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Boardwalk Trail: First wooden bench

Location #5

Location #5



As you start up the boardwalk, the first thing you might notice is all the standing water – or the remaining pots of mud, depending on how much rain we’ve had. This wetland bog area is known locally as a “muskeg”. Muskegs are formed where the glaciers that carved our landscape left a hodgepodge of compacted silt, sand, gravel and clay. This unsorted mixture is not very good at allowing all our precipitation to drain. Take a look at the broader landscape here. Notice how the mountain slopes are mostly forested, while the flatter lowlands are generally open muskeg broken up by clumps of larger trees. These more forested areas are usually perched on higher knolls or meander along streams where the water can drain more easily. It’s all about drainage in the rainforest! The poor drainage in the muskeg, combined with our cool local temperatures, slows down the rate at which organic matter can decompose. If you were to dig down into the muskeg peat, you might find whole sticks and roots that would have long since turned to dirt under different conditions. This slow decomposition also creates acidic conditions most woodland plants would find inhospitable. Fortunately, sphagnum moss flourishes here. A closer look at the muskeg will show that what looks like a uniform mat of moss actually contains many different species of sphagnum with a variety of colors and textures. Sphagnum moss can absorb large amounts of rainwater, but also dries very quickly when the rains let up. Just like in the ocean intertidal zone, muskeg life has adapted to an environment that is sometimes dry and sometimes very wet. But unlike the well-fed mussels and barnacles, muskeg plants must also contend with limited nutrients. These conditions give rise to some fascinating adaptations. The small twisted trees dotting the muskeg are the dwarf form of Shore Pine. Notice their long needles that grow in pairs. The hard life in the muskeg means these trees grow very slowly; a three-foot tall shore pine in the muskeg could be 100 years old. Perhaps our muskeg’s most charismatic species is the tiny carnivorous Round-Leaved Sundew. Each of its flat, pencil-eraser sized leaves is surrounded by reddish tentacles coated with sticky drops of “dew.” Sundew use this substance to trap small insects, which supplement their otherwise limited nutrient supply. You may also see some small flowering shrubs with woody stems and narrow, leathery leaves. These are also adaptations that help prevent drying. The tallest and most conspicuous is Labrador tea. It has small white flowers and downward-sloping leaves with rusty hairs on the underside. Bog laurel shows a broad fuschia flower and has leaves with fine whitish hair underneath. And tiny pale-pink flowers decorate the hairless leaves of bog rosemary . In spring, magenta shooting star flowers and tufts of cottongrass appear, while in fall, bog cranberries feed both migrating geese and resident humans. As you can see, what might seem to some like a treacherous swampland is actually full of precious surprises.


Muskeg Song

Ice-stars wink from frosted pines
in the bracing Winter sun;
Spring hangs tiny pink balloons
upon the rosemary twig
Summer wafts Labrador tea
over water striders and mud,
and Fall, oh Fall, paints it all
in sage
and rust
and gold.

Directions to next location

Keep your eye out for all of these treasures as you continue up the boardwalk. When you reach a fork in the boardwalk at the top of the hill, stay to the right and find the wooden bench for a seat.

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