Friday, June 2, 2017

Two Peatlands, Two Different Flora

Today was a wonderful day!  The weather wasn't so great (it was cool and constantly threatening rain), but the company was the best, and the sites we visited couldn't be beat!  That's my friend Evelyn Greene in the photo below, standing in the first of two Adirondack peatlands she led me to today, both of them on private property I wouldn't have been allowed to visit without her guidance.

The first peatland we visited required us to hike about a quarter mile carrying our boats, for we needed them to maneuver around the floating sphagnum mats and reach the locations where floral treasure awaited.

Here's the flower that was worth every slippery rock, downed tree, shoe-sucking mudhole, and beaver dam we had to scramble over to get to:  The exquisite Dragon's Mouth Orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).

Evelyn has been coming to this pond for years, in order to monitor the population of this beautiful flower, one of New York's rare orchids, rated as Threatened in the state.  For the first hundred yards or so of our paddle among the boggy mats, we found none at all, except for a single remnant of one, and we began to worry that we weren't going to find more today.  Were we too early or too late to catch them as they flowered?  Or had some atmospheric change begun to threaten their habitat?  Ah, but we needn't have worried (at least for this year):  we soon came upon abundant numbers in perfect bloom.

We also found other denizens of these floating sphagnum mats, including many flowering plants of Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata).  What fuzzy flowers they have!  I wonder if all those curly hairs help to keep the flowers warm in cold northern bogs like this.  Or should we call this site a fen?  It's not a closed system that has no other source of water beside rainfall, since it is also watered by the stream that feeds the pond these sphagnum mats float in.  And since the stream doubtless descends from surrounding mountains, the water carries more minerals to this habitat than would be found in a classic low-nutrient bog.

Well, bog or fen, the site certainly supports many of the plants we usually associate with acidic peatlands, including this white Cotton Grass emerging from the deep spongey mats of red sphagnum.

We also found the lovely Bog Laurel (Kalmia polifolia), another typical peatland denizen, holding its terminal clusters of deep-pink blooms above the surrounding shrubbery.

Growing right out of the water at the edge of the mat were several stems of Flat-leaved Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia), their bright-yellow blooms immediately visible against the dark water.

Cranberries (Vaccinium spp.) thrive in the acidic conditions of sphagnum habitats, so we were not surprised to find their trailing stems, with flower buds just beginning to open.

Wherever fallen logs emerged from shallow water, we were likely to find clumps of Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia) clinging to the rotting wood.

And emerging from the shallow water at the edge of the mats, we found several clusters of the tiny bright-orange fungus called Swamp Beacons (Mitrula paludosa).

Our explorations of one peatland completed, the day was still young enough to proceed to a second one, not too many miles away.  And this one fit the classic definition of a bog: a low-nutrient wetland watered solely by rainfall and snowmelt, and rendered acidic by accumulations of sphagnum moss.  Most of this bog is surrounded by a moat too wide for us to jump across, but we eventually found some relatively firm footing that allowed us to step out onto the mat, where we sank nearly up to our ankles in deep soggy sphagnum moss.  The edges of the bog were lined with Balsam Poplar, Mountain Holly, Highbush Blueberry, White Pines,  and Hemlocks, while the mat itself was punctuated with occasional Tamaracks.

We noticed immediately that we would find a different flora here than on the floating peat mats we had just left.  Mounds and mounds of Labrador Tea (Rhododendron [formerly Ledum] groenlandicum) were visible in all directions, the aromatic resins contained in their leaves adding a distinctive spicy scent to the air.

Here's a closer view of their beautiful flower clusters.

But the plant we had specifically come to see was present in even more astounding numbers:  The starry-flowered Three-leaved False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum trifolium)  carpeted the sphagnum mat as thickly as grass on a lawn.  Although we had both seen this plant in fruit before, neither Evelyn nor I had ever seen this lovely flower in bloom, and we were transfixed, both by its delicate beauty as well as its incredible abundance across this bog.

And it wasn't until I lifted one of its flowering stems to my nose did we realize that these dainty Maianthemum trifolium flowers were the source of a certain sweet aroma that mingled with the spicy scent of Labrador Tea.  I shouldn't have been surprised at this fragrance, considering that one of its close relatives is Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense), another exceedingly fragrant flower, especially when blooming in multitudinous masses, as these were.

We had seen the closed buds of Northern Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) on the floating sphagnum mats we'd just left, but here in this second peatland we saw many of its tall flower stalks crowned with large deep-scarlet blooms.

Here, too, we found the deep-rose blooms of Bog Laurel, but in much greater abundance than at the other site.  How lovely they looked mixed in with the flowers of Labrador Tea!

Ah, very lovely, indeed!


Bill and dogs said...

Stunning beauty and wonderfully informative. Thank you for sharing your discoveries.

Uta said...

You are so right, very lovely indeed. Thank you for a lovely trip through your bog.

The Furry Gnome said...

What a wonderful adventure! Reminds me so much of the plants we see in the Bruce Peninsula fens.

Woody Meristem said...

Yes, that first location is a fen. What a great treasure to have an abundance of Arethusa. "Bogs of the Northeast" by Charlie Johnson has a really good explanation of the various types of peatlands and how they develop.

Sally said...

Thank you for the lovely tour! It's encouraging to see so many beautiful wildflowers flourishing. I'm pretty new to understanding the importance of native plants and this definitely was an education.