Friday, April 7, 2017

The Bruce Peninsula Part VI: An Alvar Wonderland

 *Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV* *Part V* *Part VI* *Part VII*

One of the Bruce peninsula's most remarkable and noteworthy of natural treasures is its abundance of a unique habitat known as an alvar. I've mentioned the term and habitat type a number of times during this series but now it's time to dive head first into this globally rare occurrence and dedicate some much deserved attention to its botanical wonders.

Alvar pavement complex on the northern Bruce peninsula

As mentioned, alvars are a globally rare habitat and only occur in the Great Lakes of North America, and the Scandinavian/Baltic region of northwest Europe. It's a habitat characterized by flat, exposed limestone/dolostone bedrock with very little soil accumulation. Really, it looks like an immense parking lot with patches of accumulated soil, plants, mosses and lichens. The previous glacial epoch scoured this landscape clean of organic material and often left signs of its presence as long gashes, grooves, scrapes etc. in the bedrock. Ohio's Kelley's Island in Lake Erie is well known for this stunning geological feature. 

Ontario is the official alvar headquarters of North America with 85% of the continent's remaining habitat. The Great Lakes region's alvar can be organized into five general categories: pavement, grassland, savanna, shrubland, and shoreline. We've seen shoreline alvar previously at both Singing Sands and Halfway Log Dump; most of this post will deal with the pavement sub-type. It's taken nature literally thousands of years to reclaim the landscape and soil to accumulate enough to support plant life again.

And plant life has definitely returned! Alvars naturally result in a grassland-type ecosystem, and a unique one at that. The landscape is punished nearly year round by the elements and makes for a harsh place to live. The winters are bitterly cold and snow-filled; the summers bake the landscape to a dry crisp. This, along with the very shallow, if any soil accumulation does a great job of keeping trees at bay and the alvars open. Spring, however is the alvar's time to shine, at least botanically. The melted snows and seasonal rains fill the alvar's shallow depressions and fissures with water and creates a stunning rock garden of epic proportions. The botanical diversity is surprisingly impressive and even offers some evolved specialists that only call this limestone parking lot home as you'll come to see.

Large Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium pubescens)

One of the most obvious and conspicuous of wildflowers to colonize the alvars in the Bruce region is the large yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium pubescens). Back in Ohio this species is largely restricted to high-quality woodlands with rich, fertile soil but up here they are much more of a generalist and grow just about anywhere. The dry, shallow, gravelly soils of the roadsides and alvars seem to be their favorite haunts, though.

Rob inspecting an alvar fissure for the rare fern we were after

Walking out onto the Bruce's alvar pavement is like stepping onto another world. Some places are literally nothing more than pure limestone bedrock with the only life being tiny pockets of moss and lichen that can eek out a precarious existence. Large cracks and fissures aren't an uncommon sight and provide a small habitat niche for many plants, especially some of the area's rare ferns we were after.

Green spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes-ramosum)
Green spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes-ramosum)

If any theme keeps resurfacing during this series, it's the fact that the Bruce and adjacent areas seem to be a nexus for western disjunct species to thrive. Yet another example of this is the green spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes-ramosum) (also see: A. viride). Green spleenwort is an uncommon species in North America but mostly found in the Mountain West and scattered locations in the Great Lakes and Northeast. Our group managed to come across a handful of sites for it, with my favorite being this clump growing literally out of the rock within a crack in the alvar pavement.

Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)

For the few times we found the green spleenwort, we were tricked a dozen more by the common look-a-like maidenhair spleenwort (A. trichomanes). It would often grow right alongside its rarer kin and offered a great chance to see the distinguishing features: the best of which being green spleenwort's distinctly green rachis versus the maidenhair's black rachis.

Scarlet paintbrush out on the open alvar pavement

One of the alvar pavement's most distinguished of wildflower denizens is the unmistakable scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea). It occurs just about everywhere there's enough moisture and light on the Bruce and in the most pristine of areas can carpet the landscape with its brilliant color. 

