On Thursday morning I received a call from my friend Lee with a request, “If you can take me into Big Run Bog this Saturday, we’ll take you and Jan out to supper. I know you are busy, so if you can’t do it day-after-tomorrow, maybe you can do it the next Saturday.” A few weeks earlier he had emailed me, wanting to know the location of Big Run Bog. I knew he had been there before with a group I had led, but on that trip we had called it by its other name: Olson Bog. After the name confusion was cleared up, I was sure he knew the bog’s location, so I wondered why he wanted us to accompany him.
Jan loves Big Run Bog and thought it was a great idea especially since we had recently talked about taking more road trips. We didn’t have anything planned for Saturday and the weather prediction was for a cool, dry day … perfect! And, of course, time with Lee and Kimberlee is always fun, especially in wild places. I told Lee we would meet them at the bog on Saturday at 10 am. He was excited and I was still curious about his purpose.
We arrived at the bog at about the same time. Lee got out of his truck with a piece of paper in his hand which he held out to me right away. On the paper was a drawing of Buckbean, Menyanthes trifoliata, only known in 4 very specific habitat locations in West Virginia. “I want you to show me this plant,” he demanded.
Expecting something like this, I was ready! I reached into my pocket and pulled out a blindfold. “Some of the rarest plants in West Virginia are in one part of this bog,” I told him, “and I don’t show them to just anyone. I haven’t even shown them to Jan. You have to go in blindfolded!”
We all had fun with the blindfold. I’m not sure if, at first, Lee knew that I was joking, but I knew Lee could be trusted 100% to not reveal the area I was about to show him.
Lee explained that he had been reading a book about WV nature which mentioned that Buckbean has been found in Big Run Bog. As a birthday gift to himself he wanted to see this very rare plant, so a few weeks earlier he had explored part of the bog, trying to find it. His solo trip in the bog had been more of a challenge than he had expected. Big Run Bog, designated a National Natural Landmark in 1974, comprises 731 acres of small streams, beaver ponds and lots of cranberry/sphagnum bog. Lee explained that when he went searching in the area where I had taken the group years ago, he had trouble staying out of the water. Often he would sink in up to his knee and then, when he tried to pull himself out with the other foot, that foot would sink into the muck, too. It was exhausting. Although he saw wonderful plants like insectivorous sundews and pitcher plants almost everywhere he searched, he had found no sign of Buckbean or any other rare plants.
Now that I knew what our target plant was, we entered the bog in a different place, near the area where I had seen it before. As we were walking through the woods toward the bog, we found American Yew, Taxus canadensis, a plant that is hard to find in West Virginia since most of its range is much farther north.
About a minute after entering the bog, we ran into Lee’s target plant, Buckbean. Lee was excited! There were well over 100 plants in that small area. “Okay,” I said, “you’ve seen your Buckbean. Now let’s get out of here!”
Of course we didn’t leave. We decided to explore more of this rarely-visited part of the bog to see what other rare plants and interesting nature we might find. In previous visits to this bog I had noticed that the Golden Club, Orontium aquaticum, had been so heavily browsed by deer that it might only survive in the deeper water where the deer couldn’t get to it. I was pleasantly surprised to find large patches of Golden Club in many places with no sign of deer browse. Golden Club appears to be doing quite well and is expanding to other parts of the bog.
We found many Golden Club fruits with seeds destined to become more plants. When I had been in Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia many years ago, I had heard this plant called “Never Wet”. No matter how long they are submerged in water, the leaves never retain water or feel wet when lifted out of the water. Water droplets just sit on the top of a leaf and roll right off when the leaf is tipped.
Although not a rare plant, Bog Clubmoss, Lycopodiella inundata, is only found in certain wetlands. We saw a lot of this ancient, perennial, evergreen, spore-bearing plant.
A plant I had seen and photographed years before in this same area was Quillwort, Isoetes engelmannii, a tiny, easily-overlooked plant usually restricted to moving-water runs and edges. Although we looked for it, we didn’t find it this time, but I still believe it is hiding in the bog.
We started to explore beyond the Buckbean area. A short distance away was a nice colony of many Kidney-Leaf Grass of Parnassus, Parnassia asarifolia, plants. Many of them had flower buds and a few were in full flower.
We discovered many Small Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata, leaves, but only a few of the plants were still flowering.
Lee was excited and interested in everything we found.
The Hispid Blackberries, Rubus hispidus, were ripe and, although very small compared to field blackberries, they were quite tasty. They were found throughout the bog and we grazed on handsful of delicious berries as we explored.
Cottongrass, Eriophorum virginicum, added interesting color and texture everywhere.
Jan took photos of many of the plants we saw as well as one of her favorite topics — old, sun-dried, gnarled tree stumps and roots.
Jan called this group of stump and roots, “Musk Ox”.
A Broad-winged Hawk, Buteo platypterus, began calling and was soon circling overhead for quite a long time. It seemed disturbed by something … maybe by us.
There were many more common plants throughout the area we explored. Most of these plants we had seen before, but they are always beautiful and interesting.
And we weren’t the only ones interested in the Gentian.
Large moss hummocks were covered with ripening cranberries that were larger than the cranberries we are used to seeing most years in West Virginia bogs.
As we explored our way back to the Buckbeans, we continued to notice tiny things we had overlooked earlier. We discovered what appeared to be several tiny red flowers on a very small plant. The plant looked familiar, but the red part confused me. A much closer look was warranted. When I got down (and wet) to examine the plant with a hand lens, I discovered that the red “flowers” were actually the red fruits of Lesser Canada St. John’s-wort, Hypericum canadense, an often-overlooked, tiny wetland plant which has yellow flowers.
Soon Lee and Jan found another red plant that caused a quandary for me. At first I didn’t know what it was, but then it came to me — it was a very young, insectivorous sundew. But Jan disagreed, asking, “Where are the fleshy, sticky pads that trap insects?” There were none, so it again became an unknown to me. After a much closer examination I finally realized that it was a recently germinated Pitcher Plant. Examining nearby adult Pitcher Plants, we found the same design at the base of the full-sized pitchers.
As we were leaving Big Run Bog, Jan asked Lee and me to be very quiet for about 30 seconds. She wanted to shoot a video of the ambiance of part of our exploration. Turn your sound up.
As we left the bog, we were captivated by the black-and-white artistry of this shadow of a fern on a dried leaf.
Out of the bog after hours of exploration, it was time to shed our wet clothes (how did Jan stay so clean and dry?), dry our feet and head to Davis, WV, for supper.
There are several good places to eat in Thomas and Davis, WV, but my favorite is Siriani’s Cafe. We were so hungry from all-day bog-stomping that, although we had brought a cooler to take home our leftovers, both Jan and I ate our full servings of “Oh, Mike Goss”! Delicious!
And, of course, no trip to the mountains would be complete without stopping for dessert on the way home at Saffiticker’s Ice Cream in Oakland, Maryland.
Jan and I are blessed to have wonderful people in our lives and to be able to visit special places and experience the wonders of Creation.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LEE!