Discover more than 5000 plants that are found across Canada. MY ACCOUNT

Written by: Nicole White


There are many ways of understanding plants. Scientific study, home gardening, ecological restoration work, and traditional knowledge modalities all offer people significant ways to meaningfully connect with plants and gain an appreciation for the services and beauty they offer.


My interest started with growing up in a rural area and being intrigued by the wild edible plants, such as Lamb's Quarters and Mint, that could be found in my backyard. Later I worked at a botanical garden, which got me interested in more big-picture topics like forest succession and pollination. Now, as a GIS technician at Dougan and Associates and part of the CanPlant team, I often engage with plant knowledge using data, and databases.


A green icon representing a database, surrrounded by illustrated branches and leaves


The species pages you can explore on the CanPlant website are powered by an underlying database– that is, an organized collection stored and accessed on a computer. This database contains names, photographs, and various traits (such as native and introduced geographic ranges, bloom colour, and compaction tolerance) for about 5,000 plant species that occur in Canada, all stored in a way that is structured and easily retrieved, modified, or analyzed.


While there may be nuances of biology a typical database system cannot capture, and complex questions these technologies cannot answer in full, the beauty of storing information this way is that it allows us to analyze the collected data in ways that can give us useful (or at least interesting) insights, or raise new questions to inspire further investigation.


One question we recently considered is what a phylogenetic tree created from the CanPlant database would look like and what further research and exploration this could inspire.


A phylogenetic tree (or 'tree of life') is a branching diagram, visually tracing the evolutionary lineage of a set of organisms back to a common ancestor. All of life on Earth could be traced back to a single ancestor this way. Phylogenetic trees created from more specific datasets are increasingly being used in ecological and biogeographic studies that allow us to learn more about biology and evolution.


An early hand-drawn tree of life by Ernst Haeckel

A 19th-century phylogenetic tree.


Phylogenetic trees used to be hand-drafted by scientists, but can now be created quickly and easily using open source tools developed by unselfish computer programmers. I used the R programming language and an R package called V.Phylomaker to generate a phylogeny based on the CanPlant database, and a Neo4j graph to store and visualize the results.


A modern tree of life based on genome sequencing

A modern tree of life based on genome sequencing.


R is a programming language widely used by statisticians and data analysts. It incorporates machine learning, linear regression, statistical inference, and other techniques to perform data science work that has applications in many different fields.


The R Logo


The things R can do are extended by add-ons called packages. One of these packages is V.Phylomaker, which uses a 'mega-tree' containing data related to all extant flowering plant families to build phylogenetic trees from a simple spreadsheet of plant species information.


A list of species exported from CanPlant

A list of species exported from CanPlant.


Neo4j is a type of database that focuses on relationships between entities, rather than just storing rows of data. We thought this would work as an interesting tool to model the relationships between plant species.


To try this out with CanPlant, I installed the package and used an export of the CanPlant database as an input for a small R script using V.Phylomaker. The output of this was a phylogenetic tree in Newick format, a mathematical way of representing this kind of data.


Working with Plant Data in RStudio.

Working with plant data in RStudio.


Next, I used a Python script and the Biopython package to read this Newick data and use it to populate a Neo4j graph.


The result was a dataset of interconnected plant species that could easily be visualized, queried, and explored.


A CanPlant phylogenetic tree visualized using a graph.

A CanPlant phylogenetic tree visualized using a graph.


We’re excited to continue exploring the benefits of incorporating a phylogenetic approach into the CanPlant database. We anticipate that capturing evolutionary relationships among plants will help to deepen our collective understanding of the diversity of plant species found across Canada, and advance the tools and approaches that are used in conservation planning, ecological restoration, gardening, and a wide range of other biodiversity initiatives.


Feel free to reach out to our team if you’re interested to learn more about what we’re doing at CanPlant.


Further Reading

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Written by: Summer Graham 


Climate change – it’s a big subject, one that is regularly discussed, debated, and often feared. In the next two posts we will try to break down the topic, covering some key terms, the impacts of climate change, and what can still be done about it.


Climate vs. Weather

“It’s cold and snowing here – climate change/global warming can’t be real!”


This is a typical argument used during discussions on climate change, and it often stems from a misunderstanding between two key terms – climate and weather.


Weather is the atmospheric conditions that occur over a short period of time (minutes, hours, and days), whereas climate is the long-term regional and global average of these weather events. Climate considers the average temperate, humidity, and rainfall over the span of seasons, years, or even decades. While climate change may result in a shift in weather events, such as stronger rains, prolonged periods of drought, or more severe thunderstorms, a single weather event cannot be used to prove or disprove climate change.



Global Warming vs. Climate Change

The terms “global warming” and “climate change” are often used interchangeably, however here we will be distinguishing between the two. Global warming refers to the long-term heating of the global climate that has been observed since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900). This warming is primarily driven by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels which increase heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and is measured as the average increase in Earth’s global surface temperature.
Global temperatures have increased by an estimated 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times, and are continuing to increase by approximately 0.2 degrees per decade. 