Limestone Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum)

Another of the Bruce's more rare pteridophytes on my radar during our botanical foray was a big life species for me and with the help of Bob Curry, you'll remember him from my previous post on Inglis Falls and the Hooker's orchid, it quickly had a check next to its name on my list. In an isolated complex of alvar pavement was a small fissure that has housed a colony of the limestone oak fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum) for decades. If you come to the Bruce for the orchids, you should stay for the ferns! Both are in great supply on this tiny spit of the Niagara Escarpment.

Limestone Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum)
Limestone Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum)

It's never a bad thing to have such a trustworthy and consistent spot for such a rare plant, and I, for one was very thankful Bob was willing to share it. Limestone oak fern is a rarity throughout its limited range in the northern Midwest and western Great Lakes, and is at about its easternmost known locality on the northern tip of the Bruce peninsula. Its appearance is very similar to the rest of its oak fern ilk but for the glandular nature of its rachis and stipe. This gives the plant a silvery sheen at close inspection and is a bit sticky to the touch, too.

Spring makes the alvars come alive with wildflowers!

The alvars are snow and ice-covered all winter and dried to a crisp of little else but drought-tolerant grasses, sedges, mosses and lichens come summer. But that small window of opportunity in the spring makes them truly come alive! Late May into mid June allows for an explosion of wildflowers unlike little else I've seen. Our arrival was just a bit too late for the peak bloom of thousands upon thousands of the globally rare lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea) but the scenery was still spectacular.

Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)
Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

Earlier on in this series I gave a brief preview of this remarkable wildflower on the alvar shorelines of Halfway Log Dump and mentioned it was hardly the best place to see them. Hopefully the photos in this post prove I was right! You'd never know the yellow blossoms of this daisy was so rare or special if all you knew was its presence on the Bruce. Lakeside daisy is an alvar specialist and is only known to occur on alvar in select areas of the Great Lakes. It was isolated long ago during the series of glacial events and evolved into its own unique being to color the limestone pavement come late May.

Blue Flag Iris (Iris brevicaulis)

It's an interesting contrast to see pure bedrock covered in millennia of accumulated moss and lichen crust and then literally right next to it see a fissure full of a wetland species like blue flag iris (Iris brevicaulis). The Bruce's alvars go a long ways in showing that no one and nothing is a finer gardener or landscape artist than Mother Nature herself.

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)
Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)

I couldn't help but share one of my absolute favorite of wildflower finds during my time up north, even if its not an alvar species. After exploring a particularly awesome complex of alvar remnants, we came to a woodland stream that was flush with vegetation. All along its banks was a trillium I'd only had the pleasure of seeing once before in the nodding trillium (Trillium cernuum). It's a genuine species of the northern woods and is quickly disappearing from its southern range for reasons not fully known. It looks nearly identical to the more southern drooping trillium (T. flexipes) but for its anther's filament length. Nodding trillium's anthers hang well outside the whorl of petals on long filaments; drooping trillium's anthers are tucked back against the base of the ovary on very short, often unseen filaments.

Purple Cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea)

A surprise fern find while out on the alvars was a familiar face to this Ohio botanist but yet another great rarity for the Bruce. The purple cliffbrake (Pellaea atropurpurea) isn't all that uncommon in Ohio, where it's restricted to vertical limestone cliff faces, but to occur so far north is another testament to the Bruce's affinity for fern diversity. As mentioned, I've only ever seen this species growing in a vertical fashion so it was quite the shock to see it happy as could be in the full sun on the horizontal alvar pavement.

Alvar pavement landscape

Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)
Yellow and red never looked so swell together

A few more scenes of the Bruce's springtime wildflower wonder on the alvars never hurt anyone! I could spend a lot more time delving deeper into the alvar's flora. Hell, I could do an entire post on the dozens of exciting sedges that call it home, but I'll end things here and hope it's inspired you to experience this globally rare and exciting habitat for yourselves one day. I'd love to get back up there during the early summer months to experience the Bruce in a whole new way. I have one last post to share before I call this series done and I think I've saved the best for last! So check back soon and leave your thoughts and comments below. Thanks again for taking the time read and hopefully enjoy this incredible world!

- ALG -

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Bruce Peninsula Part V: Rare Ferns and an Elusive Orchid

 *Part I* *Part II* *Part III* *Part IV* *Part V* *Part VI* *Part VII*

The magical run continues as your blogger is back again for yet another post on the majestic spring time wonder of Ontario's Bruce peninsula! I hope no one is getting too burned out on the topic as we've gone past the halfway point with this fifth of seven posts. To be frank, I'm not sure how anyone could get bored or apathetic about the Bruce. I know the posts have been marathons but there's just an overwhelming amount to share and most everything is honestly too memorable, aesthetic, and/or interesting to not make the cut. So if you're still here and excited for more then I know just how to help out.

With that being said, I'd like to dedicate this next post to a couple sites on the southern end of the Bruce and the intriguing botanical rarities that occupy them. Not to mention the lovely landscapes and geology of them, too!

Inglis Falls outside the town of Owen Sound on the southern end of the Bruce peninsula

Inglis Falls. The scene above should be more enough to grab your attention and renew your interest in this incredible region of the Great Lakes if it was beginning to wane! Inglis Falls is the peninsula's largest, most attractive, and thus most visited waterfall. It's formed by the Sydenham River as it flows north and tumbles 60 feet over the limestone edge of the Niagara Escarpment. The falls will often slow to a trickle during the summer and fall months but the spring rains had it roaring and audible from the parking lot.

Northern White Cedars (Thuja occidentalis) around the rim of Inglis Falls

With the falls flowing over the natural rim of the Niagara Escarpment, much of its surrounding area is dry, rocky woodland and bluffs. Interestingly, all around the falls was a near monoculture of northern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) growing in the thin soils and often on/over the limestone rocks and boulders. Some were quite large and make you ponder just how old they are to have attained their dimensions in such a harsh habitat.

Looking north from the fall's rim towards the Georgian Bay

The Sydenham River continues its course north through an impressive labyrinth of riffles and limestone blocks below the falls. It's not much further before it empties into the Georgian Bay at the Owen Sound harbor.

Northern white cedar growing out from a limestone slump rock

Making your way down from the bluffs and rim of the Niagara Escarpment takes you past some interesting works of geological and botanical art. I found this eroded block of limestone to be especially worth a photo. Standing here in the present day it's hard to believe these fractured layers of dolomite were laid down 400+ million years ago at the bottom of a warm, shallow tropical sea. Almost equally hard to believe is the tenacity of the white cedars to grow literally out of the rock and form into twisted, gnarled specimens.

Northern Holly Fern (Polystichum lonchitis)

As pretty as Inglis Falls is, and it most certainly is that, I wasn't there to see the falls itself as much as what grows below it. More specifically the rare ferns that grow below it. One of those pteridophytes on my radar was the northern holly fern (Polystichum lonchitis). Related to the ubiquitous Christmas fern (P. acrostichoides), the northern holly fern is much more erect in growth but similar with its truly evergreen fronds. The veins of the pinnae conspicuously end in a sharp, bristly point and give the structure a rather holly-like appearance, hence its common name.

Northern Holly Fern (Polystichum lonchitis)
Northern Holly Fern (Polystichum lonchitis)

It's much more widespread and frequent out in the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest states but curiously persists in a very limited and local fashion here on the Bruce and nearby Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Other than that you're very hard pressed to see this fern east of the Rockies. It's exclusive to exposed dolomitic limestone in the region and Inglis Falls, not coincidentally abounds with it. A healthy percentage of Ontario's occurrences of this western disjunct occur within the Bruce and its adjacent islands, making it a phenomenal spot to mark this plant of one's life list.

Another portrait of the beauty of Inglis Falls

As I soaked in the beauty and views of Inglis Falls, I couldn't help feel a strange sense of tropical-ness to it. There was just something about the way it looked with its moss-covered boulders surrounding/within the falls and vegetation clinging to every nook, cranny and crevice all around its rim and cliff faces that suggested a location much closer to the equator. Perhaps I'm alone in that thought but regardless of your disagreement it's a phenomenal waterfall to take in!

Below and just downstream of Inglis Falls

Moving further down the eroded gorge below the falls, the habitat and landscape quickly changes from the dry, sparsely-vegetated upper rim and bluffs. Below, the woods becomes much cooler, shaded, humid and rich with an explosion of plant life created by the site's microhabitat. Once again, I was hot on the trail of a fern, but this one much more rare and enticing.

Clumps of the very rare Hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)

Before my first foray onto the Bruce back in 2011, I'd heard the curious story of one of North America's more rare pteridophytes in the Hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum). I searched and searched for it but never had any luck and swore the next time I wouldn't fail. Had I just known about Inglis Falls, I'd have been guaranteed some fantastic face time with this most excellent of spore producers!

Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)

What makes Hart's tongue fern such an exciting find and plant for many botanists, naturalists etc. is its very odd distribution and localities in North America. While much more common across the pond in Europe, it is only known to occur in very sporadic, very local places in Ontario and the eastern United States. In fact, other than the Bruce, Hart's tongue fern can only be found in the Straits of Mackinac region of Michigan, central New York, and a few counties in eastern Tennessee and northern Alabama. From what I can gather it sounds like the Bruce and central New York are the best of those locations.

Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)
Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum)

Much like the aforementioned northern holly fern, Hart's tongue is restricted to moist, shaded dolomite limestone; often times associated with waterfalls and deep stream ravines. It looks unlike any other fern you'll run into with thick, leathery, sword-like fronds and linear sori on the undersides. Due to such scarcity in North America it's listed as a federally threatened species in the United States, and an 'at risk' species of concern in Canada. For readers who enjoy the more taxonomic side of botany, the North American Hart's tongue plants are considered a separate variety (var. americanum) to Europe's. The physical differences between the two are minute and split based on polyploidy: North America's being a tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes) to Europe's diploid (two sets). When it comes to ferns polyploidy can really make a difference.

A northern holly fern and Hart's tongue fern growing together

With both the Hart's tongue and northern holly ferns calling Inglis Falls home, it was little surprise to find the two growing literally side-by-side on a few occasions and made for a fun photo opportunity. Not everyday not just one but two major life fern species can be captured in the same frame!

After enjoying the pteridophyte bliss of Inglis Falls and already being on the southern end of the peninsula, the decision was made to swing over to a section of woodland outside Sauble Beach for a most elusive orchid. At least it was elusive to me! Luckily, I had my Ontario friend and excellent naturalist, Bob Curry with me to help out. I had originally met Bob in the spring of 2015 when he and his wife came all the way down to Adams County, Ohio for an orchid hike I was leading. When I told him I'd be on the Bruce a month later, he said it was a must that he return the favor and take me out for some orchids! It should be noted that Bob was the one to share Inglis Falls and the ferns with me as well. Needless to say Bob is a swell guy and one of my favorites.

Bob with the rare Hooker's orchid (Platanthera hookeri).

Looking at the photo featured above and following the stare of Bob's camera it can still be quite hard to make out just what the heck he's taking a photo of. With sharp eyes you can just make out the pair of round, prostate leaves on the ground and green raceme of green flowers directly above. Green is the name of the game with the rare Hooker's orchid (Platanthera hookeri) and it puts the 'pro' in professional at blending in. Fortunately, the wooded stabilized dune just off Lake Huron had plenty of the orchid to share and find them we did.

Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri)

It's a given that your blogger is an orchid freak and it should also be well-known that they don't have to be the showy, pretty kind to get my heart racing. As previously stated, the Hooker's orchid isn't much to get excited about for the lay man but the sugar maple/beech/paper birch forest it resided in at Sauble Beech was most hallowed ground to this botanist. I had previously only seen this orchid once before out in the Adirondack's of New York back in 2013. I had made the 12 hour journey almost solely for it and was rewarded with a single plant just barely starting to flower. Even so, it was a very special and memorable trip but I'd be lying if the dozens of Hooker's orchid in perfect flower on the Bruce didn't just make my heart melt.

Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri)
Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri)

Hooker's orchid gets the elusive tag from me by the fact it's long been extirpated from Ohio's borders and not seen/collected since the 1890's. In fact, it's been disappearing at a fast rate throughout the entirety of the southern half of its distribution. Acid rain, warming soil temperatures, and other effects of climate change and habitat alteration are not doing this orchid any favors. I certainly hope this prime population I visited here can withstand the pressures and continue to persist.

Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri)
Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri)

Even being one of the 'blander' all-green Platanthera orchids, Hooker's orchid has some exquisite details to be had from its architecture. The curvature of its labellum and long nectar spur are often colored a more yellowish-green than the rest of the plant and can really stand out in extra spectacular specimens. I think the photo above with an orchid contrasted nicely against my hat really shows off that color difference. Seeing a lot of large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) mixed in with the orchids was extra nice, even if the trillium were mostly all well-past peak stage. If it wasn't for the storms and heavy rain quickly closing in on us, I could have hung out in this woods and its Hooker's orchids all day.

With that I think I'll call it quits on this fifth of seven installments on my botanical foray onto the Bruce peninsula in June 2015. If you're still enjoying what you're seeing and reading, I encourage you to come back soon as I wrap things up with two more posts! I've definitely saved some of the best for last and hope to have your readership at the conclusion of it all. Thanks as always for tuning in!

- ALG -

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Bruce Peninsula Part IV: Roadside Plants & Critters

I'm back and ready to march on with my seven part series on the wild and wonderful Bruce peninsula. However, this time around I'd like to do something a bit different. Instead of focusing on a specific place and exploring its depth, I'd like to share the plethora of plant and animal life one can come across by sticking to the roads. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Bruce is largely an untamed wilderness that's comprised of national park land and nature reserves, and thus quite conducive to high diversity. Roadside botanizing can produce great results and many times one doesn't have to walk much further than a few meters to see dozens and dozens of wildflowers in the spring time.

So with that being said, I'd like to start things off and share some of my favorite wildflowers and critters my group and I came across during our week there in early June. Each photo will be accompanied by a little information but the pictures will definitely do most of the talking!

Incredible wildflower display at Cabot Head

The rule is usually to save the best for last but I thought I'd try and grab everyone's attentions right away with the phenomenal wildflower display at Cabot Head. The open meadows are completely covered in a primary color explosion come early June. Scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), balsam squaw-weed (Packera paupercula), and northern blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) all pop off the landscape unlike anything I'd seen before or since.

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)
Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)

Two common spring-blooming flowers that occur throughout the Bruce's cool, shaded coniferous forests are the starflower (Trientalis borealis) and Canada mayflower (Maianthemum candense). Both occur in Ohio, too, but they are done flowering by the time they get going this far north. Botanizing up here is like a literal time machine in the spring!

Wild Prickly Rose (Rosa acicularis

Some wildflowers only look attractive; others are better suited to be enjoyed with your olfactories. Then there's the ones that are a two-for-one and treat both senses well like the wild prickly rose (Rosa acicularis). This northern species can often be smelled before it's seen, although it would be pretty difficult to not immediately see their bright pink blossoms.

Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)
Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas)

An intriguing member of the Bruce's roadside flora is the rare male fern (Dryopteris filix-mas). Like many other odd species in the Great Lakes region, the male fern is a disjunct occurrence this far east. It's much more widespread and common out West but only grows in a few scattered locations this far east. Male fern was one of the dozens of life plants I had the pleasure of making acquaintances with while up there and was a surprise find!

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

If ferns aren't exactly your thing and not aesthetically appealing enough to make you want to visit the Bruce then I think I have you covered with the gorgeous wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum). Come mid-June the dry, gravelly roadsides and other open areas explode in fire orange as the lilies open their tepal (petals and sepals that look identical) perfection. Wood lilies are excruciatingly rare in Ohio and I easily saw more along a mile of roadside on the Bruce than still exists in the entire state. That's a sight I never, ever got tired of!

Showy Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium reginae

Yet another stunning wildflower to be found in select spots along the Bruce's roadsides is the stately showy or queen's lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae). They bloom in the second half of June and weren't ready to show off during our 2015 visit but we did find several spots getting ready to bloom. The photo here was from my 2011 trip. 

Large Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium pubescens)
Northern Small Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The Bruce is an orchid wonderland and not a single post during this long series will be bereft of their beauty. I wish I had a photo to really show off exactly how common and dense the yellow lady's slippers are along the roadsides in many spots but even then it wouldn't do much to beat seeing them in person. Both the large and northern small yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium pubescens & C. parviflorum var. makasin) occur and can often times form extensive hybrid swarms of integrating plants, making true identification one way or the other nigh on impossible.

Female Ruffed Grouse with her chicks, sadly not seen in photo

One of my favorite roadside happenings was seeing a gorgeous female ruffed grouse perched on a log not more than ten feet off the road. She stayed completely still for a long while and allowed for some photos to be taken. It was easily the best, and really only time I've seen this bird up close. Most times they're exploding at/near my feet and about giving me a heart attack. My friends, Paul Marcum and his wife Jean Mengelkoch were in the car behind mine and later informed me she had a line of chicks with her! A shame I didn't have the angle to see them...

Fire Cherry (Prunus pensylvanica)
Prickly Currant (Ribes lacustre)

A couple neat woody plants exhibiting their pretty flowers during our stay were the fire cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) and prickly currant (Ribes lacustre). I'd seen fire cherry a handful of times before when botanizing up north but the prickly currant was a new life plant for me and curiously growing literally right beside our cabin. Nice to find a lifer without much effort!

Limber Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica)

One of the best parts of the Bruce is the fact that invasive species, while present are fewer and farther between and not nearly the issue they are down home's way. While honeysuckle is largely heard as an evil name in Ohio, the Bruce is home to a handful of indigenous honeysuckle vines/shrubs like the limber honeysuckle (Lonicera dioica) featured here. It occurs all over the place in large, dense tangles and was in picture perfect flower.

American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis)
Swamp Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera oblongifolia)

A couple more native honeysuckles I was fortunate enough to see while on the Bruce was swamp fly honeysuckle (L. oblongifolia) and American fly honeysuckle (L. canadensis). Both are more shrubby in form and have exquisite blossoms. Interestingly, the American fly honeysuckle (odd it's commonly called American with the epithet meaning 'of Canada') was just barely still in flower at the beginning of my trip; the the swamp fly honeysuckle just barely starting to bloom on my last day. It felt like I timed it just right to get both on my list!

Black bear out foraging in a meadow

One of the best critter sightings of the trip was a large black bear foraging in a meadow off the road. Black bears are a common occurrence throughout the Bruce but I'd yet to lay eyes on one in the flesh. This fella was a few hundred yards away and my zoom lens was able to get a decent shot or two. Hilariously, my friend Rob decided to do his best moose call impression and got the bear to stand up on its back legs and look back our way a few times!

Federally Threatened Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)
Federally Threatened Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris)

No tribute to the region's best roadside botany would be complete without mention of the federally threatened dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris). I went into more detail about this globally rare wonder in my earlier post on the Singing Sands but its splendor was more than worth sharing again! I tossed in an iPhone photo with my hand in the frame to give you a grasp on just how dainty these irises are.

