River Road Ramblings 10/10

This has not been a happy summer for my domesticated garden, what with little sun, no really hot days, late blight on the tomatoes, and a woodchuck neatly pruning my cucumbers and squash. These last two were doing fine when the frost hit. At least there was no watering necessary.

But, this was the best ever summer for visiting my favorite wild gardens; totally natural and native with no hoeing, planting, weeding needed. I do get to do a little harvesting, however.

Some of them may have started forming 10,000 years ago when the last of the mile deep ice here melted. Yes, I fit in many trips taking friends and relatives to bogs using some of my five assorted solo canoes. Many of my "bog people" had no idea what these specialized wetlands are like, though they have at least visited the Adirondacks, a bog heaven, all their lives. Every one of them found them mind-bogglingly fascinating and beautiful. They also learned to be careful if you step onto a bog because parts of it will be floating, and that they are not muddy and nasty at all.

To a botanist a "real" bog is watered only by rain with no water flowing in or out to bring in nutrients, but my definition includes any open wetland created by sphagnum (peat) moss, having many heath family shrubs, usually a few kinds of orchids, small tamarack and black spruce dotted around the moss mat, and many kinds of "carnivorous plants." The latter use various tricks to trap insects and tinier animals to extract their nitrogen and other nutrients.

The most noticeable of these is the northern pitcher plant, the oddly inflated leaves of which are shaped like lop-sided vases or pitchers that collect rainwater for drowning their victims. The pitchers usually have prominent red veins, and often turn totally red by fall, though they can sometimes be all yellow. The red may attract flesh-eating flies but the yellow plants work too.

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