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

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

Written by: Nicole White


World Wildlife Day logo - Stylized globe with silhouettes of plants and animals


This year's UN World Wildlife Day celebrates forest-based livelihoods worldwide with the theme  'Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet'.


I grew up a family who hunted, fished, and worked in the woods. Later, like many young Canadians, I laboured as a piecework tree planter in the Boreal Forest. But even people I know who have lived their lives in Canada's most urban neighbourhoods feel a connection to woodlands—for example, my Torontonian friends who feel a sense of integration when they visit High Park, the ravines of the Don River, or the Rouge Valley.


Forests are a cornerstone of Canadian life.  Everywhere, plants, microbes, birds, fish and a myriad of other creatures—including us—exist as part of a rich biological schema including forests. In Canada, forests sustain our culture, economy, spirituality, and livelihoods in ways that make this land and its people what they are.


Thirty-nine percent of Canada's land is forest, and this represents 9% of the world's total forests. The future is unwritten, but these numbers tell us that state of Canadian forests is a major variable in how climate change will play out worldwide.


Of course, it's a given that the changes we're already seeing—including severe wildfires, loss of ecological diversity, and the proliferation of invasive species that threaten tree populations—are expected to become more extreme in the coming years.


Adding to this, economic changes due to the pandemic, evolving consumer demands (for example, the decline of print newspapers and magazines), and international competition show that the preexisting commercial relationship between Canadian forests and people won't be the way of the future.


World Wildlife Day 2021 poster by Gabe Wong - Illustration of Indigenous people, plants, and animals from different cultures


Increasingly, many Canadians are recognizing what forests give them, and asking what they can do in return. To me, this year's World Wildlife Day theme (and this inspired illustration for the event by Gabe Wong) expresses a hope that our global communities are affirming their relationships with forests and finding constructive ways forward that honour our interdepedence.


What's happening right now in Canada to support this? Our country's issues are diverse and so multifaceted, but these are a few trends I've noticed recently:


Indigenous Forestry

Indigenous forest management systems offer expertise informed by thousands of years' experience working with this land. The most recent Canadian census reported that 70% of Indigenous people in Canada live in or near forests. (I've also seen similar statistics for other parts of the world, and globally.) Increasingly, Indigenous people are reclaiming portions of their original territories and asserting their right to participate in self-governance, including forest management.


Indigenous involvement in sustainable natural resource management is helping to bring socio-economic benefits to communities and maintain cultural, recreational, and spiritual connections to the land. As reported beautifully in the National Observer, residents of B.C.'s Tŝilhqot'in Nation are using clean energy to develop a new land, water, and wildlife management area, supporting self-determination within their communities.


Coastal Guardian Watchmen also provide a model for what responsible land stewardship can look like in Haida Gwaii.


It's exciting to see collaborative efforts undertaken to synergize traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and settlers' science-based understanding of nature as complementary information systems.


In a recent lecture, Indigenous scholar and assistant professor Myrle Ballard at the University of Manitoba described how Indigenous expertise can inform scientific work.


The viewpoint has also been expressed poetically in the best-selling Braiding Sweetgrass, by botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, who espouses radical gratitude to nature by asking that humans consider the question, 'What can I  give in return for the gifts of the earth?'


Designing for Forest Health

Landscape architects and horticulturalists are inventing and adapting design models that enhance vitality for people and forests.


Miyawaki Forests: Image of tree with captions: Stores carbon, Feeds life, Builds soil, Counters climate change, Cools heat island, Improves health, Cleans air, Dampens sound pollution, Intercepts rainfall, Offers habitat


Planting individual trees is great, but what if you could fast-track the growth of a mini forest community in your neighbourhood? CanPlant is piloting a new project on using the Miyawaki Forest technique to do just that in Canada.


Wise Use of New Technology

Emerging technologies have their place in this work:


Remote sensing and artifical intelligence can give us new eyes in the sky to monitor our expansive Boreal Forest for extreme wildfires.


Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis and interpretitive web cartography are being used to understand and educate Canadians about the value of our northern peatlands.


Ex-situ conservation methods carried out in sterile labs are providing hope for at-risk species, with researchers developing tissue culture and seed banking methodologies to preserve genetically unique local flora.



I think that Gen Z will grow up more attuned to ecological issues than any previous generation. One educational resource I noticed recently is this kid-friendly website, which includes a colouring book, advocating for the conservation of Wisqoq (Black Ash) populations in our eastern forests.


Black Ash

(Fraxinus nigra)

Black Ash is native to Eastern Canada and is used in traditional basket weaving. Populations are currently under threat due to the proliferation of Emerald Ash Borer.


View on CanPlant

Black Ash


This blog post is a snapshot of my personal reflections, and I'm sure I don't have all the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe you have something to add about how Canadians and forests can work together, or where this is all going.  Do you know of something I should have mentioned here? Let us know!


