Conservationists protect plants in bogs

Sunday, June 2, 2002

DOERUN, Ga. -- Amid the yellow, pink and purple flowers, there's a life-and-death struggle going on in pitcher plant bogs, where flies, mosquitos and other pests don't stand much chance against the carnivorous plants that stand watch over the forest.

Pitcher plants lure bugs into their trumpet-shaped stalks with pleasing colors and smells, usher them deeper with fine hairs and then digest them for a shot of nutrition.

They're in decline in the South largely because of herbicide spraying along highways to control grass. The plants have also been hurt by a lack of regular fires in the forests. Fires are an essential part of Southern longleaf-pine ecology.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources recently dedicated a 650-acre tract that is dotted with about 30 pitcher plant bogs. The site is located on state route 133, about 36 miles south of Albany near Doerun, a small Colquitt County farming town.

Three of Georgia's seven pitcher plant species -- the yellow flytrap, the hooded pitcher plant and parrot pitcher plant -- are located on the tract. All are protected and the state classifies the parrot as a threatened species.

Environmental example

Known as the Doerun Pitcher Plant Bog Natural Area, the site also hosts a flower known as the purple honeycomb head, the odorless bayberry, the bog dropwort, dewthreads and several other plant species of concern to conservationists. Altogether there are about 30 types of flowers at the site.

"I think I could objectively say that it is the finest example of a pitcher plant bog in the state of Georgia," says Lindsay Boring, director of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center. "Botanically, it is probably one of the most important sites in south Georgia for a property of this size. There are quite a few ecologists and botanists in the Southeastern United States who learned about the longleaf wiregrass ecology there."

Besides the bogs, which are associated with seepage from surrounding longleaf pine uplands, the tract has pine flatwoods, a pond pine-evergreeen shrub forest, small streams and forested wetlands and swamp forests along the upper reaches of the Ochlockonee River.

The DNR has built a 3/4-mile trail that leads to an observation platform where visitors can view the pitcher plants, which usually live in poor soils in the tropical and temperate regions of the world, and consume bugs for added nutrition. There are roads through the property for observing wildlife and bird watching.

Pitcher plant bogs become flower gardens in the spring.

"It's the only natural area we have that has a group of pitcher plant bogs and the other habitat," says John Ambrose, program manager for the DNR's Georgia Natural Heritage Program. "It's not perfectly pristine habitat. But it approximates what people would have seen riding horseback through the area maybe 150 years ago."

The state purchased the land in 1994 from a family estate and dedicated it recently to Ann Barber, a Moultrie naturalist who helped preserve the land when it belonged to the Barber family. She taught herself about the ecology of the land and used the pitcher plants and other plants growing there to write articles, to create slide shows and to educate school children about the uniqueness of the site.

Barber died in 1997 and much of her work is being carried on by her husband, Tommy.

"It is a spectacular site, but it's all the more special because of Tommy and Ann Barber, their stewardship of the property and their educational evangelism about carnivorous plantl," Boring says.

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