Book of June: Bogs and Fens

My wish was granted when I asked for a copy of Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada by Ronald B. Davis for Christmas.

b-bogs and fens cover

The idea for this book came from many years spent by Davis as a biology and Quaternary studies professor at the University of Maine and Colby College, plus his services as a docent at the Orono Bog Boardwalk in Orono, Maine.

Since I spend a lot of time tramping through a few favorite bogs and fens as well as visiting others, this seemed like the perfect guide to help me better understand the world of these special communities. And then I realized that on our own property grows some of the vegetation associated with these wetlands. With them right under my nose, what better way to learn?

Davis begins by describing the occurrence and indicator species of peatlands and then he goes on to give a lesson on the ecology of wetlands, including a description of peat, fens and bogs. A bibliography is provided for further reading and terms are defined.

What really works for me though, is the species descriptions, which he’s taken the time to divide into their various layers–trees, tall shrubs, short and dwarf shrubs, prostrate shrubs, herbaceous plants and ferns. Within each section, a specific plant is described, including its Latin name, common names, family, characteristics such as how tall it grows, number of petals, fruit, if any, etc., and its occurrence–whether in a fen, bog, dry hummock or other. All in all, he features 98 species, but also mentions 34 comparative species and includes an annotated list of 23 additional trees, shrubs, herbs and ferns that may grow in one or more community. And finally, the book ends with a description of pathways and boardwalks worth visiting.

b-sphagnum moss

And so this morning, I walked out back to look at our wetland, where the sphagnum moss’s pompom heads were crisscrossed by spider webs donned with beads of water.

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It’s there that the round-leaved sundews grow, which I only discovered last year. Notice those bad-hair day “tentacles” or mucilaginous glands and the black spots upon the leaves. Dinner was served–in the form of Springtails or Collembola–their nutrients being absorbed by the plant to supplement the meager mineral supply of the sphagnum community.

b-sundew flower forming

And in the plant’s center, the flower stem begins to take shape. This summer, it will support tiny white flowers that will turn to light brown capsules by fall.

b-sheep laurel

Sheep laurel also grows in this place, its new buds forming in the axils below the newly emerged leaves. I can’t wait for its crimson flowers to blossom. Its flowers provide an explosion of beauty, and yet, danger lingers. This small shrub contains a chemical that is poisonous to wild animals, thus one of its common names is lambkill.

b-steeplebush leaves

Another short shrub is the rosy meadowsweet or steeplebush with its deeply toothed leaves.


Being only June 1st, it’s too early to flower, but last year’s steeple-like structure still stands tall in the landscape.

b-lowbush blueberries

Low-bush blueberries grow here as well and it’s only now that I realize I need to return and study these some more for Davis differentiates between velvet-leaved blueberries and common low-bush. I assumed these were the latter, but according to his description, the leaves will tell the difference. Apparently velvet-leaved, which I’ve never heard of before, feature “smooth-edged, alternate leaves, and bear fine, short hairs on the underside, edges and along veins of the upper side,” while low-bush leaves “have a finely serrate edge and a lack of pubescence, except rarely a sparse pubescence along the veins.” The next time I step out there, I will need to check the leaves to determine whether we have one or both species.

b-black chokeberry1

Of course, my favorite at the moment is the black chokeberry because the flowers provide a wow factor.

b-black chokeberry and ant

I’m not alone in my fascination.

b-water scavenger beetle larvae

Because I was nearby, I walked to the vernal pool, where a wee bit of sunlight highlighted another fascination of mine–my most recent discovery of water scavenger beetle larvae. Check out those heads and eyes.

b-tadpoles 1

Today, the tadpoles weren’t as shy as the other day and so they let me get up close and personal.

b-tadpoles 2

I’m holding out hope that the pool doesn’t dry up before they are able to hop away. Already, I can see their frog form beginning to take shape. This is a shout out to one of the Books of May: Vernal Pools–A Field Guide to Animals of Vernal Pools.

But back to the Book of June, and really the book of all summer months–Bogs and Fens by Ronald B. Davis. It’s heavy as field guides go and so I don’t always carry it with me, but it’s a great reference when I return to my truck or home. I appreciate its structure and information presented in a format even I get.

Bogs and Fens: A Guide to the Peatland Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada, by Ronald B. Davis. University Press of New England, 2016.

My copy came from Bridgton Books, my local independent book store.