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The Quaking Bog: A hidden gem

by Genna Souffle

pitcher plant image

There’s a hidden treasure thousands of years old tucked into the hills of Theodore Wirth Regional Park. Most residents of the Twin Cities are unaware of its existence, and even those that know may not appreciate how unique it is.

For most people the word bog conjures up images of murky, stagnant water, where witches or monsters may lurk. But while the Quaking Bog does have carnivorous plants and water stained as dark as tea by peat tannins, it possesses a subtle beauty that rewards close attention.

In spring, starflowers nod shyly, tucked against the scaled trunks of tamaracks. Wild calla rises above the water. As the weather warms, lady’s slippers, sundews and pitcher plants become visible. In the fall, the Tamaracks’ needles turn dark gold before they fall and the bog is blanketed by snow. Much of the vegetation floats serenely atop a layer of thick sphagnum moss. It’s an entire world within five acres. 

Starflower
Starflower, Lysimachia borealis. Photo - Genna Souffle

What makes such a distinct ecosystem possible? True bogs, like the Quaking Bog, are isolated from the surrounding hydrology. Like much of the state’s topography, they’re a remnant from the time of the glaciers. Around 10,000 years ago in what is now the southern part of Minnesota, chunks of ice broke off from retreating glaciers, leaving behind depressions as they slowly melted. What might have once been a lake fills in slowly over thousands of years with moss and organic matter.

Bogs are distinct from other kinds of wetlands due to their lack of nutrients. Isolated from other parts of the watershed, their only nutrient inputs are from rainwater and what the wind carries in. 

“Wet, low nutrients and high acidity leads to a very unique ecosystem,” said Alan Toczydlowski, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who focuses on wetlands. “That’s where we get the adaptation of plants like the carnivorous plants and sphagnum moss.” 

In addition to the native plants that grow there, bogs make excellent habitat for raptors like Great Gray Owls and Barred Owls, songbirds, species of amphibians, insects, and other animals. With their moisture and coniferous trees, bogs can act as a microclimate, creating a refuge for wildlife cooler than the surrounding area.

 
Wild Calla
Wild Calla, Calla palustris. Photo - Genna Souffle

The sphagnum moss is a keystone species in bogs like the Quaking Bog, and it thrives in a cold, wet, acidic environment. The moss holds onto water and blocks its flow, creating a spongy carpet that gives the bog its characteristic “quake.” Sphagnum moss’s slow rate of decomposition, along with other characteristics of the bog, leads to the formation of organic peat soil, a super dense form of carbon storage. Currently, bogs around the world are an important carbon sink, absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than forests. But if they dry out, they could release huge amounts of greenhouse gasses.

Historically, many of the wetlands, including bogs, in the southern part of Minnesota were drained and filled in for agriculture or other development.   In this, the Quaking Bog is also unique, a surviving example of an ecosystem mostly vanished from the landscape.

Labrador Tea
Labrador Tea, Rhododendron groenlandicum, in the Quaking Bog. Photo - G D Bebeau

While the Quaking Bog is protected from development, ecosystems like it – and all our ecosystems – are threatened by a warming and changing climate. Nutrient overload from runoff can also disturb the balance that has been calibrated over thousands of years, allowing more competitive, often invasive plants like buckthorn to overtake the delicate sundews and orchids which rely on acidity. 

“Landscape diversity is so important - the more types of ecosystems we have, the more resilient the landscape will be to change,” Toczydlowski said.

Luckily, the bog has its defenders. Volunteers and park staff have worked for decades to limit invasive species in and around the bog, battling buckthorn and encouraging visitors to stay on paths to avoid damaging the sensitive habitat.

Though it is only one small bog and may not be consequential to the state as a whole, the Quaking Bog has high value as an educational tool. It’s an opportunity for people to see what these often inaccessible ecosystems look like, and to experience the unique beauty of the plants that call bogs home.

