Sphagnum peatlands - bogs and acidic fens -- are ecosystems of austerity. Environmental conditions are harsh, with paradoxical contrasts. Water is abundant, but nutrients are scarce. Slow decomposition occurs at the peat surface; within the peat depths, trunks of cedars remain preserved for hundreds or thousands of years. The simple mosaic of bog vegetation belies the complex adaptations that plants have evolved for survival in bog and acidic fen communities:
sphagnum moss ericad shrubs carnivorous plants
from feathery, water-logged Sphagnum mosses to leathery and evergreen ericad shrubs, to strange and delicate insectivorous plants.
In temperate southern New England, bogs are relicts of the region's glaciated past. Peatlands are isolated pockets of northern flora. For plants that were originally adapted to cold climates, Sphagnum peatlands provide a favorable habitat and a refuge from invasion by more temperate species. Compared to fields or forests or other New England ecosystems, species diversity is low in peatlands. A stark, somber beauty predominates for much of the year, occasionally interrupted by ostentatious display: the riotous, magenta outburst of flowering sheep-laurel; the heady, honeyed-pungent perfume of sweet pepperbush in bloom; an ethereal field of cotton-grass gone to seed; the dazzling sapphire of the pond's watery eye shining in the sun.
Little Pond Bog