From Alaska south to Oregon western redcedar (Thuja plicata) is the signature tree of the Pacific Northwest temperate rainforest. It has mythic importance to native people, as entire civilizations were sustained, in large part, by this species. Natives of the Pacific Northwest regarded the species as a “Long Life Maker” (Stewart 1984) because they used it for canoes, paddles, houses, roofs, clothes, bedding, rope, cooking, and even medicine. Few giant trees were actually felled before the arrival of Europeans because old snags were usable for many years after death. Highly resistant to rot, the snags or parts of live trees would be harvested instead of the entire live tree. After building a dugout canoe from a tree, Lewis and Clark named it “arbor vitae,” Latin for “tree of life” (Arno 2007).Continue reading “Western Redcedar in California”
Exploring upper Copper and Indian creeks for yellow-cedar
I have been mapping and inventorying yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis) in California for the past four years. This process could have been much more efficient if it wasn’t for the 2018 Eclipse Complex and the 2019 Natchez Fire (more below) that virtually closed the Siskiyou Wilderness for the past two summers.
Successful surveys before this year have doubled the previously known area of this rare conifer from approximately 5 hectares in 2015 to 11 hectares by 2018. One of the largest gaps in surveys was within upper Indian and Copper creeks in the Klamath River watershed. I predicted this is where the largest stands of the species would be–little did I know how large an area I would find.Continue reading “My other side of the Mountain”
Big Trees of the Freshwater Creek Drainage, Humboldt County
Old-growth forests are forests that have developed over long periods of time, without experiencing severe, stand-replacing disturbance—a fire, windstorm, or logging. Within the redwood forest belt, of the estimated 1.6 million acres of redwood forest remaining, only 7% is old growth. The remaining 93% is considered some level of second growth. Around Humboldt Bay where we live that number is approaching 99%. The old-growth trees that do remain are often mixed within the second growth forests. Most often, an old tree was left behind by loggers because of imperfections like broken tops or less than optimal heartwood. This post explores some of the residual old growth in my neighborhood.Continue reading “Residual Old Growth”
Plant Exploring in the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 @7:30 p.m. at the Arcata Masonic Lodge
From the California Native Plant Society North Coast Chapter:
Explorer, writer, and educator Michael Kauffmann will lead us on a journey into the Transverse Ranges of southern California to explore the world of what John Muir called the steepest mountains in which he ever hiked. Michael’s explorations began because of a Bigcone Douglas-fir mapping and monitoring project he is leading in conjunction with California Native Plant Society, but these studies have allowed him to make more discoveries–from one of the world’s largest oaks to the most isolated grove of Sierra junipers in the world. Michael will take us on a photographic journey from the mountain tops to the river canyons across one of the nation’s newest national monuments.
My high school biology teacher inspired my love for natural history. After hiking the Continental Divide Trail, I fell in love with long-distance hiking. The The Bigfoot Trail combines the two.
Eminent botanist John O. Sawyer and I once discussed the lack of connectivity between the wilderness areas in the Klamath Mountains. This led us to pour over maps, talk rare plants, and plan a path that would connect these wild places. In 2009, I first walked this route and over the past few years have re-hiked various pieces to “finalize” the trek I call the Bigfoot Trail. This project combines long-distance hiking and natural history by defining a thru-hike in one of the most species-rich temperate coniferous forest on Earth.
I recently launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund the establishment of the Bigfoot Trail Alliance (BFTA) as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The BFTA will create a community committed to constructing, promoting, and protecting—in perpetuity—the Bigfoot Trail. I am asking you, noble reader, to become a founding member of this organization.
In my time living in northwest California, I have fallen deeply in love with the uniqueness of the Klamath Mountains. So much so that I wrote a natural history and hiking guide called Conifer Country which documents and celebrates the region. While writing that book, I hiked thousands of miles in search of wild trees.
The trail begins on the subalpine slopes of the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness, traverses the Klamath’s most spectacular peaks, crosses all its wild rivers, and ends at the edge of the continent in the temperate rainforest. It highlights all that Conifer Country has to offer.
I believe that by establishing this route—and ultimately the BFTA—a deeper understanding and awareness will be fostered for this region. This trail, and organization, is about the other biota who live in the Klamath Mountains—ultimately to function as stewards for their protection.
Please follow this link to join the campaign to establish the Bigfoot Trail.
Evergreen conifers and the winter solstice
This info-graphic explores the long and storied history of bringing evergreen conifers into our homes near the end of each calendar year. From the tradition’s beginnings in northern Germany as the Yule Tree to the creation of the artificial tree, read on to explore the origins and evolution of our unique love affair with conifers.
Original Publication DATE: 3/17/2010
Situated on the border of two major rock types, Myrtle Creek Botanical Area is floristically challenging as well as aesthetically arousing due to this unique geological architecture. Along the western slopes of the Myrtle Creek drainage, the North Coast Range meets the Klamath Mountains against an ancient island-arc accretion known as the Josephine Ophiolite. Plant communities are often defined by rock type, and this juncture creates unique plant assemblages. It is a place where complex rock interacts–nutrient rich soils of Coast Range meets the nutrient poor serpentines of the Josephine Ophiolite. It is also a place where ample rain falls, often in the amount of 100 inches per year. Because of these complex abiotic interactions, plants touch roots with plants in associations that almost never occur. For example, redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) grow with pitcher plants (Darlingtonia californica) and western redcedars (Thuja plicata) with knobcone pines (Pinus attenuata).
Historically, the drainage saw major mining operations transform the landscape when placer mining (panning) in the late 1800’s gave way to the more destructive–and potentially more lucrative–hydraulic mining during the early 1900’s. Eventually, all the accessible gold was removed and as the miners left the landscape, it slowly recovered. Today, all that remains from the operations is a major sluice where the trail begins, a ditch upon which the trail is built as well as several old shafts that are fenced in for protection.
Pictured above is California pitcher plant (Darlingtonia californica) growing on serpentine, which is not unusual in Del Norte County. What is unusual is that along Myrtle Creek it associates with salal (Gaultheria shallon) which is in the picture and growing just above–casting shade–is a redwood tree.
- North Coast CNPS Page for Myrtle Creek Botanical Area
DATE: 4/24/2014 4:18:08 PM
You said: “… a ditch upon which the trail is built…” This was no ditch, but a carefully constructed Chinese Footpath – the kind a person would see in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or other Asian rainforest areas. In addition to a mining camp was a Chinese labor camp. They built the footpath – which used to extend from near the falls to what is now hwy 199. I have taken several Vietnam Veterans on this trail, and they are all amazed at the similarity between this “ditch” (as you call it) and trails they saw while in Vietnam. These Chinese trails are noted by drainage area on the ‘mountain’ side of the trail, and a berm on the “creek” side of the trail. This construction helps keep the trail intact despite wet weather. Unfortunately, after over 150 years, there have been some serious mudslides along the creek that covered portions of the footpath – making it very difficult to get to the falls. There are still gold mining claims along the creek, and in the past, these mining claims have been protected with rifles. But not any more. I love this creek, have hiked it for 40 years, and treasure the botanical life. But a well-maintained trail would be nice. I would love to be able to hike to the falls again on a real trail.
Sue- Thanks for the comment. Sounds like you have a great understanding and appreciation for this wonderful creek canyon. I am sorry if I offended you by calling it a ditch, I know better now! -Michael
Original Publication Date: 11/26/2010
Botanists and ecologists familiar with the Klamath Mountains are inevitably familiar with the similarities the area has with the southern Appalachian Mountains. It is understood that both regions harbor exceptional plant diversity due to the complex interaction of several factors. They are each ancient mountain ranges that have sustained a similar flora since at least the Cenozoic. These mountainous regions have served as monadnocks–ultimately refuges for plants as populations of species have been eliminated by glaciation and climatic dessication1. Arriving in Virginia in a warm, dry November spell the Blue Ridge Mountains were beckoning me to visit as I peered toward them from the Shenandoah Valley.
