Flora & fauna of the Merrill valley: part 1
The Merrill valley is home to a rich variety of plant and animal life. Many of the species here are common to Rhudaur as a whole or to various of the ravines which cleave the hills and moorland of the Dor-in-Imlaid.
Yet there are also species not normally found so far north. Additionally, certain northern animals and (especially) birds which normally migrate south find refuge in the valley from the severity of Rhudaur's winter, returning to their breeding grounds in the spring. This is due partly to Rivendell's remarkably temperate climate and partly to the degree of protection afforded by the valley's defences.
No charm of peace is set upon the creatures which live here and natural predation goes on as it does - and must - elsewhere. Yet no animal is hunted or slain here by the hand of Man, Elf or Dwarf. Nor are servants of the Enemy - go they by two feet or four - permitted here. There are a few species, such as the brown valley bee and Elrond's Woundwell, which have become so adapted to, or dependant upon, the unique environment of the Merrill valley system that they occur nowhere else in Arda.
One notable feature of the valley is the unusual, sometimes giant, proportions which many species of the plants attain. In cultivated areas - the fields, orchards and gardens - this may be ascribed (rightly) to skilled husbandry coupled with a high degree of earth-lore and magic. Some of the more extraordinary examples, however, occur entirely without external help and must be attributed to some natural vitality within the valley itself.
The Elves themselves, particularly the Gwaith-i-Tūr Galadhad, hold that the valley's vibrant potency is a gift of the Lady Yavanna mediated through Tiriel, Maia spirit of the Merrill valley. The array of plant and animal life to large degree reflects the variety of individual habitats the valley supports.
The eastern gorge is a semi-subterranean world of permanent twilight. Yet despite the lack of direct sunlight - which means that few trees and green plants will grow here - the gorge is far from barren. Mosses and lichens are common underfoot, the latter daubing the shadows with vibrant splashes of russet, orange and sulphur yellow. A number of these lichens have curative potency and are harvested periodically to augment the repertoire of Rivendell's healers.
In places the sunlight does reach you may come across sudden islands of greenery: grass, mosses and small shrubs competing with one another for the precious energy-giving rays. The sun lights different sections of the floor at different times of the year. The plants adapt to this by going into stasis for long periods, awaking from dormancy only during those times - perhaps no more than four to six weeks in a year - when the sunlight falls upon them. The plants' normal processes persist but are extended in time, so that a normally annual plant may take three or four years here to complete the same life-cycle.
In the damp bogland beside the river march forests of giant ferns and the tree-like 'Staff-of-Lore' fungus, which can attain heights of between six and eight feet. Here also is found the medicinal Elrond's Woundwell, a diminutive plant akin to common watercress but unique to the Merrill gorge.
Few fish live in the gorge for the Merrill here is shallow, fast-moving and icy cold. One exception is the near-blind 'shadow-fish'. It preys mainly upon the abundant insect life along the bogland margins though it will also take small creatures such as newts and frogs when it can get them. The insects also support a large population of bats. These roost in the many crevices, caves and tunnels with which the walls of the gorge are riddled.
The Middle Valley
Between the stunning cascade of the Starry Falls in the east and the Long Water to the west is the Middle Valley, garden of Rivendell. Though still steep-walled, the valley is much wider here than in the gorge. The moderated temperature, frequent light rains and plentiful sunlight enable the rich variety of natural resources and habitats to be fully exploited.
The higher slopes are heavily forested throughout this section both north and south of the river: pine, spruce and larch giving way at lower levels to stands of beech, birch and oak. It was in one such birchwood that Aragorn, then living at Imladris, first met the Lady Arwen.
In places dwarf willow is common, clinging precariously to exposed rocky ledges. The lower woods are fringed with narrow tracts of shrub providing cover for dwarf rabbit and ground-feeding birds, the shrub in turn giving way to meadows of sweet grass running down towards the river.
The community of Imladris has had significant impact upon the habitats and wildlife throughout the valley. The naturally dense woodland has been strategically thinned to provide secluded clearings for dwellings or to encourage the growth of particular species. Much of the valley floor and many of the hanging plateaux are given over to cultivation. Crops including barley and wheat are grown in small terraced fields.
The meadows are also managed, providing sweet pasture for ponies and horses - and the free-wandering goats and sheep that provide meat and milk for the community. The orchards and vineyards are mostly situated on the sunny northern slopes west of Imladris. Closer to the main settlement are the vegetable plots which provide the bulk of the community's provender and Vilyadhol's herb garden where grow the many culinary, medical and magical plants used by the cooks, healers and mages of Elrond's house.
This stretch of the Merrill supports trout and an assortment of course species including perch and bream. Despite this variety the river is not fished by the inhabitants of Rivendell. The fish support a small population of the rare silver otter dubbed the 'grey child of the river', a variety of the common river otter. This highly intelligent and playful creature is often seen basking in the sun beside the sparkling shallows.
The Lower Valley and the Long Lake
Completely filling the floor of the Lower Valley, the Long Water reservoir dominates and defines the habitats and wildlife in this section. The waters of the lake itself are cool, crystal clear and rarely disturbed by anything more than the leaping of trout or the courtship rituals of waterfowl.
In addition to the fish found higher in the valley the lake sustains eel and red pike, the latter growing to over six feet in length. The eel and trout especially are fished from the lake and, together with freshwater crayfish, are an important part of the diet at Imladris.
Along the lake's southern margins varied beds of rush, reed and mace provide cover for duck, teal and moorhen, as well as larger birds such as heron and the Merrill grebe. Across the valley the cliffs rise almost sheer out of the lake, though at intervals narrow margins of land perch above the water. Vegetation and birds take advantage of the isolation.
Such sites are occasionally visited by boat but are otherwise safe except from flying predators such as the bat falcon. As its name suggests the falcon normally feeds on the small brown bat higher in the valley but will also take small rodents and fledglings where they can be found.