This past weekend I had the opportunity to hike within the Bluff Mountain Preserve with eco tour guide Kim Hadley of The Nature Conservancy. It was awesome. The Nature Conservancy established the Bluff Mountain Preserve in 1977 and continues to maintain it today. Because the Preserve is home to over 400 species of plants, 25 of them endangered, rare or threatened, in order to visit, you must go with a guide such as Kim.
As the trail loops around the top of the mountain we came to a 3 acre fen. Looking like a wet meadow with lots of sedges and rushes, Kim told us that the bog turtle has been found there. These rare high elevation wet zones are home to some really cool plant species too, including the Dwarf Sundew, Drosera brevifolia, a small carnivorous plant. And the first time I’ve ever seen Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea, on the eastern side of the country in bloom! (see red flower below)
So why is it a bog on Beech Creek and a fen on Bluff Mountain? What is the difference? Just looking at the two, the main difference I saw was the amount of Sphagnum peat moss in the bog. There was a little bit of peat moss in the fen, but not near the amounts found in the bog. Bogs are typically low in nutrients and acidic and rain and snow are the only sources of water for bogs. Fens receive water from both precipitation and groundwater. The main difference between a fen and a bog is that fens have greater water exchange and are less acidic, so their soil and water are richer in nutrients.
High elevation bogs and fens in the High Country are cherished gems that provide us with inspiration, beauty, and a home for rare animals, insects, and plants. I’m so grateful to the conservation groups and the State of NC that work diligently to protect these areas.