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.

b-sundew 2

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.

b-steeplebush

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.

Sundae School

I went on a reconnaissance mission this afternoon and visited a land trust property I’ve never stepped foot on before. My intention was to scope it out for possible use with a future Maine Master Naturalist class. My realization from the get-go was a happy heart. I can’t wait to return and take others along so we can make discoveries together.

n Preserve sign

I’ve only been on one other Western Maine Foothills Land Trust property, so had no idea what to expect. The small parking area for Shepard’s Farm Preserve is at 121 Crockett Ridge Road in Norway. (Norway, Maine, that is.) This is one of seven preserves owned by the trust. I should have known I’d enjoy myself immensely just by the name. Though we spell Shephard with an “h,” it’s a family name for us. Who knows–maybe there’s a connection.

n-trail sign

On the back of the brochure I grabbed at the kiosk, I read the following: “Originally owned by Benjamin Witt, the high undulating pasture of Shepard’s Farm Family Preserve was transferred to Joshua Crockett in 1799, Charles Freeman in 1853, John Shepard in 1910, and to Bill Detert in 1984.” Mr. Detert and his family donated the property in memory of his wife, Jan, to the WMFLT in 2010.

n-Indian pipe bee 1

My lessons began immediately. What to my wondering eye should appear, but a bee pollinating an Indian pipe. And in the middle of the afternoon. Huh? I’ve always heard that they are pollinated by moths or flies at night. Of course, upon further research, I learned that bees and skipper butterflies have been known to pay a visit to the translucent flowers. Add that to the memory bank.

n-Indian pipe

As I continued along the trail I found the upturned mature flower and again wondered–who stopped by for a sip of sap? Lessons should evoke further questions and a desire to learn more.

n-hawkweed

The trail offered other familiar flowers, like hawkweed,

n-pearly everlasting

pearly everlasting, goldenrods and asters, Queen Anne’s lace, boneset and jewelweed.

n-monkeyflower 3

And then I come upon a wildflower I don’t recall meeting before. The lesson included a look at the leaves, their arrangement on the stem, and the flowerhead.

n-monkeyflower 1

The answer to the quiz–lavender-flowered Sharp-winged Monkeyflower. Monkeys in the woods! You never know. Sometimes I think that red squirrels sound like monkeys when they chit at me, but in this case, it’s the fact that the flower looks something like a monkey’s face.

n-thistle young and old

Further on,  I spotted a favorite that I don’t see as often as I’d like. What I didn’t realize is that thistles are in the aster family. Always learning. Its presence here is referenced by trail conditions, which change periodically from mixed hardwoods to softwoods to open places. Thistles prefer those open places–fields and waste places. Hardly waste in my opinion. Rather, early succession to a woodland.

n-bee on thistle 2

A bee worked its magic on the flowerhead so I moved in for a closer look.

n-bee on thistle1

As with any flower, it was a pollen frenzy.

n-thistle with seeds

Seconds later–maturity! Well, maybe not quite that fast.

n-thistle seeds 1

But the seeds had developed their downy parachutes and the breeze was a’blowing.

n-thistle seed 2

They knew it was time to leave the roost and find a new classroom.

n-trail ferns

Another lesson worth more time was a look at the natural communities along the trail. Bikers and hikers share this space, but what I found fascinating was the constant change.

n-trail hay

The original trail for the Shepard’s Family Farm Preserve was located on a 19-acre parcel. Recently, the Witt Swamp Extension was added, which almost circles around a 250+ acre piece. Hay covers some of the new trail right now–giving it that farm-like feel and smell.

n-trail 1

I’m not certain of the mileage, but believe that I covered at least 4-5 miles in my out and back venture over undulating land and through a variety of neighborhoods. The trail conditions–pure bliss. No rocks or roots to trip over. Instead, I could look around for the next lesson.

n-cedar bark

One of the things I love about hiking in Norway is that I get to be in the presence of cedar trees–Northern white cedar.

n-cedar leaves

I’m fascinated by its scale-like leaves.

n-deer tracks

So are the deer, who feed on the leaves during the winter months.

n-dry stream

I found only deer tracks, and noted that all stream beds were dry, though the moss gave a moist look to the landscape. We’re experiencing a drought this summer.

n-red leaf

Due to that lack of rain, some red maples already have turned and colorful leaves are beginning to float to the ground.

n-porky 3

Deer aren’t the only mammals that inhabit this place. From the trail, I noticed hemlock trees with bases that looked like perfect gnome homes. And then I spotted this one that invited a closer look.

n-porky den

A pile of porcupine scat–the pig-pen of the woods. Even Charlie Brown would note a distinct odor.

n-toad camo

And in true “Where’s Waldo” tradition, a young American toad crossed my path. The camo lesson–blend in for safety’s sake.

n-turtle 2

Being former farmland, stonewalls wind their way through the preserve. And my childhood fascination with turtles was resurrected. Do you see it?

n-turtle 3

How about now? Hint: the head is quartz.

n-turtles

And this one? They’re everywhere. It makes me wonder if it was a style of the times.

n-stone wall ending

I crossed through a gap in the stonewall and noted two smaller stones topped by a large flat one. A reason why? The questions piled up. I need to ask the teacher.

n-stonepile

And then there were the stone piles. Why so many smaller stones around a boulder? What I love about this spot is that a hemlock took advantage of the boulder and grew on top of it.

n-stone structure 2

And another favorite find–a stone structure.

n-stone structure, flat

Created with rather flat field stones.

n-stone structure 1a

It’s near a stonewall, so I surmised it was a shed of some sort rather than a root cellar for a home. I could be wrong, but am thrilled by the opportunity to see it.

n bird sculpture

One of the coolest features of this property is that it’s home to sculptures created in the 1970s by Bernard Langlois, including this bird in flight. The sculptures were made possible recently by the generosity of his widow, Helen Langlois, Colby College and the Kohler Foundation.

n-bird lady 2

Mrs. Noah is my favorite. She has stories to tell and I have lessons to learn.

It’s Sunday and by the time I finished hiking I was hot. I’d intended to check out a few more preserves, but the thought of a creamsicle smoothie at a local ice cream shop had my focus–until I pulled in and saw this posted: “Cash and local checks only.” No cash. And though our checks would be local, I didn’t have any with me either. Lesson learned.

I drove home and made my own sundae.