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.



Spring Wildflowers

Spring Wildflowers
by Nancy Pezel, 12 May 2018

The weather was perfect for our group of 12 members to enjoy a lovely walk searching for spring wildflowers.

David Bedry led the group down the Browne Creek Trail to Dinner Rock Bluffs and the campground.

Along the sunnier edges of the forest we saw Pacific dogwood and Saskatoon berry in bloom.  Sally spotted some striped coralroot as well.  Death Camas were just beginning to flower in some of the grassy openings, while the Monkey flowers and chocolate lilies were in full bloom.  Nodding onions provided a culinary treat.

Carpets of sea blush dotted the tops of the bluffs as we got closer to the ocean.
And we sure enjoyed those ocean views!

Duane Sept – “Wildflowers and edible plants of BC”

Duane Sept – “Wildflowers and edible plants of BC”
by Andrew Bryant, 23 Nov 2017.

Duane came up from Sechelt to talk about wildflowers and other plants – some you can eat, and some you definitately should not!

He’s an accomplished photographer, naturalist and author of an impressive number of natural history guides.  These include titles such as Common Wildflowers of BC, Trees of the Northwest, and Tropical Butterflies of the World.

Organized by habitat type – from seashore Phyllospadix to mountaintop Phlox – Duane used his exceptional photographs to take us on a marvellous tour of botanical splendours.

Interspersed among the images were some fascinating tidbits of trivia.  Having walked through a patch or two of Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) in my day, I had no idea that bears love the stuff.  Dear bears… you can keep it!

I was also unaware that one can make decent beer with stinging nettles (Urtica dioica).  Or that First Nations used rhizomes of the common yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea) to treat tuberculosis and sexually-transmitted diseases…

Amazing stuff!


In search of saprophytes

In search of saprophytes
by Nancy Pezel, 24 June 2017.

Walter Kubany and his wife Sally led an enthusiastic group of 14 naturalists on a hunt for saprophytes along the trails of Valentine Mountain on this beautiful summer day.

We learned that many of these plants live on dead and decaying vegetation, but some like the Indian-pipes and Groundcones are parasitic on other plants.   They don’t have green leaves and chlorophyll, but interestingly some of them are in the winter-green family.   Because these unusual plants don’t seem to be very long lived, we were lucky to find some striking Candysticks in full bloom, a few Coralroots of varying shades of orange and purple, and a Pinesap.

Without Walter’s keen eye we would have missed the white Indian-pipe that was just emerging from the soil at the edge of the trail and some delicate orchids off the main trail.  For any of the saprophytes that were already finished flowering or hadn’t emerged yet, Sally and Walter had beautiful photos so we would know what to look for on future walks!

Plant Walk with Ioni Wais

Plant Walk with Ioni Wais 
by Laurette Hamoline, 26
 June 2016.

A small gaggle of enthusiastic naturalists (about 10-12 of us) gathered in Willingdon Park on Sunday to learn about plant classification.  Ioni Wais was our charming and knowledgeable guide as we wandered around the grounds learning about strange “relations” in the plant kingdom.  There are numerous ways in which we categorize plants but the main one both taxonomists and us regular folk use is a plant’s morphology, or how it looks. We observe the color and shape of the blossom and of the leaf and stem.  Is it tall or short?  Where is it growing and when?  Does it have a taproot, a fibrous root or perhaps a rhizome?  How does it disperse its seed – through the digestive system of animals, by wings like dandelion fluff or perhaps with hooks like a burr?  These are all helpful in determining what family it may belong to but taxonomists go even deeper, studying the chemical compounds found in plants and even DNA to help them determine “family traits”.

The suffix “aceae” designates the family name.  For example, po-“aceae” refers to the grass family, which is a huge family including our grains, corn, sugar cane and bamboo.

