Story last updated at 7/22/2009 - 12:13 pm
Recently I visited a once familiar muskeg that I hadn't explored in a few years and was surprised to find some interesting changes (though no decline in bugs, of course).
In past years I had picked moderate amounts of bog cranberries and sundew in the moss around the lake and small ponds, along with low-bush cranberries and blueberries near the woods. In the wide expanse of Sphagnum Moss, it was spongy but supported passage and I had roamed over most of it for years, finding little to harvest in much of the large, flat places.
This year was different! The entire muskeg was densely covered with large, almost ripe cloudberries where previously only scant berries prevailed. I'll be checking back on them! Equally prolific this year was the carnivorous round-leaved sundew, which flourished all over the large, muskeg area - thicker than I've ever previously seen in one place.
Sundew are small, only about two or three inches tall and quite fascinating. The part that looks like a green or red stem with a larger, rounded area on top is actually the leaf.
It features reddish tentacles that glisten in the sun with a very sticky, glandular secretion, resembling dew. This "dew" attracts small insects, which stick to the plant long enough for the tentacles to slowly fold in around the prey, triggering the digestion process. These super sticky droplets will stretch if pulled into a sort of web.
Sundew is worth considering as a medicinal option. It reportedly contains an antibiotic, which is effective against streptococcus, staphylococcus and pneumococcus bacteria as well as having other benefits. I find it easiest to harvest sundew with scissors and a small jar, not actually touching the sticky tops. It can be air-dried or tinctured for use.
For more information, one of my favorite plant books is "Discovering Wild Plants" by Janice J. Schofield.
Meanwhile, out in the bog, I noticed a surprising twist: ants living way out in the middle of the Sphagnum Moss - I had no idea! A little group of them worked together right on top of a sundew leaf, messing with a captured dragonfly. Several other ants were gathered around another insect covered with "dew" but now down in the moss.
My curiosity met with mixed results online, but one source (rook.org) stated that sundew may be an important food source for bog-dwelling ants since the ants don't mind stealing the sundew's lunch. They suggested that in a given area, ants might appropriate as much as two thirds of the sundew's prey. Another site reported watching ants skip around in the stickiness without negative repercussions. My evidence might be circumstantial, but it looked pretty suspiciously like insect stealing to me.
Elsewhere I read that sundews eat ants or they are good to feed to pet sundews.
Perhaps both reports are true in different situations. It will be interesting to learn more.
My bog bug tolerance level soon compelled a retreat from the zillions of little black bugs which had so far eluded the sundew on this hot, sunny, mid-July day with little breeze.
I'll harvest my sundew a little at a time and keep an eye on those ripening cloudberries while I'm at it.
Carla Petersen is a remote-living freelance artist and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.