Category Archives: Wild flowers of Manitoba

No Nature

 

 

Dandelion: friend or foe?

On the last day of our trip, listening to CBC radio I heard about a scandal in Regina. Apparently they have a local bylaw there that if the “lawn” on your yard is more than 15 cm high it must be cut down. What a draconian rule! If you don’t do it the weed inspector will come down and do it for you and send you the bill.  No wild flowers permitted in Regina.

It reminds me of the war that most of us who reside in towns have waged on dandelions.  Such beautiful little yellow flowers. Some say the problem with dandelions is that they take over. They invade the lawn. That is true. Nature hates  monoculture. If we didn’t insist on creating monocultures on our property,  dandelions would have no place to invade. People forget that in nature there are seldom vast fields of yellow dandelions. Dandelions enter where nature has been destroyed. People in towns don’t want nature. So they get dandelions and want to use various horrid chemicals  to defeat them.

Some town folks even think golf courses are nature at her finest! Those wide fairways where golf superintendents apply vats of carcinogenic substances to kill the weeds are what they think is nature. They actually consider that nature. Just goes to show how far they are removed from nature, they have forgotten what nature is like. The only difference between a wild flower and a weed is a public relations firm.

On the way home from British Columbia I saw another example of our war on nature. This was actually a big example. Just after we crossed the Alberta/B.C. border we lost nature.  After we left Banff National Park we saw no nature until we arrived in Steinbach other than rain clouds. That was about 1,000 km.! Not one single animal other than an occasional cow. I don’t think cows were native to North America. The prairies that we took the better part of 2 days to travel through used to be grasslands.  Less than 1% of the tall grass prairie remains. Less than 30% of the remaining grasslands are gone too. Actually, to me it looks like more than that has disappeared. We saw none other than in occasional sloughs or river banks. The grasslands seemed to have vanished.

The first European explorers were stunned when they encountered what they saw as an ocean of grass. They had never seen anything like it. After all, the grasslands of Europe were all but gone before they arrived. Most of that grassland is gone.

We have destroyed so much of nature in the holy names of progress.

I have also been told that the wildlife in North America, before contact with Europeans,  was even more abundant than Africa. To me having been to Africa and having seen their depleted wildlife that makes ours pale into insignificance , I find that hard to believe. It is an awful desecration.

For two days,  we saw virtually none. That is a pity. As the Red Rose Tea commercial used to say, “a dreadful pity.”

I even like dandelions when they have gone to seed. I think there is a beauty in old age.

Manitoba’s Cactuses

 

 

In June 2016 I went on one of my most spectacular botany trips ever. That is saying a lot since I have on some outstanding trips. This was truly one of the best.

Normally I am a bog guy. I love bogs. I love the orchids and other plants that inhabit our wetlands. Most of my flower hunting has been in these wetlands.  Today I felt a bit like a faithless lover because I wandered a near desert in search of cacti. I have come to love cacti as much as orchids. Both are pretty close to divine.

 

I love deserts. I just never thought I would experience one in Manitoba. Actually, I did not experience one that day. It is not really a desert but it is as close as we get in Manitoba. Spruce Woods gets about twice the amount that is the limit for what is considered a desert. The annual moisture received there is 300-500 millimetres per year-nearly twice the amount received in a true desert region. This rainfall enables plants to colonize the sand dunes, hiding most of the sand. In fact as I walked along the trail I was struck by the great variety of vegetation. For a plant guy like me that was fantastic.

 

Of the original 6,500 square kilometres of delta sand, only four square kilometres remain open today. The balance is now covered with vegetation that is gradually covering the sands. Most of the sands are now covered with a rich variety of plants and wildlife. The Spirit Sands had their origin more than 15,000 years ago when the ancestral Assiniboine River, was much larger than it is today and it created a huge delta as it carried glacial meltwaters into ancient Lake Agassiz.

The origins of the Spruce Woods require one to consider the massive continental ice sheets that covered Manitoba and much of the northern part of North America.  About 20,000 years ago, all of Manitoba was covered by an enormous ice sheet that in many places was up to 2 km. deep.  There was an awful lot of water locked up in that  ice.

When that fantastic ice sheet started to melt, a wide melt stream flowed into the recently created Lake Agassiz.  It was the largest lake the world has ever seen! As the water flowed in it dropped silt, sand, and gravel into many parts of Manitoba including a pathway that was centred roughly on what is now the Assinboine River.  This created a huge river valley.

