July 9, 2014

Cone Crop of the Century, Part III - The Next Generation

Last September, and again this February, we wrote about the bumper crop of cones on our spruce and fir trees during the summer of 2013.

On today's guided hike up to Yoho Lake, we talked about the ability of subalpine fir to germinate in the snow, and to grow a taproot – up to 3 cm long – right after germinating.  This long taproot allows it to get a foothold in the mineral soil that's under all the leaf litter, and makes the fir superb at regenerating in shady, mossy subalpine forests.

subalpine fir with taproot
Well, talking about it is one thing, but seeing it is another.  A few minutes after our discussion, we found ourselves in a patch of snow, and there they were!  Dozens, maybe hundreds, of little fir seeds from last year's bumper crop, happily germinating and growing their epic taproots.

Then, to complete the story, a few minutes later we stopped for good views, and around our feet were baby fir trees, maybe a month old, sprouting their first needles.  My photo is a bit blurry, but you can see the first two needles, ready to start photosynthesizing.

baby subalpine fir, with its first needles