I decided to research a mountain top hike that would provide both views and of course–if possible–relict conifers. After finding a publication from 1966 about the conifers of Shenandoah National Park2 mom, dad, and I settled on Stony Man Mountain–the second highest peak in the park at 4010 feet. The Appalachians have an ancient history, being one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Stony Man’s summit is composed of greenstones–which were formed 800 million years ago (Ma) by lava flow. With time the rocks changed and were ultimately uplifted 200 Ma and have eroded back to their current height over millenia. The botanical interests–while dependant on the mountain for safe harbor–are a more recent circumstance.
In addition to the wide array of flowering trees, shrubs and annuals that can be found in the Appalachians, several relict conifers survive on this particular mountain top and sporadically elsewhere across the rolling landscape. The conifers are harbingers for the microsites fostered by complex climate and geology which ultimately mimic conditions of a colder time. Canada yew (Taxus canadensis), red spruce (Picea rubens), and balsam fir (Abies balsamea) are found at their southern range extensions in and around the southern Appalachians of Virginia. These trees thrived in the colder climate of the Pleistocene but are now restricted to the highest mountain tops and coolest glades.
Canada Yew | Taxus canadensis
The Canada yew is an understory tree of late successional forests. This is exactly the habitat in which we found it in Shenandoah National Park. This yew of the northeast is ecologically identical to the Pacific yew (Taxus brevifolia) of the Pacific northwest. The small isolated population we found on the summit of Stony Man reminded me of select mountain tops of the Klamath–like Preston Peak. The population here was matted to the earth and often growing beneath and around shrubs on rocky outcrops punished by the elements.
Needless to say, this was an exciting plant to find and learn about...as were those that follow but are discussed in less detail.
A few other conifer highlights included…
Balsam fir | Abies balsamea
- Conifers.org balsam fir
- Wikipedia balsam fir
- Conifers.org Frasier fir
- Evolutionary history of the two species
red spruce | Picea rubens
pitch pine | Pinus rigida
- Whittaker, R. H. 1960. Vegetation of the Siskiyou Mountains, Oregon and California. Ecological Monographs. V30:3:279-338.
- Mazzeo, Peter M. 1966. Notes on the Conifers of the Shenandoah National Park. Castanea 31:3: 240-247.
- Hils, Matthew H. 1993. Taxaceae. Flora of North America Editorial Committee (eds.): Flora of North America North of Mexico, Vol. 2. Oxford University Press.
- Potter, K.M. et al. 2010. Evolutionary history of two endemic Appalachian conifers revealed using microsattilite markers. Conversation genetics. 11:1499-1513.
- Farjon, Aljos. 1990. Pinaceae: drawings and descriptions of the genera Abies, Cedrus, Pseudolarix, Keteleeria, Nothotsuga, Tsuga, Cathaya, Pseudotsuga, Larix and Picea. Königstein: Koeltz Scientific Books
AUTHOR: David Fix
DATE: 11/24/2010 2:17:02 PM
Thank you, Michael, for the quick look-see. Jude and I were in the park, as well as over in the Alleghenies in May and also enjoyed Red Spruce. It was fun to see you apply your landscape-parsing and plant skills to a different place. Question. What is that abundant and delicate knee-high fern with the pinnae that barely clasp your fingers as you feel it? But I simply enjoyed it in many spots and don’t need the name…
DATE: 11/24/2010 2:43:10 PM
Great trip, beautiful! This also taught me that monadnock is not just a mountain in southern New Hampshire, but rather my favorite mountain is the name sake for the topographical phenomenon.
