There’s no escaping the sun out on the boardwalk of Mer Bleue Bog. The leaves of stunted paper birch and tamarack provide little shade. So I’ll admit I was a little worried when I was slated to lead a Field Botanists of Ontario Hike there on a hot and muggy Saturday in May, when the temperature soared to 31°C.
My concerns were unfounded though, as the experienced participants showed up well prepared for a day in the sun. We thoroughly enjoyed the hike around the bog, braving the decidedly hot conditions in order to view Mer Bleue’s unique plants, many of which are normally found only in the boreal forest, and some of which can even be found in the Arctic.
Mer Bleue is a large peat bog in Ottawa’s east end, and my go-to spot when I’m looking for a botanical change of scenery. The surrounding conservation area is laced with hiking trails through maple (Acer sp.) and aspen (Populus sp.) forests and an old red-pine (Pinus resinosa) plantation. A boardwalk takes visitors out into the heart of the bog itself. This is where you can really see the northern plants; the acidic bog conditions are similar to environments further north, such as near Hudson Bay.
Botanical diversity at Mer Bleue comes in many shapes and sizes, from the half hidden, ruby-coloured sundew (Drosera rotundifolia, upper left), to tall tamaracks (Larix laricina, right) standing sentinel over the hummocks, and to colourful sprays of black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, lower left). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
Out on the bog, black spruce (Picea mariana) and heathlands (shrublands made up of members of the blueberry family) are common, but peat mosses (Sphagnum sp.) dominate the hummocky landscape, dotted with various other moss species.
Peat mosses (Sphagnum sp., upper right) are critically important to bog ecosystems. There are a variety of mosses at Mer Bleue, including neon moss (Aulacomnium sp., lower right) and the common haircap (Polytrichum commune, left). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
White cottongrasses (Eriophorum vaginatum) evoke Arctic sedge meadows. Bog rosemary, which bears delicate pink bells, was recently found for the first time in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.
Sedges (Cyperaceae family), are common on the hummocks—drier, raised sections within the peat—of Mer Bleue. Our group observed dense cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum, upper left), few-seeded sedge (Carex oligosperma, right) and meagre sedge (Carex exilis, lower left). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
Members of the blueberry family (Ericaceae), seen here, are adapted to acidic environments such as peat bogs. Common species seen at Mer Bleue include bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia, upper left), leatherleaf (Chamaedaphe calyculata, upper right), and the velvet-leaved blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides, lower). Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
Mer Bleue is a unique site in the capital and a botanical gem in the Ottawa area. The next time you find yourself in the area and in need of a quick “Northern” fix, pay it a visit, just like our intrepid Field Botanists.
Cattails (Typha latifolia) are common in the open-water areas around the bog. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
Fluorescent orange mushrooms (Mitrula sp.) stud the wet areas of Mer Bleue Bog. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature
Thanks to Scott Redhead for identification of the Mitrula, and to Cassie Robillard for her help with (and enthusiasm for) mosses.