Bog Slog, Part 1

by Dana Atkinson | Jun 1, 2024 | 0 comments

“Let’s go on a bog slog! We’ll get to see carnivorous plants and bee-tricking bog orchids!”

Friends and family often hear me say that during early June. Usually I get some takers, and soon we are slogging along in the soggy terrain of the bog. As we do so, we tease each other by saying, “Watch out! The Gulper might getcha.” We’re referring to the chance of a sudden slurping sound as an unfortunate member of our party suddenly sinks deeper than their chore boots into the bog.

Our favorite “bog slogging” place is technically “minerotrophic peatland,” but we just call it a bog. Besides, doesn’t “going on a bog slog” sound more adventurous than a “peatland grand tour”?

We carefully pick our way through the thickets and watery area at the margin of the bog and expectantly head for the more open sphagnum moss mat areas where the exquisite beauty of the blooming Purple Pitcher (Sarracenia purpea) plants awaits us. The pitcher plant’s burgundy flowers look like so many little lanterns hanging on knee-high shepherd’s hooks above the sphagnum mat.

We pause our slogging to watch as bumble bees navigate the flowers’ trapdoor petal cross-pollination system. The system functions somewhat like this. The bees, likely carrying pollen from another pitcher plant flower, are basically forced to pass a stigma on their way into the flower. That’s the pollination part. After getting inside, the bees do their thing gathering pollen, etc. As they do, they get pollen all over themselves. As they leave, they can walk around on the upside down umbrella and exit by way of the trapdoor petals (here’s the “cross” part) without the need to struggle past a stigma of the flower where they just got covered in pollen. The bees then carry this pollen to the next flower and its stigmas which are waiting there exposed above the trapdoors.

Down in the sphagnum moss below the flowers are clusters of the pitcher plants’ pitchers. We peer down into some of the traps and marvel at how the pitcher plant traps’ coloration and design make these water-filled traps so effective at attracting and capturing insects. Among the dead insects in the pitchers we notice some live insects that are actually thriving inside the pitchers. These live insects are part of a food processing chain that’s quite fascinating, and, of course, are an important part of the pitcher plants’ ability to live in the nutrient-poor environment of the bog. (More on this in Part 2 in an upcoming issue.)

purple pitcher plant pitcher
Purple pitcher plant pitcher. Photo © Dogwood Ridge.

Shortly, one of the members our bog-slogging party calls out that they’ve spotted an orchid. We gather around a strange, upside-down looking, fuchsia-colored flower. This is the Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus), which looks upside down compared to other orchids because the showy lip petal (labellum) is uppermost. This bee landing pad is inviting to bees because it has yellow hairs which appear to be pollen. This is false advertising and is part of the Grass Pinks’ bee trickery. I demonstrate how, when a bee lands on that inviting landing pad expecting a reward, the base bends like a hinge and flops the deceived bee onto its back on the column where pollen is applied to the bee. Away it goes to be fooled again and thus cross-pollinate the orchids. At least that’s the plan.

rose pogonia orchid
Rose pogonia. Photo © Dana Atkinson.

Another bee-tricking orchid we’ve seen while bog slogging is the Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides). This small bog inhabitant is also called Adder’s Tongue, Beard Flower, or Snake-mouth Orchid because the light pink flower has an extravagantly bearded lip petal. This inviting bee landing pad is false advertising and is part of this orchid’s bee-tricking cross pollination system.

I use a stick to demonstrate the pollen applicator’s garbage truck gate action for our bog sloggers. A bee is attracted to land on the landing strip because of the flower’s signals. As the bee searches for a reward, it forces its head down into the flower in search of nectar and pollen. The deceived bee finds none (the pollen, in the form of sticky balls called pollinia, is hidden on the end of the column). As the bee backs out, the pollen applicator tips up like the back of a garbage truck and applies the pollinia to the top of the bee’s head. If the bee repeats this process at another Rose Pogonia, cross-pollination will occur.

One interesting bog inhabitant that is easily missed is the Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). I point out the diminutive plant to our soggy boggers. It seems to me it is more common to spot the sundews on old fallen logs or around the base of old stumps from the logging days of long ago. We admire the small round leaves bristling with reddish hairs that have glistening sticky glue droplets on the tips.

round-leaved sundew
Round-leaved sundew. Photo © Dana Atkinson.

Soon the many eyes of our group spot numerous insects in various stages of being stuck and digested. The sundew’s insect capturing, extra nutrient-acquiring system works like this. Those bristling, glistening glandular hairs we boggers are admiring are also attractive to insects. When they alight on them to investigate, they find themselves stuck (the Gulper got them). The more they struggle to get away, the more stuck they become. The sundew’s leaf can sense the struggles of the stuck insect, and its glandular hairs curl around to engulf its prey. The engulfed insect is digested, and the nutrients from it help the sundew thrive in the nutrient-poor environment of the bog.

round-leaved sundew with fly prey
Round-leaved sundew with fly. Photo © Dana Atkinson.

Which reminds us very soggy boggers that with all of our slogging, we’re becoming nutrient poor and should head home for supper.

Besides, if we keep on exploring the fascinating world of the bog, we’d likely fill up this edition of the magazine. So, sometime we’ll follow up with another bog slog story.

In the meantime, if you go on a bog slog, just watch out for the Gulper.

Note: Bog habitat can be fragile, so use care in your bog slogging.

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