Indicator Species

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Indian Pipe – a saprophytic plant

I was out on an extended hunt in the mountains with another guide and a hunter. We were after Thinhorn sheep and we may as well have been hunting hippos for the amount of game we were seeing.

As we were making our way through a valley pass to the next mountain range the other guide commented on how much our horses seemed to enjoy “that swamp grass”. I mentioned that the swamp grass was in fact some form of “equisetum”. He looked at me as though I was from another planet and then took up a good fifteen minutes of our ride to explain to me how ridiculous it was to have that piece of information at the ready.

At that point I realized that I was dealing with a lost cause. There are people who go through this world, not only ignorant, but in fact reveling in their ignorance of many things. This was not an uneducated man but one who simply didn’t understand nature and the bigger picture.

“Why would you want to know about something like that?”

I knew the question was rhetorical so I didn’t bother to answer. I’m sure one of you reading this might want to know, so here it goes: When you understand all, or some, of the components of an eco-system you can glean what is going on from all types of “indicator” species. Maybe at the time you don’t know that you are in fact looking at an indicator – but at some point the light will go on – and you’ll have that moment of knowing how everything fits together.

The photo at the top of this entry is of “Indian Pipe” a saprophytic plant that feeds of dead plant material and is white due to it’s lack of chlorophyll. The plant, in of itself, is not that useful to we humans directly, but it is an indicator of the plant in the photo below – the Huckleberry. So, find some Indian Pipe and you know you’re in a good huckleberry hunting area. This I know only to be true in the environs I’ve traveled in and it may not hold true for your neck of the woods so please don’t raise too much of a protest.

Equisetum, apart from being great horse food, is also great bear food – especially if the berries or food sources are not ready at that particular time. So why know this? If you find yourself in a big patch of equisetum and you’ve noticed a lack of berries or other things a bear might want on his plate, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re walking into Yogi’s kitchen/dining room and you might want to be taking the necessary precautions.

Huckleberries – as indicated by Indian Pipe

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