June 20, 2013

Some Bog Botany, Including Another Orchid

One day last week our explorations took us to a small nature preserve in northeast Ohio that owes its existence to the glaciers that covered two-thirds of the state over 10,000 years ago. The glacier left a large hunk of ice behind as it retreated, and also left a large amount of rocky material around the ice. Once the ice melted, a depression remained that filled up with water. This is called a kettle pond. Over time, a sphagnum moss mat formed surrounding the pond, and created an acid environment. Certain plants thrive in such wet, acidic conditions and those special plants were the reason for our visit.

The bog features a boardwalk that leads onto the sphagnum mat. Poison Sumac is one of the most common trees here, and it was in bloom during our visit. These tiny flowers will give way to drooping clusters of fruits that can be seen at this link.

Another acid-loving plant, blueberry, was heavy with fruit all along the boardwalk. A few berries were starting to ripen:

One of the more striking plants at the bog is this Swamp-Candle (Lysimachia terrestris), which truly does light up the shadowy places in this habitat:

Acid soils are typically low in nitrogen, one of the most important plant nutrients. One of the most interesting ways that plants have evolved to deal with a low-nitrogen environment is carnivory. That is, certain plants are able to digest animal material, primarily insects, in order to obtain the amino acids that they need. Two such plants occur in the bog that we visited, and they go about carnivory in very different ways.

We'll look at the smallest first! Growing on the sphagnum mat were many tiny Roundleaf Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) plants:

These plants have tentacle-like extensions on their leaves that hold a drop of gel-like material that looks like morning dew. This gel traps the small insects that land on the plant, and also contains digestive enzymes. Other glands absorb the resulting nutrients. Sundews of various species occur on every continent but Antarctica!

The other carnivorous plant at this bog is the Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). Its strategy is to lure insects into modified leaves that fill with rainwater. Downward-pointing hairs, which can be seen in this photo, prevent the insects from crawling out. 

It has an upright bloom that is quite unusual:

Pitcher plants of various types occur all over the world and have really fascinating strategies for attracting and digesting insects. Evolution of carnivory is another interesting topic; for more information I'd recommend a book called Pitcher Plants of the Americas by Stewart McPherson.

Lush ferns grew all along the trail. The largest were the Cinnamon Ferns:

And we saw a few feathery Royal Ferns, among several other species:

Moving along the boardwalk, we caught a glimpse of some more enticing plants, growing along side a small Poison Sumac tree:

Ahhh--the gorgeous Rose Pogonia orchid (Pogonia ophioglossoides). There were literally hundreds of these beauties blooming during our visit, and this was the first time we had ever seen this plant. 

Sometimes called Snakemouth Orchid, it only occurs in the eastern part of the US and Canada. The lip of the flower has three green crests on it; perhaps this reminded someone of a snake's mouth?

Ohio has a wide variety of nature preserves all over the state. Most feature good trails and habitats that are quite rare, and these places often have uncommon plants. It is well worth the time and effort to check out a few this summer. Just be sure to stay on the trails!

1 comment:

  1. Many of these plants can be found at our little hidden pond, though not the Swampcandle and Snakemouth Orchid which are beautiful. This looks like it was a wonderful walk -- glad you didn't get poisoned by the sumac!