What is a “bog plant” ?
In simplest terms, bog plants are plants species that grow in bogs!
Well then, what is a bog? Is it a swamp?
A bog is a specialized habitat, generally a wetland that has accumulated peat. Acidic low-nutrient water occurs at surface level of bogs. Because of this, plant growth and decomposition of organic materials is very slow, and the peat can be several feet deep.
A bog is not a swamp; swamps are wooded wetlands. You will not find trees growing in a bog.
What is “peat” ?
Peat is semi-decomposed, dead plant material, mostly composed of sphagnum and other mosses. This dead material is acidic and very absorptive. It holds a lot of moisture.
So, what kind of plants grow in bogs?
There are many plants that grow in bogs, and many of the plants are endemic to bogs (meaning they only occur in bogs). One classification of plants that are perhaps the most famous group of bog plants are carnivorous plants. Yes, plants that eat insects! In Pennsylvania’s boglands, you can find sundews and northern purple pitcher plants; these are insect-eating plants, along with the venus flytrap.
Aside from carnivores, some of our most beautiful flowering plants can be found growing in bogs, such as the various species of bog dwelling orchids. Ladies’ tresses, pogonia, and grass pink orchids blooms from summer to fall in a bog.
Bog plants do not need a lot of nutrients from the soil, and can tolerate acidity and excess moisture. This is why carnivorous plants often live in bogs — they find nutrients through consumption of insects.
One of our common holiday food plants grows in bogs too: cranberries! It is not carnivorous, but not only tolerates the conditions of the bog, but thrives in it.
With such special requirements, can I grow bog plants at my house?
YES, YOU CAN! And believe it or not, it really is not very hard! You can create a container bog garden!
All you need is a large pot or container (start with something at least 12” diameter). If there are holes, plug them up (these bog plants don’t require much drainage). I often put a hole in the side of the pot about three quarters up from the bottom to prevent overflowing in rain.
Peat can be purchased at just about any garden center or hardware store. Buy plain peat moss, not something with added fertilizers, etc. Then, get plain perlite (coarse is good) or sand. Create a mix of about 80% peat and 20% perlite or sand; fill your container FULL, so it is humped up in the middle. Plant your bog species into the pot. Use mosses from your garden to decorate the surface (just remove the soil from their undersides).
Water with RAIN or DISTILLED water only (no tap water, no spring water, etc). Keep moist, do not allow your bog garden to become too dry. Most bog species prefer full sun (6+ hours). In winter, sink it in your garden soil or mulch to the rim, and cover with leaves or pine bows and place in an area where it will receive snow and rain. An unheated, but attached garage or room can serve as a place to store your bog garden for winter.
What bog species do we have available right now?
Sarracenia purpurea var. purpurea ‘Jersey Girl’ – ‘Jersey Girl’ Northern Pitcher Plant
A lovely selection of our northern purple pitcher plant featuring dark purple pitchers with chartreuse green veining; originates from near Ocean City, NJ. This plant has specialized, modified leaves that form pitchers where insects get trapped, drowning in the water caught in the pitchers during rain. Digestive enzymes are released, and the insects are digested, and their nutrients absorbed through the plant tissue. Unusual but interesting flowers up to 12 inches tall arise in early summer.
Drosera filiformis – Thread leaf Sundew
This sundew species has long, thread-like leaves up to 6 inches tall covered in red, sticky tentacles. New leaves emerge curled like fiddle-heads. Each tentacle has a sticky glue-like sap that acts as both an attractive lure for potential prey, and a sticky trap for capturing prey. Insects land on the sticky tentacles and find themselves stuck and likely burning from digestive enzymes that the plant releases. Nutrients from the insect are absorbed straight through the leaves into the plant. You will notice tiny pink flowers throughout the summer.
Drosera intermedia – Spatulate Leaf Sundew
The spatulate leaf sundew is similar to thread leaf sundew, but much smaller, and different in form. This small sundew has spoon shaped leaves, with all the tentacles arranged on the round ends of each leaf. Like with the thread leaf species, you will notice tiny pink flowers throughout the summer.
Dionea muscipula – Venus Flytrap
While not native to Pennsylvania, this famous carnivore is native to the Carolinas (in a very small natural range of about 60 square miles) and just has to be a part of any bog garden! Though a species of more southern origin, the plant is hardy to zone 6 and will usually overwinter with the minimal protection.
Spiranthes odorata – Fragrant Ladies’ Tresses orchid
This is a lovely, dainty, and delicate, fall-blooming orchid that is among the easiest to grow! While not very exciting most of the season, the little white flowers emerge in early fall and will continue blooming until frost. If you get close to them, you will notice their sweet smell. The flowers are arranged in a spiral pattern along the stem, very cool little plant!
Xyris caroliniana – Carolina Yellow-eyed Grass
What a fascinating and cute little plant to complement any bog planter. Tiny, iris-like leaves and adorable yellow flowers that open in the sunshine. It seems every day a new little blossom opens on the “ball” at the end of each flowering stem. This plant is not a true grass, but is related to them.
Pogonia ophioglossoides – Rose Pogonia Orchid
This late spring blooming orchid is a simple charmer, often having just one (maybe two to three) beautiful pink flower on its 4 to 8 inch stems. It will spread by rhizomes, making it an easy one to propagate and move to other bog dishes or share with friends! Or, allow it to fill out a pot by itself for a fantastic display!
Andromeda polifolia – Bog Rosemary
Now, here is a very unusual plant! Unusual in this list, because it is the “upright shrub” listed. Unusual in its genetics, because it is the only member of its genus. Unusual in appearance, as it looks just like culinary rosemary-but it isn’t, and it isn’t even related. Also, unusual in that, unlike most of these bog species, this one appreciates cool temperatures and some shade. While incredibly cold hardy (to zone 2), it is not very heat tolerant, and would probably die anywhere warmer than zone 6. Provide afternoon shade for this species in the dog-days of summer.
Calopogon tuberosus – Grass Pink Orchid
Another pretty orchid to add some charm and grace to your bog planters! This one can grow over 2 feet tall, and feature many magenta to purple flowers on its stems during the summer. Long, grass like leaves grow out of underground corms. The plant will slowly multiply by creating more corms as it ages. Very pretty!
Vaccinium macrocarpon – cranberry
Yes, that’s right, the same cranberry we make sauce out of! You have seen the commercials, with cranberries floating in the bog, right? Well, that is a cranberry farm, a manufactured bog that is intentionally flooded to harvest the cranberries, and to protect them over the winter (yes, they rest under the ice all winter). You do not need to that, of course! The cranberry will happily grow in a bog container, spilling over the sides, and even making berries. The berries add a cool visual appeal to the planter, and also can be eaten, or left for birds and rodents to enjoy.
Photo Credit – Carolina Yellow Eyed Grass Lisa Kelly http://bioimages.vanderbilt.edu/