Skip to main content

Fall Colors the Muskeg on Alaska’s Tongass National Forest

Posted by Mary Stensvold, US Forest Service Regional Botanist, Sitka, Alaska in Forestry
Feb 21, 2017
Lodgepole pines, also called shore pines (Pinus contorta subsp. contorta) add punctuations of green to this muskeg near Sitka, AK. Pines growing in muskegs are stunted and very old. Tufted bulrush (Trichophorum caespitosum) plants are a dominant ground cover in this part of the muskeg and add color as their foliage turns orange and brown in the autumn. Flecks of red in the foreground are the scarlet foliage of bunchberry (Cornus suecica). Photo by Mary Stensvold.
Lodgepole pines, also called shore pines (Pinus contorta subsp. contorta) add punctuations of green to this muskeg near Sitka, AK. Pines growing in muskegs are stunted and very old. Tufted bulrush (Trichophorum caespitosum) plants are a dominant ground cover in this part of the muskeg and add color as their foliage turns orange and brown in the autumn. Flecks of red in the foreground are the scarlet foliage of bunchberry (Cornus suecica). Photo by Mary Stensvold.

Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10 percent of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas.

The few species of plants that thrive in muskegs are tolerant of the acidic, supersaturated soil. Low-growing evergreen shrubs, such as Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia), bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), dwarf bilberry (V. caespitosum) and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) are abundant. Occasional irregularly sized pools and a few gnarled, stunted beach pines (Pinus contorta subsp. contorta) break the hummocky carpet of low vegetation.

A clump of tufted bulrush (Trichophorum caespitosum) shows the progression of fall color change in a muskeg near Sitka, Alaska. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Mary Stensvold.
A clump of tufted bulrush (Trichophorum caespitosum) shows the progression of fall color change in a muskeg near Sitka, Alaska. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Mary Stensvold.

During the early summer, colorful arrays of flowers, such as bog orchids (Platanthera species), Jeffery shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi), Rocky Mountain pond lily (Nuphar lutea ssp. polysepala), swamp gentian (Gentiana douglasiana), and Lapland cornel (Cornus suecica) enliven the muskegs.

With the onset of autumn, a blaze of colors erupt in the muskegs as the foliage transitions from summer green to autumn yellows, oranges and reds. The colors are particularly impressive with the coniferous trees of adjacent forests providing deep green backdrops.

(Note: The accompanying photos were taken in a muskeg behind the town of Sitka, Alaska, adjacent to the Tongass National Forest. To locate this muskeg in a mapping application, such as Google Earth, paste in this latitude and longitude: 57° 3.499'N, 135° 19.694'W.) For many more 2012 fall colors photos, visit the USDA Flickr site!

Dwarf dogwood (Cornus suecica) and sphagnum moss turn scarlet in the fall colors in the muskeg near Petersburg, AK. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Karen Dillman.
Dwarf dogwood (Cornus suecica) and sphagnum moss turn scarlet in the fall colors in the muskeg near Petersburg, AK. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Karen Dillman.
Deer cabbage (Fauria crista-galli) turns yellow to signal fall as it grows in a bog near Petersburg, AK. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas.  Photo by Karen Dillman.
Deer cabbage (Fauria crista-galli) turns yellow to signal fall as it grows in a bog near Petersburg, AK. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Karen Dillman.
The foliage of bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) shrubs turns pink in the autumn. These leaves are beginning to fall. Lodgepole pines provide a contrasting backdrop to the berry bushes in a muskeg in Sitka, AK. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Mary Stensvold.
The foliage of bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) shrubs turns pink in the autumn. These leaves are beginning to fall. Lodgepole pines provide a contrasting backdrop to the berry bushes in a muskeg in Sitka, AK. Muskegs, a colloquial term for peat bogs, blanket 10% of the Tongass National Forest. These wetlands range in size from a few square feet to many acres. Over the ages, muskegs formed as Sphagnum mosses, rushes and sedges grew and built up spongy carpets in these very wet, almost treeless areas. Photo by Mary Stensvold.

Category/Topic: Forestry

Write a Response

CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Comments

Chris Daley
Oct 18, 2012

Thank you for the AK gallery. One of these years I will get there.

Janet O'Dell
Oct 22, 2012

Beautiful!

Qwen
Oct 22, 2012

Beautiful!

Nancy Farmer
Jul 27, 2019

I enjoyed your photos and descriptions very much , thanks! I don’t think many people are aware of the beauty of these strange wetlands, I suppose because of their inaccessibility and buggy nature. I appreciate the ids of the typical plants with the photo. I’ve always especially liked lichens.