The Wetlands of Distant Hill


"Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps." - H.D. Thoreau 

Wetlands Defined

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) growing in a forest seep in the woods of Distant Hill.
Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) growing in a seep.


We have numerous types of wetlands on the 155-acres that make up Distant Hill. Many of the wetlands are defined by the plants that grow in them.


Marsh: Nutrient-rich wetlands dominated by reeds, grasses, and soft-stemmed vegetation. 


Swamp: Any wetland that is dominated by woody stemmed plants and trees.


Bogs: Characterized by high peat content, acidic water, and a floor covered by a thick carpet of sphagnum mosslimiting the number of plant species that can grow in them. Bogs receive all or most of their water from precipitation rather than from runoff, groundwater or streams. As a result, bogs are low in the nutrients needed for plant growth, a condition that is enhanced by acid forming peat mosses.


Fens: Like bogs, fens are peatlands. But a fen has higher pH than a bog, giving it the ability to grow a much more diverse list of plant species than a bog.


Forest Seeps: Seeps or seepage wetlands are small springs, pools, or other wet places where groundwater naturally comes slowly to the surface. Soils in seeps remain saturated for all or part of the growing season and they often stay wet without freezing all winter due to the 50˚F water "seeping" in from below. These are generally small-scale herbaceous to shrubby wetlands, distinctive and different from the surrounding matrix forest vegetation. They are typically on flat to gentle slopes or in shallow depressions, predominantly on mafic or calcareous substrates.


Vernal Pools: Vernal pools are wetlands with a seasonal cycle of flooding and drying. Some vernal pools flood in the spring with water from melting snow, rain or high groundwater and then typically dry by summer’s end. Other pools follow a similar pattern, but fill with rain in autumn, hold water all winter and spring, and then dry out by late summer. The annual drying cycle of vernal pools makes them different from other wetlands and plays a key role in determining which wildlife species uses which pools as habitat.


Some sunnier vernal pools may contain sphagnum moss, sedges, ferns and shrubs such as high-bush blueberry or buttonbush. Red maple and eastern hemlock commonly grow on the edges of vernal pools, although pools may be found in many different forest types. Dry vernal pools can sometimes be identified by the presence of dark, matted leaves within a depression in the ground.