Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Falling Piers, Muir Woods, & the Taxodiaceae

San Francisco Vacation, Part 1

We just got back from our vacation to San Francisco--phew! There was a lot to see in a small space of time. I wore holes in my feet and caught a cold, but we saw a lot of lovely things, at some scrumptious food, and enjoyed just being in a place that was so very different from our everyday lives.

Being plant dorks with a limited time, we managed to miss Alcatrez and Chinatown, but we did see Muir Woods and the botanical garden at Golden Gate Park.

I think this was Matt's Favorite Thing from the whole trip:

It's a sign that warns you not to walk on the rickety old part of the pier because it could fall down under your weight... and then pieces of it might hit a passing swimmer. Please: Think of the swimmers.

And I made an exciting culinary discovery within the first couple of hours of being in the city: Vietnamese pancakes, or banh xeo.

I've never noticed them on the menus of local Vietnamese places, but they're scrumptious crispy crepey confections, just slightly sweet, with a stir-fried savory filling. Yummy.

Butmy favorite part was probably Muir Woods. We took this pretty road to get there.

Muir Woods is populated by coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), which are the tallest trees in the world. They are not, however, the most massive trees in the world: those are their cousins, giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum). Giant redwoods are the ones you can drive cars through. While coast redwoods are no slouches in the diameter department, the tree below may be the widest we saw in the park.

I was interested to see that the National Park Service still describes redwoods as members of the Taxodiaceae. That family was named for one of my favorite tree species, Taxodium distichum or baldcypress. Sadly for the honor of my favorite tree and my home state (it's the state tree of Louisiana), recent genetic research caused that family to be dissolved into the larger cypress family, the Cupressaceae (for the curious, here's a phylogenetic tree of the Cupressaceae, showing the genera it currently contains).

But baldcypresses and redwoods share a certain something or other that sets them apart from their cypressy cousins, like junipers, Italian cypresses, and arborvitae. Even baldcypresses have an august, primordial quality, and that same narrow, linear form. Below you can see an impressive example of the deeply furrowed bark that is characteristic of the former family.

And this tree--in addition to being covered in interesting aqua-colored lichen--exhibits the same graceful flare at its base as baldcypresses do.

Nevertheless, folks who know a great deal more than I do about botany, plant physiology, and genetics seem persuaded that the new classification is the most accurate. And it does now put the tallest tree, the most massive tree, and the longest lived tree (Fitzroya cupressoides) in the same family, which is kind of neat.

We took the main trail, which is paved and very congested, and took the first turnoff (Ocean View? Something like that). That trail goes up the mountain by way of a bunch of steps and is WAY quieter than the main trail. It's less lush, but there are no joggers up there (there were joggers on the main trail! Galumphing along, getting underfoot, and generally harshing the redwood mellow). The Ocean View runs into the Lost Trail, which takes you to the Fern Creek trail, which, by innumerable knee-jarring stairs, takes you back down to the main trail. The beauty of this route is that you get lots of quality alone time with the trees, and at the end of your exertions, you're rewarded with the best of the trees--the ones in the part of the trail that runs along Fern Creek at the base of the mountain. These are the biggest, most lush, and most mossy and lichenous of the lot. And the creek's beautiful too.

Many of the trees in the park are hollow, which doesn't seem to bother them one bit.

And, of course, there are fallen trees, which form an important part of the forest ecosystem. They also look really neat.

There were other interesting plants in the park. These dessicated ferns glowed in the dim forest light.

And there was moss everywhere, making everything look soft and green and fertile.

...More to follow...

Bob asked if we saw any Pacific black-tailed deer while in Muir Woods. In fact, we did (or at least we saw a deer with a black tail--presume it's the PBTD), and we even snapped a picture:

Click picture for larger version

It looked at us inquisitively, determined we did not have any food, and slouched off in a huff. Or something like that, anyway.


Bob said...

I was wondering if you guys happened to see any deer while there? They would be Pacific coast blacktailed deer.

Those trees would be neat to have here but I would have to do some serious study on shade plants.

Elgin_house said...

We did, actually. On the path from the parking lot to the trailhead we saw a smallish deer standing by a fallen redwood. We even got a picture, but it didn't turn out terribly well. Those deer really blend in. I posted the pic above as an addendum. Are you particularly fond of them?

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