This is called a climax forest.

An old-growth forest (also termed primary forest, virgin forest, primeval forest, late seral forest, or in Britain, ancient woodland) is a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance, and thereby exhibits unique ecological features and in some cases may be classified as a climax community.Old-growth features include diversity of tree-related structures that serve as diversified wildlife habitat that leads to higher bio-diversity of the forested ecosystem. Diversified tree structure includes multi-layered canopies and canopy gaps, high variance of tree heights and diameters, diversity of decaying classes and sizes of woody debris, and diversity of tree species.

Source: WikiPedia

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Here Betsy stands next to a big Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis).

Betula alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch), is a species of birch native to eastern North America, from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, southern Quebec and Ontario, and the southeast corner of Manitoba in Canada, west to Minnesota, and south in the Appalachian Mountains to northern Georgia.

The name "yellow birch" reflects the color of the tree's bark.
The wood of Betula alleghaniensis is extensively used for flooring, cabinetry and toothpicks. Most wood sold as birch in North America is from this tree. Several species of Lepidoptera use the species as a food plant for their caterpillars. See the list of Lepidoptera that feed on birches.

Source: WikiPedia

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Although it may be seen in older trees, the shaggy, shredded bark is most common on young trees and newer growth.

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Now that is a big Yellow Birch!
Note the carpet of Shining Clubmoss through which the trail winds.

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I cannot remember ever seeing such thick and extensive carpets of Shining Clubmoss.

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Gorgeous!

When I was learning the ferns back in the 1970s, this Lycopod was known as Shining Clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidiulum). But, when folks like Joe Beitel and Jim Bruce starting taking a closer look at the taxonomy, things changed. In retrospect it seems obvious all the Lycopods in the northeastern US should not have been placed in one genus. Given gross morphology alone, this now seems crazy. But Joe and others fixed that. Now the lycopod of which I speak is called Shining Firmoss (Huperzia lucididula).

I was curious about the origins of the genus name and searched the web and some of my books. I could find nothing. But I was sure FellowFernFreak Joan Gottlieb of Pittsburgh would know. I contacted her via email and this was her reply.

Huperzia was named for Johann Peter Huperz (died in 1816), a German fern horticulturist. I looked it up in Flora of North America, Vol. 2: Pteridophytes and Gymnosperms, where the genus is discussed in detail. Incidentally, I am pretty sure (the late) Joe Beitel wrote or contributed to this section since he is listed among the specialists for each group and the section on hybrids sounds just like his work.

Source: Joan Gottlieb

A little more digging turned up this tid-bit:
The alkaloid Huperzine is extracted primarily from a species of Lycopodium, Huperzia sermta, which grows in China. Huperzine is used as an herbal remedy for "Age-Related Cognitive Decline". I think I better get me some!!
The specific name lucidula comes from the Latin and means "shining". This is in reference to the plants bright, vivid green color.

Why the change from Clubmoss to Firmoss? "Clubmoss" refers to stalked or unstalked terminal cones or clubs in which the spores are contained. Since Shining Firmoss has the spore structures in the axils of the scale-like leaves, someone (Selago Joe?) had the bright idea of changing the name to firmoss since it was thought the scale-like leaves resembled the needles of fir (Abies) trees. Talk about esoterica!

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Here we see two more species of Lycopodiums: Stiff Clubmoss (Lycopodium (Spinulum) annotinum) in the back and Running Pine (Lycopodium clavatum) in the front.

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Here is Shining Firmoss and to the far left a section of Running Pine. Note the Running Pine is surficial - it runs along the top of the ground, but the Shining Firmoss has a branching and creeping rhizome just below the surface.

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This is one of several of the boat-in camp sites we passed. We saw many occupied sites but saw no one at these sites. However, we did see several people fishing from the shores nearby.

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Bears like camp food! As do raccoons, possums, squirrels and others who could make a mess of your food stores.

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In any forest trees die. When they do they fall apart. This is sometimes helped along by woodpeckers who bang at the bark looking for tasty morsels. We saw several piles of bark like this one from a deadRed Pine.

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Now here is something interesting. These three Arborvitae (White Cedar) are not only hooked together by their root system, they are elevated off the ground.
I should have recognized this phenomena immediately as I have seen it before in both the Appalachians and the forests of the Pacific Northwest. But too many cheap beers have dissolved some of the grey cells and I needed something to jog my memory.
To that end I emailed the above photo to Jon Weems who is the Arboretum Specialist at West Virginia University.
Jon has a great love of trees and has seen and learned much from them. So it was no surprise to me when he put his finger on what had caused the oddball trio above.

Here is what happens:
A big tree falls in the forest. It starts to decompose. Seeds from various plants are deposited on the decaying log. Some seeds germinate. Some seeds are trees.
As the tree grows, the log continues to decompose. As the tree(s) roots grow, they often extend laterally down the sides, and some extend along the length of the tree corpse. Eventually the entire host log decomposes, often leaving the trees which grew upon it on a stilt like system of roots which elevate them from the surrounding forest floor.
Pretty cool, huh?
Nurser Log at Schooner_Trail This image is from WikiPedia. It was shot on the Schooner Trail, Pacific Rim National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

I learned the name "Nurse logs" for the dead host tree.

