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

By: Summer Graham

 

The topic of shifting native plant ranges touches on many of the themes that have been (or will be) covered on the CanPlant blog page. What classifies a plant as “native”? How is the climate changing, and what does this change mean for ecology? What is the connection between native wildlife and native plant species? Each of these topics can be difficult to dissect on their own. Mix them together, and the picture becomes even more blurred.

 

Let’s start with what we know. As the climate changes and global temperature warms, it might be expected that species will move “up” (north and/or to higher elevations) to remain in environments that suit their traits. A study in California found just that, but they also found some more concerning evidence. While both plants and animals were found to be shifting their ranges, wildlife was doing so at a much faster rate (Wolf et al. 2016).

 

Over the past century, only 12% of native plant species are moving ranges upwards at a significant rate (Wolf et al. 2016). Even more alarming, a greater proportion of non-native and invasive species (27%) were on the move, causing concern that as native species move upwards, they will find would-be suitable habitats already colonized by non-native species (Wolf et al. 2016). This combination of factors means that the faster moving wildlife will find themselves in potentially unsuitable, non-native habitat, and this breakdown of ecological relationships could have unknown consequences for species survival.  

 

Current (1971–2000) versus projected (2071–2100) climate suitability zone of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides). Image courtesy of Natural Resources Canada.

Current (1971–2000) versus projected (2071–2100) climate suitability zone of trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides). Image courtesy of Natural Resources Canada.

 

The results of a warming climate may not be consistent across the globe, however. Bezeng et al. (2017) found that in parts of South Africa, climate change may actually result in a reduction of area suitable for current invasive species that are present on the landscape. However, there were some species that showed potential to expand ranges due to changes, and there is also the opportunity for new invaders to appear when shifts occur (Bezeng et al. 2017). 

 

So, where do we go from here? If we accept that species (especially native ones) might not be able to move and adapt fast enough to survive the current shift in appropriate habitat, what (if anything) can we do?

 

Assisted migration is the human-assisted movement of species (plants or animals) to more suitable habitats, and it is a widely debated topic in terms of risk, viability, resources, and ethics. In Canada, many provinces and territories already have seed transfer guidelines for planting of seed from certain regions to ensure genetics are suitable for an area (NRC 2016). B.C. and Alberta are two examples of jurisdictions that have modified these guidelines by extending seed transfer zones 200 metres higher in elevation, effectively taking a small step towards assisted migration (NRC 2016).

 

Assisted migration can be done on multiple scales, each with their own level of risk. The lowest risk option is assisted population migration, where species are only moved within their historic or known range. Then there is assisted range expansion, where species are established just outside their established range, but to areas that would feasibly be expanded to through natural dispersal methods such as wind, water, or dispersal by animals. The highest risk is associated with assisted long-distance migration, where species are moved to areas far outside a “natural” dispersal area.

 

Regardless of the scale on which it is implemented, assisted migration should be backed by research on species genetics, viability in an introduced area, natural dispersal, and the risk posed by introducing or moving certain species. Although this process may be slow, it is likely still faster than allowing species to move at a natural pace, and we may reduce the risk of important native species being left behind.

 

Additional Reading:

Climate Central. “Climate Change is Leaving Native Plants Behind.”

 

National Geographic. “Half of All Species are on the Move – And We’re Feeling It.”

 

Yale Environment 360. “As World Warms, How Do We Decide When a Plant is Native? “  

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on LinkedIn

Written by: Summer Graham

 

Spring has sprung, and it is once again time to turn our thoughts to flowers, gardens, and warmer days. Spring may not arrive locally just yet depending on where you are in Canada, but it is likely a highly anticipated event for most “plant people”, with keen eyes watching for the first flowers to bloom.

 

These early-blooming species are often called “heralds of spring”, with their appearance on the landscape often accepted as a sure sign that warmer temperatures are just around the corner. In Nunavut, it is the territorial flower of Purple Mountain Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia; Inuit name: 'aupaluktunnguat.’) that often blooms first.

 

Some species bloom early to take advantage of the higher levels of sunlight available while trees are still budding and have not formed full canopies yet. These species are often quick to fade after blooming. Others coordinate their flowers to match up with the activity of key pollinators and play an important role in supporting these wildlife species as they become active after the long winter.

