Cedar Bog Nature Preserve Urbana, Ohio

It was all about the Showy Lady’s Slippers. I read about their early June blooming at Cedar Bog Nature Preserve and had a sense of urgency, as we were in the third week of June. They were also the lure that enticed two of our daughters to sign on for this last minute road trip.

Cedar Bog is not a bog but rather a fen dominated landscape of 450 acres. Bogs are wetlands that hold water from an external source, such as rain, that drain poorly and are stagnant. Fens are wetlands where the water arises from springs in gravel laden soils and feature running water. The ground water from the springs is a relatively constant 45-50 degrees.

The trailhead starts at the Education Center overlooking a wet meadow.

The trail is a 1.1 mile boardwalk that weaves through varied habitats. For the safety of the visitors and the rare plants present, everyone, including the photographer, must stay on the boardwalk.

The initial boardwalk segment traverses the meadow through an alley of flowering and fruiting native plants:

Elderberry – these were just getting ready to bloom.

Possumhaw Viburnum – these berries will turn a soft blue over summer.

Virginia Creeper – these berries will also turn blue. Note the moth eggs on the underside of one of the leaves.

Dogwood – leaves arising opposite of each other on the stems, with veins that form a shape like a convex lens, tells me this is a dogwood. The flat flower/fruiting structure (cyme) suggests that it is Silky Dogwood. If so, its berries will also turn blue.

The plant below has similar leaf features (opposite positioning, with veins forming a convex lens shape) but its flowering/fruiting structure is more spherical. This appears to be Gray Dogwood, which likes moist environments. Its berries will turn a bright white later this season. Note the Daddy Long Legger spider amongst the fruit.

Then the trail entered a White Cedar wood. The name is somewhat incorrect in that it is not a cedar. It was named such because it resembled the Redcedar. It is actually a member of the Arborvitae family with the genus name Thuja. Redcedars are from the genus Juniperus. True Cedars are from the genus Cedrix. Such is the confusion between the common and scientific names for plants. White Cedars are somewhat rare in Ohio, occurring in isolated habitats, and are remnants of when glaciers covered two thirds of the state during the last ice age, which ended 14,000 years ago. They are more common in the colder climates of Canada and the upper most U.S.

Their needles are soft and there branchlets are flat.

For the most part the woods were dappled shade and what we noted immediately was the abundance of Skunk Cabbage bordering the boardwalk. They are the large leafed plants in the photo below.

Here a somewhat rare Jack in the Pulpit wildflower leaf is nestled in amongst them.

Skunk Cabbage is the first wildflower to bloom in the eastern U.S. and this photo was taken in mid-February at nearby Gallagher Fen Nature Preserve. Links to previous Footpaths posts about our search for Skunk Cabbage are at the end of the article.

We looked hard for the fruiting structure of the plant but had trouble in the low light of the wood. Eventually we found one. It is easy to see why we may have overlooked others. It is the near black, asphalt appearing structure lying on the wet soil at the base of this plant.

And then it happened as we rounded a turn on the boardwalk and entered our first fen meadow. There they were, as noted in the title photo and below – Showy Lady’s Slippers. They were much more robust than I had imagined them, measuring 20 to 30 inches in height, with flowers just slightly smaller than badminton birdies. They are one of our native orchids.

The first of these were 15 feet or so from the boardwalk and the photographer had to use a telephoto lens.

Later we came upon some closer to the boardwalk which allowed for better visualization.

But contrary to my opening sentence, this place is not just all about the Showy Lady’s Slippers. The unique fen habitat is home to many interesting plants and organisms. In fact, the preserve website states that “more than forty endangered, threatened, and rare plants and animals can be found at Cedar Bog”.

The fen hosts sedge meadows – wet prairies with over 70 species of sedges and numerous unusual wildflowers. Ground water from the springs trickle through these openings on its way to nearby streams.

On first glance sedges look like grass but there are structural differences. The leaf stems of sedges are triangular while those of grasses are round. The mnemonic for that is, “sedges have edges and grasses are round”. Sedges thrive in wetlands and they have unusual seed heads.

Other interesting plants that were seen in the fen meadows from the boardwalk included the Grass Pink Orchid which appears to be just starting its blooming season. Those that we saw were some distance away from the boardwalk, but some nearby should be blooming soon. The flowers are 1-1/2 to 2 inches across.

Another striking flower that was new to us was the Fen Indian Plantain. I was awestruck by the porcelain appearance of its flower head with the coloration of its stem.

In some of the sunnier areas was the Shrubby Cinquefoil, a cousin to the garden plant, potentilla.

