While I mused on the story of the derelict Chatham Cannery village in Sitkoh Bay,
the walkers, including David, were ferried over to the opposite shore.
Some walkers chose to stretch their legs on a longer forest walk;
David chose a meander along the shore line.
The shore here was much rockier than the other beach areas and it was rather more difficult to walk on than either pebbles or sand. But here David found a natural ‘rock garden’ which featured Sea Plantain, Plantago maritima.
Sea Plantain is also known as Goose-tongue. This tap-rooted perennial grows in rocky areas that are immersed at high tide. It flowers throughout the summer season. The succulent, salty flavoured leaves are sometimes eaten as a green vegetable with fish.
Another plant commonly found growing by the sea shore, tidal flats and salt marshes is the lovely fleshy perennial, Glaux maritima. It’s local name is Sea Milkwort because nursing mothers were given an infusion made from the plant to help increase their milk supply.
Barnacles are a common feature on the rocks in these inter-tidal areas.
Barnacles are crustaceans, related to crabs, prawns and lobsters. In fact they begin life as a tiny shrimp-like larvae swimming freely in water. But to become an adult, a barnacle must attach itself by a form of ‘cement’ to a hard surface such as rocks. That ‘cement’, released from the head end of this small animal, is a very strong adhesive which begins as a clear liquid. As it solidifies, it becomes opaque and rubbery. Once in position, the barnacle begins to secrete calcium-hard plates which totally encase it forming its cone shaped home. And that’s where it stays, head first on the rock, for the rest of its life.
This cone ‘house’ has a door which the barnacle closes when the tide goes out in order to save moisture. When the tide comes in, as water covers the cone, the door is opened and the barnacle’s six pairs of feathery ‘legs’, feeding appendages, come out and wave in the water collecting plankton for the barnacle to eat.
The rocks at the intertidal zone here are covered in barnacles. And that’s just as well, as they need other barnacles to be very close by when it comes to reproduction… not an easy process when stuck to a rock. Most barnacles are hermaphrodites; they have both male and female sex organs. But their eggs must be fertilised by another barnacle. So how is this possible? Each barnacle has a special retractable tube containing sperm With that, it can reach out beyond its cone for several centimetres in order to fertilise a nearby barnacle. Tricky problem; amazingly simple and effective answer.
Extensive beds of Fucus sp., or Rockweed, are common in the mid intertidal zones. such an abundance of this seaweed indicates good water quality; as nutrient pollution increases, so the amount of seaweed declines.
Here along the shores of the islands of Alaska’s Inside Passage, where there are no houses. farms or fertilisers, Fucus can be seen on just about every shore. These rockweeds provide food, shelter, and spawning habitat for many sea and shore creatures such as crustaceans, juvenile mussels, snails and fish. These, in turn, attract feeding seabirds. There’s so much inter-dependence in nature, isn’t there!
Sea Lettuce, Ulva sp., is a green algae that has a fine, silky texture with waved or ruffled margins. The delicate blades of Ulva are usually only 40 microns thick. This algae is usually found in the mid to low intertidal zones and grows from a ‘holdfast’ that keeps it moored to the rocks when the tide rises. It’s common name not only refers to its lettuce like look but also to the fact that it is sometimes eaten in soups or salads.
Salicornia depressa, commonly called Sea Asparagus is edible, and tastes like salty pickles. The stems are jointed, soft and are about as thick as pencils. They are enveloped in waxy leaves that wrap around the stem so tightly that it’s often hard to tell the leaf and stem apart. In June, when we were in this area, this plant was in it’s green phase. As the weather cools down, they will turn yellow, then orange, then red! How lovely this shore would look then.
Rubus parviflorus is an upright shrub of the forest edges. It has multiple, thornless stems, or canes which can reach up to 2.1 m (7ft). The large five pointed leaves are somewhat like an oak leaf but are hairy and soft to the touch. The bark peels off in tiny fragments.
