Fen Garden

yarthkin(6-7a)November 23, 2005

Has anyone tried a calciferous fen garden? I'm giving it a shot with Cypripedium reginae, fringed gentian, and maybe Aconitum uncinatum (if I can find a source for it).

I'm going the high nutient route, but I've also heard of natural low-nutrient alkaline fens with Carnivores, but never heard about anyone trying that, or what companion plants they used. For that matter, I'm not sure how one would duplicate the unusual soil of a low nutrient calciferous fen. Thoughts?


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I installed a low nutrient fen in 1998. I used the basic bog technique using crushed oyster shell as the calcium source. That was a bad idea, Lime would have been a better choice because the oyster shell added other salts that were a problem.

At first the fen took off and looked far better than the bog that I put in at the same time. The CPs, cranberries, Poison sumac (call me crazy) and other plants slowly over a couple of years died out leaving nothing but a couple of plants tolerant of the salts and Cypripecdiums reginae and candidum. The candidum has added new stems each year developing into quite a nice plant. The reginae has survived but not been terribly happy (slugs last year didn't help). I'm going to rebuild the fen garden in spring, learning from past mistakes. Here are some tips based on my mistakes

Try the nutrient poor fen, you can always add nutrients later, but they cannot be removed. Be dilligent in weeding (but know what it is you're pulling as sometimes wonderful plants will show up on their own)I found that weeds don't tend to invade nutrient poor bogs, but fens are another matter. If you can find tuffa rock, it makes a great perimeter for a fen as it slowly leaches calcium and other "fen" nutrients.

Here are 2 pictures, the first is of the fen as it was in May '05, you can see the bog garden in the background, remember they were installed at the same time. The second photo is of the bog with the fen in the background. It's evident what a little extra nutrients can do if you don't know what to expect.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2005 at 9:44AM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

I have created pockets of moist, low nutrient, high ph medium on the edges of my traditional bog. Like Fred I grow C. candidum, C. reginae along w/ a couple small sedges and liverworts. An attempt to emulate a Northern white cedar ecosystem. I keep a close eye on ph w/ a cheapie meter and adjust as neccesary w/ hort lime. The mix I used was 60% sand, 20% perlite, 20% peat (wasn't creative enough in my thinking at the time to find something w/ neutral ph, coconut coir might be better than peat). I keep the ph around 7.5 - 7.

If there are carnivorous plants found in a fen I would think it would have to be an acid fen. Most fens are high ph (alkaline) but that isn't neccesarily what makes a fen a fen. It is my understanding that what distinguishes a fen is that it is fed by the surrounding watershed (usually stream fed) and that the soil chemistry reflects the chemistry of the geological formations through which these waters flow. Therefore fens soil chemistry is highly variable. Calcareous fens are buffered by limestone formations. Bogs are primarily fed through precip. I think there are also some instances in the northeast where bogs and fens transition into one another. Also the PH of a hummock of accumualted peat may vary significantly from that of the surrounding groundwater in a fen. Sorry for the longwinded post but this stuff fascinates me.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 11:03AM
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Regarding CP's in Calcareous fens, see Schnell's book Carnivorous Plants of the United States and Canada. He has a great section about several CPs that make their home in this environment. Some prefer the acid hummocks but other actually do grow directly in the marl.

Whether these are specially adapted CPs, I don't know. It would be interesting to do a garden test on a S. Purpurea form a marl Fen to see if it does just as well in an acidic environment. I know there is a sundew that grows rather exclusively in fens, but the species name escapes me right now...


    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 1:43PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

"S. Purpurea form a marl Fen" If I am correct these are only found occasionally in the great lakes region and are rather rare. It would be interesting to see what else resides within that ecosystem. I've never tried to locate a "high ph" S. purpurea but I'll bet no one in the commercial trade has them, they would need a special set-up I guess. Now you've got me curious, maybe I'll ask Dean Cook if he has ever tried any of these. I think Arethusa bulbosa can be found in both (alkaline) fen and (acidic) bog, also some pinguicula not sure of too many others but there are probably some w/ a wide ph range.

I will take a look at the Schnell book when I get home as you suggest (if I can find it ;o) ).

    Bookmark   November 28, 2005 at 3:25PM
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Here in Northeast Ohio, we have quite a number of fens. and Yes the distinction between a fen and bog are not based on PH but on water source. Bog = rain, fen = ground water. Sorry you've already discussed that.

We have Gott fen. Has C reginae (a big beautiful colony) and a few Drosera rotundifolia in the acidic sphagnum mounds.

Not far away is Mantua bog (actually a fen). Here the Droseras only live on the disturbed mire where the deer trod. At one time C. candidum grew here but has not been recorded at this site for a number of years. This is the only recorded site in the state where Arethusa grows (all 50 or so plants). Needless to say it is mighty dificult to get into this preserve.

Probably most interesting to you KWoods is Jackson Bog. It is an alkaline fen and has quite a population of Sarracenia purpurea and Drosera rotundifolia. Also growing along with these plants are Spiranthes magnicamporum prairie ladies tresses. I'll have to ask my acquaintances there if seed from these alkaline growing plants has ever been collected.

