The Forest Seeps of Distant Hill

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Vincent Van Gogh

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Our three forest seeps at Distant Hill Gardens usually remain unfrozen through the winter.
Forest seeps usually remain unfrozen through the winter.

We are lucky to have two forest seeps on our 58-acres here at Distant Hill Gardens. Forest seeps are very small wetlands, typically less than one acre in size, that occur around groundwater discharge areas in upland forests.


Soils in the seeps at Distant Hill Gardens remain saturated for most, if not all of the growing season and usually stay wet all winter. Surface waters of some seeps can percolate back into the ground through porous layers of sand or gravel, but at Distant Hill Gardens the surface water from both seeps runs off to feed larger wetlands down hill.

The beautiful Marsh Violet (Viola cucullata) grows in one of the forest seeps on Distant Hill.
The beautiful Marsh Violet grows in one of our forest seeps.

Seep habitats are important for many animals and plants. This is due to the fact that the water 'seeps' up to the surface from below the frost line at 45 to 50 degrees F. This keeps our two seeps from freezing during the winter. In addition, these seeps are the first areas to green up in the spring due to the warm conditions.

Seeps as excellent food sources for Black bear in the spring and summer. Deer and moose seek seeps for food, water, and occasionally elements like calcium or sodium that may be present in the groundwater.

Northern dusky and two-lined salamanders prefer seep habitats, and they in turn attract predators such as skunk, raccoon, and river otter. Woodcock and robins depend on seeps for water and food after migrating and as a refuge after early spring snowstorms. Ruffed and spruce grouse are attracted to seeps for water during the winter and fresh plant food in the spring. Wild turkeys favor seeps in winter.


One of our seeps at Distant Hill Gardens also functions as a vernal pool and thus supports vernal pool breeding species such as wood frogs and mole salamanders.


Cinnamon Fern (osmundastrum cinnamomeum) growing in a forest seep in White Rock Woods at Distant Hill Gardens in Alstead, NH.
Cinnamon Fern (osmundastrum cinnamomeum) in a forest seep

The composition of plant species varies among sites, but collectively seeps are diverse and support  unique flora and fauna. Despite their small size, seeps add a distinct biological component to the matrix of upland forests. Many herbs, sedges, and mosses are restricted to forest seeps or other seepage wetlands.


In addition a mix of wetland and upland ferns may be present in seeps. One of our seeps is a Subacid Forest Seep dominated by cinnamon fern, moss, and marsh violets. The second seep at Distant Hill Gardens, a Circumneutral Hardwood Forest Seep with a higher pH and richer soils, has both ostrich fern and silvery spleen-wort, both rich site indicators.


Swamp Beacon (Mitrula elegans), also called Matchstick Fungus, growing in the Black Ash seep at Distant Hill Gardens.
Swamp Beacon fungi (Mitrula elegans) can also be found in the Black Ash seep at Distant Hill Gardens.

Characteristic Seep Plant Species:
Seepage indicators:
Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower)
      Carex scabrata (rough sedge)
      Glyceria melicaria (northeastern manna-grass)
      Circaea alpina (small enchanter’s nightshade)
      Aster puniceus (purple-stemmed aster)
      Chrysosplenium americanum (golden saxifrage)
      Platanthera dilatata (tall white bog orchid)
      Galium kamtschaticum (northern wild licorice)
      Geum rivale (purple avens)
      Mitella diphylla (two-leaved miterwort)
      Listera cordata (heart-leaved twayblade)
Listera convallarioides (lily-leaved twayblade)
      Cardamine pensylvanica (Pennsylvania bitter-cress)
      Chelone glabra (white turtlehead)
      Hydrocotyle americana (water pennywort)
      Veratrum viride (false hellebore)
      Carex leptalea (delicate sedge)
      Carex disperma (two-seeded sedge)
      Equisetum sylvaticum (wood horsetail)
      Cypripedium pubescens (large yellow lady's-slipper)
      Cystopteris bulbifera (bulblet bladder fern)
      Sphagnum squarrosum and other bryophytes