Late Summer Walk on the Bruce Trail

By Nikki May

On a lovely morning in mid-September, members of Saugeen Nature joined leader Bob Knapp for a walk on the Bruce Trail in the Rocklyn Creek Management Area. The woodlands along this trail were still a lush green, with a wide variety of tree species and many flowering plants, some still in bloom.

At first the way is a little open and we passed masses of Spreading Dogbane and Wild Raspberry, but the trees soon close in and woodland species prevail. Sugar Maples, Yellow Birch and large Beech trees tower overhead, with the occasional Hemlock on the cooler, damper places. In the understory Mountain Maple and ground yew mix with a variety of Maple and Beech saplings. At our feet lay evidence of a rich variety of spring ephemerals including Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Ginger and Foam flower. There were many different species of ferns scattered here and there; an interesting feature of this trail is the rich masses of Maidenhair Fern that cover parts of the slope up to the Escarpment.

Parts of the trail skirt an area of tumbled boulders forming a talus slope up to the escarpment. Here are found some large old Eastern White Cedar, although none to compare with the thousand-year-old specimens along the Niagara Escarpment on the southern reaches of the Bruce Trail. To the left of the trail and down-slope runs Rocklyn Creek. The trail winds up and down, sometimes coming near the creek bed. The burbling sounds of the creek make a lovely backdrop in the quiet of the late-summer woods when few birds are calling.

Where the trail approaches the low areas, there are masses of Yellow Jewelweed in bloom at this time of year. These appear in relatively open areas where very large trees are scattered widely and there is little understory. At other places the young trees are growing thickly in the openings where older trees have fallen, and we observed how the forest regenerates itself over time. The fallen trunks provide fertile places for mosses, fungi and ferns to grow, as well as feeding nutrients back to the soil for the young trees to regenerate. As these dying trees fall, the large root balls are often uprooted and eventually form what is termed ‘pit and mound’ topography on the forest floor. The pits occur where the roots have been pulled out of the soil and the mounds form over time where the tipped-up root balls rot into the ground. This uneven topography provides a diversity of micro-habitats for many different species of plants to grow on the forest floor.

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