A splendid wetland complex full of awesome flora

Wetlands dot the landscape throughout the northern half of the peninsula and just about every one of them is worth taking the time to explore. One particular boggy pond near our cabin was full of exciting plants, including a mass of one in perfect flower I almost never get to see.

Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)
Bog Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)

The bog buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) isn't a rare plant to come across while up in the northern Great Lakes by any stretch but finding it blooming en masse can be a fickle task. One edge of the pond was covered in the stuff and a wonderful chance to enjoy their unique flowers adorned with hair-like fringing. The pseudo-bottom of the pond was covered in a thick mat of dead, sunken vegetation that could just barely hold my weight and keep the waterline below my boots. One wrong step could, and did a time or two send my leg plunging deeper down and soaking me thoroughly. Well worth it to see such a wonderful wildflower!

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Perhaps my favorite plant of all to be found in the northern woods is the bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). This member of the dogwood genus is a small trailing vine/shrub that produces stunning flowering dogwood-like bracts and flower clusters each spring but at your feet instead of above your head. The Bruce is covered with the stuff and I never, ever got tired of seeing it.

Flat-leaved Bladderwort (Utricularis intermedia)
Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea var. purpurea)

Even the roadside wet ditches can be a botanical treasure trove up on the Bruce. In the more secluded back roads it wasn't uncommon to see long stretches of ditch covered in a medley of carnivorous plants such as the northern pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea var. purpurea) and flat-leaved bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia). If only home's roadside ditches could be this cool, eh?

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

The large patches of wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) were impossible to miss with their ruby red flowers quivering in the cool breezes. Not too shabby a place when your roadside 'weeds' are gobs of columbines!

Blanding's Turtle!
Blanding's Turtle!

Hands down my favorite wildlife sighting during our Bruce trip was also our most serendipitous find. While cruising over to the Cabot Head region along the Georgian Bay we happened across this Blanding's turtle trying to cross the road. I'd never seen one before but instantly recognized it by its distinct yellow markings. As it turns out, Blanding's turtles are quite rare in Ontario, as they are in Ohio and listed as a threatened species. Rob turned in an electronic record for our sighting in the Ontario database and was shocked to see this was only the second or third recorded sighting of a Blanding's turtle on the Bruce in the last 20 years! Hopefully that's just folks being lazy and not turning in their data and they're more common than that. Regardless, it was so awesome to spend time with this increasingly rare but always beautiful reptilian critter.

Red Thimbleweed (Anenome multifida)

Yet another example of the Great Lakes playing home to disjunct western plants is the red thimbleweed (Anenome multifida). I had hopes to find some and managed to luck out on a single flowering plant along the road. The sun was bright and the wind constantly blowing so I only managed a quick iPhone photo and figured I'd come back with my camera for a better chance later in the day...only to come back to the petals fallen! Quite the ephemeral flower, I'd say. Even so, it was another check next to a life plant on my list! The magic of the Bruce continues.

Rough-leaved Ricegrass (Oryzopsis asperifolia)
Sweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata)

I'll cap off this long blog of Bruce roadside botany with a pair of grasses to please my inner grami-nerd'ness. The rough-leaved ricegrass (Oryzopsis asperifolia) won't win any awards for its looks but as a critically endangered species back home in Ohio and a life plant, I was ecstatic to find some! On the other hand, sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) isn't nearly as rare in Ohio but is restricted to higher-quality fens and wet meadows. Always nice to see and get a whiff of its sweet aroma!

I hope everyone enjoyed this look at but a small sampling of the pretty, rare, unusual, exciting etc. plants one might find along the Bruce's roadsides in spring. I also hope you're enjoying this series as it hits its mid point! I have three more posts to go and think the best is yet to come. So check back soon for more on the wild and wonderful Bruce peninsula!

- ALG -