Written by Joe Meyer: Executive Director of LSP
Meat eating plants, really?!?! That’s exactly what we found on our recent family trip to Spruce Lake Bog State Natural Area in WI. The bog sits around a 35 acre lake in the heart of the
Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest and contains numerous plant species that are bog specialists. There is a short 1/4 mile board walk that leads you through what would normally be an impassable ecosystem. The WI DNR classifies bogs as acidic, low nutrient “wetlands” dominated by Sphagnum mosses that accumulate over time as peat. These conditions are what drive the specialization of some bog species that I will highlight below.
Bug Eating Pitcher Plants:
Pitcher Plants have adapted to low nutrient bog life by capturing flies, ants and other prey through a water filled “pitcher”. Insects are attracted to the color and smell released by the pitcher’s hood but the slippery top causes them to fall into the pitcher. Downward pointing hairs prevent escape while enzymes in the water digest their meal. Several hundred species of pitcher plants make their home all over the world in low nutrient environments. Watch this You Tube video of a pitcher plant catching its prey https://youtu.be/z2C3ChaRyVQ
Bug Eating Sundew Plants:
The less familiar sundew is another carnivorous bog specialist that uses a different strategy to capture its prey. It has dozens of sugary drops of “sundew” on its head, attracting insects that get stuck on the sticky excretion. Unlike the trigger mechanism of the venus fly traps, the sundew then folds up onto its prey. It is much smaller than pitcher plants and easily overlooked, so you need to keep your eyes peeled for this amazing plant. Watch this time lapse video of a sundew catching its prey https://youtu.be/h9NnctZVrvk
Beauty in a Bog- Pink Lady’s Slipper Orchid:
This beautiful flower makes its home in many bogs. The “slipper” shaped flower takes several years to develop from seed and is pollinated by bees. There is also a white flowered variety, equally beautiful, and it is no wonder why Minnesota chose it for their state flower. Orchids are always under threat by people who wish to bring their beauty home by digging out wild plants. Unfortunately, because of the specific conditions needed by these plants, most don’t survive.
Other species you can expect to see in a bog are pictured below. They include sphagnum mosses, tamarack trees (our only conifer to lose its needles in winter), Skunk Cabbage, and Royal Ferns.
Besides Spruce Lake Bog, you may also wish to visit Cedarburg State Natural Area. It is Wisconsin’s first State Natural Area and can be explored in both summer or winter. See our past post from a winter visit with MUHS students to Cedarburg Bog State Natural Area HERE