The sand deposits thus created were vast and deep. In places they were up to 200 feet deep and covered approximately 6,500 square km. These deposits spread out in a fan shape that reached as far as Portage la Prairie. Winds created heaps of sand that we call dunes. Large dunes were built up in this area. Those dunes are still active today.

When the great continental ice sheets finally melted away, about 12,000 years ago, the Assinboine River was a mighty river, about 1.5 km wide. The modern descendant is a puny shadow of that.  The river drained into huge Lake Agassiz just south of present day Brandon Manitoba. As the glacier continued to retreat northwards Lake Agassiz drained south—opposite of today. The massive ice sheets blocked northward flow. This south flow of the river exposed massive sand from the river delta.

 

To the aboriginal people the Spirit Sands were a spiritual place close to the Great Spirit or Kiche Manitou. The present name—Spirit Sands acknowledges the religious importance of the dunes to indigenous people.

Today Spirit Sands is a fragile sand dune about 4 km2.  The rest of what is left is covered with vegetation. The dunes are moved along the prevailing northwesterly winds and like so many dunes, cover anything that stands in their way.

 

Cactuses or cacti  are magnificent. I have spent  a few winters now in Arizona looking at cacti and have come to love them nearly as much as orchids, as heretical as that might sound.  Our Manitoba cacti are small low plants but the flowers are extraordinary and can hold their heads up high to any Arizona cacti.  And they love sandy conditions.

Many people are surprised to learn that cacti can be found in Canada. After all, are cacti not a plant of the southwestern deserts? Yes and no. Certainly they can be found in the southwest of the US and are in fact famous for that. Yet they can survive in the north as well.

There are actually 4 species of cacti native to Canada. These are Escobaria vivipara, Opuntia fragilis, O. polyacanthaand O. humifusa. None of these species are found farther north than their locations in Canada.

There is another species of cactus in Manitoba that I have not seen yet. That is prickly pear and it can be found from BC to Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba. There are as well a few sites in northwestern Ontario. I have seen this cactus in Manitoba but not when it was in bloom. A nature group of which I am a part, Native Orchid Conservation Inc. went to see it but I had to miss that field trip. Sometimes life sucks.  Next year for sure!

Mother Nature Abhors Average

 

 

 

This has been a strange year. In many respects, but certainly from the perspective of a flower child like me.  Any person, like me, who spends an inordinate amount of time pursuing truth and beauty in places of torture—i.e. bogs infested with mosquitos, horseflies, black flies, hornets and worse—has had to deal with fact that this year was not an average year.

The wild flower year started off in spring and early summer with bitter cold. No self-respecting flowers wanted to appear. Can you blame them? That was followed by hot. Again it was so hot that no sane flower would stick its lovely head out. Most flowers were late in making an appearance. To make things even worse, it was dry. In Manitoba until the last couple of days, it was the driest year since records were started to be kept about 150 years ago.  Recently we have been plagued with torrential downpours that point to a deluge. How can wild flowers survive that? Did they?

I went in search of an answer. I wanted to see Rose Pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) and Grass Pink orchid (Calopogon tuberosus). Both of these gorgeous orchids usually appear at the same time. It was late in the summer for both but I thought in this untypical year my chances of finding them were good.

I know one very reliable site for Rose Pogonia a very rare orchid. There were none to be found. Not one. Even though we had massive rains in much of Manitoba recently there was very little water in the fen. That was a dreadful pity. As a result I show you 2 photos from earlier years.

 

After that I drove to the Brokenhead Wetland Interpretative trail near Gull Lake Manitoba. This is the best place for wild orchids in southern Manitoba and one of the best in Canada. It was incredibly hot and humid so I did not want to wear my elaborate and stifling  bog gear. So I went minimalist thinking even mosquitos would hunker down on such a day.  And I was right. Then miraculously, I found them. Diligence paid off.  Most specimens of Grass Pink orchid were spent. There was one fine pair of flowers deep in the fen where I am not supposed to go. That is why we have a boardwalk to keep us pedestrians off. It took supreme moral fibre for me to stay on the boardwalk because I could not photograph  it from there.

A little farther I was amply rewarded for my righteousness. A wonderful specimen right beside the boardwalk. Life was worth living again.

But I have not learned much about the year except the important lesson that Mother Nature abhors average. There is no such thing as  “an average year” in nature. It  just never  happens. Thank goodness.

