Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mucking around

Yesterday I headed out with some of fellow nature-lover meetup folks to get our hands dirty with some labor down at the Suitland bog in Suitland, Maryland. We started with an introduction about the bog from a park ranger from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission as we walked from the parking lot down to the bog, which is fenced in from the surrounding residential areas. In the 1930s and '40s, botanists had amazing foresight to develop extensive collections of the bog's flora; in the 1960s, the area around the bog was mined for sand and gravel, which greatly affected the bog itself. In 1975, the M-NCPPC purchased the 20 acres where the bog is located, fenced it off a year later, and completed a botanical inventory and hydrology study in the following two years. In 1980, the Commission constructed a boardwalk and began interpretive programs and hikes to educate nearby residents about this fragile area. More than 40 species of plants recorded in the bog since 1901 have been designated by the Maryland Natural Heritage Program as rare, threatened, or endangered, and more than 20 of those plants remain today.

Technically, this bog is actually a fen - bogs are fed by rainwater, and fens like this one are fed from groundwater. A thin seep of water emerges from somewhere slightly upslope and there's a small area of standing water near the boardwalk. At this time of year, most of the plants are still dormant, although a few maples were starting to grow buds and the magnolia trees remain green year round. The big draw for this bog is the carnivorous plants. Massive tufts of purple-leaved northern pitcher plants grow throughout the bog. At one point in the bog's history, someone planted them there because they mistakenly thought they were native to the area. When they were brought in, common pitcher plant mosquitoes and midges stowed away on-board. They're the only two insects that aren't affected by the pitcher plant's digestive juices, and they actually help keep the plants healthy by disposing of the leftover insect bodies and other detritus. The thread-leaved  and spatulate-leaved sundews are native to the area, but we didn't see any.

We weren't there to just gaze at this rare wetland, we were there to work. Taking care to avoid the stands of poison sumac, which love wet or flooded areas like this, we cut and pulled small shoots of asters, maples, and greenbriers that threatened to take over by crowding or shading out other types of native plants that the rangers are trying to restore to the area. At some point, the pitcher plants will be pulled as well, but we didn't have enough time to really get in there and dig them out. The peak blooming times for the bog plants are May through August, which are also good times to see foxes, turtles, songbirds, and hawks that live in the area. I'm hoping to get back out there again sometime to do some more maintenance work, check out the bog in full bloom, and maybe even pick up the trash left by people who walk through the forest and meadow surrounding the bog.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


You wouldn't think that early March in the city would be a magical time. It's cool and wet and sometimes grey, and there's still road salt crusted on the curbs. But oh yes, it is magical indeed, because life is starting to emerge. Daffodils spill down the hill along Rock Creek Parkway. Small pink and yellow flowers bloom on trees behind the gas station on 14th Street and along the highway. Purple flowers carpet the yard outside a small house in Falls Church. White flowers poke out through the dead leaves in the park. In three weeks, the cherry blossoms will be out in full force and the city will be alive. Just three short weeks 'til spring.  Magic.