Climate change, on the other hand, encompasses the long-term changes observed in average weather patterns on a local, regional, and global scale. Where global warming is primarily caused by human activities, climate change also acknowledges the variation in climate caused by natural processes.


Although global warming and climate change are widely debated topics even today, there is overwhelming evidence that atmospheric carbon dioxide has exceeded historic levels within the past century, causing a variety of impacts on our climate and environment.


Impacts of a Changing Climate

Warming temperatures and extreme changes in the Earth’s climate have wide-ranging negative impacts on the environment, which in turn impact the flora and fauna of our planet. One of the changes expected to occur over time is the shifting of natural ranges of plants and wildlife as they adapt to a new, warmer climate. Additional impacts include warming ocean temperatures which contribute to coral bleaching and species die off, shrinking ice sheets, retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, more frequent and extreme weather events (e.g. flooding in some areas and drought in others), and an increase in the frequency and severity of forest fires.


Impacts due to climate change are not only a concern for the natural world.  Unpredictable climate and severe weather patterns can also have major impacts to communities and economies. For example,  a changing climate can lead to reduced crop yields and food insecurity in certain areas. Urban cores can be impacted by higher temperatures in concrete-dominated landscapes resulting in increased cooling costs and health problems. Flooding in cities that lack proper infrastructure can result in large-scale death and destruction, with high economic costs to recover. Check out this photojournalism peice by the Toronto Star about extreme flooding in the city in  August 2018, and the impacts it had on the people who live there. Vectors for certain illnesses (such as tick-borne Lyme disease) can also shift their range to new areas causing more people to be susceptible to disease.


As humans, we are more reliant on and intertwined with the natural world than many people are aware of. It is imperative that we learn about and realize these connections so we can start healing our Earth. But where do we start? Part 2 of this blog will be posted in a couple weeks, where we will discuss the impacts climate change can have on our mental health, and ways to help combat it.    


To be continued…


Additional Reading:

NOAA - Climate Change Impacts 

Climate Reality Project - How Climate Change is Affecting Canada

Government of Canada - Climate Change Causes and Effects

Humans and Nature - What Happens When We See Ourselved as Separate from Nature



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Written by: Summer Graham


Did you know you can use CanPlant to create customized species lists for your native plant projects? Once you set up an account using your email address, you can view, edit, and add species to your saved lists, and export them as either a PDF including species details and photos, or as an Excel file.


After you use our filter feature to find species with the attributes you are looking for, our customizable plant lists help you keep track of and sort species for any application you can think of! Here are just some of the many ways you can make use of the species list feature on CanPlant to help you get inspired:


  • Making a list for shopping at your local native plant garden center (start in the winter and be ready to go when spring comes around!);
  • Creating lists of common and available species for restoration projects;
  • Keeping track of native garden species for planting by habitat type (eg. Pollinator garden, boulevard planting, wetland/wet meadow restoration);
  • Make a list of rapidly establishing native species to stabilize a recently cleared area;
  • Creating study sets to help learn and review species names and ID;
  • Keep a list of species you identified in a natural area you visited;
  • Create a “wish list” of native species you are looking for as donations towards a low budget or charity planting project;
  • Help a friend or neighbour make a list of native species to replace non-native/invasive species in their garden;
  • Create a “watch list” of unwanted invasive species in your province;
  • Develop a list of “acceptable species” to distribute to homeowners adjacent to a sensitive natural area;
  • And so much more!


TIP: If you are going to create multiple lists, make sure to give each a unique name and use the “description” section to add a brief note on what the list will be used for!


Now that you have some inspiration for creating species lists in CanPlant, head to our species page and start planning your next native species planting today! 




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Written by: Mary Anne Young


CanPlant is an evolution of the Native Plant Database, a searchable database of Canadian native plants that was online from 2003 – 2017.


The Native Plant Database was an initiative of Evergreen, which launched originally to support the organization’s cross-Canada work in urban stewardship and greenspace restoration. Evergreen is a Canadian national charity with a vision to enable flourishing cities; since 1991, Evergreen has worked to “convene, collaborate and catalyze ideas into action”, with projects including school ground greening, promoting urban agriculture, investing in public art, promoting youth innovation in city building, and more. For more information see


The Native Plant Database was taken offline as Evergreen did not have the resources needed to maintain and manage the database. In 2018, a Request for Proposal process was initiated to select another organization to re-launch the database and expand on its original vision. Dougan & Associates, an ecological consulting and design firm based in Southern Ontario, was selected to be the new stewards of the database. The Dougan & Associates team is very excited for this opportunity to dig into over 5000 plant records and to brainstorm new and exciting directions for the future of the site.


CanPlant was chosen as the new name for the Native Plant Database; this name was chosen to both explain the breadth of the website’s scope (Canadian Plants) as well as to be encouraging and uplifting (yes you CAN plant!)


The newly launched CanPlant website contains all of the data and functionality as the original Native Plant Database, and D&A are brainstorming what the future of this resource may be – information for plant growers and gardeners, climate change mitigation resources, academic partnerships, etc. If you are interested in participating please contact us.


For what Canplant has to offer right now, click here to start browsing 5000+ native Canadian plants.

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Written by: Nicole White


Dougan & Associates staff meet to develop the new CanPlant website


CanPlant has made a commitment to use blogging as a tool for open, independent sharing of plant knowledge. Our vision is to regularly provide insightful articles useful to both general audiences and professional plant people, connecting Canadians in ways that promote curiosity, respect, and understanding of our complex relationships with plants.


Blogging and other new media represent the potential for a radical departure from traditional media and access of information. Ideally, a message's reach can be broadened and more voices to be heard. As an alternative to scholarly articles, blogging can serve as an intermediary, allowing information related to cross-disciplinary fields such as botany, biology, ecological restoration, landscape architecture, and conservation to be engaged with by all readers.


We intend to use these tools to draw on and complement the structured information living in the CanPlant database, to carry forward the principles developed by our predecessor, Evergreen, and to tap into the collective knowledge within our communities.



Our team at Dougan & Associates possess ecological and design knowledge that we're excited to set free beyond the walls of the office. We also want to use the blog as a platform to give others who have something to share a voice and an audience.


We have some compelling topics prepared for the near future, including musings on what constitutes a 'native plant', profiles of underappreciated plants found all over Canada, techniques for effective pollination garden design, and stories of how GIS and mapping technology are contributing to invasive species management.


We want this blog to generate discussion and community. If you have something to bring to the conversation and would like to volunteer as a guest blogger, don't hesitate to contact us!

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Written by: Nicole White

The CanPlant logo


We’re proud to share with you the thoughts, ideas, and process that went into choosing CanPlant as the new website name for the native plant database, and the some of the design considerations that went into the logo. In this post, we’ll discuss them both in more detail.


After Evergreen selected D&A to be the new custodians of the native plant database, one of the first tasks our team undertook was to come up with a new name. Not unlike picking a name for a child, this was something we took very seriously! Alas, the name is something that we would have to live with for a while.


Everyone at Dougan & Associates was asked to participate in brainstorming session to pitch their ideas. A few rounds of voting narrowed these down to a shortlist. We knew we wanted something concise, positive, and meaningful.


Once everyone had a chance to submit, we noticed a recurring trend of name ideas integrating the words ‘Canada’ and ‘plant’, with early suggestions including names like ‘iCanPlant’ and ‘Canada Plants’. In the end, D&A Ecologist Zack Harris’ submission of ‘CanPlant’ garnered the most votes. We like its simplicity and the double entendre of ‘Can’ –‘Canada’, and ‘YES, you CAN PLANT!’).


The CanPlant logo was collaboratively designed by D&A staff. In the brainstorming phase of this process, Canada as a whole, native flora, and ecology were identified as especially relevant symbolic themes. We also wanted to include some component in the design that acknowledged Evergreen, the founder of the database.


With these themes in mind (and with our collective propensity for being plant nerds), it was destined that the new logo feature plant imagery. We considered several different species, leaning toward widely-distributed Canadian flora. Initial ideas included Populus tremuloides (Trembling Aspen), Linnaea borealis (Twinflower), Mitella diphylla (Mitrewort), Cornus canadensis (Bunchberry), Picea glauca (White Spruce), and native ferns such as Polypodium virginianum (Rock Polypody).


One major challenge was to develop a universally applicable design. To simultaneously tackle this challenge and produce something beautiful, D&A’s Landscape Designer Heather Schibli took suggestions from the group, often translating written descriptions into visual language, prepared concepts, and iterating the results based on feedback from the D&A team.


Concepts were developed to represent a few core ideas – succession, urban to nature, a Canadian cross-section, and various types of leaves and other plant parts.


Ultimately, we landed on a text-based design that is simple and incorporates a single White Spruce silhouette for the A in PLANT. We felt that the simplicity of the design will allow it to be instantly recognizable as we move forward with our initiative to connect people to plants. And, the White Spruce is a great way to reflect the scope of the initiative (White Spruce is found in all of Canada’s provinces and territories) and pay tribute Evergreen (White Spruce is an Evergreen!).


Picea's glauca's countrywide distribution


Photo source: Natural Resources Canada, Canadian Forest Service.


Through the process of designing the logo, Heather created many other versions that we really loved. Down the road, we expect some of them may be used for other branding initiatives. One of our favourites incorporated the text logo with a backdrop that represents the phenomenon of ecological succession, both as it may apply to place and to time. We felt that the text and single White Spruce juxtaposed to the succession-inspired backdrop emphasizes that plants are dynamics, and the simple act of planting a few native species, over time can result in rich, complex, ecosystems.


CanPlant's alternate 'Succession' logo


We feel that both the name and logo will successfully represent the newly-relaunched plant database’s function and intended audience – offering gardeners, landscape architects, designers, ecologists, and anyone else across the country easily-accessible and relevant information they can use to connect with plants.

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