Primary Succession

by Carl Strang

A few days ago I shared an account of a morning spent with botanist Wayne Lampa and restoration steward Frank Keller. As we searched for lichens on the north deck of the old friary, Wayne remarked at how its bricks were becoming obscured by the plant growth.

Brick cracks succession 2b

Mosses had become established in the spaces between the bricks, and had spread over the edges. Those mosses in turn had provided a substrate in which a number of vascular plants were growing.

Brick cracks succession 1b

The most spectacular of those that day were balsam ragworts.

Senecio 2b

Curly dock was another.

Curly dock 2b

This sequence of events is close to the ecological process of primary succession, in which life becomes established in stages on a new substrate that did not have life on it before. Wayne’s and Frank’s study of lichens, particularly those on the concrete and rocks, was in part an examination of the first stage of primary succession. Whether the friary deck counts as primary succession I would have to leave for a plant ecologist to say. There was a little soil between the bricks to provide a foundation for the mosses. Given time, the deck could be covered by a deeper and deeper layer of soil, ultimately with a forest growing over it, reminiscent of lost Mayan ruins in the jungles of Central America.

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