Rubus parviflorus is called by some, the “Queen of the Berries”. The flowers form between May and early July and are pollinated by insects. The berries are first pink then scarlet and ripen very quickly if given a sunny day. They are easy to harvest as the stems are thornless and the berries just fall off at the slightest touch. When fully ripe they soft and delicious… what a shame they were not in fruit in June!
Veronica beccabunga ssp. americana, American Brooklime, one of the Speedwell family, is quite rare in the wild. It’s a rather weak plant that grows in gaps in the vegetation on or near the edges of streams, as the name Brooklime suggests. The lilac blue flower has 4 lobes and it has only 2 stamens. If the sun is shining, the flower spreads its petals out flat to attract bees and flower flies. However if the weather is damp, as it is often in this area, the flower only half opens and apparently self-pollinates. It can also propagate itself asexually when side shoots break off and float away during the growing season.
Brooklime is used by dragonflies to perch and view the world and also to lay their eggs; the larvae then use the stems to climb out of the water.
Aruncus dioicus, or Goatsbeard, is a clump forming perennial plant that likes to have damp roots but can survive in almost any soil, in sun or in light shade. It’s been used by the native peoples as a poultice for bee stings. A ‘tea’ made from its roots has been used to bathe swollen feet and rheumatic joints. We still have so much to learn about the uses of native plants.
Toadstools are found down among the leaf litter.
And where there are toadstools, there are often slugs.
Slugs may not be everyone’s favourite creature but they are really the unsung champions of the forest, eating dead organic material and turning it into soil. This Banana slug, Ariolimax columbianus, seemed to be enjoying a feed of toadstool.
Banana slugs have two sets of retractable feelers on the head; clearly seen in this photo. The top ones detect light and the lower ones provide a sense of smell. Remarkably, if these feelers are destroyed, they will simply grow back!
Banana slugs come in various colours, often depending on their diet. They have soft bodies and no obvious shell. A single foot, that looks a little like a skirt, carries the slug via a system of rhythmic waves. To make sure that this foot doesn’t get damaged, the slug secretes a layer of slimy mucus and glides over the ground on that mucus.
On this very pale Banana slug, the breathing hole, the pneumostone, is open allowing the slug to collect moisture out of the air from which it extracts oxygen. However the lungs are tiny and the slug also has to use the mucus on its foot to help it to breathe. The slime keeps the skin wet so oxygen can be breathed through it.
And there’s yet two more important uses for that slimy mucus. One is in reproduction. The Banana Slug is a hermaphrodite which means that they contain female and male organs. When a slug is ready to mate, it leaves a special chemical in its slime which attracts other slugs. When mating, the two slugs form a heart shape and exchange sperm. Each of them will then lay about 70 eggs. The eggs are not cared for… the young are on their own!
The other use for that slimy mucus is to repel prey. Slugs don’t move fast and offer the promise of an easy meal to other forest creatures. Just one nasty taste can teach a lesson and the mucus leaves a numbing sensation in the mouth as well. However, thankfully this is not a great deterrent to birds and lizards; otherwise the forest would be covered in slugs!
Here again is that introduced Creeping Buttercup, Ranunculus repens.
It seems to have found its way onto many of the shores in this area.
It is lovely, but….
Wild Celery or Sea-watch, Angelica lucida, in bud, with a boat-backed beetle.
Sea-watch, Angelica lucida, in full flower,with a native bee. This plant is just one of 60 species of the Angelica family which are spread across the northern hemisphere. The name comes from a legend that an archangel revealed to a man named Mattheus Sylvaticus, that this plant was a remedy for the plague and cholera. Both were deadly diseases that took many thousands of lives across Europe. It came to be believed by many that the plant has healing powers. This species, ‘lucida‘, with its pure white flowers is native to much of the west coast of Canada and USA, including Alaska.
Too soon, it was time to call an end to this wandering.
And once more, Nicky brought the walkers safely back to the ship.
Her work was not yet done; she still had to hoist the DIBs back onto the ship
and clean and check them ready for more adventures.
But for the rest of us…
photos were shared, stories were told over another delicious dinner
and plans were made for the next day.
More of that anon.
Jennie and David
All photographs copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels
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