I think the first one I ever saw and where I learned this name was in the Hoh River Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. That was back in the late 1970s.
Wanna see and read more? Check out "The Life of a Nurse Log".

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Here is another Nurse Log. This one is a White Birch (Betula papyrifera). To me, this tree more than any other conjures up visions of the Great North Woods.
Today is a warm summer day. But what must it be like in the dead of winter?

"Here in the great north woods all was still and white. Beads of ice glistened on bare branches like jewels. The frosted needles of pine and spruce pricked the eggshell sky, and a ghostly moon began to climb over the treetops." From: Marven of the Great North Woods by Kathryn Lasky

The bark of the White Birch will outlast the wood of the log by many years and it is not uncommon to see a hollow tube of bark when the wood is long gone.

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On this trip we have seen some pretty bizarre cankers, burls and other types of strange growths on trees. And here is the latest. This one is on a big old Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum).

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Click on the image above for a closer look at this dendrological weirdness.

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There are some gorgeous White Pine (Pinus strobus) in the Sylvania Wilderness. I was once again reminded of the giant White Pine we saw in 2010 at Estivant Pines near the tip of the Keweenaw peninsula.

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I have no clue what species of shelf fungus this is, but it sure is purty!

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Photo by Betsy

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Betsy always gets my best side!

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This is what I was snapping a shot of in the photo above. I sorta doubt the bark came off in these kind of chunks. I suspect it was the work of a Pileated Woodpecker.

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It was obviously a good year for cone production.

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These cones are from White Pine. The cones of the Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) which we also saw along the trail are shorter, broader and ovoid.

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One of several inviting looking beaches we saw on the hike. All was quiet and calm.

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The first sign of humans we saw on the hike.

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The group of four was portaging to Loon Lake where they were going to set up camp.

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There was very little color other than shades of green, grey and brown so this plant of Doll's Eye (Actaea pachypoda) really stood out.

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Doll's Eye is also known as White baneberry. And according to some sources, the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and berries may cause gastrointestinal inflammation and skin blisters. I decided trying to verify this was probably not a good idea.

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This trail intersection to White Fish Lake was about the half way point. By now we were both a little on the hot and sweaty side. Fortunately the mosquitoes were few and far between.

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A beautiful North Woods Medley: Intermediate Wood Fern, Dwarf Cornel, Stiff Club Moss, Threeleaf Goldthread, and Northern Wood Sorrel.

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This fallen hemlock was peppered with Shelf Fungus. What species? I do not know...

By now we were on the home stretch and we were both thinking about the beach we would be passing by soon. That cool water was gonna feel good!

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I don't think I ever enjoyed a dip more. Betsy always loves it, and today I did as well. Hot, sweaty and tired with some swollen knees and "sausage fingers" was all made well by the cool waters of Clark Lake. Ahhh...

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We had the whole beach to ourselves so we relaxed and took our time. We emerged refreshed and ready to walk the last mile back to the car.

By now it was nearly 4:00 o'clock and it was time to hit the road to find a place to stay for the night. We had hoped to find a place in Watersmeet which was only about 15 minutes away. But we found nothing there. A few miles north on US 45 we passed the Lac Vieux Desert Casino which had lodging. We were sure we could do better, so we continued on north.
This was mistake # 1.

We continued on North though Bruce Crossing at the intersection of SR 28. No lodging that we could see.
We saw two more closed motels at two different road intersections but I cannot remember the locations. One looked neat and tidy and open. But it was closed. The other was a decrepit looking cabin/chalet style place with attached restaurant. It looked like it had been closed for years.

At Mass City we stopped at the Adventure Motel and Cafe. Betsy thought the room smelled like cat piss and we generally had a bad feeling about the place. We moved on.
This was mistake # 2.
In the Twin Lakes State Park area we stopped at the Parkview Lodge & Grill. Betsy checked the rates - $85. We were sure we could do better. We moved on.
This was mistake # 3.

Route from Sylvania to Houghton

By now we were so far north we just decided to stay in Houghton. In 2010 we had stayed at the Downtowner Motel right next to Portage Lake and the lift bridge. That was in mid June and the town was quiet and the Downtowner was nearly empty. Well, it wasn't June now. It was August and the season was still on and the town was busy, busy, busy. And it was a Friday night and it was Freshman, Parent and Family Orientation weekend at Michigan Technological University! Yikes!!! We hit Houghton at the worst possible time.

We got one of the very last rooms and paid dearly for it - 100 bucks. The room was worth 45 - at the most. Now, riddle me this? Why didn't we just camp out at Sylvania or at Twin Lakes State Park. Oh, well...

Usually for a 100 bucks you get a fridge, micro, coffee pot, clock radio and more. The Downtowner Motel room had none of those "extras". And the air conditioner looked older than me and chugged like a freight train.
We got our stuff unloaded and then it was time to think about dinner. We opted for the 2 block walk up to Little Caesar's pizza and got a Hot'n'Ready. When we got back to the hotel we grabbed a couple of chairs and a couple of beers and enjoyed our pizza in the setting sun.

Soon it was chilly enough to move inside to our 1 star room and not long after we zonked out.
Interesting day. What would tomorrow bring?

 

See you then...