Here is a link that might be useful: Jackson Bog

    Bookmark   November 29, 2005 at 9:48PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

Thanks Fred. Jackson Bog looks like a very unique spot. Too bad they only saved 57 acres, seems like it was once much larger.

You are lucky to have so many interesting sites near you. Here on Long Island (which is basically a big rock pile/glacial deposit) most of the CPs are located in old cranberry bogs on the Eastern end of the island. We do have some other unique ecosystems w/ orchids etc..

Lonnie I wanted to mention I tried fringed gentian from seed a few years ago and made at least one big mistake. I started all my seeds in the same year and therefore didn't get them "in rythm". Since they are biennial I should have started a set the first year and a second set the second year. Mine have finally petered out. I probably didn't give them enough clear, disturbed, soil in which to germinate and I was too foolish to save seeds from the flowerheads. I'll try again sometime.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 11:07AM
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The Wildflower book put out by the New England Wildflower society (really good book) says that they've also had trouble getting a self-sustaining/naturalizing population of fringed gentians. Hyla Brook Farm, near me, has started growing and selling them so at least if mine all expire, I know where to get more...

Do either of you know how to get access to Arethusa seed? Planteck said they'd tissue culture it if someone could get them seed... (Fred, do you have a source?)

Incidentally, As a bog gardening community I'd really love to see more effort at getting some of these plants propagated. With advances in tissue culture, I think we could preserve many of the garden-worthy species which are on the brink right now. So far, Lady slippers have gotten most of the attention, but there are many other species of orchids and bog plants which are probably easier to grow, and more in need of help.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 12:37PM
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kwoods(Cold z7 Long Is)

"there are many other species of orchids and bog plants which are probably easier" agreed. I try and send seed to a few different places each year. Mostly Cyps ;o) but the Platantheras also. A friend I met on the forums encouraged me to do so and he's been flasking some for me too.

I'm not sure there has been a tremendous amount of success flasking Arethusa (I could be wrong). I know Carson Whitlow created an Arethusa/Calopogon hybrid several years ago. Maybe Bill Steele at Spangle Creek labs would be a good person for you to contact regarding flasking Arethusa? If there are seeds out there he probably has access to them.

Good Luck!

    Bookmark   November 30, 2005 at 1:36PM
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I have several species in flask from the plants in my bog Including Platantheras ciliaris, integrilabia, rotundifolia (that ones not a bog plant). I also have C. acaule and pubescens, Spiranthes magnicamporum and Calopogon tuberosa. We shall see how they fare. Well typing this got me curious as to how my flasks were doing so I went to the dungeon to see...only signs of germination are in the P. ingetrilabia. Protocorms just developing, that's pretty fast (two months) for germination on natives. None of the others are showing any signs.

My good friend Warren Stoutamire has grown Arethusa in flask...never survives once deflasked although he's mentioned a guy in New Jersey who has been successful. As for a source I don't have one for Arethusa, sorry. I also checked the Seedbank and it is not available there. However if you have friend who does lab work check out the seedbank, there are quite a number of Native orchids available.

It is a shame they couldn't save more of the Jackson bog area. a development of "starter castles" surrounds about 2/3s of the bog. I hope the ODNR is keeping tabs on the fertilizer that may be leaching.

Here is a link that might be useful: Orchid Seedbank

    Bookmark   December 1, 2005 at 10:02PM
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I contacted Bill Steele and he mentioned, "Arethusa has been masterfully propagated in the lab by Robert Yannetti in New Jersey. He has described his lab protocols very clearly in the proceedings volume from a conference in Washington DC in 1996"

He also recommended another person to contact that might have Yannetti's email. With any luck, maybe I'll find someone who has some (and knows how to deflask them without killing 'em.) Praire Fringed and Cliestes are two other orchids on my list that I've love to see propagated.

Yes, this nasty sprawl situation seem to be hitting hard everywhere. My county was listed as the top place to live in the U.S. recently, which is basically the kiss of death. We have two healthy ADULT American chestnuts in the forest (with a diameter of over a foot) bordering our property but now the nine acres containing the chestnuts is up for sale with four division rights.

AGHH!! I'm begining to really lose faith. How can I protect other rare species and habitats when I can't even save something rare next door?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2005 at 8:55AM
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I have an idea for growing carnivorous plants and sphagnum moss in a nutrient-rich marsh - will this likely work?

On top of the mud, pile 6" of peat-moss and sand then plant the carnivorous plants and sphagnum moss. I suppose the roots will penetrate down the 6" of peat moss before hitting the nutrient rich saturated soil; then probably not extend deeper. This would be like a floating-mat is in nature: that you have a mass of slowly decaying wood at the edge of a swamp - the swamp seems to be nutrient-rich, black mud, etc... but the plants are insulated from the nutrients as they are rooted in the mass that towers over the water-level and apparently doesn't readily soak up the nutrients.

So, does this sound like it would work? And in the depressions, where the plants are in the soil portion - enriched with peat moss, you'd have a fen.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 2:39AM
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