Monday, July 18, 2016

A Wildflower Celebration

     Because I own a very active Border Collie I have to go on long walks rain or shine, sleet or snow, it keeps me up close to many species of wildflowers thru the seasons.
     Although I live in a City of over 1.2 million we have many natural areas for cycling and walking. Here's a snapshot of part of my daily walk, a wild stretch of prairie that also shares space with a memorial forest, bounded on one side by a major freeway and the other by my neighbourhood. Calgary lies on the Northwest corner of The Great Plains of  North America so is mainly a grassland, just to the West, within city limits these days, the landscape turns to Aspen Parkland as the foothills rise to the Rocky Mountains. The landscape of most of the city is originally grassland scraped flat in the last Ice Age with broad river valleys carved by the raging waters of melting glaciers, where I walk is an example of one of these Ice Age river valleys that now contain a tiny meandering creek. In the 1890's this valley was the red light district of a young pioneer town, a place for gambling, whiskey and ladies of the night.
    It's nice to have a natural area so close to the centre of the city, it keeps one in  touch with the ebb and flow of the seasons. Although there are many escaped and naturalized species from nearby gardens there are still many native and wild flower species to be found, from April to October there is often something new in bloom, as they have done for thousands of years even after the buffalo have gone and a city now surrounds!

Prairie Crocus, Pasque Flower, Anemone patens
     The prairie crocus were up very early this year, the first week of April when they often appear toward the end of April. The name Pasque refers to a French name for Easter, when they are usually blooming. After the flower fades long fuzzy seeds like the illustration of sperm take to the wind. This is the official flower of Manitoba and South Dakota, the cultivated variety that blooms in deep red is the official flower of the City of Calgary. A welcome and cheerful symbol of the beginning of spring on the prairies!

Scarlet Mallow, apricot mallow, Sphaeralcea coccinea
     I must say I had to look this one up in my favourite field guide, they are not exceedingly common in my park and are also only inches tall. I'm not sure where the Scarlet part of the name comes from as they appear very orange, apparently not great for livestock but a food for deer.

Richardson's Alumroot, Heuchera richardsonii
     This is really not common at all, I only noticed it because of the flower stalk and then recognized it as the ancestor of garden heucheras. You probably know heuchera as the lovely and many coloured perennial that is so easy to grow, I knew it had a prairie ancestor so was quite glad to spot this one on my walk. The second latin name comes from John Richardson, I wonder if he named the Richardson's Ground Squirell too?

Western Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm,  Monarda fistulosa L. var. menthaefolia
     I didn't know this was such a common plant in southern Alberta, I immediately recognized it as a type of Bee Balm, many of us are probably familiar with the garden varieties, no wonder they do so well here! There are many species of Monarda throughout North America, this is the only one in Alberta, the menthaefolia part means mint like leaves, next time I'm out I'm going to see if it is minty.

Bluebell, Harebell, Campanula rotundifolia
      There are many types of campanula in the wild and in the garden, although this is very common in Alberta they are still a joy to see. These bluebells can form patches a foot or so around and make pleasant blue islands on the hillsides.

Gaillardia, Brown Eyed-Susan, Gaillardia aristata
     These are very common in wild areas all through the prairie, although I wouldn't have their cultivars in my garden I don't mind them in the wild. This is the only species in Alberta but there are many in cultivation of course!

Canada Anemone, Anemone canadensis
     Judging from the name in English and Latin I'm guessing this plant is common across Canada!? There are a few substantial patches in my local field blooming around June quite profusely. I have read that anemones arose from the tears shed by the goddess Venus over the death of Adonis, many of the plants we love have a Greek mythological story attached. Later in the season the seed heads become fuzzy clumps to be dispersed on the wind like natures Q-tip exploded.

 Northern Bedstraw, Galium boreale
     I kept seeing so many of these I had to wonder what they were. Lots of us are probably familiar with the cultivated Bedstraw or Sweet Woodruff  I hadn't considered there was a wild variety on our dry grasslands. Apparently these are very common throughout Alberta. These plants are only a few inches tall but bloom profusely in the early summer.

 Smooth Fleabane, Erigeron glabellus
     I saw this nice patch of Fleabane right beside the path and thought it quite showy for a plant that is only a few inches tall! There are 23 species of Fleabane in  Alberta, burning bundles of this plant was thought to repel fleas hence the name. Fleabanes come in a variety of colours from white to yellow to several purples, they can be hard to tell apart from Asters which are usually taller and have less petals.

Sticky Purple Geranium, Geranium viscosissimu
     I don't know why the common annual Geranium is also named this as it has nothing to do with the wild species!? These plants are native to South Western Alberta and the Cypress Hills. There are many cultivars of the native geranium which all do very well here of course! These plants are quite common in my local park and bloom through June quite profusely.


Common Fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium
     Very common across Canada and often the first plant to spring up after a forest fire, hence the name. There are a few patches in my local field some in the open and some in the shade of a copse of native poplars. These plants have had many uses by the French Canadians and by the Natives all over Canada, there are 17 species of this plant in Alberta alone.

Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
     I only noticed this plant because I was flipping through my field guide and thinking I've never seen this plant! Two days later I noticed this one that is quite large. Even though it has yellow flowers I quite like it as a wild plant, the flower buds are unusual and sticky and the flowers themselves a very bright yellow. Gumweed was listed in the US as a sedative until the 1920's, I don't know what exactly that means but please don't consume wild plants as it's hard to know off hand what parts were used and how much. This is the single species in  Alberta, found mainly in the Southern half of the Province.

     And finally, the Wild Rose. Being the Provincial emblem and official flower of course they grow everywhere! I have seen them in many places across Canada so I believe them to be quite common. In my park these roses grow anywhere from a few inches high to a few feet and also come in shades of white to dark pink and everything in between. In the winter the red rosehips stay on the plant and can be used for a tea.

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