Ashes and Seeds: Gray to Green

Ashes and Lupine Seeds
Ashes and Lupine Seeds

In the spring on 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted. It blew out the north side instead of the top, which left a huge swath of devastation northward and mud slides down its eastern and western slopes. The devastation and dust from this blast covered about two hundred square miles around the mountain. Millions of plants and animals were erased from the landscape.

Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens

My father went there in the early 1980s and brought back a bag of ash. This is not like wood ash that you clean from a fireplace. This is rock ash from molten rock being blown out of the earths mantle. I passed around this ash in my classrooms whenever we studied volcanoes. I wanted my students to feel the texture and weight of this ash. Since I can’t do that here,  I have photographed some under a microscope.
20150727_112011

ash 4x
ash 4x

20150722_165123

Last week, thirty five years later, I got to go see Mount Saint Helens myself for the first time. There was still evidence of the blast scattered here and there if you know what to look for.  Still some tree trunks laid like matchsticks in parallel groups. A set of taller trees that survived the blast by being on the lee side of another mountain top.

Trees that survived.
Trees that survived.
Valley filled in with ashflow.
Valley filled in with ashflow.

The folks who knew the place before can point out many changes in the landscape including missing lakes and valleys that were filled in by the mudslides. What I saw were green trees and blooming flowers with wildlife everywhere.

Chipmunk collecting seeds.
Chipmunk collecting seeds.

How does a place recover from such devastation? How did it change from gray ash to green forests and meadows? I must admit that people sped up the process quite a bit to control erosion and continue timber production. Trees were planted by the thousands.

Nature has its ways of recovering. Seeds are the secret. Burrowing animals pushed up soil to mix with the ash and seeds were pushed up, carried in or blown in. This with a little rain and snow started the cycle of life again in the midst of all that destruction.

Most seeds could not survive on the ash, but one type actually thrived.  Lupine, Lupinus lepidus, a pioneering species could grow on the ash mix.  The seeds of this species germinated and grew because of its low nutrient needs, due to a bacteria in its roots that converts nitrogen.

Lupine
Lupine

Once the Lupine took hold in an area, succession could begin.  As these plants died and decayed,  they produced organic matter for other plants to use. Thus, other plants moved into the area to produce the beautiful mix of wildflowers there today.

20150722_162713

20150722_175258

succession flowers near volcanoe
succession flowers near volcano

2 thoughts on “Ashes and Seeds: Gray to Green

  1. It’s a pretty fantastic place to visit, isn’t it? I was amazed by the massive tree trunks that had just been snapped off like matchsticks. Unimaginable force and power… And, I really enjoyed seeing the movie they show of the transformation over the years. Quite wonderful, indeed! Great post!

    Like

  2. I loved both the videos in the visitors’ center. I learned a lot from them and the displays.

    We also met a locals who pointed out elk and changes to the valley, river, lakes. I can’t imagine the shock and heartbreak the eruptions caused all the nature lovers around there. I can’t wrap my head around the magnitude of the devastation.

    Nature does keep going. I am reminded of my “Weed” post that I have been working on. The wild will survive, because that’s what they do. They aren’t there for looks or smell or good taste. Hybrids just can’t compete.

    My mom said when she was out there several years after the eruption that purple was everywhere. Those lovely lupines paving the way! I loved Oregon.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s