“Being in them is so different from everything else we’re used to,” Toczydlowski said. “To me it brings peace.” ❖ 


The Quaking Bog tamaracks in autumn. Photo Genna Souffle

Quaking bog in autumn

Genna Souffle has been passionate about photographing and learning about the outdoors since her childhood in southern Illinois. She has been a docent volunteer at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden since 2019, where she enjoys helping visitors connect with the world around them.

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The Quaking Bog

by Bruce Jarvis

Purple pitcher plant
Purple Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea subsp. purpurea. Photo G D Bebeau

Across Theodore Wirth Parkway, a short walk from Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, is the Quaking Bog. This is one of the few remaining bogs in the Twin Cities.

Sphagnum moss
Sphagnum Moss, Sphagnum angustifolium, in the Quaking Bog.
Photo - G D Bebeau

According to the National Geographic Society, “A bog is a freshwater wetland of soft, spongy ground consisting mainly of partially decayed plant matter called peat. Bogs are generally found in cool, northern climates. They often develop in poorly draining lake basins created by glaciers during the most recent ice age. … Quaking bogs develop over a lake or pond, …” and are covered with vegetation, including spongy Sphagnum moss. [1]

As Eloise Butler noted in 1914: “Sphagnum [Sphagnum angustifolium], or bog moss, may be recognized by its pale green color and the compact bunches of minute leaves terminating the stems. Its paleness is due to large water cells which make this plant of great value to florists for packing plants for distant transportation. We are also indebted to sphagnum for peat, which in the course of ages has been formed from it by reason of antiseptic properties that render it immune from decay.” [2]

At its deepest point in the Quaking Bog, the peat layer of partially decayed sphagnum is 21 feet thick, as determined by a core sample taken in 1995. Pollen from the bottom of that sample indicates that the Bog formed in an oak savanna 3,700 years ago. This date was established by radioisotope analysis of the organic matter at the core bottom. The water was very acidic, with a pH of 3.8, typical of bogs. [3]

Not only is the water in bogs very acidic but it also lacks nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Carnivorous plants are well adapted to bogs, because these plants obtain nitrogen from the insects that they entrap and dissolve. Both pitcher plants and sundews grow in the Quaking Bog and can be seen there from June onward. Unique flowering plants blooming in the Bog in May include Bog Bean, Starflower, Labrador Tea and Northern Bog Violet. 

Our local Quaking Bog includes many Tamarack trees, a type of conifer that drops its needles every autumn after turning a stunning golden color. [see photo in next article] “In the United States, Minnesota is the western most outpost of this species, growing around the Great Lakes and up to New England. It is primarily a tree of the Canadian boreal forests. Within Minnesota it is found in various counties in the northern 2/3rds of the state, which includes the metro area.” [4]

Below: Roundleaf Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia, in the Quaking Bog. Photo - Robert Ambler.

Roundleaf Sundew

The boardwalk in the Quaking Bog forms a loop through the Tamarack trees. In the spring and after rains, the boardwalk is often partly submerged. Wear boots if you visit the Bog then. Since 2023, MPRB crews have been extensively cutting Glossy Buckthorn, such that the Bog understory is now much more open. A small group of volunteers is continuing to strip buckthorn leaves in order to eventually kill the roots. If you are interested in helping or want periodic updates on other Bog activities, send an email to this email address

As of this writing, the MPRB has set aside funds to replace the current boardwalk dating from the 1990s. Work may begin as early as this autumn and continue into 2025.  The Quaking Bog has a different look in each season and merits a visit several times each year. ❖

End Notes
1. https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/bog/

2. https://friendsofeloisebutler.org/pages/history/ebwriting/annals_liverworts1914.html

3. The Quaking Bog, D. Beimborn et al., People for the Minneapolis Parks Fund, 1995.

4. https://friendsofeloisebutler.org/pages/plants/larch.html

Bruce Jarvis is a Friends member and a founding member of the Quaking Bog Advocacy Comittee.

