Wild White Geranium

Wild White Geranium (Geranium richardsonii) is a perennial, 40–80 cm tall, easily recognizable as a geranium by its FIVE main but up to seven irregularly lobed and “deeply divided, lightly hairy leaves” (Parish 263, Gadd 291).

This species of the Geranium family “was named for Sir John Richardson (1787–1865), the Scottish botanist assigned to Sir John Franklin’s expedition to Arctic America” (Parish 263).

Flowers

As with other geraniums, each flower has FIVE petals that are quite hairy at their base (centre of the flower) where there are FIVE generally bristle-tipped sepals. The petals are white but may be pinkish, and may also have pink or purplish insect-guiding lines to the centre.


Sources:

  • Gadd, Ben. Handbook of the Canadian Rockies
  • Parish, Coupé, Lloyd. Plants of Southern Interior B.C.

WASKAHEGAN FIELD NOTES

Found in late June along the Pipestone Creek trail, in airy, open aspen and poplar groves. The Wild White Geranium prefers dry rather than moist conditions.

Later in the season, you might see the FIVE parted seed capsules with long beaks shaped like a crane’s bill (Parish 263). The number FIVE seems to be a good identifying feature for this plant; check tame geranium plants in gardens and flower pots for comparison.

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Showy Milkweed

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) has large rounded clusters of star-shaped pink or purplish flowers atop stems with lance-shaped leaves showing distinctive white veining. Softly greyish-hairy throughout; hollow stems with milky juice. The plant ontains “poisonous resinoids and cardiac glycosides” (Parish 249)

Oval-leaf Milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia) is a related species—smaller, with more oval leaf shape and greenish-white flowers.

Pollination

“Milkweeds are pollinated by insects that get little horseshoe-shaped pollen-carriers called pollinia clipped onto their legs as they enter the flower. They must break the pollinium free to leave. Some cannot and are trapped. The rest fly to other milkweeds, where the pollinia detach upon entry just at the right spot for fertilization. Smart flowers!” (Gadd, 339).

Monarch Butterfly Nursery

In southern Alberta*, this plant is part of a bigger design. The Eastern Monarch butterfly** lays its eggs (300 to 400 each) on the underside of milkweed leaves. As the larvae feed on the plants, they accumulate the poisonous glycosides, to which they are immune. Birds do not like the taste of these chemicals and therefore avoid eating the monarch larvae and butterflies. Declining occurrence of milkweed in North America directly impacts this beautiful insect (Nature Conservancy, 13; Parish, 249).


* Monarchs are most common in Alberta near the U.S. border where milkweed is abundant, but they have been seen as far north as Edmonton (CBC).

**The Eastern Monarch ranges from Alberta to the Maritimes and winters in Mexico. Western Monarchs occur in British Columbia and migrate to coastal California in winter.

Sources

WASKAHEGAN FIELD NOTES

Found late June along the Pipestone Creek trail, on the sunniest, driest slopes high above the creek.

 

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.

Sources: