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An Exploration of Pacama Ecology

Indian Pipe

On July 9, 2023, we joined Frank Parisio, a wetland specialist, for an educational walk at the Pacama site on Lower Sahler Mill Road. Frank's experience with wetland environments spans 20 years. Consequently, our time with him greatly expanded our knowledge of this unique place.

Following up our discussion last week with Sam Adams and Steve Parisio, we talked about the differences between a swamp, a fen, and new to the conversation, a bog. The defining feature of a bog is that the sole source of water is from precipitation. This closed environment causes the soil to be extremely acidic and nutrient poor. Plants such as the pitcher plant and the sundew need to be carnivorous in order to survive this unique environment. Interesting. Another bog resident (and resident of our swamp) is sphagnum moss. Frank explained that, because this acidic environment decomposes slowly, sphagnum builds upon itself to form peat. This forms a substrate on which other life can take root. The resulting peat plays an important role in carbon sequestration.

Frank also touched upon the other flora present, again speaking about the variety of sedges (with their floating seeds), burr-reed, arrowhead and persicaria (with it's prickles along the stem).

Having the foresight to bring waders, Frank wandered into the deeper recesses of the swamp. He returned to say that swamp sawgrass with its hard serrated edges was present, as well as water hemlock, an extremely poisonous plant. The highlight of his foray was finding an active bear wallow (a muddy pit, actually) used by our local Ursa to cool off in the hot summer weather.

There are quite a few downed trees (called “tips") in the Pacama water. We learned that when a tree is under stress (as it might be from lack of oxygen to its roots in a flood event), it produces ethanol, much like a human might produce adrenalin. This ethanol provides the energy for temporary survival. A storm during a stress event could be the reason for their demise. These downed trees will eventually degrade to make another change to a constantly changing and evolving landscape.

To everyone's delight was the appearance of amphibians. Noted were tree frogs, peepers, and a red spotted salamander who seemed not to be feeling well. And of course, we all heard the ubiquitous green frog. Delightful.

On returning to our vehicles, Frank said something that floored me. He has extensive experience with wetland environments, yet he conveyed to me that "this is the most diverse wetland I've seen” -- and we thought we were just saving open space.


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