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What is the Quaking Bog Advocacy Committee (QBAC)

by Lauren Husting

graphic

To visit the Quaking Bog in Theodore Wirth Park is to step back in time. Estimated at over 3,500 years old, it’s also the southernmost peatland in Minnesota and a piece of ecology with numerous benefits to the environment around us.

Over the course of its modern history, many people in the area have banded together to help stabilize, rejuvenate, and build community around it. The Quaking Bog Advocacy Committee is only the latest of these efforts, and we invite you to join us.


Quaking bog in summer
The Quaking Bog with tamaracks in summer. Photo G D Bebeau

QBAC is a small group of local individuals hoping to create more vocal advocacy for the Bog and its future. Formed in 2022, in our short history we’ve already started to make strides to help preserve the ecology of the Bog and to build community and educational resources among its visitors. Some of our projects include: 

Buckthorn mitigation: In 2023 QBAC applied for a Park Stewardship Agreement with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) to remove buckthorn in conjunction with existing Park Board efforts. Founding committee member Bruce Jarvis has been leading this effort, training in new volunteers to help with trimming young buckthorn shoots and maintaining the boardwalk perimeter and the center of the Bog. The MPRB is taking care of larger stands of buckthorn around the Bog. Our agreement was renewed in 2024 and we will resume removal efforts as soon as the ground dries out a bit more. 

Boardwalk reconstruction: One of the big highlights of 2023 was seeing funding added to MPRB’s 2024 budget that included boardwalk replacement at the Quaking Bog. Many voices spoke to the MPRB in support of this project for the Bog, and we want to thank all who called offices, wrote letters, and spoke at Park Board meetings to help this funding go through. We are still waiting on more details about when the project can get started, but QBAC is standing by to help with any additional fundraising as needed.

Community building and educational initiatives: QBAC hopes to build a strong sense of community connection to the Bog through outreach and education. We plan to table at local community events to direct people to resources about bogs and help them learn more about how to advocate for this special piece of local ecology. In the future we hope to advocate for better signage at the Bog and more exploration and education within its perimeters. A long-term goal for the area could include a full-time curator or naturalist dedicated to its care. 

We’re planning a special event on July 28 to celebrate our Bog on International Bog Day! Join us at the foot of Wedding Hill (across Theodore Wirth Parkway from the Quaking Bog parking lot) from 11 to 4 for Bog tours, story time and coloring activities, educational speakers, and bog-inspired puppets. 

graphic of bog meeting

The Quaking Bog Advocacy Committee will continue to maintain a relationship with the MPRB and the local community to build a future for the Quaking Bog. While we understand that all ecologies change over time, we hope we can shepherd the area into the future as gently as possible, and maintain it for generations to come. 

If you’d like to get involved with the QBAC, send an email to quakingbogadvocacy@gmail.com. Thank you for loving your local Bog! ❖


Lauren Husting is a Friends member and frequent contributor to The Fringed Gentian™

The Quaking Bog in autumn colors - photo Bruce Jarvis

bog in autumn color

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Letter from the President

Showy lady's slipper historic
Showy Lady's Slipper b/w photo by Mary Meeker, courtesy MPRB archives.

Dear Friends,

Whether it’s April or August, as a Welcome Kiosk volunteer, I am frequently asked if the lady’s slippers are blooming. Cypripedium parviflorum, the Yellow Lady’s Slipper, blooms in mid to late May, while Cypripedium reginae, the Showy Lady’s Slipper, blooms around June 10, but can bloom as early as May 24 or as late as June 28. This year it bloomed on May 31!

The Showy Lady’s Slipper, the Minnesota State Flower, was described by Eloise as “the greatest prize of the [tamarack] swamp.” The Showy is indigenous to the Garden and Eloise cataloged it on September 6, 1907. The Yellow Lady’s Slipper is native to Theodore Wirth Park and was first planted in the Garden in 1907.

