Bogs are special places. They form only where there is no nutrient input other than rainfall (and occasional moose poop). Even groundwater seeping in can add enough nutrients to tip the scales from a bog to a fen. Fens themselves are pretty neat too, and they are divided into different types based on the amount of nutrients present. Nutrient-poor fens are called Poor Fens while nutrient fens are called Rich Fens… leading to a wide range of silly comments and puns.
Both bogs and poor fens are inhabited by a very neat group of moss species known as Sphagnum moss. There are thousands of species of sphagnum moss, ranging wildly in color and in the amounts of nutrients they need.
Sphagnum mosses actually increase the acidity of the areas around them, and between this and the lack of oxygen in saturated peatlands, they can form very thick mats and sometimes even raised bogs. Many feet of sphagnum can accumulate, which is one way carbon is removed from the atmosphere (as long as the bog is left alone). When sphagnum grows along the edge of a pond it can form floating mats, and in some cases if the pond’s level rises due to human or beaver behavior the mats can break off and form floating islands (kind of like in Life of Pi but no mongooses).
Below is an aerial photo of Chickering Fen (sometimes erroneously caused Chicerking Bog). The little pond is surrounded by a floating mat. The little white thing in the east is a boardwalk – you can go visit this little fen without trampling the plants, and get a great view of it from the boardwalk, including carnivorous plants.
The carnivorous plants turned to eating insects, of course, because there are so few nutrients in this sort of fen.
A while back I was mapping some fens and bogs and took a few samples of Sphagnum to identify. After identifying them (with a lot of help – I’m not good with Sphagnums), I got some of the dried out stems wet to see what would happen and they puffed right up! I put these in a jar with a bit of rainwater and conifer needles. Over time this expanded to five jars and growing!
The sphagnum did fine that fall just sitting in a jar with a bit of rainwater at the bottom, but winter brought use of the heater, which dried the air inside and led to the little edges drying. So I stretched foil over them.
They survived the winter just fine without freezing like their outdoor cousins, and in fact seem to be thriving. I can’t fertilize them, because it would probably kill them. I’m thinking over time I may toss a few more leaves in with them, or if feeling adventurous even a piece of moose poop (moose love bogs and poop all over in them and it doesn’t seem to do the Sphagnum much harm). If I can get them growing enough I may get an aquarium and try a terrarium of some sort. Maybe I can get some cottongrass growing too.
These little guys are jumping right up against the plastic wrap and want a bigger jar:
These are yellow but don’t seem otherwise sick – I think they were one of the yellow species I collected. I also collected a red species, but it turned green without enough light.
So, in short, it’s been a great success! You should try it yourself. But, before collecting any sphagnum, please check with land managers/park managers/etc and make sure it is OK to do so. Many endangered species live in bogs, and you don’t want to make a tiny indoor bog at the expense of a natural one! Believe it or not, overzealous plant collectors can lead to species being extirpated (it’s especially bad with orchids). However, if you ask around you may find a way to legally and sutainably collect a stem or two of sphagnum moss, it doesn’t take much to grow more of it. Just don’t forget – for most species you should only use rainwater or distilled water – and no fertilizer!