Original Publication DATE: 7/29/2009
Two days into my 400 mile trek on the Bigfoot Trail I stopped to watch rain clouds clear above the headwaters of Cottonwood Creek–deep in the Yolla Bolly-Middle Eel Wilderness. As wind whipped the cool electric air past my ears a plant caught my eye–20 yards below the ridge on which I was balanced. This stately specimen had taken purchase many years ago in this rocky, windswept environment. This was a place in which only the heartiest of plants could hope to endure. Its reddish branches stood out in stark contrast to the lime green foliage. As I slowly crawled down the hillside my mind turned over and over with ideas of what species this might be. At first I believed it was cypress–possibly a MacNab or Sargent. But As I got closer I noticed the berry cones which are a diagnostic trait of junipers.
Original Publication DATE: 9/22/2009
High above the headwaters of the Salmon River and Coffee Creek, the remarkable ascension of Packers Peak is surprising next to the seemingly superlative granite of the Alps. The peak is a pedestal on which to perch, understand, and enjoy the complex Trinity Alps Wilderness that surrounds you. It is a steep climb from Big Flat, at the end of Coffee Creek Road, to reach this vantage point; but if you are willing to climb the nearly 3,000 feet in just under 3 miles, you will be rewarded.
Originally Published on 12/2/2008
The day after Thanksgiving was dedicated to working off some calories. I woke up at 5AM and took off to Hobo Gulch Trailhead on the edge of the Trinity Alps Wilderness. After 14 miles of hiking, including a scramble at the end, Papoose Lake was achieved around 2PM. I spent the afternoon exploring the frozen lake and surrounding areas; settling down for a cold night I started a fire and cooked some gourmet sausages. Saturday morning I awoke — after a surprisingly warm night — to a thawing lake, 2 cups of coffee, and a glorious sunrise. I packed a day bag and climbed the southwest ridgeline.
The geological character of the lake is fascinating in that the southwest edge is a fault where granite — common in the high Trinity Alp — meets a serpentine rock type (more geology) also typical across northwest California; scattered in many of its mountain ranges. This trip was originally planned because my favorite conifer, the foxtail pine, favors serpentine outcrops at high elevations — I had wanted to get into this region of the Alps and search out some foxtails. Here I had elevation and serpentine — so I predicted that there would be a new grove of this rare tree for me to discover just on the south-face above the lake. Upon achieving the ridge, my hunch was correct. While, foxtail pines do grow on granite in the high Trinity Alps they are much more common, and groves more extensive, on serpentine.
I spent a glorious day exploring an exceptional forest of trees — growing with foxtail pines were whitebark pines, Shasta red firs, mountain hemlocks, and a few Brewer spruce. In the cirque that holds Papoose Lake there are 11 species of conifers. Along the entire trail one can identify 15 species. My final day, Sunday, I returned to the truck refreshed and exuberant.
COMMENT: AUTHOR: Gary Robertson EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/garytrinity/ DATE: 1/31/2010 8:07:01 PM Informative commentary — great shots of your Papoose Lake trip. I try to get to Papoose every few years — one of my favorite Trinity Alps lakes. I’ve climbed the southwest ridge myself — whenever I cross-country from Papoose to the Russell Cabin Trail — that’s how I go. It’s a short but steep and very brush off-trail route. (The Russell Cabin Trail connects with the main North Fork trail at Backbone Creek just a short distance from the Hobo Gulch Trailhead.) —–
COMMENT: AUTHOR: Stephen Sikes EMAIL: email@example.com URL: DATE: 5/16/2014 1:57:25 PM Hi Michael – I’m curious if you recall the altitude at which the Foxtails began to emerge in the Serpentine soils. Do you recall if you found them below 7000′ at Papoose? —–
COMMENT: AUTHOR: Michael E Kauffmann EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org URL: DATE: 5/17/2014 2:24:27 PM Stephen- from Papoose Lake it is a significant climb to get to the foxtails. They are on the south-facing ridge, south of the lake. They may be north of the lake as well, but I did not climb into that area. South of the lake, as you see in the blog, is serpentine. The foxtails love this soil type and it is quite a spectacular stand here. They extend down slope from the ridgeline to an elevation I could not verify since I stayed high on this trip. Generally, foxtails in the Klamath Mountains live above 7,200′ but can be as low as 6,600′ depending on habitat. If you search them out – let me know what you find.