I made my annual trek yesterday to view the autumn colours (particularly Acer circinatum) in Manning Provincial Park and the adjacent Skagit Valley Provincial Park. In my opinion, the colours were average or a bit better along the Highway 3 roadside, so not as spectacular as the previous two years. On the hiking trail I went on, though, the colours were non-existent to below par. Admittedly, the trails don’t seem to be as good as the highway roadside for colour, but the trails have the distinct advantage of being away from wind-causing, noisy highway traffic.
After a brief bit of disappointment regarding the maples, I mentally switched gears and started to photograph other things, like this scene from the Skagit River trail. There are two or three spots along the first 6km (3.75 miles) of the trail where the floor of the forest is dominated by the moss shown here, Hylocomium splendens for stretches of 50m (160feet) or so. Invariably, these are areas shaded by coniferous trees and therefore with acidic soils, but that combination of factors is present elsewhere along the trail where the moss isn’t found in such quantity. So why only in these brief stretches? I don’t know. If forced to make a guess, I would suggest two possible reasons (or a combination thereof): marginally increased local humidity or that this is a successional stage in the re-establishment of plants after a rock and mud slump. The latter strikes me as a good possibility; the ground beneath the thick layer of moss was quite rocky and, after the heavy rains of last year, a new rock and mud slump occurred elsewhere along the trail — approximately 50m wide!
From the Bryophyte Flora of North America entry for Hylocomium splendens, we learn that stair-step moss or stepped feathermoss is “one of the most common and widespread mosses of the circumboreal forest and Arctic tundra, which covers huge areas of Alaska, Canada, northern Europe, and Siberia” and also present in northern Africa, Australia and New Zealand. To view more photographs of Hylocomium splendens, visit the Bryophytes of North America photo gallery or the Northern Ontario Plant Database (the latter has a description of the moss and more resource links.