Prairie Fen

Also at MacCready Reserve is a prairie fen restoration project. Before I visited the reserve, I had never heard of a prairie fen. That’s pretty sad, because prairie fens are awesome.  Lots of people get excited about them because of their insect diversity, but I was more excited about the plants!

Looking out over the fen

Looking out over the fen with invasive buckthorn visible to the right

First of all, what exactly is a fen?  It’s like a bog in that it’s a pretty soggy freshwater area, but that’s about where the similarity ends.  Bogs get their water straight from rain and tend to be acidic.  Fens get their water through the ground and tend to be alkaline.  This creates HUGE differences in terms of what lives there.

Fen edge

Restored edge of prairie fen. It doesn't look that wet, but three more steps and I would have been knee deep in black mud.

Like the oak savanna also being restored at MacCready Reserve, the fen used to be absolutely covered in invasive buckthorn.  They’ve restored parts of the fen we visited, but areas overrun with buckthorn are still everywhere.  The difference between restored and invaded areas is dramatic.  The restored areas have much higher plant diversity and many more native species, though invasives like purple loosestrife can still be found.

purple loosestrife

Loosestrife- I think it's Lythrum salicaria

Praire fen are globally very rare, but still quite common in the midwest.  Unfortunately, because of human activity, fen won’t survive without human intervention.  You can read more about identifying and restoring fens at this great MSU website.