For visitors coming to Glacier Bay, the flora and fauna of the region can easily take a back seat to the dramatic calving of the glacier or the stunning tail flukes of Humpbacks feeding in the Bay’s current. But there’s a lot more to the region that keeps a naturalist like Ranger Fay Schaller excited. Schaller says that even from the ship, visitors can see the change as areas of the Bay come to life after the glacier retreats. In the Southern part of the Bay, for instance, where a rain forest as asserted itself since the glacier retreated more than two centuries ago. Wonderful trees from the Western Hemlocks to the Sitka Sprice, which is Alaska’s state tree are most abundant in the Glacier Bay area. And reaching out from the forest to the Bay shoreline are willow and alder thickets.
According Schaller, study of these wonderful woods and plants wouldn’t be possible without the work of Dr. William Skinner Cooper, who in 1914 came to the Bay to study the plant life. By getting down on his hands and knees and setting up quadrants, he was able to follow the plant community over several years and chart their development. And he was able to create a theory of Pioneer plants like lichens, that come in first to a barren land left from the retreating glacier to break down the rocky soil. Followed by, low lying plants and moss that begin to build up the soil as they go through their life cycle.
Then come the willow and Alder thickets that support the Bay’s community of Animals as a food source. And what is amazing about the conditions of the Bay is that a naturalist can study hundreds of years of botany as they move from the icy glacier to the shoreline. And visitors can as well, even from the deck of the ship inside the Bay as they can see large patches of magenta, bright pink, brown, yellow, stunning colors from the shorelines to the meadows. These colors reflect the different plant communities.
Click the arrow below to hear this podcast:[audio:http://www.hollandamerica.com/assets/cruise-vacation-onboard/PlantsFromtheDeck.mp3]
Listeners can download all 16 of the Glacier Bay podcasts, or only a specific audio file, onto a personal iPod, MP3 or portable media player before embarking on a Holland America Line Alaska cruise to Glacier Bay. Preloaded podcasts on iPods also are available on board for checkout. To access the complete “Glacier Bay Ranger Podcast Anthology” click here.
Paul Lasley and Elizabeth Harryman, travel writers, broadcasters and regular contributors to the Holland America blog, worked with the National Park’s rangers, scientists and naturalists to allow you this rare insider’s view into the science and wild beauty of Glacier Bay National Park.