 

Here are 10 native plants from across Canada that bloom early in the season:

 

1. Bloodroot

(Sanguinaria canadensis)

Distribution in Canada:
MB, ON, QC, NB, NS
Bloom-time: March–May

 

View Plant
 

Bloodroot

2. Western Skunk Cabbage

(Lysichiton americanus)

Distribution in Canada:
BC
Bloom-time: March–June

 

Photo by Scott Darbey (used with modification, CC BY 2.0)

 

View Plant

 

Western Skunk Cabbage

3. Flowering Currant

(Ribes sanguineum var. sanguineum)

Distribution in Canada:
BC
Bloom-time: April–May

 

View Plant

 

Flowering Currant

4. Yellow Trout Lily

(Erythronium americanum var. americanum)

Distribution in Canada:
ON, QC, NB, NS
Bloom-time: April–May

 

View Plant

 

Yellow Trout Lily

5. Blue Cohosh

(Caulophyllum thalictoides)

Distribution in Canada:
MB, ON, QC, NB, NS
Bloom-time: April–June

 

View Plant

 

Blue Cohosh

6. Jack-in-the-Pulpit

(Arisaema triphyllum)

Distribution in Canada:
MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE
Bloom-time: April–June

 

View Plant

 

Jack-in-the-Pulpit

7. Round-lobed Hepatica

(Anemone americana)

Distribution in Canada:
MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE
Bloom-time: May–June

 

View Plant

 

Round-lobed Hepatica

8. Blue-eyed Grass

(Sisyrinchium montanum)

Distribution in Canada:
BC, AB, SK, M, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NF, YT, NT
Bloom-time: May–July

 

View Plant

 

Marsh Marigold

9. Bearberry or Kinnikinick

(Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Distribution in Canada:
BC, AB, SK, MB, ON, QC, NB, NS, PE, NF, YT, NT, NU
Bloom-time: May–July

 

View Plant

 

Bearberry or Kinnikinick

10. Purple Mountain Saxifrage

(Saxifraga oppositifolia)

Distribution in Canada:
BC, AB, MB, ON, QC, NS, NF, YT, NT, NU
Bloom-time: May–August

 

View Plant

 

Purple Mountain Saxifrage

 

If you're able to get outside, see if you can spot any of these early bloomers appearing in natural areas near you! Or if quarantine is keeping you indoors, use the CanPlant Database or check out the links below to virtually explore spring plants.

 

Additional Resources:

 

• Ontario Wildflowers – Species Blooming in Spring

 

• Owlcation – Spring Wildflowers in Southwestern British Columbia

 

• Destination Nunavut – Flora

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on LinkedIn

Written by Carl-Adam Wegenschimmel

 

The theme of this year’s World Wildlife Day celebration is “Sustaining All Life on Earth,” which recognizes biodiversity as a key component in protecting natural life.

 

To this end, it is important to acknowledge all species, including those that are often ignored or seen as not having any economic value to humans. We need to take a holistic perspective and recognize the interconnectedness of all living things. Although many plants are valued by people, many other species remain ignored but nonetheless have intrinsic worth and act as key components of ecosystems.

 

Here in Canada, we are still discovering and learning about our own plant communities. During Ontario Botanists' Big Year 2019 on iNaturalist, Kevin Gevaert discovered a plant that is new to Canada: Slender Three-seeded Mercury (Acalypha gracilens) -- surprisingly within the urban boundary of Caththam-Kent.

 

This past fall, while I was out exploring a section of the Niagara Escarpment with fellow ecologists Tristan Knight and Jose Maloles, Tristan discovered a moss growing on the cliff face which he identified as Fan Moss (Forsstroemia trichomitria). This species was rediscovered in Quebec in 2011 after not being seen in North America since the late 1800s. Since then, it has only been observed once in Ontario and once in Quebec.

 

Fan Moss: Photo by Carl-Adam Wegenschimmel

Photo by Carl-Adam Wegenschimmel

 

Tristan’s discovery marked the second modern record for Ontario and fourth extant record in North America.

 

Jennifer Doubt, a botanist at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, is currently documenting Fan Moss distribution and abundance in Canada, to help understand its conservation status.

 

Another recent discovery in northeastern North America is the Tall Beech Fern (Phegopteris excelsior), seen for the first time in 2019. Although it hasn’t been documented in Ontario yet, I believe it is only a matter of time before some keen observer is able to separate it from the closely-related and better-known Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera).

 

 I am often amazed in the ability of healthy, mature forests and plant communities to support substantial fungi and lichen communities, with many species still completely under the radar. Here too, there are likely many discoveries yet to be made.

 

For example, while recently exploring a swamp in Hamilton, I found a species of Chaenothecopsis fungi growing on Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) which appears to be new to science based on previous collections in Ohio. Another new species of lichen was recently discovered in swamps near Toronto, a stubble lichen (Chaenotheca selvae), which seems to have an affinity for stumps of mature Maple trees.

