On February 7th, Kris Ramsay, Orleans Conservation Trust (OCT) Administrator, led an educational walk along the edges of Hosea’s Swamp, a very unique Atlantic White Cedar (chamaecyparis thyoides) woodland. This parcel was donated to OCT in 1993 by Rachia Heyelman, and is surrounded by more than 60 acres of preserved Town of Orleans Water District land.
Before diving into the ecology of the bog, Kris briefly mentioned that it is believed by some that this swamp land was once owned by Micah Rafe, the Cape’s last surviving full-blooded Indian, and named after his wife Hosea Ralph (Rafe), the great-great granddaughter of Sagamore Mattaquason. It is also reported that Native Americans originally thought that Hosea’s Swamp was formed when a whale swam under the crust of the earth, blew water out of its spout, thus forming the kettle hole and the water within it. To read more about the Native American heritage in South Orleans click HERE.
As the group entered the bog, Kris explained that Atlantic White Cedars (AWC) are geographically restricted to freshwater wetlands in a narrow band along the east coast of the United States, ranging from Mississippi to Maine. AWC’s grow at elevations ranging from sea level to 1,500 feet, and can occur shoreward of lakes, river or stream channels, abutting estuaries, on river flood plains, or even in an isolated basin. Hosea’s Swamp’s elevation is very close to sea level and the swamp itself is best described as a kettle hole.
As today’s hikers observed, the AWC’s grow primarily on highly acidic organic soils, best described as “peat”, which is usually saturated by water for long periods of the growing season. Another hiker noted that the AWC’s in Hosea’s Swamp were growing on “hummocks”, slightly elevated above and surrounded by hollows where the water levels have historically risen up to four feet deep. Kris explained that since there is no inlet or outlet in this “kettle hole”, the AWC’s have adapted over time to water levels that fluctuate throughout the year.
One hiker asked how old the AWC trees within the swamp aree? Since AWC’s grow extremely slowly, it is very difficult to age a tree simply by observing the size when compared to similar upland trees. Kris noted that investigations have discovered 200 year old trees being no more than eight inches in height.
During the walk hikers also got to see a variety of native plants within the shrub layer, including sweet-pepper bush, high-bush blue berry, swamp azalea, and sheep laurel. A few plants in the herbaceous layer included a variety of sedges, round-leaved sundew, cinnamon fern, and royal fern, to go along with the continuous carpet of sphagnum mosses.
One species unique to AWC swamps is the Hessel’s Hairstreak (Mitoura hesseli) butterfly, which feeds exclusively on the nectar from the AWC’s. This rare, emerald-green butterfly (only documented in one N.H. swamp to date) often feeds high in the cedar canopy and is difficult to detect. We’re keeping our eyes open though!
Rounding out the walk hikers trekked along the upland portions of the woodlands to get a better understanding of the topography surrounding the swamp, and noticed how everything flowed in the direction of the bog. It was easy to see how important it is to preserve, and continue to preserve, the land surrounding these unique and threated habitats. If not preserved, pollutants and other unnatural materials will deposit into the wetland, degrading the water quality and threatening the existence of the bog itself.
This bog is one of Orleans’s best kept secrets, so if you want to find it, you will have to join us next time!