 

What is an Orchid?

 

I am often asked what is an orchid? The fact is that orchids vary tremendously.  Some are little green jobs like this:

 

On seeing this tiny little flower, entirely green, who would ever think it is an orchid? But it is!  It is called Green adders-mouth orchid (Malaxis unifolia). There are a number of orchids that are so plain we call them “little green jobs” as birders sometimes refer to plain birds as “little brown jobs.”

The other day I made a trip through my favorite place in Manitoba for orchids—the Brokenhead Wetlands Ecological Reserve. I plan on blogging about it. That day we found some tiny little green jobs, but we also found the spectacular Dragon’s-mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa).

 

What do these two orchids have in common? Well you need a magnifying glass (or loupe) to tell.

An orchid is a flower that has 3 sepals (part of the outside ring of modified leaves) and 3 petals (part of inside ring of modified leaves). As well 1 of the petals is usually modified to form a lip or labellum. That lip is famous on some orchids like the Lady’s-slippers.

 

This is the Showy Lady’s-slipper with lip that here looks like a pouch or lady’s slipper.

The lip usually stands out as looking like a landing pad for insect pollinators.  This is obvious on the Dragon’s mouth, on the Green adders-mouth not so much.

This is not an orchid! It is the famous wood lily and clearly shows the separate sexual parts –stamens and stigma.

Unlike most flowers that have separate sexual parts, like the above wood lily, in orchids  stamens in the case of male organs and stigma in the case of female organs  are are fused together into a column that makes it all but impossible to tell those organs apart. As well all orchids have only one seed leaf.

There are about 25,000 species of orchids world-wide. In many we have 37 species from the far south to the far north of Manitoba.

 

Coral-roots

 

These are not Manitoba’s most beautiful orchids. But they are among the most interesting.

Manitoba has 37 different species of orchids. They vary greatly from the small and mundane to the large and glorious.  Perhaps none though are stranger than those within the genus Corallorhiza(Coral-roots). We have only 3 of the genus in Manitoba. The name is derived from the Greek word korallionwhich means “coral” and rhizawhich means root.  This refers to the fact that these orchids spend most of their life underground away from the light. They live among the roots of trees and other plants in the forest. The ones in Manitoba rarely live in wetlands, though one comes pretty close.

Coral-roots are mycoheterotrophs meaning that they are not autotrophs, or primary producers, but rather heterotrophs, or secondary producers who cannot produce their own food like the green plants, but rather derive energy from consuming plant and animal tissue. Specifically, they derive their nutrition from nearby mycorrhizal fungiunder the ground who in turn get the nutrition from nearby roots of trees. Their underground life-style does not allow them to produce their own food from sunlight like green plants. Instead they take advantage of a beneficial mutualistic relationship with the neighbouring trees and the mycorrhizal fungi in the ground between them and on them. Since the orchids host the same mycorrhizal fungus that are found in the roots of the adjacent trees the coral-roots are able to use the fungi as a conduit to share the sugars produced by the trees. Trees have green leaves so they are able to produce food, unlike the coral-roots that are unable to produce food because they lack the green chlorophyll.

This is a colony of spotted-coral orchids.

The spotted coral-roots are my favourite. Notice how they  entirely lack green. That is why they are unable to produce food.

Notice how the size of these are reflected by the size of the mosquitos. They are about the same size

The striped coral-root orchids are very distinctive with their prominent dark red stripes.

 

These are coral-roots but they have some green and thus are able to produce some food and are likely not entirely dependent on the associated mycorrhizal fungus under the ground for nutrition.

All I can say for sure is that orchids are fascinating.

The Wild Orchid of Buffalo Point

 

When I was starting out in the world of wild orchids I had heard about an orchid that could be found only in one place in Manitoba—Buffalo Point.  And I had a cottage there. What luck!  But it took me a few years to find it. I even enlisted the help of my sons. I had to bribe them of course. I promised them a magnificent reward of $5 to the son who found them. But all to no avail. They never found them. Neither did I. At least I never found them until I got help. Friends gave me instructions on where they had been found. What a treat when I finally found them.

This year after my second trip to the Tall Grass Prairie When we got back to Buffalo Point I could not wait to see the Small Purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes). Conditions were absolutely ideal for photography. There was no harsh sun, no wind, and not bugs! And I was ready with my new tripod quick release that did not creep! Most of the flowers were in very good condition. One  even had a spider on it waiting for prey. I had not even noticed it at first.

