Friday, July 31, 2009

A Very Fine Fen

Along with a few others, I recently had the opportunity to visit one of Ohio's best remaining fens, in west-central Ohio. This one isn't open to the public without a permit; the habitats are just too sensitive for unregulated traffic. But as always, I took my trusty Panasonic along for the ride, and following is a brief pictorial travelogue of our foray.

The view into the fen, from a high and dry glacial esker that abuts the wetland. This is one of Ohio's more breathtaking pieces of scenery, and this vista is jam-packed with interesting biodiversity.

The dry gravelly slopes are populated with scattered jumbo Bur Oaks, Quercus macrocarpa, underlain by a stunning show of prairie wildflowers.

Strong artesian springs burst from the toe of the slope, forming the fen. Fens are highly alkaline wetlands with strong sheet water movement, and permanently icy root zone temperatures. Couple those factors with the high alkalinity and we've got an environment that only specialized flora and fauna can tolerate. The open area above is called a marl flat, and it's the wettest most alkaline part of the fen.

Needle Beaksedge, Rhynchospora capillacea. Sedges are the dominant vegetation in fens in terms of biomass, and this specialist is the first to jump into the open marl flats and start the long process of ecological succession. The beaksedge will eventually be replaced by ever woodier plants, and someday - long after we are gone - its habitat will be forest.

Few plants are showier than this member of the rose family. Queen-of-the-prairie, Filipendula rubra, looks like puffs of pink cotton candy floating above the meadows.

In contrast to gaudy rosaceous extroverts, the elfin Limestone Savory, Clinopodium arkansanum, hides among the bases of moist hummocks. It takes a sharp eye to spot the tiny mint, but like so many of our miniature plants it is exceptionally showy upon close examination. Crush a leaf and you'll be treated to one of the world's most aromatic fragrances.

Interesting and rare beasts stalk the fen. This is one of our scarcer dragonflies and a pipsqueak of a predator, the Seepage Dancer, Argia bipunctulata.
An odd lily in need of more study, the False Asphodel, Triantha glutinosa. It's stem and inflorescence are beset with glandular hairs and so sticky that small insects are stuck fast and perish. Is this the beginnings of the evolution of carnivory? Insect-eating is not known in the lily family.

Another beautiful lily of the fens, and don't go eating this one. It is Wand Lily, Zigadenus elegans, sometimes known as Death Camas. It's bad news for the hapless consumer.

Prairie plants abound in fens, after all, these wetlands were essentially the wettest parts of the prairie. These luminescent beacons are the flowers of Prairie-dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum.

One last look back at the fen meadow. This small site harbors some of the richest biodiversity of any Ohio habitat. Places like this are treasures, and we should do everything in our power to protect them.


Dave Lewis said...

You have an amazing eye.

Jason Folt said...

Looks like a great spot. I spent a good deal of time surveying a few of the west central Ohio fens every spring and miss them tremendously.

beegirl said...

Fantastic post - thanks for highlighting the uniqueness of this spot.

John Duffey said...

Is this a publicly owned site? DNAP maybe?

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for your comments, all. It is an exquisite locale and filled with interesting flora and fauna. And yes, John, it is a DNAP site, one of many natural treasures owned and managed by that operation. Gallagher Fen is the name, and it's possible to make special arrangements to visit the place.


Jason Folt said...

I thought it might be Gallagher, but have never visited there myself. It reminds me a ton of another permit only Clark Co DNAP fen that has a nice population of Sistrurus.

Mike Durkalec said...

Cool, must be seepage from older Ordovian vs. Devonian limestone found further north in Ohio. Your blog is always a great read, Jim...keep up the great work!

Mike Durkalec said...

(of course that should be "Ordovician" above!)