Climbing buddy Wealthy and I’ve already hiked the whole lot of the Ozark Path, doing so in 5–15 mile segments from 1996 by means of 2015. Since then, we have now been redoing another the segments within the reverse route from the primary time, the eventual objective thus being to hike the whole lot of the Ozark Path in each instructions. Right now was a small contribution to that objective, during which we did the brief part between the hearth tower at Taum Sauk State Park (containing Missouri’s highest level at 1,772’ asl) and Russell Mountain.
The forecast was not promising, with regular rain predicted and temperatures remaining within the 30s. Nonetheless, Wealthy and I should not susceptible to cancelling a hike attributable to lower than very best circumstances, so we arrived at Taum Sauk Mountain mid-morning regardless of the periodic rain and determined to offer it a go. It was a very good resolution—our rain jackets and heat underlayers stored us confortable, and we had been rewarded for our tenacity with an serenely stunning take a look at the craggy, water-soaked panorama.
It was sluggish going as we each forgot our mountain climbing sticks, forcing us to extra intentionally select our footing on the rugged, rocky, boulder-strewn path. Usually on a winter hike, it’s the buds, bark, and remnant leaves that I take note of as I try to determine the part timber comprising the forest round me. Right now, nonetheless, with intermittent gentle rain, heavy moisture-laden air, and our eyes largely trying downward to decide on our subsequent footstep, it was the ferns, mosses, and lichens—shiny inexperienced and water-swollen—that captured our consideration.
Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) dotted the forest ground and alongside the path. A lot of the crops we noticed had been older, their fronds and pinnae ragged and tattered. A younger particular person, nonetheless, captured our eye, partly due to its recent, shiny inexperienced foliage and partly due to the shut affiliation with Polytrichum commune (widespread haircap moss), Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (rock greenshield lichen), and an unidentified fruticose lichen—a pure mini-terrarium.
Additional alongside the path, a patch of Thuidium delicatulum (delicate fern moss) was discovered thriving within the chilly, moist circumstances. Because the identify suggests, the leaves of this moss resemble the fronds of a small fern however type colonial mats relatively than arising from a basal rosette as in true ferns. Moist circumstances resembling existed in the present day are perfect for seeing this moss in its most engaging state—beneath dry circumstances, the leaves are extra appressed and contracted in opposition to the central stems.
As we descended the hillside, operating water may very well be heard within the distance, suggesting we might be handled to the sight of a waterfall. On the backside, the usually dry creek ran full, water crashing over the rhyolite boulders strewn additional up the ravine and gushing down beneath us. Some cautious footwork was required to scale the hillside off-trail to succeed in the water’s edge and get a closeup and private view, however expertise made the cautious footwork down the hillside and again up effectively well worth the effort.
Approaching the glades on Russell Mountain, the range of conspicuously inexperienced lichens and mosses instantly caught our consideration. The usually xeric panorama was lush and moist—water pooling in depressions of the uncovered rhyolite bedrock and stream over its slopes in sheets. Beds of Polytrichum commune (widespread haircap moss) colonized the sides of uncovered bedrock, forming intensive mats of turgid, shiny inexperienced, bristly vertical stems that appeared like miniature primordial forests. Like Thuidium delicatulum (delicate fern moss), this moss is also extra enticing when moist, its leaves extensively spreading and straight, whereas in dry circumstances they’re erect with their ideas typically recurved.
The ultimate leg of the hike took us by means of the scenic rhyolite glades (extra correctly known as xeric rhyolite prairie) between the Ozark Path and the Russell Mountain Trailhead. Usually, the glades are a harsh habitat—dry grasses crackling underfoot amid the searing warmth and the encompassing forest of Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) and Carya ovata (shagbark hickory) stunted and open. Right now, nonetheless, dense fog, heavy air, and water operating over each floor made the glade appear mysteriously mushy and mild.
The uncovered rhyolite bedrock right here represents remnants of volcanic rock fashioned 1.5 billion years in the past. Representing one of many oldest repeatedly uncovered landforms in North America, these craggy hills are however mere nubs of mountains that soared 15,000 ft above the salty Cambrian waters that lapped at their ft. It’s only cheap that these historic rocks ought to be so closely colonized by lichens—historic life kinds themselves ensuing from a symbiotic affiliation between fungi and a photosynthetic associate, often algae or cyanobacteria (blue-green algae).
Just like the beforehand seen mosses, rain brings out the very best in lichen attractiveness—their hydrated tissues at their brightest and most colourful. Quite a lot of fruticose and foliose lichens could be discovered intermingling within the uncovered rhyolite surfaces, with Flavoparmelia baltimorensis (rock greenshield lichen) being some of the conspicuous examples of the latter.
©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021