CHAPTER II - Roadside Seep

II. Roadside Seep Across the road from the wet woods is a small seep. A short spring rises out of the ground and then widens out into a flat boggy area about an acre in size.

Full grown Betula nigra (River Birch) trees line the spring. This is the only species of Birch found locally, and they only grow where water is available year round. They have typical birch leaves, but lack the white bark characteristic of Paper Birch and Canoe Birch. Instead, the bark of mature trees is grayish-salmon and tends to exfoliate in patches.


 Birch trees bear their tiny, wind-pollinated flowers in catkins. These female catkins will produce the little nutlets which will become the next generation of birches.

Along the spring bank one can usually find specimens of Peltandra virginica (Virginia Arrowarum). This plant is a member of the Araceae, a largely tropical family better known for many houseplant species such as Philodendrons, Devil's Ivy, Chinese Evergreen, and so on.

 Where the seep widens out in the sandy soil, the ground is spongy with Sphagnum moss. These little plants can hold several times their own weight in water, dead or alive, which helps to maintain a consistently moist habitat for the plants that live with them.

One plant which thrives in wet, sandy soil is Lycopodiella appressa [= Lycopodium adpressum (Southern Clubmoss)]. Clubmosses are fairly primitive land plants and have been around since the days of the dinosaurs.

 Bogs are the most likely place to find an interesting and unusual group of plants--the carnivores. Bladderworts, Sundews, and Pitcher Plants all capture insects for food. Bog soils tend to be acid and poor in nitrogen, and the plants are able to supplement their "diet" by digesting the protein in their "prey". When they are in flower, the Bladderworts are the most conspicuous carnivores in the bog. They can make an almost-solid carpet of bright yellow. The leaves of these plants have tiny, bladder-like traps for catching microscopic aquatic animals. Utricularia cornuta (Horn Bladderwort) grows to a height of about eight inches. It has rather large flowers, each with a conspicuous curved spur.


One can also find much smaller bladderworts, U. gibba, U. subulata, or both, adjacent to U. cornuta .

Sundews such as Drosera brevifolia (D. annua) catch tiny insects by secreting a sweet, sticky glue from reddish glandular hairs on their leaves. Insects attracted to the nectar become hopelessly trapped and are eventually digested. Plants range from smaller than a dime in diameter to about fifty-cent piece size. Sundews have small pink flowers which appear on a slender stalk that arises from the center of the rosette and unrolls.


Many people find the Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia alata) to be the most interesting of the insectivores. Their leaves are modified into slender green pitchers. The inner rim of each pitcher is lined with stiff, downward-pointing hairs. Below the hairs, the inner surface of the pitcher is smooth and slick. Any insect foolish enough to venture into the pitcher looking for the source of an appealing smell quickly finds itself sliding downwards into a pool of digestive juices in the bottom of the trap. Botanists have discovered whole ecosystems within these pitchers--dead insects upon which the plants are feeding, live insects eating the dead insects, live insects laying eggs in the debris that will be a food source for their offspring, and other insects and spiders hiding in the trap to catch new victims as they tumble in.


 The flowers of the Pitcher Plant are unusual too. They are borne one at a time, hanging upside down at the top of a tall stalk. Five broad petals hang down between the lobes of a large, umbrella-like stigma. S. alata has pale greenish flowers in the spring and early summer.


Spring visitors to the bogs may have another treat: a glimpse of the beautiful Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides). These beautiful little orchids have grass-like leaves and rosy flowers. The distinctly fringed lower lip (labellum) is characteristic of the genus.


NOTE: Carnivorous plants and orchids grow only in limited (often threatened) habitat and are becoming rare in many areas. Except for the few samples needed for study by scientists, these plants should never be collected from the wild. Many are protected by law. Most will not survive being transplanted. Carnivorous plants can be bought from scientific supply companies and specialty nurseries. Contact your local orchid society to find out where to legally obtain orchids. 
Chapter III - Sandy Pasture above the Roadside Seep

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