Of the 25,000 orchid species in the world, 208 grow in the continental United States, of which 46 are found in Minnesota; in 2024, three of these bloomed in the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Many of the Wildflower Curators/Gardeners have attempted to plant different orchid species without success. These failures are a testament to the difficulty of transplanting orchids, which need a specific environment and their symbiotic relationship with the mycorrhiza, the required fungus in the soil.

showy lady's slipper drawing
Showy Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium reginae, drawing by Betsy Cole, 2012 for the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary Florilegium. ©Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

On reflection, it’s amazing how involved the women of Minnesota have been with the Showy Lady’s Slipper. The Big Four, Eloise and her three Minneapolis high school botany colleagues,  petitioned the Park Board to create the Wild Botanic Garden in 1907. 

In 1892, the Woman’s Auxiliary Board of Minnesota for the World’s Columbian Exposition was formed; two women were chosen from each of the seven congressional districts to highlight the work of Minnesota women at the Chicago1893 World’s Fair. The Board decided that Minnesota needed a state flower: “in decorations we expect to utilize considerably the flower to be chosen as emblem of our state.” It was agreed that the women of Minnesota should vote for the flower.  After consultation with University of Minnesota Botany Chair Conway MacMillan, five flowers were put on the ballot: Moccasin Flower-Cypripedium spectabile**, Silky Aster, Indian Pink, Brown-eyed Susan, and Wild Rose. Ten thousand ballots were printed and distributed to women’s organizations in each of the seven districts. The Showy Lady’s Slipper won!

The Board petitioned the Senate and it was approved as the State Flower on April 4, 1893. Unfortunately, the document had the incorrect species: Cypripedium calceolus, a European orchid which did not grow in Minnesota!

On February 18, 1902, the women of the Saint Anthony Study Circle petitioned the State Legislature that the “word calceolus was erroneously employed and the intention of the Woman’s Board of World’s Fair Managers was to designate the pink and white Lady’s Slipper.” The petition was accompanied by a letter from the University’s Conway MacMillan: “if the intention was the pink and white lady slipper, the word calceolus should be changed to reginae.”  The resolution was passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, making Cypripedium reginae the official Minnesota State Flower.

Minnesota House Representatives Hannah Jensen Kempfer and Mabeth Hurd Paige introduced legislation in 1925 to protect the Showy Lady’s Slipper (and other select wildflowers). Minnesota Statute 18H.18 makes it illegal to pick or uproot the State Flower, the Showy Lady’s Slipper.

Eloise concluded: “no flower, wild or cultivated, is more magnificent than the Showy Lady’s Slipper” and “it’s considered by many the most beautiful flower in the world.”

See you in the Garden, Jennifer Olson ❖

** The Showy Lady’s Slipper’s previous Latin name was Cypripedium spectabile, but it was also referred to as the Moccasin Flower or The Pink and White Lady Slipper. 

signature


Archive of previous President's Letters.

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A Vibrant and Busy Spring at the Garden!

from Garden Curator Susan Wilkins

Showy lady's slippers

The Wildflower Garden opened on April 16 this year for a vibrant and busy spring season! The spring wildflower display was gorgeous this season and now, in early June, the Showy Lady’s Slippers are in bloom and drawing visitors from near and far. (Photo by MPRB) 

From April 16 to June 2, staff and volunteers have noted 15,479 visitor engagements at the Welcome Kiosk, on the trails, and in the Visitor Shelter. That is an average of 369 visitor engagements per day at the Garden. How exciting! 

These interactions bring the Garden to life for visitors, as staff and volunteers share information about bird sightings, blooming plant highlights and more. Visitors often enjoy sharing their stories from their visit with volunteers and staff as well. So many wonderful connections between people happen here while they learn and share about nature. It’s such a gift! 

