Georgia bogs harbor rich plant diversity

To many people, “bog” conjures up images of quagmires and sucking mud, wastelands to be drained and built on or dug up for fishing ponds.

But to nature lovers like me, bogs are beautiful, places where some of nature’s most interesting — and rarest — plants live. Biologists say that bogs and related natural areas, such as pine savannah wetlands, are some of Georgia’s most extraordinary ecosystems because they can contain some of the world’s highest diversities of plant species.

In particular, several so-called “seepage bogs” in Georgia’s Coastal Plain region have a special combination of clay, acidic soil, slow drainage, low nutrient levels and other conditions that make them havens for pitcher plants, bladderworts, sundews and other carnivorous plants — species that amazingly trap and digest insects and small animals for nourishment.

The promise of seeing a galore of pitcher plants drew several of us Georgia Botanical Society members recently to a bog in South Georgia‘s Turner County. The bog (which yet has no name) lived up to its billing: Rarely have we seen such a magnificent growth of pitcher plants and other Coastal Plain bog species in one place.

Along with numerous other bog plants, the 8.8-acre site harbors three pitcher plant species — hooded, yellow trumpet and parrot (a protected species) pitcher plants. Surrounding it is a pine savannah that also harbors a rich variety of species, including longleaf pine and wiregrass, that once covered most of the Coastal Plain but are found now only in scattered remnants.

The bogs are heavily dependent on occasional fire to keep them sunny and free of competing vegetation. But fire suppression, development, logging, farming and other factors have caused the loss of numerous Coastal Plain bogs.

The Turner County bog itself was slated for development, but when conservationists (including the landowner himself) learned of its ecological importance, they joined together in 2012 to permanently protect it. It has been turned over to the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Foundation in Tifton to be used as a “learning lab” for students.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be last quarter on Monday, said David Dundee, a Tellus Science Center astronomer. Mercury is low in the west just after dark. Mars is in the west at dusk. Jupiter is low in the east just before sunrise. Saturn is in the west just after dark and sets before 9 p.m.