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2017 Lichen and Fern Workshop Wrap Up

The group discussing the ins-and-outs of pteridophyte (ferns and allies) identification before making their way along the Welcome Center Trails (photo by Rubin Stenseng)

On August 12, a group of 10 participants joined Joe Walewski in an exploration of the lichens and ferns of the Sax-Zim Bog as he lead our second and final workshop of the fall education season! This workshop was a partnership between Friends of Sax-Zim Bog and the Duluth Folk School and will hopefully be the first set of workshops in a long line of workshops to come in the Sax-Zim Bog.

This workshop was a completely different from last week during the Dragonfly and Damselfly workshop. We spent little time indoors and much of the time in the outdoor classroom that is the Sax-Zim Bog. Our first “classroom” was the Welcome Center Trail complex. Here, we focused on ferns (not meaning we ignored the lichens!) which can be very easily observed from even the parking lot at the Welcome Center. We observed many of the common species you may expect in the northwoods like Bracken Fern, Interrupted Fern, and Lady Fern. A keen eye by Head Naturalist Clinton found a very cool fern, Rugulose Grapefern (Botrychium rugulosum). This was not only a new species for the Sax-Zim Bog Master Species list, but a good indicator of the quality of habitat that is found in the Sax-Zim Bog.

Ruguluse Grapfern, one of the most exciting finds of the workshop and near the Welcome Center to boot! (photo by Clinton Nienhaus)

The group of Botrychium ferns (know as grapeferns or moonworts) are well known as indicator species due to their need of high quality fungal communities in the soil, much like orchids. This is the third(!) moonwort species found in the Sax-Zim Bog at a third unique location from the other species, Leathery Grapefern and Rattlesnake Fern. Before making it back to the Welcome Center for lunch, the group was able to find 3 species of clubmoss, include a new species to the list: Flat-branched Ground Pine.

Following the morning session, we made it back to the Welcome Center to learn a little more about what makes a fern and its relatives special. We had also collected a few lichens to ID over lunch. This served as a good transition to our next field session, which would focus mostly on lichens (again, not ignoring any ferns!).


Our afternoon session explored the Cotton School Forest and Cotton Cemetery. The Cotton School Forest is a wonderful gem that is just south of Cotton east of Hwy 53 along Bug Creek Road. Through FOSZB educational programs and field trips and through winter snowshoe trails, this school forest remains active, even if the Cotton School may no longer be operational.

Joe Walewski talking the fine points of lichens in the Cotton School Forest. (photo by Clinton Nienhaus)

Here, and during the entire afternoon session, lichens were the focus. The diversity of lichens is always an incredible thing to think about, at least for me: Lichens can be found on trees, on the ground, on rocks, in the direct sun, on windswept rock outcrops, in the tops of the tallest trees… this list goes on! In the school forest, we found many common lichens to the northwoods like Green Reindeer Lichen, Boreal Oakmoss, Common Greenshield Lichen, and Moosehair Lichen. As we learned through the day, lichens have perhaps the most creative names, names such as Powdered Sunshine, Crumpled Rag, or Dusty Cobblestone Lichen. These names may seem silly, but many do give a great description of what the lichen does look like in the field!

Golden Moonglow (above) and Hammered Shield Lichen (below) show the diversity in lichens, in color, shape, and substrate! (photos by Clinton Nienhaus)

Many of the lichens observed during this part of the workshop were based in, on, or near trees. One group of lichen that the Sax-Zim Bog does not have much of the proper habitat for are the rock based lichens. But, cemeteries aren’t just great locations to find birds… they can be goldmines for lichens! We made the final stop of the day visiting the Cotton Cemetery to look for those lichens that do best on rocks (or in this case, gravestones). Golden Moonglow Lichen, Granite Firedot, and Common Goldspeck lichen added some nice flashes of color to the otherwise gray and green world of tree lichens.

Overall, this workshop was a marvelous introduction to the diversity of both lichens and ferns! We were able to observe and identify 46 species broken down between ferns, lichens, clubmosses, pelts, and horsetails. There are more species to be documented as well! We did collect specimens of lichens which will soon be identified and added to this awesome total. Participants had a lot to observe and take in through the day. A key point was to slow down! Slowing down when you are in the woods allows one to observe every level of the forest or bog or rock outcrop they may be upon. Observing every nook and cranny may lead to a discovery of a bright green lichen, or a tiny moss. Each group of species we can learn about leads us to a better understanding of the natural world around us. With more understanding comes more appreciation of not just the Sax-Zim Bog, but your own backyard!

Cemeteries aren’t just for birders… but equally a home for budding lichenologists! (photo by Clinton Nienhaus)

Until next time, I will see you in the Sax-Zim Bog!

— Head Naturalist Clinton