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Midwest Wilderness Connections Eco-brief: Fen Wetlands

Phlox maculata blooming across a fen wetland in IowaFen wetlands of the Upper Midwest occur in areas where cold groundwater spills out onto the earth. The flow of water may seep out of a hillside, such a stream terrace. In other cases the groundwater is pushed to the earth's surface under high pressure. For example groundwater that's trapped in an underground reservoir can be shot up where a crack in bedrock develops above the reservoir. These types of fens are called artesian fens. Artesian fens have more stable water outputs and in some cases the water will shoot up out of the ground. Seepage fens, such as the pictured fen, experience more fluctuation in water output. The groundwater in both types of fen discharge very cold water that slows down decomposition of plant matter, which can build a floating layer of plant material. Walking on these fens is like walking on a water bed.

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