International Bog Day, July 29, 2018
We love bogs. From my first glimpse of the Big Bog up by Waskish, Minnesota, I fell in love with these wild and strange-to-me places—the mosses, the unusual plant inhabitants, the soft-needled tamarack trees, the great silence as though the deep peat soaks up sound. Since then we’ve visited many bogs and many kinds of bogs, and we love them all.
Bogs are circumpolar, most of them occurring around the globe in the northern half of the earth. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources defines a bog as occurring “only on deep saturated peat… isolated from ground water and from water that flows from mineral soil…[which] makes bog water very low in mineral nutrients and very acidic so only very specialized plant species can survive these conditions.” Another way to think of a bog is as a bowl—water doesn’t really flow in or out. Cold acidic water, harsh growing conditions: bog plants are tough survivors.
This post is a tribute to some of the best bog visits we’ve had so far.
Lake Bemidji State Park Bog Boardwalk leads to the edge of a small lake and back. Along the way signs point out some of the features. With and without the help of signs we’ve seen, at various times, purple pitcher plant, Labrador tea, bog rosemary, stemless lady’s-slipper, grass pink orchid, buckbean, early coral root, three-leaf goldthread, and tiny insect-eating sundew.
At Long Lake bug shirts and raincoats were the fashion statement of the day. The lake is slowly filling in at the edges, a floating bog best seen from the water. Canoeing around the edge of the lake we found many rose pogonia and grass pink orchids, along with sundew, bog cranberry, cottongrass, common bladderwort, and purple pitcher plant. Even on a fallen log tiny little communities of plants grew.
Pennington Bog Scientific and Natural Area is an undisturbed forested bog so easily damaged that written permission from the Department of Natural Resources is needed to enter. In the green light under white cedar, balsam fir, and black spruce trees calypso orchids (fittingly called fairy slippers) grow, along with lesser rattlesnake plantain, buckbean, gaywings, three-leaf goldthread, showy lady’s-slipper, and yellow lady’s-slipper. A magically mysterious place.
Quaking Bog at Theodore Wirth Park in north Minneapolis is an urban remnant of a much larger bog, but even with a freeway nearby the atmosphere feels hushed. Here on various visits we’ve seen leatherleaf (the only place we’ve ever seen it blooming), buckbean, starflower, wild calla, Canada mayflower, and purple pitcher plant.
Iron Springs Bog Scientific and Natural Area up near Itasca State Park is a bog so big you’ll want a GPS to help you find your way back out again. Here is where we first saw small round-leaved orchid, affectionately called (by us) polka-dotted orchid. We also saw three-leaf goldthread, showy lady’s-slipper, Canada anemone, early coral root, purple pitcher plant, green bog orchid, sundew, Labrador tea, and tiny lesser rattlesnake plantain (although since finally seeing Hudson Bay eyebright we’ve redefined the meaning of “tiny”).
Minnesota has many more bogs and bog boardwalks—Sax Zim Bog, Hayes Lake State Park boardwalk–including one state park that once had a bog boardwalk until, the park ranger told us, “The bog ate it.” And even though we know that all landscapes change, that bogs at lake edges are slowly filling in, that bogs do eat boardwalks and that the bogs we know are only as old as the last ice age, we say long live bogs, big and small. We love them all.
Happy International Bog Day!
Phyllis Root, Author
Kelly Povo, Photographer