Around the shore of Eagle Island, where 3 of us camped in 2009, stands of conifers predominate in a band about 30 meters wide; farther inland, it is more of a mixed deciduous forest. This pattern seems common in the Saranac Lake area.
The two kinds of forest are quite distinct. You can walk along the transition, and see the different forests on either side. The coniferous areas are easy to walk through, with little understory and a fairly level, drier surface. The interior is full of saplings and brush, is wet and insect-ridden, with many depressions and crevices. Hemlocks, pines, birch, and cedar predominate in the coniferous. The same species, plus abundant Striped Maple saplings, occur in the mixed deciduous zone. While the same species occur, Hemlocks are relatively much more common in the coniferous, and their dense shade gives it its characteristic dark, but open, appearance. Cedars are most visible right at the water’s edge, where the deer preferably browse them in the winter. Eastern White Pines are the tallest trees in both areas, and from any distance, a casual observer can only see an undifferentiated pine forest.
Downed birch trees are all over the coniferous area. Presumably, they are able to get started quite easily, but as they grow larger, they are more likely to fall down than the hemlocks and pines. They rot fairly quickly, so they must fall down very frequently. In the interior, the downed trees are quite various, including birches, but relatively fewer of them.
The coastal coniferous areas are also sloped, and well-drained. Any flat area or any depression looks quite different, with moss all over the rocks and logs. The interior tends to be more of a plateau, and therefore poorly drained and wet. Crevices surround many boulders; presumably the soil just hasn’t built up between them. In other words, while there are lots of saplings, brush, and a litter layer, it is all a fairly thin carpet over the uneven boulders.
I guess that in the coniferous areas, the evergreen needles, being relatively rot-resistant, build up a thicker, but less-nutritious litter layer. This would account for the fairly level footing found here, as the crevices between the boulders has filled up. In the wetter, deciduous areas, while the litter layer may be more rich in nutrients, it seems like it continually washes or leeches away, as the moist conditions permit the deciduous leaves and wood to rot more quickly.
The last glacier came through the Adirondacks about 12,000 years ago, so at that time, it was all bare rock and boulders with some glacial till and sand. Also, the Adirondacks was heavily logged (cleared) in the 19th Century, so it’s possible that the present forest conditions reflect some re-growth of cleared areas, and thus some transitional forest types.
We had a lot of fun naming rocks and other landmarks: Dad’s Rock, North Rock, Heartstop Rock, Beaver Rock, Anna’s Harbor, Bouncing Root Ledge, etc. I hope to add some pictures of distinctive rocks to Panoramio, so the names will be accessible via Google Maps.