Wild Northerner Magazine Summer 2018 - Page 21

The Lonesome Bog

The trail leaves dry land for a boardwalk that crosses a spruce bog where some very crafty plants live. The bog is like a food desert with not many nutrients available for plants to live on. They must be able to survive with much less than the plants living in the forest, as they live on a mat of wet decomposing plant material.

The Jack Pine forest stops at the edge of the Lonesome Bog’s open peatlands

This may seem like it should be nutritious for plants, but the bog is very acidic, and the food is locked up with little for plants to survive on. Somehow though, plants thrive in the bog, thanks to adaptations and strategies that help them in this difficult environment.

Most of the surface of the bog is blanketed in moss. The moss that grows in bogs, like many of the plants here, is also adapted to the wet, acidic conditions with low nutrient levels. Sphagnum Moss rules here.

Sphagnum is an interesting plant:

It reproduces with spores, not seeds

It has no roots

It needs lots of water

And plant eaters don’t eat it because it’s too acidic

The peat-maker

Sphagnum Moss also makes peat. As it grows, it develops into a thick mat. And Sphagnum Mosses have no roots, so the green (or red) part of the plant that captures sunlight also captures nutrients, mostly from rainwater.

The plants need to stay on top of the mat close to the light, growing on top of dead leaves and plant material that become the layers below. These layers accumulate over the years and the weight of the layers above compress them.

Sphagnum Moss

Labrador Tea is a flowering shrub that colonizes the bog

To save valuable resources, Labrador Tea keeps its leaves through the winter instead of dropping them. This helps the plant survive, as it doesn’t have to find the nutrients to grow new ones each year. To protect the leaves from dehydration in the cold winter months, each leaf has a waxy tough surface and a layer of brown “hairs” on its underside.

Black Spruce are the first trees to invade the bog

Black Spruce can tolerate wet, acidic conditions that many trees can’t. The trees can also clone themselves and move further into the bog by sprouting from branches resting on the bog mat.

They can make do with lower amounts of nutrients, but fungus helps the Black Spruce, as well as shrubs like Labrador Tea and other plants to deal with the lack of food. Fungi connect to the roots of the plants and help them pull in important nutrients like nitrogen.

Labrador Tea in flower