Today, the entire group went out on an 8 mile hike on the pumice plains. The pumice plains are on the northeastern side of the mountain, and they were made largely by the pyroclastic flows from the 1980 eruption. Before the eruption, this area had been old growth forest, much like many of the other areas around Mount St. Helens pre-eruption. However, the eruption released pyroclastic flows of hot rock fragment, gases, and ash. These were hot enough to burn the trees and scorch the earth, leaving nothing behind but pumice and ash. Prairie lupine was the first species to return to this vastly altered landscape. 35 years after the eruption, the pumice plain is still undergoing ecological succession as it recovers from this disturbance. Along this hike, it was our group’s job to document and notice the signs of life on the pumice plain.
The pumice plain, as its name suggests, is a plain composed mostly of pumice and ash. Pumice is a type of igneous rock that is very lightweight and porous. This gives it the look of a barren desert landscape, but life still thrives in the habitat. Trees are nonexistent on the plains – tough shrubbery are what you see the most.
It went from beauty to disaster and back to beauty again on the pumice plain. Signs of life are everywhere from animal prints on the ground to bugs and birds in the air.
Once you start on this long adventure the wildlife is all around you. The first sign of wildlife we will be talking about is the creek animals. What you will expect to see are frogs, Sitka alders and little trout. When you get out of the stream area, and you near the outcrop, you might want to watch where you step. Deer and elk excrement litter this area. Their hoof prints are also on this beautiful area.
There are some plants that have brought back everything else like the Lupines. The lupines were the first thing that grew back in the barren pumice plain.
We saw some beautiful wildflowers on this hike. Pussy paws may be a strange name for a flower, but it explains the how the blossom looks. Fruits, Flowers, Leaves of the pussy paws. The fruit of the pussy paws are capsules. The leaves however are not capsules, they are spatula shaped.
Now we move on to the super flower, the dwarf mountain lupine. This was the first plant to appear on the pumice plain. Its roots support bacteria which provides essential nitrogen to other plants.
Contributed by the Lava Roses