I remember having a conversation with someone just a month ago or so…telling them that the Pacific Northwest is covered with rain forests, which they didn’t believe. Unfortunately, I have found more and more people who also did not know this.
When most people hear about rain forests, they automatically think of some foreign tropical paradise where parrots are flying around, poison dart frogs hope across the forest floor, and there are monkeys jumping tree to tree. And yes, that is a tropical rain forest. But the main stretch of temperate rain forest lies here in the Pacific Northwest…ranging from northern California all the way to southern Alaska. There are other smaller patches of temperate rain forests found throughout the world as well, but none as large as this one.
Rain forests are obviously characterized by precipitation (in the form of rain or snow). They are also characterized by the plants and wildlife that occur in them, depending on where in the world they occur, much how wetlands are characterized. Here in the PNW, large conifer trees such as Douglas Fir dominate the landscape. Lichen and mosses cover the forest floors and live as epiphytes on trees. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants (but not as parasites).
Whenever I go somewhere new, I try to immerse myself in the surroundings. I have a small obsession with identifying what every plant and animal is when I go hiking as well as their natural history. Here I was, moving to new territory where I didn’t know much at all about the history of the area, the species that exist here, or even what to really expect as far as weather. This left me feeling both terrified and excited.
Yesterday I visited Silver Falls State Park, about an hour south of Portland. I was in awe. There were a few remaining leaves hanging on the deciduous trees and the hiking trail was lined with brightly fallen leaves. And it was raining so the colors were even more vibrant. I was excited to find a rough-skinned newt on the trail! It was the first salamander I had seen in many years. And to find one on my first day of hiking in Oregon was surely a sign of good things to come. I quickly grabbed the little guy and moved him to a safe spot off of the trail.
Admittedly, forests were never my favorite ecosystems; I’ve always liked rocky coastlines, deserts, and wetlands the most. Granted, I thought that forests were beautiful and interesting as much as the next person, but they were never a favorite until seeing them in the Pacific Northwest. Reading about the natural history of the species has really helped me appreciate the forests here and how special they really are. In the last couple of months, I have become a bit obsessed with trees…particularly the Douglas Firs and Redwoods. Surely this is the same way that many loggers have felt when they wanted to chop them all down decades ago…or even today. I recently learned that Pacific Northwest forests that have been logged in recent times will not fully recover and develop to full stand growth until 2500 to 2800. Way past our lifetime. We will never see the recovery of those trees. Nor will our children…or our children’s children. Heck, the human race is even lucky if they see these tree stands again to the point where they are today.
I have also been learning a bit about lichens and fungi…organisms that have always intrigued me, but I knew little about. I also recently learned that many species of lichen grow at extremely slow rates…at the speed of growing to be dime-sized over the span of 10 years or something crazy like that! The largest organism in the world by area occurs in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon and happens to be a fungus: honey mushrooms (Armillaria ostoyae ). I am determined to find it one day.
Oh yeah….the photos. So it rained when I was out hiking yesterday and I wasn’t prepared to be out so long nor expect the rain to start until later. Fortunately, it wasn’t too cold yesterday. But the rain didn’t bother me. In fact, it was a bit delightful. Silver Falls was particularly beautiful, with a trail that passed at least 8 huge waterfalls…one of which you walk behind and hear the loud roar of water rushing over the rock above you. I got a few photos, but they really don’t do the justice of how beautiful the forests are here.