Storytime with chief Ohotto
Storytime a the Garden with Minneapolis Parks Police Chief Jason Ohotto.
Photo - MPRB

The talented and knowledgeable provisional, part-time naturalist staff Cheyanne Rose, Debbie Keyes, Erin Dietrich, Hana Kim, Jodi Gustafson, Katie Laux, Keygan McClellan, Linette Maeder, Maria Montero, Tammy Mercer and Education Program Lead Kimberly Ishkov have been busy preparing for and leading programs and tours for youth and adults this spring. Natural Resources Specialist Nicholas Purcell has assisted with several adult programs to share his specialized knowledge of Garden care and plant collection management. 

All together, they have led a total of 85 nature-focused programs so far this season (through June 2), serving 888 public program participants and 337 school and adult group tour participants for a total of 1,225 youth and adult program participants. 

A programming highlight from May includes having special guest readers Superintendent Al Bangoura and Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto reading at the popular Garden Storytime programs. They both did an amazing job of reading and connecting with the little kids and their families, who were large and sometimes wiggly audiences! Human Resources Director Mae Brooks will be out in June to join in the fun! 

Storytime with Al Bangoura
Storytime a the Garden with Minnepolis Parks Superintendent Al Bangoura.
Photo - MPRB

Forty-four docent volunteers have been trained in and have already given 363 hours since April 20. These volunteers welcome and connect with visitors at the Welcome Kiosk and in the Visitor Shelter.  

Over 100 field volunteers have contributed over 200 volunteer hours since early April. Friends Invasive Plant Action Group volunteers, Legacy Volunteers, MN DNR volunteers, and several corporate groups have all given their time in the field in a variety of capacities this season! 

This means that over 500 volunteer hours have been given in just two months at the Wildflower Garden by close to 150 people–wow! A heartfelt thank you to all of the volunteers involved with Garden programs and care. 

In addition to the staff mentioned above, we welcome college interns Analise Kruse and George Walker for a summer of learning and garden care. Thank you to all of the Garden staff for their tremendous work so far this season to support and care for the visitors and volunteers of the Garden. We will look forward to seeing you at the Garden this summer and autumn.❖

Read Susan's previous letters here.

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Tidbits

Eloise Butler and the Quaking Bog

The closest tamarack bog to the Quaking Bog was the small one just to the east, surrounded on 3 sides by a high ridge. This was the site chosen by Eloise Butler and her fellow botany teachers as the site of the Wild Botanic Garden. It had water, tamaracks, peat, wetland plants, all with surrounding slopes for meadow and woodland plants. This was the location with the most appeal to them.

Eloise Butler
One of the most familiar photos we have of Eloise is the one from 1911 where is seen in full dress and hat, using a downed tree to navigate on a visit to the quaking bog to source plants. Photo 1911, Mary Meeker, courtesy Minneapolis Central Library.

Eloise wrote in 1926: “A particular reason for selecting this place was the undrained tamarack swamp, such a swamp being the abode of most of our orchids and insectivorous plants so interesting in habit and structure. Indeed, most lovers of wild plants are bog-trotters and find in the depths of a swamp an earthly paradise. The indigenous flora was found to be captivating.”

The area was saved from being filled in and leveled for residential construction (already platted) by a 1889 petition from citizens to the Park Board to buy and preserve this area as “Glenwood Park.” Thus these wetlands were saved.

Eloise Butler wasted no time in securing those “captivating” plants that were missing from her wetland. And the closest procurement site was - the Quaking Bog!

Her first specific mention of collecting in the Quaking Bog was the procurement of Purple Pitcher Plants in 1909. Thereafter there were almost annual recorded sourcings from the bog, all the way up to 1932 when she needed orchids to place around her just-completed “Mallard Pool” in the north meadow (just north of the current back fence).