 

Photo by Carl-Adam Wegenschimmel

 

I think that these discoveries underscore how much we have yet to learn, even in places that are generally well-surveyed and emphasize the need to continue to study our ecosystems.

 

Discoveries like these also highlight the need to protect natural areas, which maintain biodiversity at both the local and global level.

 

Many wildlife observations today come from citizen science initiatives, which gather the unique experience and knowledge of individuals into centralized databases. These include eBird, created by Cornell University and the Audobon Society, and iNaturalist, offered by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

 

These apps make it easy for anyone to contribute to our understanding of biodiversity. This can create newfound appreciation and positive momentum towards sustaining our natural world. One of our big dreams for CanPlant is to use this kind of technology and public participation to enhance our understanding of Canadian plants and landscapes.

 

Are you an intrepid botanizer who would like to participate in CanPlant's work? You can use our Submit a Photo form to contribute your plant photos, or Contact Us directly if you have a larger collection you'd like to share.

 

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on LinkedIn

Written by: Summer Graham

 

Monarch caterpillar on Swamp Milkweed

 

Every time you decide to plant something in your garden or yard, you have the opportunity to make an important choice.

 

You can either choose a native species, one that can support a greater abundance of native wildlife (particularly insect herbivores) (Burghardt et al. 2010), or you can plant a non-native species that is less likely to have this benefit, and can even potentially become invasive.

 

This choice can have huge, bottom-up impacts on wildlife populations, especially now that Canadian landscapes are increasingly becoming more urbanized. Native nesting bird species often rely on insect populations to feed their young, so the amount of native or non-native vegetation on a landscape can directly impact the diversity and abundance of bird species in the area (Burghardt et al. 2009; Narango et al. 2010).

 

This is quantified by Douglas W. Tallamy, wildlife ecology professor at the University of Delaware:

Black-capped Chickadee

"...But there are serious ecological consequences to such choices, and another exercise you can do at home makes them clear. This spring, if you live in North America, put up a chickadee nest box in your yard. If you are lucky, a pair of chickadees will move in and raise a family. While they are feeding their young, watch what the chickadees bring to the nest: mostly caterpillars. Both parents take turns feeding the chicks, enabling them to bring a caterpillar to the nest once every three minutes. And they do this from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m. for each of the 16 to 18 days it takes the chicks to fledge. That’s a total of 350 to 570 caterpillars every day, depending on how many chicks they have. So, an incredible 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars are required to make one clutch of chickadees."

 

In addition to not supporting native wildlife, some non-native plants can actually seriously threaten certain species. For example, consider the relationship between the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and native Milkweed species.

 

The Monarch has evolved so closely with native Milkweed species that it now feeds exclusively on them, and so relies on Milkweed as a host plant to lay its eggs on. European Swallow-wort (Vincetoxicum rossicum, a.k.a. Dog-strangling Vine) is a non-native member of the milkweed family that is considered invasive due to its rapid spread and highly prolific nature.

 

Monarchs can mistakenly lay their eggs on Swallow-wort plants, believing them to be native milkweeds. The caterpillars that hatch on these plants will die, as they are unable to feed on the non-native species (NCC, 2019).

 

So, what can you do? First, choose native! Use available resources like the CanPlant Species Database to choose species listed as native to your region that will help to support local wildlife and contribute to the ecosystem.

 

Learn more about milkweeds and where they fit in your garden by checking out these recommended species:

 

Purple Milkweed

(Asclepias purpurascens)

 

View Plant

 

Purple Milkweed

 

Swamp Milkweed

(Asclepias incarnata)

 

View Plant

 

Swamp Milkweed

 

Butterflyweed

(Asclepias tuberosa)

 

View Plant

 

Butterflyweed

 

Common Milkweed

(Asclepias syriaca)

 

View Plant

 

Common Milkweed

 

Showy Milkweed

(Asclepias speciosa)

 

View Plant

 

Showy Milkweed

 

 

Second, control and manage invasive, non-native species on your property that pose a threat to native biodiversity. Visit the Ontario Invasive Plant Council website to learn more about managing invasive plant species.

