An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide – maryholland505@gmail.com

Bogs

Autumn Beauty In A Bog

During the summer, peat bogs (acidic wetlands with soft, spongy ground composed largely of living and decaying (peat) sphagnum moss) display an abundance of colorful flowers, including those of bog laurel, rhodora, bog rosemary and numerous orchids including the vibrant grasspink, among others. With the onset of autumn, long after these blossoms have disappeared, an even more impressive blaze of colors erupts in bogs. The foliage transitions from summer green to autumn yellows, oranges and reds. Tamarack’s deciduous needles form a golden haze backdrop before falling to the ground. Much of the spongy sphagnum moss turns a deep maroon. The intensity of pitcher plants’ greens and reds is noticeable, and the ground is often covered with ripe red cranberries and glistening sundew. There really isn’t a more colorful time of year to visit a bog! (Photo: pitcher plant, cranberry and sphagnum moss)

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Cottongrass

If you go to a bog at this time of year, you are apt to find a sea of white, cottony balls waving in the breezes.  These are the seed heads of Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), which are actually not grasses but sedges. (In contrast to grasses, which have hollow stems, the stems of most sedges are solid and triangular.) The similarity of these heads to cotton gave this plant its common name.

Cottongrass grows in acidic wetlands and bogs.  It tolerates cold weather well, and is found in the northern half of the U. S. as well as further north where it is food for migrating Caribou and Snow Geese on the tundra as well as Grizzly Bears and Ptarmigan.

The cottony seed plumes, which aid in the dispersal of Cottongrass seeds, are too short and brittle to be made into thread, but they have been used for pillow-stuffing, wound dressing and in the production of candle wicks and paper.

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Rose Pogonia Flowering

rose begonia 049A0560

We are at the tail end of the flowering season for Rose Pogonia, (Pogonia ophioglossoides). Although it also has the common name Snakemouth Orchid, the species’ name, ophioglossoides, comes from the Greek word for snake (ophis) and tongue (glossa), referring to a perceived similarity to Adder’s Tongue Fern (Ophioglossum pusillum), rather than a snake’s mouth.

The petals of this exquisite orchid have a delicate fragrance when fresh, reminiscent of red raspberries. The lower petal, or labellum, is deeply fringed and bearded in the center with yellow bristles. Rose Pogonia grows to a height of about two feet, and there is a single narrow leaf near the middle of its stem. Look for it in sphagnum bogs, fens, wet meadows, and acidic swamps. Although Rose Pogonia is pollinated by a number of different species of bumble bees, a white crab spider on the labellum looks like it has captured a much smaller insect that was visiting this particular flower.

NOTE: Sadie and I are overcome by the incredible generosity of Naturally Curious readers. Truly, there are not words to express the gratitude we have for each and every one of you. You feel like our extended family. A thousand thanks from Sadie, Otis and me. You have touched our hearts deeply.

Naturally Curious is the embodiment of my passion for learning and teaching about natural history.  If and when the spirit moves you to support my tiny contribution to your day, you can donate to a fund that was set up to support my recently-widowed daughter Sadie and her two-year-old, Otis.  If you choose to contribute, you may go to https://www.plumfund.com/financial-hardship/sadie-brown-otis-brown-fund . Thank you so much to those of you who have so generously done so.


Tamarack Cones Maturing

6-9-17 larch cones 211Tamarack (Larix laricina), also commonly called Eastern or American Larch, grows and drops a new set of leaves every year, just like maples, birches, or other deciduous trees. Found in many bogs, it  is the only native deciduous conifer in the Northeast and is known for its green needles which turn a showy yellow in the fall before falling to the ground as winter approaches. Equally dramatic, however, are its seed cones. They are the smallest of any larch (1/2” to 1” long) and have only 12 to 25 scales. At a certain point (right now) in their spring growth they are bright maroon and resemble tiny roses. They eventually turn brown and open to release the seeds, four to six months after pollination.

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Lesser Purple Fringed Orchis Flowering

7-27-16  smaller purple fringed orchis 082

Approximately sixty orchids can be found in the Northeast, more than half of which are found growing in bogs and fens.  (Bogs are filled with atmospheric moisture and have very low levels of nutrients; fens receive their water from streams or springs, and have slightly more nutrients than bogs.)  In July and August in the Northeast,  the Lesser Purple Fringed Orchis (Platanthera psycodes) sends up a  1 – 3’ spike filled with fragrant, tiny (3/4” long) flowers, each of which possesses a three-lobed, fringed lower lip and a long nectar spur .  Found in cooler habitats, its range is being pushed northwards as global temperatures warm — a  specimen was found at an altitude of 1,500 feet in Vermont.   This orchid is on several states’ endangered or threatened lists outside of New England, and a species of special concern in Rhode Island. (Thanks to Shiela and Steven Swett for photo op.)

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Calopogon Flowering

6-26-15  calopogon 113A visit to a bog or marshy area at this time of year may well reward you with the sight of a striking orchid known as Calopogon or Grass-Pink (Calopogon tuberosus). Immediately noticeable are the fine, white “hairs” on the upper lip of the flower, which are thought to act as a “pseudopollen” lure, attracting native, recently-emerged bumblebees. The bees, expecting a reward of nectar and/or pollen, land on the hairs. At this point, the hinged labellum (part of flower that attracts insects and acts as a landing platform) swings down under the weight of the bee and positions the bee on the column (fused male and female structures located directly beneath the labellum), where pollen can be placed on its back. If the bee already carries a load of pollen, it will contact the stigma and thus pollinate the plant.