Shown below are the last species sourced from the Quaking Bog by Eloise Butler were these two in 1932 for her Mallard Pool.❖

Grass-pink
Grass Pink, Calopogon tuberosus. Photo D. Gordon Robertson.
Rose Pogonia
Rose Pogonia, Pogonia ophioglossoides. Photo Orchi, CC-By-SA 3.0

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Notes For and About Our Donors and Volunteers

Annual financial Support: April - June 2024

Basic level:
Adams, Carla
Ambler, Bob
Arneson, Tom
Bahl, Sheila
Boehm, Deborah
Brunelle, Christopher for Carolyn
Bystedt, Christi
Gustafson, Denise
Marshall, Marcia
Ruiz, Christian
Smudske, Karen & Jeff Mancl
Spinosa, Ron
Windle, Holly

Benefactor level:
Jarvis, Bruce and Alison
Lipschultz, Martin
Shannon, Jerry and Lee

Sponsor level:
Angerhofer, Cindy
Arneson, Nancy
Baker, Zachary
Battreall, Roger & Jayne Funk
Beitz, Toni
Carter, Darryl
Davis, Joy
Marshall, Marcia
McClennan, Carla
Walter, Bill & Judy
Zibley, Joseph

Annual Support information about:

1. Becoming an Annual Supporter of the Friends
2. Renewing your Annual Support

Can be found on our Website Donate & Support page.

Information on paying by check or by credit card is found there also.

For changes to your mailing address or email address, please contact Christi Bystedt at this email address. or Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Donor Support, P.O. Box 3793, Minneapolis, MN 55403-0793.


All 2024 Annual Support

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Other Donations and Memorials Received

Memorials/In-horonr-of Received
April - June 2024

for Elizabeth Anderson from Heather Clark
for Richard Fournier from Katharine Fournier
for Danica Natoli from Cary & Janet Georger
for Shawna Pearson from Jennifer Olson
for Patty Schoenfelder from Barbara Levie and Mark Kawell
for LaDonna Weinand from Sheila Leiter & Georgene Angrist
for Chris Wiersma from Liz Rolfsmeier

 

Other Donations Received - separate or an addition to annual support giving
April - June 2024 from

Ambler, Bob
Beitz, Tony
Boehm, Deborah
Futcher, J S
Godfrey, Ann Otis
Gustafson, Denise

Jarvis, Bruce & Alison
Metzger, Mary
Mielke, Julie
Singleton, Gary
Wells Fargo Employees

All 2024 donations and memorials

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Other means of Support

Want to honor someone?

A gift in their honor can simply be a means of honoring a living person or some group

or

use this as an alternate type gift for a holiday, a birthday, an anniversary, etc. We will notify them of your gift and of how they will receive our newsletter and other communications for the year ahead. This will introduce them to the Friends and to the Garden. Use the mail-in form or the credit card link on our website 'Donate & Support' page.


Board of directors positions

The Friends Board of Directors can use your talents! We are an all-volunteer board that meets several time per year and if you have an interest in the Wildflower Garden and in helping support it and our mission of educating the public about the Garden and the natural world get more details by sending an email to to our president at this address.


You can also support our program by buying a plant identification book and note cards.

book coverDo you have our Plant Identification Guide? The 3rd edition has 1,950 photos of the 787 flowering plants, trees and the ferns of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden including many that are of historic interest. Three hundred of these books have been sold, so why not get yours!

From a buyer in New Hampshire: What a terrific collection of photos. I’m sure this guide will be a great compliment to other guides I have. From Minnesota: I love the book and will cherish it for many years to come. Credit card order or use the mail order form, both on our website here.

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Sign up for Twigs & Branches: A monthly email update from the Friends containing news from the Garden and relevant MPRB projects, as well as access to website content featuring short articles from our Board and membership. These articles are written to highlight connections of the plants, history and lore of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden with different time frames or outside events.

If you already are signed up for our emails, you should be getting these. If you are not here's the link to the sign-up form. The form also allows you to sign up for our Fringed Gentian™ announcements and for the Friends Invasive Plant Action Group's emails.

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©2024 Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc. www.friendsofeloisebutler.org.
Non-commercial reproduction of this material is allowed without prior permission but only with the acknowledgment to Friends of the Wildflower Garden, Inc., the author and the photographer.