Friday, July 10, 2015

Foray to Frazier's Bog

Morton Arboretum's Joe Rothleutner's preparing an herbarium specimen
On Wednesday, July 8, I had the good fortune to escort two horticultural professionals to an amazing wetland located 0.3-mile from my office--a forested swamp known as Frazier's Bog.

The swamp is not, in fact, a bog.  Bogs are characterized by standing water which is often stained tea-brown by tannins leached from decomposing organic matter.  In addition, bog water is acidic.  Frazier's Bog is actually a fen, which has running (albeit slowly running), clear water that tends to be neutral or slightly basic.  The water at Frazier's Bog seeps out of a porous quartizite bedrock ridge immediately to the north, and the shallow rills, runnels, and rivulets that thread through the wetland flow over sandy beds.

The swamp is also amazing because it's a Coastal Plain outlier.  My preserve and environs are on the solid, metamorphic rocky Piedmont; the edge of the sandy Coastal Plain lies about 10 miles to the south.  Nevertheless, many of the the plants that occur in Frazier's Bog are plants typical of the Coastal Plain in New Jersey, not the Piedmont.  So, Frazier's bog is a rarity--an island of the Coastal Plain 250 feet above sea level in a shallow basin in the Piedmont. 

The bog's unusual nature has been recognized for a century and a half, and over the years countless botanic field trips have tromped through the spongy, saturated site.  Currently, the wetland is located at the edge of the second fairway of a private country club's golf course, but fortunately the country club recognizes the botanic gem and has posted signs to keep golfers out of the swamp (which is a treasure trove of lost golf balls).
Fortunately, the country club recognizes the wetland's value
Frazier's Bog (and and only two other sites in Pennsylvania) support sweetbay magnolia trees (Magnolia virginiana).  The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois and the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) have joined forces to create a sweetbay magnolia collection that includes specimens from the full range of the tree - Massachusetts to Cuba.  On Tuesday, Andrew Bunting of CBG and Joe Rothleutner of the Morton Arboretum came to Frazier's Bog to make softwood cuttings from 10 magnolias growing in the swamp.  They will attempt to root the specimens so they can be planted in the botanic gardens, and so that they can be propagated and shared with other gardens.  In addition, they are creating a germplasm "bank" in case the sites where these trees occur naturally are eliminated by hurricanes, tornadoes, fire or development. 
 Chicago Botanic Garden's Andrew Bunting "bagging" his quarry
The swamp floor is carpeted with skunk cabbage and ferns
In addition to taking the softwood cuttings, the pair collected specimens of the leaves and fruit from each of the sampled trees to include in an herbarium collection.
The Dynamic Duo just before leaving the swamp
After we left the swamp, we crossed to the opposite side of the fairway (fore!) to check on another Coastal Plain species, netted chain fern (Woodwardia areolata).
Joe photographing netted chain fern
When the country club resurrected this 9-hole course about 20 years ago (it had been "abandoned" during the Great Depression), they had enclosed the stand of ferns inside orange construction fencing.  The construction fencing is long gone (so as not to offend the sensibilities of the the golfers) and has been replaced with unobtrusive wire mesh fencing (which is collapsed and useless); the ferns, nonetheless, are thriving.


packrat said...

Wow! An incredibly informative, well-written blog post, Scott. I have to admit to laughing out loud about the errant golf balls in the fen. I always enjoy it, too, when I learn something new from your posts--like the difference between a fen and a bog. Although my degrees are in the humanities I've always had a love of science, so I think it's pretty exciting to have two specialists show up to take specimens to propagate and preserve a particular tree. Excellent stuff!

Scott said...

Packrat: Many thanks; I really appreciate your feedback and compliments. I had a really good time in the field with these investigators. I have plenty of interactions with professionals like engineers and stream geomorphologists, but not enough encounters with botanists and ecologists. I suspect I sort of acted like a giddy schoolgirl, so I hope they forgave me in exchange for creating an efficient field collection outing.

robin andrea said...

Sounds like a great day out there in the bog that's really a fen! I'm impressed with how green it is there in mid summer. It does not look like that around here, even on the foggy northern California coast.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: It always looks this green in mid-summer here. However, we have been having a really moist summer. Though we're not getting tremendous quantities of rain, it seems to rain just about every other day. So, it's warm, humid, and jungle-like.

Incidentally, I just learned yesterday that Andrew Bunting (one of the guys who was collecting plants) and I have a good mutual friend. Is that one or two degrees of separation?

Mark P said...

You have some nice stuff around there. It seems like we don't really have much of that kind of thing close to us.

Scott said...

Mark: Frazier's Bog really is a botanical and scenic treasure. Every time I visit, I ask myself, "Why don't I come out here more often?"

Do you think if you dug around, you could find some extraordinary places near you?