 

Additional Resources & Further Reading

• Ontario Invasive Plant Council “Grow Me Instead” Guide

• Opinion: In Your Garden, Choose Plants That Help the Environment

Douglas W. Tallamy, The New York Times

 

References:

Burghardt, K. T., Tallamy, D. W. and W.G. Shriver. 2009. Impact of Native Plants on Bird and Butterfly Biodiversity in Suburban Landscapes. Conservation Biology, 23: 219-224. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01076.x

 

Burghardt, K. T., D. W. Tallamy, C. Philips, and K. J. Shropshire. 2010. Non-native plants reduce abundance, richness, and host specialization in lepidopteran communities. Ecosphere 1(5):art11. doi:10.1890/ES10-00032.1

 

Narango, D.L., Tallamy, D.W.  and P.P. Marra. 2010. Native plants improve breeding and foraging habitat for an insectivorous bird. Biological Conservation: 213, Part A, ISSN 0006-3207. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2017.06.029.

Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC). 2019. “Dog-strangling Vine”. Available online at: http://www.natureconservancy.ca/en/what-we-do/resource-centre/invasive-species/dog-strangling_vine.html

 

Photo: Black-capped Chickadee. Photo by Mark Daly, courtesy of the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

 

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on LinkedIn

Written by: Nicole White

 

People used to view wetlands as a waste of space: they can't be built, they can't be easily traversed by boat, and they aren't profitable for most types of agriculture. So why are wetlands so important?

 

Now we're learning that wetlands are some of the most biologically productive sites on our planet. They hold water in times of flood or drought, purify the environment, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere. I've heard them called 'Nature's Kidneys'. They sustain life by providing essential year-round or seasonal habitat for many species of fish, birds, and other animals. They are also home to plant communities found nowhere else, and have a breathtaking beauty all their own.

 

Events like World Wetlands Day (Sunday, February 2) work to shift these attitudes, and effect change.

 

As a small celebration of World Wetlands Day, I conducted an informal poll of my ecologist colleagues to find out what everyone's favourite wetland plant was. The results were fun and I hope our appreciation of these plants inspires you to learn more about them:

 

Marsh Marigold

(Caltha palustris)

'I love Marsh Marigold because the flowers are like little bursts of sunlight when walking through a wetland or swampy woods.'

 

View Plant

Marsh Marigold

Turtlehead

(Chelone glabra)

'Mostly because it looks like a turtle!'

 

View Plant

Turtlehead

Bog Buckbean

(Menyanthes trifoliata)

'Bog Buckbean looks like a giant clover, and I've found it in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.'

 

View Plant

Bog Buckbean

 

Buttonbush

(Cephalanthus occidentalis)

'The flowers are just so striking... and look like pom-poms or fireworks. They're such a lovely surprise to find.'

 

View Plant

Buttonbush

Skunk Cabbage

(Symplocarpus foetidus)

'Foul-smelling but a very reliable groundwater seepage indicator; quite unusual in that its flowers can actually melt the snow so that it can get a head start on flowering and pollination by flies and beetles in the early spring.'

 

View Plant

Skunk Cabbage

Any Type of Bladderwort

(Utricularia cornuta shown here)

'They have beautiful flowers, they float on the water surface and they eat bugs. I think that's pretty neat.'

 

View Plant

Horned Bladderwort

 

Cranberry

(Vaccinium macrocarpon)

'It reminds me of Thanksgiving at my family cottage.'

 

View Plant

Cranberry

Common Pipewort

(Eriocaulon aquaticum)

'Stands of common pipewort look like drifts of delicate white pompoms hovering over shallow water. The flower is intricate and the plant is unassuming. Quite lovely.'

 

View Plant

Cranberry

Pitcher Plant

(Sarracenia purpurea)

'Carnivorous -- the story last year that a population in Algonquin consumes salamanders was a bit disconcerting but cool!'

 

View Plant

Pitcher Plant

 

We hope you're inspired to learn more about the strange and wonderful plant life growing in our country's wetlands. Check out the links below, or visit the CanPlant Search Page to discover more species.

 


Recommended Further Reading:

 

• World Wetland Day 2020: Official Page
Find a World Wetlands Day event near you, learn more about wetlands, get free educational materials and infographic cards to share on your social media accounts.

 

• The Secret World of Bog
This photojournalist's foray into West Coast coastal temperate rainforest bogs was published in 2016 and won a gold award in the Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The photos in this beautiful piece show the area's flora on all scales, from peat moss fasicles to forests of stunted pines and cedars.

 

• Pitcher plants discovered snacking on baby salamanders in Ontario park
A recent CBC stories shows that our native carnivorous plants are more voracious than we might think.


• Treasured Wetlands of Nova Scotia 2019 Story Map

An interactive look at wetland habitats in Nova Scotia. If you're not on the East Coast right now, here's a way to visit these sites virtually!
 

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on LinkedIn