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A Rare Little Gem


Imagine that you’re standing at the edge of a vast stand of cattails, about to plunge in. If, like me, you’ve done such a thing, you know what a claustrophobia-inducing experience this can be, with the added excitement of treacherous footing. That you can’t see, because ย cattails are in your face. And if, like me, you are shorter than the cattails, you also can’t see where you’re headed. But a leading ecologist from the Forest Preserve District assures you there is a fen hiding in the midst of all those cattails. I am filled with awe when I think of Ken Klick venturing out the first time, knowing what should be there and seeking to find whether it was. Of course, he’s a heck of a lot more knowledgeable than I am. Plus he’s considerably taller!

So after plunging through cattails for several minutes, up to our knees (well, past mine!) in water, we felt a slight rise. Fens are wetlands that are fed by mineral-rich groundwater. As I understand it, in this doughnut-shaped area in the midst of the cattails, this water wells up from underground. The water and soil are different here, and support a suite of extremely rare plants. The cattails gave way slightly, and like a miracle, there were the plants we sought. Huh. I’m still mystified, to tell you the truth. And grateful, because had Ken not taken me out there I would have never seen these plants. To mark the occasion I’ve painted this bog rosemary, not recorded in our county for decades before Ken’s spotting of it here.

20 thoughts on “A Rare Little Gem

  1. Good for you being the brave explorer. It was rewarding. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I was so much more adventurous when I was younger. It is getting harder to talk myself into these things now! ๐Ÿ™‚ Not water, though. I will always love to jump into water and now I find my little dog right at my side.

  2. I’ve never waded into the cat-tails. What an adventure! I am imaging you in a pair of waders now. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s sounds like it was worth the cat-tails in the face, and muck up to your knees! Bog Rosemary. I’ve never even heard of that! It’s beautiful.

    1. Thank you Deborah! When I think of staggering around in those cattails, I shudder, to tell the truth. But I am so glad I had the opportunity. I did have a lovely job at the Botanic Garden one summer that involved waders. Ah, now that is a happy memory… ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Fine painting – I envy you the fen adventure. I’ve gone to bogs for unusual plants and flowers (orchids), but I haven’t seen anything like bog rosemary.

    1. Thank you so much Tom. I read somewhere that adventures are something you enjoy afterwards, and that is certainly the case here. If you find yourself in my area next spring I’ll take you there ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I’ve never thought of fens as being part of our country; I’ve always associated them with England and Scotland. Your explanation and what I read online makes sense of them. They seem similar to prairie potholes, but from what I understand, the water in fens is ground water bubbling up, and prairie potholes, which are more transient, get much of their water from spring snowmelt and rain.

    In any event, what an experience for you. The cattails are thick and tall here, too, but there’s not a chance in the world you’d find me wading into them. Too many alligators!

    The unusual plants in the fens reminds me of the specialized plants that grow on prairie mima mounds. It’s wonderful that you got to see some of them, and capture the bog rosemary for us.

    1. Thank you Linda. You’ve explained it perfectly, how the water bubbles up. I can well imagine alligators lurking in the cattails, as well as other things. My botanist friend does go in where the alligators hang out looking for sedges. I sure hope she survives her research!

      1. I was thinking about this last night, and realized that encounters with snakes would be equally likely. Not only that, it’s a lot easier to flee on dry land than it is to make time through the mud!

      2. Yeah! Plus on dry land you can probably see them sooner. I’m lucky to live in a place where the creatures are mostly harmless although now we have quite a tick problem and I understand there is a growing list of diseases you can get from them. Makes me glad I’m about done going out in the field. For decades I never saw a tick at all. Now they are abundant. At least getting eaten by an alligator would be a glamorous way to go!

  5. It’s a lovely painting, and I’m glad to learn something new, I’d only heard of “fens” in stories like The Hound of the Baskervilles. Fens, minerotrophic peatlands, and peaty bogs are all fun to say, I’ll drop those into conversation tomorrow. The bog rosemary is nice, I’m sorry it’s so rare. My parents’ house has some shrubs, sold commercially, called Andromeda (pieris japonica) which apparently is related.

    1. Thank you so much Robert. You’re right, those are all fun to say. I’ll enjoy imagining you in conversation the next couple of days ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sorry it is so rare, too. I’ve looked for it in two of the bogs I know, and haven’t found it in either of them. Perhaps it should be called fen rosemary.

  6. Very special. But from what I read, not something one should use in cooking! What a find.

  7. No definitely not! I love the plant world for its diversity and beauty, but I’m not one to sample its wares beyond visually ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. But some of those wares are not only edible but also yummy, like pecans and blackberries.

      1. Oh, yeah. Blackberries. Mmmmm…..I’m off to find a patch….

      2. It’s way too late in the season here to find our local blackberries, called dewberries, but in the spring I occasionally nibbled some when I was out taking pictures. A few years ago Eve and I gathered several pounds of that fruit from a particularly good briar patch.

  8. You won’t be surprised that I’ve never heard of bog rosemary. I found this on Wikipedia: “Andromeda polifolia, common name bog-rosemary, is a species of flowering plant native to northern parts of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the only member of the genus Andromeda, and is only found in bogs in cold peat-accumulating areas.” How good that you got to see it in its isolated little world.

    On our recent trip we found that the top of Scott’s Bluff in western Nebraska was a different (because not low and wet) sort of mini-climate that fostered the growth of some species not found farther east in Nebraska.

    1. Micro-habitats really are so cool, aren’t they? I’m glad you got to see that in action.

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