Pipestone to Bigstone Hike: Better than the Nature channel

The Pipestone Creek trail is a favourite of moderate fitness enthusiasts, but at the height of midsummer it’s an absolute BONANZA for those of us who like flowering plants.

Pipestone CreekTwenty people from Edmonton, Beaumont, Hay Lakes, Wetaskiwin, and Camrose met on a quiet road at the bridge over Pipestone Creek. Immediately we entered the dark and mossy forest of towering old spruce that edged along the right bank. Soon we came out to open and flowered meadows that overlooked farms to the south.

We went up and down the slopes, in and out of gulleys, and stepped over many strange fungi, not to mention numerous stiles.

 

Plant lovers

The weather was humid and mostly overcast but the frequent breezes kept back the mosquitoes. We were concerned that the dirt slopes would be sticky after the rain we had, in the city anyway, almost every day this week. We were relieved to find the slopes dry.

 

 

Lunch was long and leisurely on the bank of the Pipestone where it meets the Bigstone Creek. The cows on the other side watched us and we watched them. “Better than the Nature channel,” said Kirsten.

Cows

On the way back, a violent splashing got our attention. We stopped to watch a juvenile duck beating the water with its wings, propelling itself along the surface, as it tried and tried to lift itself off into flight.

Hairy Golden Aster?
Hairy Golden Aster?
Brown-eyed Susan
Brown-eyed Susan
Hyssop
Hyssop
Fleabane
Fleabane
Large mushroom
Large mushroom
Coral mushroom
Coral mushroom

michele3

We are deeply grateful to the Trail Maintenance crew for the fine work of mowing back the lush growth, the clearing of fallen trees, and the excellent trail signing that made this such an enjoyable hike today.

IMG_2047 (800x508)

See more photos at the Waskahegan Trail Flickr account.

 

Getting to know the plants on the trail

Alberta Agriculture calls them range plants—”the native and introduced plant species” in the rangelands, including “grasses, sedges, forbs (e.g. weeds and flowers), shrubs and even trees.” In a recently updated report, the department explains that “[r]angelands provide an important source of forages for domestic and native animals as well as protection to the soil and watersheds.”

The report lists more than 250 species with their common names, latin names,  origin (native or introduced), “grazing response”, and forage value. Grazing response is the reaction a species has to continuous defoliation, i.e. grazing and damage from being trampled on.

Early blue violet
Early blue violet: junk food of the pasture?

We encounter range plants all the time on the Waskahegan Trail. To those of us who are plant lovers (and there are a lot of us) the report is fascinating reading. Did you know that the young leaves of the chokecherry are poisonous to the foraging animals? Or that the early blue violet, which looks so delicious, is nutritionally poor?

You can find the report here.