Bunchberry

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a carpet-like mat, circumpolar, ground flora in forests. The creeping roots from which the upper plants spring are up to 7.5 cm deep in the tree litter.

As the snow melts away, short stems of the bunchberry clone bearing six leaves with prominent veins somewhat parallel to smooth leaf edges appear. At the top of each stem a flower assemblage of 4 white outer bracts and a cluster of regular stamens with yellow (pollen) anthers and smooth dark pistils in the middle. When the pollen is ripe the touch of a tiny trigger hair on one of the petals, for example, by a visiting insect, causes the flower bud to open explosively and the stamens to shoot out pollen.

After pollination, bright-red berries form at the top of the pistils. During the summer these slowly enlarge and become red edible fruit for many birds and animals.

WASKAHEGAN FIELD NOTES

It is believed that pollination is triggered by small insects in less than half a millisecond, making bunchberry the fastest plant in the world. Check out this Youtube video.  It’s a good thing it doesn’t make a noise we can hear!

The Pipestone Creek section of the trail just east of A49 has a vast carpet of bunchberry.

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Spreading Dogbane

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium) is a branched perennial herb found in dry thickets and borders of woods and beaver ponds all across Canada.

It is appreciated mostly in spring when the clusters of small, pink, bell-shaped flowers are showy and sweet-scented. If you look closely at the five-part flowers, you will see deeper pink lines (honey guides) that lead insects into them.

The fruits are long, narrow, crimson, twin pods that contain numerous seeds equipped with tufts of silky white hairs that aid in wind dispersal.

The plant is a “rhizomatous perennial” which means that many plants come from a common root stock, thus Spreading. The branches if broken produce a bitter milky sap that is toxic  (Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest)…hence the name “dogbane”.

WASKAHEGAN FIELD NOTES

A large clone of this dogbane covers a long ridge along a section of the Waskahegan Trail just outside the Blackfoot Recreation Area. We hike this trail at spring flowering for the redolent dogbane.

The trail descends to one end of the large beaver pond where the Waskahegan Trail Association (WTA) had to build a new wooden walkway over a beaver re-flooded trail area in 2017. The beavers promptly built over part of the walkway. Eventually beavers and humans reached a compromise.

One can search many solitary dogbane plants in some years and find no flowers or seed pods later in the season as shown here. At the first sign of autumn frost, the plant’s leaves go bright yellow.

Photos by permission of Patsy Coterill from January 2018 Newsletter of the Edmonton Native Plant Group

Prairie Crocus

Prairie Crocus (Anemone patens) blooms so early in the grasslands that snow may still be on the ground.

Don’t be surprised to see small insects (pollinators) within the flowers because the temperature in the flowers is often 10°C higher than in the surrounding air.  The sun’s rays bounce inward from the white cupping petals to heat the yellow stamens.

The flowers are Nature’s original solar panels (Biology of the Prairie Crocus).

WASKAHEGAN FIELD NOTES

The self-planting seeds of the early blooming Crocus are also part of Nature’s design, allowing rapid penetration through the grasses to the soil and germination when moisture is adequate, thus escaping competition from the grasses when they start to grow.  If moisture is inadequate, the seeds will wait another year to germinate. The Prairie grassland ecosystem has other adaptations for survival of its species. The Crocus ranges throughout the whole system and beyond on sandy soils.