Monday, September 27, 2010

Spruce Flats Bog...

Yesterday, we joined the Botanical Society of Westmoreland County for a field trip to the Spruce Flats Bog. We drove along a winding road, cutting through the Linn Run State Park and Forbes State Forest. Lining the road were summer cabins and fountains trickling sweet, mountain spring water. The paved road gave way to gravel and the cabins became fewer, replaced by colorful maples, evergreen hemlocks and copper-colored cinnamon ferns.

We parked at the Laurel Summit Pavilion and walked through the woods towards the bog within the Laurel Summit State Park.

Along the path to the bog, we identified several plants. Above are just a few of them. To the left is an Indian cucumber root (also known as Medeola virginiana). One of the identifying traits is the two tiers of leaves. Apparently the name is derived from the edible root that resembles and tastes like a cucumber. The berry shown is, however, not edible.

In the center are the leaves of the dewberry plant. The dewberry is related to raspberries and produces soft, sweet purple berries.

To the right is an example of ground pine or Lycopodium obscurum. Although it looks like a conifer, this is actually a clubmoss with creeping rhizomes. Sometimes the ground pine is called "Wolf's Foot" because of the resemblance of the branches to a stylized wolf paw. In fact, the name, "Lycopodium" means "wolf foot".

We walked through the woods until we came across an old wooden dock extending into a sweeping clearing covered in grasses, sphagnum moss, and the occasional bleached wood of a long-fallen tree. In some spots, the thin layer of grasses was bare, revealing the smelly mud beneath. Walking through the bog, it's important to remember to tread carefully, stepping lightly and to keep moving. If you stand too long in one spot, you're at risk of sinking!

The bog may look barren, but the low-nitrogen, highly acidic ground produces a unique environment for unusual plants like carnivorous ones. The above photos are of the sundews, also known as Drosera. These carnivorous plants have spoon-shaped tentacles covered in secreted mucilage. The sticky substance attacks and captures insects, which supplements the plant's dietary needs not met by the soil.

The sundews were not the only carnivorous plants! Studding the hay-colored grasses were the bright red, deep burgundy and vibrant green flute-shaped Sarracenia. The pitchers have a substance on the lip that attracts insects and in some cases paralyzes them. The insects fall or crawl down into the tube-like plant structure, where rainwater collects and helps digest the bugs. Fine, downward-facing hairs speckle the inside of the pitcher, preventing insects from crawling out. It has been said that small animals like mice have fallen pray to these carnivorous plants.

These sarracenia plants have a story and so does this bog. The bog wasn't always here. Like many of the other summits in the area, glaciers long ago scraped the peaks off, creating sandstone plateaus. This particular plateau has a basin-like shape, where rain-water and spring run-off collects. After thousands, if not millions of years, sediment collected and huge hemlock trees grew up. Deforestation in combination with a brush fire, stripped the land. Once the trees were gone, there was nothing to siphon off the excess water. The water began to collect again, breaking down the ash and dead plant matter, reverting the shallow basin into a bog.

The sarracenia plants are not native to this bog. In the 1950's, the Botanical Society of Westmoreland County saw the barren state of the bog and transplanted the carnivorous plants that thrive in low-nitron soil in an act of conservancy.

Yesterday, the new generation of that same botanical society returned. We carefully made our way across the Spruce Flats Bog, spotting sarracenia plants – descendants of the original plants brought there, a living legacy.

Above are the dried flowers and seed pods of the sarracenias. They rise out of the flute-shaped plants like bent shepherd's hooks.

Above and to the left is another portion of the Spruce Flats Bog covered in cottongrass. This sedge has white puffs and grows abundantly in the marshy area. To the right, sarracenia, sphagnum moss, sundews, and giant cranberries grow around the base of a bleached stump.

The bog is a magic place, where closer inspection reveals much. The above picture is a close-up of one of the giant cranberries that grow there. The tart, red berries can be found on the low-growing shrubs that trail along the bog. If one didn't know they were there, it would be easy to pass them by.

The trip to the Spruce Flats Bog with the Botanical Society of Westmoreland County was highly enjoyable. Mishaps with sinking boots and muddy trouser legs provided lighthearted entertainment and quite a few laughs! Not only are the field trips a nice way of getting acquainted with natural places (and the other members), but it's a great way to squeeze in a little exercise and learn new things. I always learn so much! The field trip was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday and the season.


Amy F said...

what a cool walk! carniv plants in the wild! what a trip!

Amy F said...

what a cool walk! carniv plants in the wild! what a trip!

Alice said...

A fascinating place! I can imagine the wonderful day you had in the bog. Thanks for sharing the photos with us!

kate mckinnon said...

Freaky carnivorous plants in the bog!
What informative botanical posts you are treating us to, Andrew.

Gina Chalfant said...

So interesting! People who say they are "bored" just don't know how to look.

Lynn said...

Looks like a successful bog stroll for sure, glad you have fun.

Red sundews? I'd like some of them, all I have seen down here are green! Guess I need to do some online ordering -- get over my reservations about mail-order plants.

SueBeads said...

So cool Andrew! I was at Laurel Summit State Park a few weekends ago! That's where I took those photos of the rock formations!

Lisa Peters Russ said...

I love that patch of swamp lillies (saracenia) that is the coolest!

They dry beautifully.. translucent white!

I wont comment on all the posts individually Andrew., but where you play hookey and go for walks is a beautiful area..and finding the remains of that house.. WOW.. so cool!

I really enjoyed seeing/reading all your posts this morning!

lisa p