The Horned Bladderwort is a carnivorous plant. Like many carvniverous plants it is relatively leafless and does not carry on photosynthesis, but instead gets its nutrition by sucking small organisms into bladders at its base, and digesting them.

Another carnivorous plant seen in the moist fen meadow was Sundew. Glands on the leaf secrete a sticky substance that traps insects, and then enzymes are excreted to break down the prey into nutrients that can be absorbed on the leaf surface. These plants measured a little over an inch in size.

A future performer in the fen meadow is Prairie Dock – another plant noted for its big leaves. It will be blooming yellow later this summer.

An interesting finding in the fen was the “browse line” noted on the White Cedar trees that bordered the meadows. Below five feet the trees were bare due to the wintertime browsing of deer, when other food sources are rare.

As the boardwalk wound its way, you would enter other woods that were ever so slightly above the level of the fen. Here the trees were Sycamores, Cottonwoods, Silver Maples and Red Maples. These areas hosted other interesting plants:

Bittersweet Nightshade – a cousin of the tomato, this plant is considered poisonous but will not kill you. The name is said to come from the fact that plant parts will taste bitter when first bitten and then have a sweet aftertaste. We did not do a taste test.

Poison Sumac – Like its cousin poison ivy, its tissues contain urushiol that can trigger a skin rash. Our home region of Northern Kentucky is free of Poison Sumac.

False Solomon’s Seal – the berries on this plant will turn bright red later this summer.

Early Meadow Rue – the male and female flowers occurs on separate plants. The specimen shown below is a male, with the protruding light yellow stamens. These flowers are actually without petals. The white structures are the sepals that had encased the developing flower bud. The female flower is similar but with purplish pistils hanging down.

The last plant that we will feature is the shrub Ninebark. They were displaying their red seed cases. It is being increasingly used in landscaping and helps numerous native insects. The name refers to the layers of colored bark displayed in mature specimens.

In the animal world, one of my favorite sightings was this Clymene Haploa Moth. Its white coloration and triangular shape made it stand out in the shade of the woods. One author stated, ” that it was appropriate that it looks like a Star Trek badge because it boldly goes everywhere, all day and night.” They favor wetlands and their larvae feed on Cattails and Joe-Pye Weed.

Another fun new specimen to us was this Broad-headed Skink which is at the most northern aspect of its range. This red face tells us that it is a male. This one is probably a juvenile as the adults can be up to 13 inches.

This tiny spider web along the edge of the boardwalk intrigued us. The circular center was about the size of a pencil eraser and the spider was tucked into that area.

With so much water around it was no surprise that we would see a great variety of damsel flies.

In our travels in wetlands it is not uncommon to see snails, but it is not often that we see them so active. The one on the right was quickly moving across this damp log.

Lastly this one gave us a laugh. We had just read this sign (see message on the right),

when this lady ever so stealthily, decided to check us out. It was like she was an animatronic at Disney World.

In summary, Cedar Bog is an outstanding experience and, indeed, is so much more than just the Showy Lady’s Slippers. The fen ecosystem is unique and exposed us to so many “first time” species for us. The floral display is a parade that starts with Skunk Cabbage in February and March, and ends with Joe-Pye Weed and Ironweed in the fall, but also includes White Trillium, Marsh Marigold, and Jack in the Pulpit in the spring. The Grass Pink Orchid should be the next show stopper. In August the Prairie Dock that we saw should be blooming. I’m sure that there are many more as well. In addition to the boardwalk with educational signage, there is an outstanding staffed Education Center. If you have never been to a fen habitat before I would encourage you to put Cedar Bog Nature Preserve on your list. And if you can not do it this summer, put it on your calendar for early June next year, when the Showy Lady’s Slippers will be center stage once again. Or come in mid-February to see the Skunk Cabbage blooming.

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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. Spider web photos by Caroline Burns Grizzle.


Location – 980 Woodburn Road, Urbana, OH 43078

Parking – large paved lot.

Entry Fee – $5 for adults, $4 for students 6-17 years of age, and 5 and under are free.

Facilities – Seasonal in Nature Center which is open 10 AM – 4 PM, Wednesdays through Sunday, during February thru November.

Trail Conditions – boardwalk with no stairs. The boardwalk is open daylight hours seven days a week but closes with severe weather, especially high winds. Signs note that the boardwalk can be slippery when wet.

Print Map Link – copy and paste our map above. If you go during nature center hours maps are available there or you can photograph a map sign.

Benches – many noted.

Picnic Tables – at the Nature Center.

Kids – this is a great facility for kids and we saw many on this visit

Dogs – Prohibited.

Suggested Paired Hikes – Gallagher Fen Nature Preserve is 13 miles away and is also excellent. Due to elevation variation it has a different presentation of a fen.





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