GO & DO: Eshqua Bog

The rare and unusaul yellow lady's slipper

June is time to see rare flowers in Hartland VT

This time of year is magical at Eshqua Bog, a 41 acre nature preserve with a bog and a two acre fen dating from the post-glacial ice age 10,000 years ago.  What makes it magical is that for a few weeks in mid-June the yellow and showy Lady Slipper plants bloom abundantly in this little corner of our world. The northern bog orchids and green orchid bloom here as well, all flowers that you may have never seen, even if you have lived n this area for years.

Located in Hartland less than 2.5 miles from the center of town, this hidden preserve is one of the few places in Vermont, even New England, where you can see many rare wildflowers up close in their pristine natural environment . The preserve is jointly owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and The New England Wild Flower Society.   A trail and boardwalk meander through the preserve, but don't consider this a hike for fitness or a good place to take the dog for a walk (they are strictly forbidden).  You'll wander through the family-friendly mile of Eshqua Bog's trails slowly in search of unusual wildflowers, and maybe even double back to see what you've missed.  Recently a 460-foot handicap accessible boardwalk was added to the trail, making it easier for more people to come and enjoy this beautiful place. 

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Eshqua Bog appears very nondescript as you park along the narrow Garvin Hill Road and enter the preserve via a well worn path.  The minimal signage does not attest to the importance of this small parcel of land.  It is the scene of a treasure hunt for naturalists that changes as the summer unfolds.  While for us locals it is a little known preserve, for wildflower lovers throughout New England it is an important destination, especially in June,

You may wonder why this wet and muddy area tucked away in the woods on a back road is so special and why so many rare flowers bloom here.  Like many bogs and fens in Vermont and New England, the soggy terrain was created 10,000 years ago as a pond left behind as the Ice Age glaciers receded.  Eshqua Bog, despite its name, is actually a fen, a richer and more lush environment than a bog.  It is what ecologists call a peatland, where there is little or no outflow or inflow of calcium rich ground water. This creates a buildup of partially decomposed plant matter that is not found in well drained forests and forms what is called peat.  The combination of stagnant water, highly acidic conditions and peat make an environment that is suited for unusual and almost prehistoric looking plants such as the carnivorous Northern Pitcher Plant.

The very unusual pitcher plant looks like it is from a prehistoric world

As I wandered along the trail I happened to meet a woman photographing something in the thick of the bog.  Striking up a conversation, I found out she had come across the "Holy Grail" for those in search of New England's wild orchids: the Yellow Lady's Slipper.  This seldom seen orchid blooms mid May to early June, depending on the weather conditions, and for only about a week.  Tucked away among the ferns it would be easy to walk right past its delicate yellow flower.  Today it is the last remaining one in full bloom as far as we can see.

Bring your camera to capture a shot of this stunning flower

While rare and beautiful, this is just the opening act.  Throughout June the larger pink Showy Lady's Slipper Orchid will come into full flower. Eshqua Bog is well known in the naturalist world for being one of the best places in the area to view this fleeting bloom.  The pink orchids are abundant in the bog and grow close to the boardwalk, offering a great view of this special harbinger of summer.  Emily and others like her will flock to the bog, cameras in hand, to get a glimpse and a photo of these stunning unusual flowers.

The beautiful pink lady's slipper

Later in June, the delicate White Bog Orchid comes into bloom, and while the flowery rare orchid show then ends for the year, other wildflowers and scores of dragon and damselflies will enchant you with their beauty.  You'll soon realize that a bog is not just a wet muddy place but a treasure trove of nature's unusual and fleeting beauty.

In the coming weeks during June and after, take a trip here and bring your camera.  Don’t come if you ant a brisk walk or an invigorating hike – this is a place where you will want to walk slowly and savor the beauty of nature, surrounded by unusual plants and flitting dragonflies.  While not a long walk, plan on spending a while in this tranquil environment and be surprised by the simple beauty of these rare summer wildflowers.

Don’t come if you ant a brisk walk or an invigorating hike – this is a place where you will want to walk slowly and savor the beauty of nature, surrounded by unusual plants and flitting dragonflies

Directions:Eshqua Bog Natural Area is located in Hartland. Traveling east on Route 4 from Woodstock village, take a right onto Hartland Hill Road. Travel about one mile until you reach a fork. Take a right onto Garvin Hill Road. Travel about one mile and look for the Nature Conservancy sign on the right. There is a small pullover on the right for parking.  Please remember not to bring Fido.


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