Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada

The Species of the Bog

No Mosquitoes
The bog is a
The acidity of the water discourages mosquitoes from breeding here.
©Parks Canada / H. Plewes / K-9 / 1986

The word "bog" might bring to mind a smelly, uninviting quagmire swarming with hungry mosquitoes. The reality is different: for one, there are no mosquitoes in this bog. The acidity of the water discourages them from breeding here.

The bog is, however, smelly. Like a forest, it smells of moss, rain, pine, and wind.

It can also be a quagmire (a spongy, wet place difficult to get out of), which is one reason to stay on the trail. Another reason to stay on the trail is the fragility of the environment. Five minutes of carelessness can undo 25 years of bog development. Please don't pick flowers or rip up the moss, and keep pets on a leash.


Sphagnum (Sphagnum Cymbifolium )
Sphagnum moss
Sphagnum moss carpets the surface of the bog
©Parks Canada /K. Nomme / G-1 / 1979

Sphagnum (pronounced sfag-num) moss is the green, red and brown carpet that covers most of the bog surface. The carpet may be one to two metres thick and close to 400 years old at the bottom.

Sphagnum plays a key role in the formation of a bog because it produces and releases acidic compounds, which bacteria doesn't like. As a result bacteria doesn't grow on sphagnum. This is important because when bacteria is present, it helps things rot. Therefore, as the sphagnum on the surface grows upward upon itself, the older layers die, but without bacteria, they don't rot. The nutrients in the dead moss do not break down so future plants can use them. Instead, the living sphagnum surface gradually rises up on the remains of previous generations, slowly building the carpet of moss ever thicker and deeper.

Without bacteria, the moss in the bog is also naturally sterile. In World War I, sphagnum moss was substituted for cotton as a surgical dressing. The acid from the moss also makes it difficult for many other species to thrive or even survive. Study the trees and you will see the dramatic effect the sphagnum has upon them.


Shore Pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta)
The shorepine bog forest resembles a giant broccoli forest
Inadequate nutrition "stuns" the growth of shorepine
©Parks Canada / F-11 / 1970

Trees, deprived of adequate nutrition, may suffer stunted growth and malformed limbs. Because the bog's soil is so acidic and waterlogged, the roots of the shore pine must struggle to absorb the few nutrients and minerals available. The resulting tree often resembles a gigantic broccoli.

In West Coast terms, the shore pine hardly ranks as a tree, yet one has to admire its tenacity. Slow to grow, slow to die, some of these trees are more than 300 years old but remain only a few metres high.

This same species of tree grows tall and straight in well-drained soils. In the national parks of Canada's Rocky Mountains, these same trees are known as lodgepole pines.


Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum)
The white flowers of Labrador Tea
Labrador tea often indicate wet, acidic, nutrient deprived soil
©Parks Canada / F-99 / 1978

Labrador tea is often mistaken for a small rhododendron, another member of the heather family. The leaves are a dull green above and covered with rust-colored fuzz underneath. The first explorers found the First Nations people were making a tea from the dried and crushed leaves. The explorers in turn began to mix Labrador tea with their own limited supplies of tea.


Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
The glistening sundew is a deadly trap
Insects are lured to their death by the sticky leaves of the Sundew
©Parks Canada / H. Plewes / F-16 / 1986

The glistening but sticky droplets on the leaves of this carnivorous plant are a fatal lure to flies and ants. As the victim struggles, more and more droplets snare the prey. The leaf curls slowly around the insect and glands in the leaf that secrete enzymes digest the animal tissue.

This clever adaptation provides the sundew with a source of nitrogen, an essential building block of life, in a nutrient-poor environment.


Ants
Insects of the bog
Ants manage to carve out a living in the harsh bog environment
©Parks Canada / M. Hobson / E-24 / 1985

Look closely at the moss and you're likely to see ants industriously travelling back and forth. Look even closer and you might see them carrying a leaf, dragging another insect, or fighting with a rival ant.

If an ant approaches a sundew to try to eat one of the sticky droplets, there's a good chance it will entangle itself and become food for the sneaky sundew.


Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)
Crowberries
Crowberries are a valuable food source for animals that frequent the bog
©Parks Canada / S. Kreaseman / F-75 / 1983

Crowberry prefers the slightly drier conditions of small mounds of moss, or hummocks. Its leaves resemble tiny fir-needles and remain on the wiry stems throughout the year.


Bog Laurel (Kalmia microphylla)
Bog laurel can be fatal to grazing animals
Stamens tucked into the petal snap forward dusting nectar seeking insects with pollen
©Parks Canada / M. Hobson / F-99 / 1990

When a bee lands on the cup-shaped flowers of the bog laurel, a spring-loaded filament snaps up and smacks the bee with pollen.

The leaves are similar to those of Labrador tea; however, they contain a strong poison that can be fatal to grazing animals.


Bog Cranberry (Vaccinuum oxycoccus)
Bog Cranberries ripen only after the first frost
Bog Cranberries provided sustenance for First Nations throughout winter months
©Parks Canada / C. Fysh / F-99 / 1984

The over-sized berries on this tiny creeper stay hard and green throughout the summer, then soften and turn red after the first frost. The First Nations people picked the green berries and stored them raw in damp moss or steam-cooked them until they turned red and soft.


Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)
The distinct blue/black colour of the Steller's jay makes it easy to identify
The distinct blue/black colour of the Steller's jay makes it easy to identify
©Parks Canada / M. Hobson / B-21 / 1986

This bold splash of blue and black is BC's provincial bird.

If it lands near your picnic, guard your food well. Feeding wildlife, or even letting them steal your food, does them more harm than good. Our food is unnatural for them and encourages unwanted habits.
Normally this bird eats a wide variety of foods, including insects, spiders, bugs, seeds, berries, and even other birds' eggs. Listen for its harsh call: "shaak", "shaak".


Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)
A Varied thrush perched on pacific crab apple
The rainforest often wakes to the notes of the varied thrush
©Parks Canada / A. Dorst / B-21

At dawn, dusk, or just after the rain stops you may hear the call of the varied thrush. Sometimes described as a thin, weak whistle, this enchanting call is sung on five or six different octaves that slowly fade away.
Thrushes flick leaves and debris aside to expose insects, earthworms, and other small invertebrates (creatures without a spine) as well as seeds and berries. Though it may be approximately the size of an American robin, this bird has unmistakably different markings.


American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
An American robin looking for its next meal
The American robin is the largest thrush found in North America
©Parks Canada / M. Hobson / B-26 / 1988

British visitors are often a little surprised at the size of the American robin. Despite its name, this bird is actually a thrush, the largest thrush in North America. Its coloring may be similar to the robin redbreast, but it is more closely related to the blackbirds of England.
The American robin is common across North America.
Its call sounds like "Cheerily cheer-up cherrio."


Cougar (Puma concolor)
The elusive cougar is rarely seen park resident
Vancouver Islands has the highest density of cougars in the world
©Parks Canada

There are cougars in this park. You will probably never see them, but they live here.
They are big cats, reaching lengths of two and a half to three metres and weights between 30-90 kg (80-200lbs), but they are so secretive and elusive that some people call them "ghost-walkers".
Some of the other names given to this wide-ranging animal are puma, mountain lion, panther, red tiger, deer-cat, and mountain devil. Equally at home in coniferous and tropical forests, prairies, deserts, and swamps, the cougar used to be far more abundant and wide ranging before much of its habitat was destroyed.
Cougars hunt by day and by night. They hide, then leap and sprint to ambush their prey. Just like other cats, small, fast-moving targets attract them. For the safety of your children and pets, keep them close to you when travelling through the forests of this park.


Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
A red squirrel extracting a future meal
Red Squirrel may have many "caches" throughout its home range
©Parks Canada / S. Kraseman, 1974
If the Red squirrel kept quiet we would hardly ever notice it. Small and brown, it could easily sneak about undetected. These squirrels are very vocal however, and will loudly scold you and anything else that comes into what they consider their territory. With rattles, screeches, chirps, buzzes and growls, this little creature will let you know just what it thinks of your intrusion.
Red squirrels are tree-planters. They spend much of their summer finding and burying seeds to eat later in the winter. Often though, some of the seeds the squirrel stores will sprout before it manages to eat them.