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The wild ones Story and photos by Lyn Tremblay


“What tufts of goldenrod and pale bluebells, what starry asters were mirrored in the calm


waters! What glorious spikes of cardinal lobelias and azure-fringed gentians were growing wild


and free on many a rugged spot where possibly no foot of man had ever trodden!”


Meadow, full of vipers bugloss, near Kirkfield. T


hese words were written in the diary of Catharine Parr Traill in August 1832, on the day she and


her groom arrived in the ‘Lake of the Thousand Isles’ aboard a steamer ship travelling from England. The couple were on their way to a new settlement called Peterborough in Upper Canada. Today, the famed naturalist’s diaries


provide rare and valued glimpses into our early Canadian natural environ- ment. The plants, whose names and habi-


tats were penned by Catharine, would have been the true natives of our conti- nent — a land not yet invaded by alien plants unwittingly transported from Europe in the heels of boots or in the ballasts of ships. Those, and others that have escaped from cultivated gardens, now intrude so much on our natural landscape that the lines between native and alien have become blurred except to the most knowledgeable among us. For the purpose of this article, while


we will differentiate between the two to appease the purists, we have chosen


76 • Fall 2016


to profile those simply considered ‘wildflowers’ growing along Ontario’s rural roads, in open fields and wood- land trails. This is just a sampling of the many different species that flourish throughout our growing season, from early spring until late fall. Ontario’s wildflowers find their


comfort zone in contrasting shady woods, wet ditches, sunny fields and dry roadsides. According to Mother Nature’s plan, the humus-rich soil of deciduous woodlands, warmed by spring sunshine and later shaded by foliage canopies, is where you will find most of our spring-blooming wildflow- ers. The first to emerge from a decaying carpet of leaves is the delicate flower of the native hepatica. Two species, sharp- leaved hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) and round-lobed hepatica (H. americana) are most common to Ontario. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)


will also show its bloom early. Native Americans and early pioneers used the red juice from its stems and roots as a dye.


For many, woodlots carpeted with


white trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) herald the beginning of spring. The exotic-looking Jack-in-the-pulpit


(Arisaema triphyllum) is more stage- shy, preferring to blend into its native surroundings. It is an intriguing plant, with ‘Jack’ (the spadix) poking his head out of his protective ‘pulpit’ (the spathe). The actual flower of the plant, either male or female, is hidden deep at the base of the spathe. In autumn, the plant sheds its shyness, as the spathe shrivels and exposes brilliant red berries. Another exotic beauty, the native


yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) is a member of the orchid family. Also commonly known as the moccasin flower, a pouch-like bloom is surrounded by three twisting petals. The native false Solomon’s seal


(Smilacina racemosa) will venture to the fringe of Ontario’s woods. Blending in with ferns, its leaves climb a stem that curves gracefully, extending spirea-like white blooms, differing from the true


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