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Pitcher Plants Turning Red

10-29-13 pitcher plant2 158 Pitcher plant leaves are primarily green in the summer, tinged with red, but as summer turns into fall, many become deep red. Although this red color was thought to attract insects, it appears that this is not the case. The color change, according to research cited in the Journal of Ecology, is due to the level of phosphorus this carnivorous plant has received from its insect meals. There is a limited amount of phosphorus in a bog and plants living there acquire it in different ways. The pitcher plant acquires phosphorus from insects that it traps. It then utilizes the phosphorus to revitalize the (green) chlorophyll in its leaves for photosynthesis. The deep red color that the leaves turn in the fall indicates that the plant has not had a good meal in quite some time.

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Sundews Capture Their Meals

8-12-13 sundew & damselfly 060Sundews (Drosera spp.) are carnivorous plants often found in acidic bogs, fens and cedar swamps. They have numerous small leaves arranged in a circular, or rosette, pattern and they are covered with reddish, glandular hairs, or tentacles, that exude a sticky secretion at their tips. Insects, attracted to the glistening sticky droplets which resemble dew, land on a leaf and become stuck. The movement of the struggling insect triggers cell growth in the glandular hairs and they begin folding over the insect within 60 seconds. An anesthetic is released by the plant’s hairs, causing the insect to become motionless. Digestive enzymes are then secreted which liquefy the insect’s internal organs so that they can then be absorbed by the plant’s hairs. Although insect prey is not vital to sundews, the nitrogen the plants receive from the insects enables them to thrive in environments where nitrogen is in short supply. The damselfly pictured has been captured by a Round-leaved Sundew’s glandular hairs which have rendered it motionless and have started to grow and fold over the tip of the damselfly’s abdomen and its wings.

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Round-leaved Sundew Flowering

7-25-13 round-leaved sundew flower IMG_0341Sundews are familiar to most people because of their carnivorous life style, trapping and dissolving insects with the glandular hairs that cover their leaves. As amazing as this ability to supplement their diet is, there is even more to admire about them. At this time of year, Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia) unfurls a single curled-up stalk with flower buds running up one side of it. The buds open in succession, one at a time, when they reach the apex of the bending flower stalk, revealing tiny white or pink flowers.


Pitcher Plants in Winter

3-19-13 pitcher plant in winter2 IMG_6845The pitcher plant flowers that bloomed in bogs last June persist through the winter. Their maroon petals are gone, as is their scent, and they are withered and somewhat drab-colored, but the upside down flowers are still on display, supported by long, graceful stems protruding above the surface of the snow. Pitcher plants flower for about two weeks at the beginning of summer, during which time their pollen is distributed (primarily by bees). After fertilization, 300 – 600 seeds form within each ovary. This is when the carnivorous pitcher leaves develop. In late fall, the “pitchers” begin to wither and the seed pods turn brown and split open, scattering seeds. In three to five years, the plants which these seeds grew into will begin flowering.


A Great Christmas Present!

If you’re looking for a present for someone that will be used year round, year after year, Naturally Curious may just fit the bill.  A relative, a friend, your child’s school teacher – it’s the gift that keeps on giving to both young and old!

One reader wrote, “This is a unique book as far as I know. I have several naturalists’ books covering Vermont and the Northeast, and have seen nothing of this breadth, covered to this depth. So much interesting information about birds, amphibians, mammals, insects, plants. This would be useful to those in the mid-Atlantic, New York, and even wider geographic regions. The author gives a month-by-month look at what’s going on in the natural world, and so much of the information would simply be moved forward or back a month in other regions, but would still be relevant because of the wide overlap of species. Very readable. Couldn’t put it down. I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the natural world, but there was much that was new to me in this book. I would have loved to have this to use as a text when I was teaching. Suitable for a wide range of ages.”

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I am a firm believer in fostering a love of nature in young children – the younger the better — but I admit that when I wrote Naturally Curious, I was writing it with adults in mind. It delights me no end to know that children don’t even need a grown-up middleman to enjoy it!


Pitcher Plant Flowers

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The Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is a well-known carnivorous plant of bogs. It gets some of its nutrients by trapping and drowning prey in rain water that is caught inside a modified leaf that forms a cup. While most people are familiar with the leaves of Pitcher Plants, unless you visit a bog in June, you’re not likely to see their unique flower. It is curved over when it’s mature and its sepals (modified leaves that protect the bud and are located above the petals in these photographs) are red-purple and pointed; the petals are red and rounded. An approaching insect would be guided into the flower between two of the sepals–it would land on a petal and climb into the flower onto the umbrella-shaped stigma (the sticky top of the female pistil) which I inverted in one photograph in order to show the male pollen-producing stamens. An insect entering the flower would brush against the stamens, collecting pollen on its back while pollen from a previously-visited Pitcher Plant would fall off the insect onto the sticky stigma on which it was standing, pollinating the flower.