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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.

 

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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!
 

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