Saturday, June 4, 2011

Memorial Day Bog Walk

Iris versicolor, Northern Blue Flag.

Memorial Day is usually a good time to catch some of the more impressive native wildflowers here in New England. This year, I checked out an unnamed bog at an undisclosed location in Willington, Connecticut. Walking to the bog there were some richer swampy spots where the wild geraniums and blue flag iris were in full bloom.

Cyprepedium acuale, Pink Lady-slipper (this photo actually from Mansfield Hollow State Park).

Closer to the bog, the vegetation changed to indicate the presence of nutrient-poor, acidic, bog-friendly soil. Sugar Maples and White Ash were replaced by pines and oaks as the dominant trees, and the understory started to include Pink Lady-slipper orchids in flower, and one little patch of Epigea repens (Trailing Arbutus).

Ledum groenlandicum, Labrador Tea, in the Willington bog.

After a short but slightly hairy time navigating the inevitable marginal ring of open water and peaty muck at the edge, I emerged into a sunny sphagnum bog. This is a floating bog, though the open parts are mostly dense enough with moss and scrub to provide secure footing. It is still irresistible to bounce up and down a little bit, and watch the dwarf trees within a 20 foot radius sway back and forth.

Ledum, or Labrador Tea, was in full bloom. Labrador Tea is mainly a boreal plant, though it hangs on here and there in bogs in the more temperate parts of the eastern US. The leaves have a distinctive brown fuzzy underside, and can in fact be used to make a somewhat wintergreen-tasting tea. The Willington bog is the only local spot I know of where it grows, and I had never caught it in flower before.

Sarracenia purpurea var. purpurea, the Purple Pitcher Plant.

The pitcher plant flowers weren't quite open yet for the most part. There aren't a huge number of Sarracenia in this bog, though the population seems pretty stable. There aren't any sundews in this bog at all, which is strange; it looks perfect for Round-leaved Sundews at least, and the other area bogs have one or both of the local Drosera species. It's doubly odd because there is an area of seeps not half a mile away where both sundews grow in large numbers.

Picea mariana, Black Spruce, about 1 m tall, with female cones.

Another interesting feature of this bog is a large population of Black Spruce trees, stunted into natural bonsai. Black Spruce, like Ledum, is primarily a boreal plant, which persists in boggy spots and the occasional cold mountain slope in southern New England. There is a tiny mistletoe, Arceuthobium pusillum, that grows on the spruce trees in the Willington bog, but I couldn't find it this time. I seem to recall seeing it once before, years ago when I first visited this location, in later summer, but that time the mistletoe was pointed out by the late Les Mehrhoff, who knew the local flora twice as well as anyone else. It is a shame that Les won't be guiding any more bog walks.


Alex said...

I love bogs! I need to get to some around here. The nearest one was rather disrupted recently by a small tornado touching down.

That is rather surprising about the sundews. Usually if there is good habitat in temperate/boreal zones, there will be sundews. It has to be a dispersal issue.

Matt said...

Alex: There are sundews at other sites very close by, and these seem to disperse quite easily (showing up at artificial ponds constructed 10-20 years ago, for example). I think there must be something subtly wrong with the conditions at the bog.

Alex said...

Matt, I'm not sure how often you are on the ICPS forum, but I'd like to ask you some questions about your experience with plant club bylaws. Tedious I know, but I thought a PM on the ICSP forum would be best (as opposed to contacting you at your work address). Would you be willing to answer some questions? We in MN are hoping to have our little group become "official".

Matt said...

Alex: I'm no expert on writing bylaws, but I have been involved in a couple of clubs. Email is probably easiest if you have any questions.