Of special note and excitement one specimen was white and purple! Imagine that a purple-fringed orchid that is mainly white. wonders never cease in the world of wild flowers.  I just kept shooting images. I think I got my very best images of this orchid ever! I was a happy guy.

Walking group walks Tall Grass Prairie

 

Chris and I drove to Tall Grass Prairie to meet our senior’s walking group. We would be walking in “my territory” and I could not miss this. On the way in we saw  a gray wolf standing majestically right beside the road. This was a very exciting find.

We met the group at the Loewen interpretive Center then drove out to the Agassiz Trail where we went for a walk and I acted as the interpreter since I knew the place better than most or all of our walkers. We saw many wild flowers including the following: Western Wood Lily, Bergamot, Harebell, Black-eyed Susan, Western prairie fringed orchid in a spent condition, Common milkweed, Swamp milkweed, Camas, Thistle, Meadow Blazing Star, Purple Prairie Clover, and Culver’s root(at the interpretive Centre wild flower garden).

 

Culver’s-root (Veronicastrum virginicum)is a a provincially threatened plant found in Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and in 36 American states. It has been declared “a threatened speices under the Endangered Species Act of Manitoba.This plant reaches its northwestern limit in southern Manitoba near the Minnesota border. According to the Manitoba Conservation Data Centre considers Culver’s-root to be very rare in Manitoba (S1). In Manitoba, much of Culver’s-root habitat has been lost or fragmented by conversion to agriculture. Current threats include road allowance maintenance such as mowing and herbicide spraying, grazing by deer and picking or digging. Culver’s-root was listed as threatened in 2001 by regulation under Manitoba’s Endangered Species Act. To survive its habitat much be protected. That means farmers must to some extent back off. I think this would be well worth it.

I was particularly pleased to find a Fritillary butterfly enjoying the nectar from a Meadow Blazing star while I enjoyed the beauty of the two together.

 

 

More missed opportunities

Blue Flag Iris–always beautiful.

Wild Rose

 

 

Cut-leaved anemone

 

 

Pincushion Cactus

 

The flowers I most hated not to see were Manitoba’s cactus.  Many people don’t realize we have cactuses in Manitoba and in my opinion they are every bit as beautiful as those in Arizona, just smaller and less common. They are of course very rare here. In fact one has to ask, “Why here?”

Manitoba’s cactuses are  amazingly resilient plants. Obviously built of sturdy stuff. They must be to survive here. Just like the people.

 

 

 

Fortunately it has not sunk in yet how many others I missed. I guess it is time to move on.

Missed Opportunities

 

Showy Ladies’-slipper (Platanthera reginae)

I paid a heavy price for my recent trip to Iceland. I was gone from Manitoba for the last 2 weeks of June, probably  the best time for Manitoba wild flowers. As a result I missed some wonderful flowers so I will show some shots from my archives.

Grass Pink Orchid  (Calopogon tuberosus)

 

 

Rose Pogonia (Polonia ophioglossoides)

These are some of my favourite Manitoba Orchids. What a pity.

Woodridge Bog

 

After spending a couple of hours here it was time to leave. Actually I did not give it enough time, but today, as I said, I could not mosey along as I like to do. I drove out to the Woodridge Bog. Again conditions were windy and sunny–far from ideal. But you gotta dance with the girl you brung.

 

I was soon rewarded with one of my favorite flowers–Low Prairie Rose. That is one of my favourite Manitoba wild flowers. I love that flower!  It was very dry so I sprinkled a little water on some of the blossoms. I find a little rain (either natural or store bought) helps bring out the colours of this gentle gem of a flower. I do not consider that cheating. Do you?

Other flowers I saw here included Spreading Dogbane, Harebell, Showy Lady’s-slippers and Small round-leaved orchid but sadly past their prime.

Small round-leaved orchid

 

Showy Lady’s-slipper

The Showy Lady’s-slipper is  perhaps one of Manitoba’s most spectacular orchids but most of them were mostly spent. I found a few worth photographing.

Showy Lady’s-slipper

This is the price I paid for going to Iceland. It was a high price. I did find some gorgeous clumps and made a mental note to return next year, but you know mental notes are worth the paper they are not written on. I did later find one nice showy as a result of diligence and persistence. Righteous living was rewarded. For once!