Tuesday, October 25, 2011

FEED ME! Looking for carnivorous plants at High Point

Dangerous, man-eating plants on state property? Carnivorous greenery? Sounds like something straight out of a Toxic Avenger episode set in the Meadowlands, but the real story is much different. The plants don't eat people, but they'll enjoy a good insect from time to time. And they're in what could be considered an unlikely location: within the highest elevation Atlantic white cedar swamp in the world, Kuser Bog at High Point State Park.

The bog wasn't the first place on our schedule for the day. We figured we'd start at the Sunrise Mountain hawk watch, but no such luck. The one-way road to the appropriate parking lot was closed due to hurricane damage, and then the back route was also blocked off. I guess with budget cuts and whatnot, the State Division of Parks and Forestry is waiting till spring to repair the road. After all, if the road isn't open, you don't have to plow it in the winter, right? Granted, we could have hiked several miles of the Appalachian Trail to get to the watch, but Ivan suggested that we might be able to catch some hawk action at the High Point monument instead. Next stop: Kuser Bog.

Now, most people would figure that wetlands of any kind - bog, swamp, marsh, you name it - would be close to the coast, or at least near a large body of water. Kuser Bog represents the remnants of a glacial lake that started to fill in, creating the alternately moist, mushy and dry terrain we see today. It's now host to Atlantic cedars up to 300 years old, plus rhododendron, black gum and hemlock trees, among others. It's also home to a (relatively) high-altitude collection of sundews and other carnivorous plants.

We took to the trail looking for those plants. I didn't truly expect to see Audrey from the Little Shop of Horrors, but it would have been cool to see some sort of bug-eating activity. We noticed a lot of bright green sphagnum moss and some succulent-looking plants in the wetter areas of the bog, but we saw no blooms. I guess we were just too late in the season.

Even without the marquee plants, Kuser Bog is pretty cool. At a point, the dirt path transfers over to a boardwalk over shallow water, lined on either side by vast cedars. We heard and saw only a few birds and the chatter of a squirrel or two, but at one point the walk was dampened by water that had apparently dripped off something that had jumped onto the boards. Too small to be a bear ... maybe a muskrat or something?

Later at the High Point monument, Ivan pointed out a brownish green patch among the fall foliage below us. No doubt it was the bog, an interesting anomaly within the highlands ecosystem. If you want diversity of wetlands, New Jersey is certainly the place to be!


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