In the araceae family, also known as arums, there is usually a spadix (stem with flowers/seeds) surrounded by a spathe (leaf like structure) such as in the skunk cabbage.  Some members of this family are thermogenic, creating their own heat, even melting through snow or ice.  The flowers are often stinky in an effort to attract insects necessary for pollination.  An interesting tidbit is that when bears break hibernation they seek out and consume skunk cabbage (with high concentrations of calcium oxalate) not as a food source but as a laxative to get their sluggish system functioning again.   Plantain, commonly found in our lawns, belongs to this family and has been referred to as nature’s bandaid because of its many medicinal qualities.

We learned that the ranunculaceae family, which includes the common buttercup, likes moist conditions and the word ranunculus means “little frog”.

Within the polygonaceae or buckwheat family, many species exhibit a zigzag pattern on the stem with swollen nodes at each bend. The name is derived from Greek where “poly” means “many” and “goni” means “knee”.  Japanese knot weed is a good example of this trait.  There is also most often a sheath which covers the new growth.  Think of your rhubarb when it first pops out of the ground.

Ioni made a valiant attempt to correct a few common misconceptions.  There is no official or even universal classification for weeds or even invasive species.  These are subject to the environment, political situation and even our own personal preferences.

Trees are not classified as coniferous opposed to deciduous.  There are coniferous trees that lose their foliage in certain seasons and trees with leaves that are evergreen.  Never mind what you were taught in school way back when!!

And it was very interesting to look at the inflorescence (proper name for the blossom) of different plants. Sunflowers and dandelions are composite flowers with a compact flower head consisting of hundreds of individual florets surrounded by many bracts or rays.  And common yarrow or even cauliflower is a large cluster of florets.

So have a closer look at the plants around you.  You might just learn something!


Tamsin Baker – “Herons and Dunes”

Tamsin Baker – “Herons and Dunes”
by Andrew Bryant, 26 Feb 2015. 

Tamsin Baker holds degrees in Animal Ecology (from UBC) and Environmental Management (from Royal Roads).   She presently serves as Stewardship Coordinator with the South Coast Conservation Program, which is a portal that connects small, local, project-oriented groups with governments and scientific researchers.  Yes, and they arrange to talk to naturalist clubs too!   Accordingly, Tamsin visited Powell River to discuss two projects with which she is involved.

First she spoke about Great Blue Herons in our area, providing an overview of their taxonomy (we mostly see the smaller,  coastal Ardea herodias fannini subspecies here), nesting behavior, distribution, population trends, and threats to them.   Herons are a good example of how different branches of government deal with threatened species, so we learned about their status both provincially, federally (COSEWIC and SARA), and internationally.

In particular, Tamsin stressed the importance of ongoing, local monitoring efforts of particular nests or nest-colonies in order to provide researchers and governments with accurate information about what is happening “on the ground”.   The Heron Working Group can be found here, guidelines for surveying and monitoring heron nests can be found here, and you can view an interactive map of heron nests using the British Columbia Great Blue Herons Atlas, which is part of the wonderful Community Mapping Network.

In the second part of her presentation, Tamsin described the intriguing characteristics of coastal sand dune ecosystems, including their requirements for formation (it turns out they need “feeder cliffs”, “accretional features”, and “helpful tides”).  She also described their consequently incredibly patchy distribution within the Strait of Georgia, and the wondrous accumulation of botanical and animal marvels that are likely to be seen in our backyard (or at least on Savary) for those who seek to learn when, where and how to look.

An excellent and comprehensive report prepared for the Coastal Sand Dune Recovery Team can be found here, with a shorter, less technical synopsis prepared by the B.C. Government available here.

Thank you Tamsin…for adding even more species to our club’s collective  “I’d really like to see one of these and learn more about it” life-list!

Botany BC and Texada

Botany BC and Texada
by Heather Harbord, 17 May 2008.

Botany BC, the annual meeting of botanists and plant enthusiasts of British Columbia was held in Powell River from 15-18 May.   As part of this event, John Dove and Terry Ludwar led a field trip to Texada Island on the second day, the 17th.

You can read the original trip announcement here.  You can also read a wonderful field trip report by Ian Cumming, one of the participants, complete with wonderful photographs,  here.