From the Field: Bill Buck in Tasmania
Ed. note: The blogging bryologist, Mary Flagler Cary Curator of Botany, Bill Buck, is back! This time, Buck is reporting from Tasmania where he is researching mosses for a week before flying to Melbourne for the International Botanical Congress.
July 12, 2011; Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
The rain forest earned its name today! You could tell from first thing in the morning that there would be a light, steady rain all day; and it lived up to expectations. We left Hobart after breakfast and headed south to the “Southern Forests” region on the northern edge of Hartz Mountains National Park. Our first stop was the Arve River Picnic Area. Here a short trail, billed as only a 10 minute walk, winds through an incredibly lush but open rain forest. Almost every surface is mossy: the forest floor is carpeted with particularly large mosses, and the fallen trees, many more than 6 feet in diameter, are covered in a diverse mantle of bryophytes. Even the smallest twigs host even tinier epiphytes. The filtered light, more hues of green than I ever knew existed, and the velvety texture of moss-covered surfaces make the forest almost surreal. It looks like a set from Lord of the Rings. For those who have never seen a Southern Hemisphere temperate rain forest, you couldn’t ask for a better introduction. There is something new at each turn of the trail and it was only the lure of additional sites, plus the sudden darkening of the skies and heavier rain that drove us back to the car.
From here we drove toward Hartz Mountains National Park. As we headed up the dirt road we started seeing patches of snow, and in no time at all, the snow was completely covering the ground, getting deeper and deeper as we headed into higher elevations. In fact, the only reason we even dared venture into the park itself is because some four-wheel drive vehicles had already blazed a track through the snow. Once inside the park, we parked our car in the middle of the road, and slogged through the nearly six inches of wet snow. All along the roadside small waterfalls cascaded down the rock walls, resulting in a rich moss diversity (and wet feet!).
We were concerned about going too deep into the forest because of the deep snow, so we decided to leave, and after executing a 10-point turn were we able to get out and start heading back down the mountain. In short order, though, we stopped again. What made us stop? An “implicate” rain forest. Implicate rain forests are so dense that it is hard even to move around (especially with deep wet snow hiding holes). Here I earned my badge of honor as the first of our party to get a leech. It was completely engorged when I finally noticed it, on my left wrist, covered by the sleeve of my raincoat. I flicked it off into the snow, and then mopped blood from my wrist for the next 30 minutes.
From here we visited a local tourist attraction, the Tahune Forest Air Walk, an elaborate metal walkway through the forest canopy, about 100 feet above the forest floor. I’m not very good with heights, especially when I can see the ground (very far) below through the grating under my feet. Toward the end a large section is cantilevered out over the Huon River. There was no way in hell I was going out there! Paddy had already told me about how it moves up and down like a diving board. I waited back on solid ground while my three companions ventured out there.
Despite the constant, light, cold rain, we had a great day. The right clothing makes all the difference! Tomorrow we head north to the northern coast of Tasmania, and will stay out for two nights, returning to Hobart on Friday evening. We’re all excited about the road trip and what botanical marvels we will see.
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Bill Buck’s Previous Reports From the Field: