Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024
Guy with a yellow shirt and shorts walking on a boardwalk through a forest with tall conifers and lush green understory

This post is written by Dave Sproule, Ontario Parks Natural Heritage Education Specialist.

If you’re looking for a new trail to explore this summer, the Lonesome Bog Trail in Esker Lakes Provincial Park might be the ideal solution! This 1.5 km interpretive trail loops around Sausage Lake and travels through a variety of habitats, introducing visitors to boreal forest ecosystems and ancient glacial landscapes.

Park staff wearing sunglasses gesture toward an interpretive sign with information about Lonesome Bog

The Lonesome Bog Trail begins on dry land, passing through a stand of Jack Pine typical of the park’s boreal forest.

Jack Pine is a tree adapted to fire. Forest fires are a natural phenomenon in the boreal forest and Jack Pine actually needs fire to reproduce. Their cones contain seeds that can remain in the cone for up to 20 years before landing in the ground and growing. However, to open, most cones need a hot fire. The cones open after the fire and the seeds fall into the scorched earth, free of competition, and into the sandy or very gravel mineral soil they prefer.

Close up of a green pine cone attached to a tree branch linepine cone

Jack Pine is often found in large stands and all the trees are the same age and have sprouted after the same fire; Many of Esker Lakes’ Jack Pines date back to a forest fire that burned here in the 1940s.

The trail borders Sausage Lake, which is very scenic despite the name.

Small lake with blue sky and clouds reflecting in the water.  tall mixed forest to the left and in the background.  Low vegetation surrounds the water.Sausage Lake

The lonely swamp

The path leaves the mainland along a boardwalk that crosses a fir tree where some very clever plants live. The swamp is like a food desert without many nutrients available for plants to live. They must be able to survive on much less than forest-dwelling plants, since they live on a layer of moist, decaying plant material.

Green peat bogs, with coniferous forests in the background and to the right, under a gray skyJack Pine Forest stops at the edge of the open bogs of Lonesome Bog.

It may seem like this should be nutritious for the plants, but the swamp is very acidic and the food is locked away with little food for the plants to survive. Yet somehow, plants thrive in the swamp thanks to adaptations and strategies that help them in this difficult environment.

Most of the swamp surface is covered with moss. The moss that grows in bogs, like many of the plants here, is also adapted to wet, acidic conditions with low levels of nutrients. Sphagnum moss reigns here.

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Sphagnum is an interesting plant:

  • It reproduces with spores, not seeds.
  • has no roots
  • Needs a lot of water
  • And herbivores don’t eat it because it’s too acidic.

Soft, red moss with green plants sprouting in and around it.A thick layer of Sphagnum moss

the peat maker

Sphagnum Moss also produces peat. As it grows, it becomes a thick mat. And Sphagnum mosses don’t have roots, so the green (or red) part of the plant that captures sunlight also captures nutrients, primarily from rainwater.

The plants should remain on top of the mat near the light, growing over the dead leaves and plant material that become the lower layers. These layers accumulate over the years and the weight of the upper layers compresses them.

Fluffy yellow moss, with brown grass growing and three red berries visible through the moss.Marsh Blueberry Growing in Sphagnum Moss

Labrador tea is a flowering shrub that colonizes the swamp.

To save valuable resources, Labrador tea retains its leaves over the winter rather than dropping them. This helps the plant survive because it doesn’t have to find nutrients to grow new ones every year. To protect the leaves from dehydration in the cold winter months, each leaf has a hard, waxy surface and a layer of brown “hairs” on its underside.

Fairly thick patch of Labrador tea, some with bright pink flowers.Labrador tea in bloom

Black spruce are the first trees to invade the swamp

Black spruce can tolerate wet, acidic conditions that many trees cannot. Trees can also clone themselves and move deeper into the swamp by sprouting from branches resting on the swamp mat.

They can get by with lower amounts of nutrients, but mushrooms help black spruce, as well as shrubs like labrador tea and other plants cope with the lack of food. Fungi connect to the roots of plants and help them absorb important nutrients like nitrogen.

A guy in a yellow shirt and shorts walking on a boardwalk through a forest with tall conifers and lush green undergrowthLonesome Bog Trail – The boardwalk runs through a moist black spruce forest

Signs of historical human activity are hidden in the center of the swamp

Along the hike, the trail crosses a “corduroy road” where Jack Pine logs were once laid to cross the swamp in the 1940s to reach the Iris Gold Mine; The geology of the Kirkland Lake area is one of the richest gold mining regions. in the world.

Loggers also cut wood to shore up mine shafts, and stumps can be found further ahead where the trail returns to dry land. The logs that form the corduroy path are like islands that have been colonized by many of the peat bog plants, and are slowly becoming part of the peat bog.

Carnivorous plants!

Some plants have developed an amazing strategy to obtain more food: they are carnivorous! But don’t worry… they only eat insects! These plants can survive the acidic conditions of the swamp by obtaining nutrients (especially nitrogen) from the insects they catch.

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Close-up of the pitcher-shaped camera of a pitcher shot, along with another shot of the entire plant, with a single strain with a yellow and orange flower on top.The pitcher plant

Carnivorous plants form a water pitcher with some of their leaves. The jar has a tempting smell for insects, which perch on the rim to get a better look.

The ultraviolet patterns also take them over the edge, and once in the jar, downward-pointing hairs ensure they keep going. The leaf becomes slippery and the insect goes into the water. The “water” in the pitcher actually contains digestive enzymes that help the plant absorb nutrients from the insect.

An ancient glacial landscape

A vast continental glacier covered most of Canada for thousands and thousands of years. When it began to melt in this area almost 10,000 years ago, it left huge chunks of ice buried in the glacier’s sand and gravel.

Small lake with a tall coniferous forest on the right and left side of the photo, with a shorter, sparser coniferous forest in the background.  Low vegetation surrounds the lake.The view of Sausage Lake encompasses pine forests and black spruce swamp.

Esker Lakes lies on the bed of what was a wide glacial river that flowed through glacial ice; At more than 250 km, it is the longest. thank you in ontario. The river helped bury the blocks of glacial ice, which melted very slowly, maintaining their shape.

Depressions, known as kettles filled with water from melted ice and maintained by springs and groundwater. The remaining lakes and wetlands make Esker Lakes an incredible boreal forest lake land.

Satellite view of Esker Lakes Provincial Park with several lakes running in a line through the parkThe Esker Lakes chain of kettle lakes lies above the Munro Esker, a 10,000-year-old glacial riverbed.

Leaving the wooded peat bog, the path heads back into the forest.

The balsam fir trees here have rough gray bark that is sticky and with sap dripping in places. The bumps are blisters with sap inside. The sap can help the tree defend itself from invaders such as wood-chewing beetles: the beetle makes a hole in the bark and covers itself with a sticky substance. The sap then hardens and helps seal the wound in the tree.

Glaciers are dirty things.

At the Balsam Fir post there is a huge rock. The rock is further evidence of glaciation. Glaciers are dirty things. Only the most recent snow on the summit is clean and white. The rest of the ice is filled with sand, gravel and boulders that it picks up as it flows.

A hiker in a yellow shirt and shorts looks at an interpretive sign along a trail in a balsam fir forest.  In the foreground, right next to the trail is a rock about the same height as the guy.  and at least twice the width of the trailHuge ‘erratic’ boulder sits at the edge of the trail in a stand of balsam fir

This rock, known as erratic, may have traveled from hundreds of kilometers north of here (or even farther), frozen in the ice of a slowly moving glacier. When the glacier began to melt about 10,000 years ago, all the sand, gravel and boulders were deposited on the bedrock, leaving a mountainous landscape that would later be colonized by forest.

Esker Lakes is a quiet, family-friendly park with a full-service campground with:

  • Electric campsites (65 of the park’s 103 campsites are electric)
  • Two comfort stations with hot showers, flushing toilets and laundry facilities.
  • Two sandy beaches and a dog beach.
  • Canoe and kayak rental

Most lakes in the park are stocked with trout and some lakes also have pike and perch. Bird watching is good at Esker Lakes, highlighting many species of wood warbler. Several other trails wind through the park’s forests, and shuttles link many of the park’s lakes, with two canoe sites along the route.

Visit Esker Lakes Provincial Park this summer and take the Lonesome Bog Hike!