Site F: Hemlock and Field
Notice the big, beautiful western hemlock tree. Look underneath it (but don’t trample anything!). Particularly from late summer to fall, you may notice many different fungi. A white antler-like fungus that decomposes the needles is called crested coral. As well, big, soft bolete mushrooms often grow in a circle around the tree. This fungus originates in the roots of the tree, where it forms a mutually beneficial association known as mycorhizzae. Here the fungus gets sugars from the tree while the tree uses the fungus to help collect minerals and other nutrients.
To the right of the hemlock is a bigleaf maple tree. An interesting lichen that grows on the high branches of this tree is called lungwort. It has a large, leafy shape that looks a lot like a lung! You may see some of it blown down and lying on the ground. Lichens are important because they are able to take nitrogen and other nutrients out of the air, and, when they fall, decompose it into the soil. This is one of the few ways older-growth forests get precious nitrogen into the soil. However, because lichens get most of their nutrients from the air, they are very badly affected by air pollution.
The field here is very important. It provides food and lodging for mice, voles and other rodents, which then feed predators like garter snakes, owls, and hawks. In the summer, note the beautiful pink flowers of the grass. The field has been planted with trees in areas to help the forest grow, using Sitka spruce (bluish with shorter, prickly needles) and Douglas-fir (more green with soft needles that go all the way around the branch). The process of forest development is known as succession, and this area is in the process of changing from an old field ecosystem to a young forest. Watch as you walk here – you may see rodents, garter snakes, or perhaps a fat western toad hopping along the trail!