The name “Ponemah” refers to the “land of the hereafter” from Longfellow’s “Hiawatha.” The 75-acre Ponemah Bog Wildlife Sanctuary came under the protection of the Audubon Society of New Hampshire in 1979 through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Homer McMurray and local friends of the Sanctuary.
Ponemah Bog Wildlife Sanctuary features a three-acre pond surrounded by a floating sphagnum mat and encircled by upland oak-pine woods. This bog resulted from the last receding glacier, which left a kettle hole pond in the Souhegan River outwash plain. Changes over the last 12,000 years have been recorded by the bog itself, which has preserved, in its layers of peat, pollen blown in from the surrounding woods. The moss mat has advanced over the last 6000 years to gradually fill in the pond with plant remains. The food web is rather simple in bogs: the acid peat locks up most of the nutrients, offering little to support grazing animals and their predators.
The bog is home to both hardy northern plants, such as spruce, and southern species, such as pitcher plants and sundew. Ponemah hosts a combination of conifers, including white pine, pitch pine, black spruce, and tamarack, all relics of more southern or northern forests. Today, Ponemah Bog is a living museum, a relict habitat for plants far from home and an outdoor classroom for wetland botany and ecology.
The Bog Trail is mostly narrow boardwalk with spur trails to four viewing platforms, where more information about the bog is available. Entering from the southeast corner of the parking lot, the dry upland forest here is reminiscent of more southern forests of pitch pine and assorted oaks. These woods are home to the Whip-poor-will, Eastern Towhee, and White breasted Nuthatch. Turn right at the fork to the observation deck and a vista of the entire bog.
The three-acre pond is all that remains of the ancient 100-acre lake. The bog mat has been filling the pond with plant remains for at least 6,000 years. The trail to the left takes you past a small marsh that is becoming a swamp. In May, brilliant magenta rhodora flowers in this marsh.
The boardwalk marks the shore of an ancient lake. Along the boardwalk is the varying foliage of leatherleaf, bog laurel, rhodora, and their kin in the heath family. The thick leaves help reduce water loss for these plants, which depend upon rainwater for moisture, as bog water is too acidic. Bog water is normally acid (pH 4.0-4.5) because it steeps in very slowly decaying peat.
At the intersection, turn left and meet the builder of bogs: sphagnum moss. Native American mothers used it to diaper their babies. The two trenches stretching north and west from this point date from the 1940s, when peat moss was commercially removed. The bog is dominated by sphagnum moss and other specialized plants rooted directly in the moss. Also, notice the soft bog cotton’s flowering spikes that blow in the wind in the summer On approaching Sundew View, get down on hands and knees to examine the tiny sundews.
Sticky hairs on the sundew’s leaf surface trap insects. Pitcher plants are also here. Flies attracted to the pitcher’s colorful lip slip on downward-pointing hairs into the rainwater filled trap. Digestive juices released into the water transform the insect dinner into a dose of nitrogen for the plant that the bog cannot provide. The sundew, pitcher plant, and horned bladderworts are carnivorous plants common in Ponemah Bog.
Continuing left is the Black Spruce Site and Gleason Platform, the largest platform. Behind you, there are many black spruce trees, which are distinguished by their short, dark needles. Water willow tips arching to the water provide new footholds for sphagnum moss at the pond margin. Tiny cranberries grow at the edge of the water.
Next, the Tamarack Site focuses on the feathery tamarack, or larch. Our only native deciduous conifer, it has golden needles in autumn and fresh green foliage in spring. Ponemah Bog hosts the soft five-needle white pine, the bristly three-needled pitch pine, the dark short-needled black spruce, and the tamarack. Following the boardwalk out to the left, notice the waves of herbs, low shrubs such as bog rosemary, the taller rhodora and winterberry, and, finally, the spruces that march slowly behind as succession continues to fill the bog. Stop a moment and notice the bog rosemary, sheep laurel, pale laurel, cranberry, and blueberry. Ponemah Bog offers sanctuary to many things, including the human spirit.