Ken Marr – “New plant discoveries from the northern BC alpine”

Ken Marr – “New plant discoveries from the northern BC alpine”
by Heather Harbord, 20 May 2021.

Dr. Ken Marr, Curator of Botany at the Royal BC Museum, and one of the Club’s first speakers, gave a fascinating account of his research on the Alpine plants of Northern BC especially in the area east of highway 37.  This is a remote and expensive area to reach.

Alpine areas, which are determined by the lack of trees, have been scraped and carved by glaciers.  Plants like moss campion Silene acaulis are the first to grow on the wind swept soils.  They grow in cushions which encourage other vegetation to establish themselves close by.  Except for a few quick growing annuals, most alpine plants are perennials.  Survival depends on their ability to tolerate an extreme climate from sub-zero temperatures to 30°C heat.

During the field trip season which only lasts for two-three weeks a year, the crew fly in by helicopter or float plane and establish a camp including facilities for drying specimens.  They usually cover about four mountains, though they have done up to eight.  Each team carries a radio and a GPS and communicate with each other every two hours.  Visiting as many different habitats as possible, they collect 130-200 of the 400 species so far recorded in the area.  Orchids, yellow poppies, several louseworts, and purple gentians are among the many treasures they find.

Once back at the museum, they write up their notes of where and when each specimen was collected so that this information can be shared with other researchers around the world.  Like parallel researchers of mammals, they are beginning to think that there may have been more glacial refugia than had previously been thought.  Alpine Plants of BC, Alberta and NW North America by MacKinnon and Pojar and published by Lone Pine is a useful resource.