For more information about World Wildlife Day events, which include a film festival, check out the offical website.


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

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! 




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

Written by: Nicole White


The COVID-19 outbreak is an exponential crisis, where each of us can literally save lives in our communities by heeding the precautions recommended by the WHO and Health Canada to reduce its spread.


We hope you're all doing your best to stay safe and healthy. A connection to nature can help reduce stress and enhance mental health, so we've prepared a list of resources and recommendations to help us all get through this time.



Any book you can dream of can be ordered online in hard copy or ebook form. Also, while your local library may be closed, you may still be able to check out ebooks or digital audiobooks on their website. Here are a couple of our reading recommendations:


An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Johnathan Silvertown
Seeds piqued my interest while I was working as a lab technician to help develop seed bank technology in Nova Scotia. This book about the evolution, genetic beauty, and surprising diversity of seeds will be compelling to home gardeners and scientists alike.



Gardening Your Front Yard: Projects and Ideas for Big and Small Spaces by Tara Nolan

Janel says, 'Mari-Ann is currently using her extra time to read our friend Tara Nolan’s newly released book and is loving it.'


Seed to Seed: The Secret Life of Plants by Nichlas Harberd
The author uses a diary format to follow a single Arabidopsis thaliana (a common weed often used in scientific studies) specimen throughout its entire lifecycle. Sketches and storytelling are used to illuminate plant biology and meditate on the beauty of natural processes.


Bringing Nature Home by D. W. Tallamy

Summer says: 'Once you have read “Bringing Nature Home” and start making changes in your own back-yard, you will soon want to buy a copy for every friend and family member to help your efforts multiply. The review on the front of the book says it all, If you have a backyard, this book is for you.'



Online Resources

While museums and botanical gardens may be closed, you can still delve into natural history for free online:


Emily Dickenson's Herbarium
The renowned poet was also a skilled gardener who independently studied plants at a time when women were excluded from the scientific community. Harvard has made a high-quality digital version of the herbarium she created in her youth here.


Emily Dickenson's Herbarium

The Cotton MS Vitellius C III

CanPlant cannot help you find which plants grow best in dragon's blood, but this Old English manuscript, made available by the British Library, can do that and then some. An interesting view for those interested in botany and medieval history.


The Cotton MS Vitellius C III


Create a Plant List with CanPlant
Create a free account on the CanPlant website, filter and search to find the right plants for where you are, and develop your own custom plant lists. Lists can be saved, downloaded, and printed!



The National Film Board of Canada
The NFB has many high-quality plant films and documentaries going back over five decades! All of these are available to stream for free in your browser.


Kingdom of Plants 3D
This David Attenborough documentary features as much diversity as an episode of Planet Earth, but it's all shot in a single location -- the world-class Kew Gardens in London.



Get Outside

Note: Please check the recommendations of your public health professionals for this one! In some cases, it may be advisable to stay indoors.


Christina says, 'Nature is one of the few things is still open for enjoyment. Go for a solo hike or jog in your favourite natural space. Studies have shown that immersing yourself in nature helps to reduce stress and improve mental health (something we all could use right now!)


Not only that, but maintaining physical activity and getting some good ol’ Vitamin D is important while we are all cooped up inside for the near future. Make it a time to reflect and be calm, or exert pent up energy or anxiety that many of us are feeling these days.


Hiking in Western Canada


AllTrails is a great (and free!) app that shows you trails in your area, and allows you to filter for less popular spots as we all try and maintain social distancing. As a safety precaution, be sure to carry your cell phone and have a friend or family member aware of your whereabouts if you do endeavour out alone.'


Forest (App)

Summer says, 'I personally find it very hard to “unplug” especially at a time like this when you want to constantly check the news for updates, not healthy! I use this app to temporarily lock my phone to stop me looking at it, it grows a virtual tree that will die if you stop before your time is up. Bonus, you get points that can be redeemed to purchase a real tree the company will plant through a tree planting initiative! '


Submit Photos to CanPlant

Do you have any photos in your collection of plant species you've identified? If you want to help CanPlant's mission, now would be a great time to see if you can help us fill in the gaps in our database. Use the Submit a Photo form, or Contact Us directly if you have a larger collection you'd like to share.


Join the Conversation

Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram, leave a comment, and let us know how you're connecting with plants and nature during this time.


Take care of yourself and your loved ones. And if you can, let a connection to nature help you be resilient.

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


Blog Contributor Portrait
CanPlant Blog
August 11, 2022
show CanPlant's posts

Latest Posts

Show All Recent Posts



Everything Evergreen CanPlant Dougan & Associates Underappreciated Plants Native Plants West Coast Maritimes Prairie Provinces Arctic Restoration Books Technology Wetlands Pollinators Carolinian Zone Pathogens Community Gardens Plant People Culture