Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 26, 2021
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Where The Wildflowers Are

This summer, explore the untamed blossoms of Canada's woodland

It's the time of year when sunlight reaches the forest floor and patches of green rise from under decaying leaves, ready to blossom. After a long winter, these wildflowers are the first dash of colour in the woods before the canopy closes in and green leaves appear. Dark red trilliums sit next to bright yellow trout lilies, pockets of bloodroot are tucked into tree roots and mayapples uncurl like partially opened umbrellas.

Swamps, wet meadows and streamsides are bursting with life. You'll see clusters of bright yellow Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris), the delicate pouch of Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium calceolus) and the striped funnel of Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).

Open fields also hold treasures. Blue and violet patches of Bluets (Houstonia caerulea), shiny yellow flowers of the Common Buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and the Common Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) adorn meadows.

In thick woodlots the largest variety of wildflowers bloom. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) grows in thick patches, its scalloped leaf curling at the base of the single white flower. Nearby the speckled leaves of the Trout Lily or Dogtooth Violet (Erythronium americanum) border its bright yellow petals. Low to the ground you'll find clusters of Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), a delicate pink flower with a dark pink stripe.

The Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) is one of the most popular woodland wildflowers, pushing through the ground at the same time that the robin's song is heard. Also common is the star-shaped white flower of the Wood Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia), usually found along woodland borders. A unique find is the heart-shaped flower of Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), an unusual shape resembling the wide end of trousers.

As the forest canopy closes in with eaf cover, summer blossoms start to appear. Delicate petals of White Campion (Silene pratensis) appear in fields and along roadsides. Bright yellow star-shaped flowers of the low-lying Spreading Stonecrop (Sedum divergens) colour rocky areas and mountainsides. The thick brush-like tips of the Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) cloak the lower elevation slopes of mountainsides.

The more elusive plants can't be forgotten. Half hidden by moss in dark coniferous forests, the Pipsissewa (Chimaphila menziesii) lies low to the ground. Raising its bell-shaped flowers a half metre among sagebrush, the rare Purple Mariposa Lily or Butterfly Tulip (Calochortus macrocarpus) is losing ground as agriculture destroys its habitat. Among tangled tamarack groves and in open sphagnum bogs, the rare White-fringed Orchid (Platanthera blephariglottis) looks like a flutter of snowflakes in mid-summer.

Then there are the common flowers that we can't overlook. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) heads track the sun daily from east to west all across Canada. The thick lips of the Greater Bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris) surface above streams, ponds and marshes, luring insects. Dainty blue Chicory (Cichorium intybus) petals soften the look of dry soil with their pastel hues. Purple flashes of the Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) scramble over logs, sand dunes and beaches.

For help in distinguishing these and other flowers, refer to the National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers and the Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. The Audubon Society also has a handy pocket guide for familiar flowers.

Included is a list of trails that showcase various spring and summer wildflowers throughout Canada. With the late spring we're having this year, some blooming times may be delayed.

Look but don't touch
As beautiful as these flowers are, don't threaten the wildflower community by picking them. If you see a large patch of flowers and think it can't hurt to pick a few, note that every year some roots are damaged by various mishaps and the populations become depleted. Many flowers, such as orchids, have been overpicked and are now rare. Besides, wildflowers don't transplant well when taken out of woodland conditions and they wilt within a few hours if placed in a vase. It's against the law to pick wildflowers in all national parks and conservation areas and some, such as Ontario's provincial flower, the Trillium, are protected wherever they grow. The only exception is Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), a long spike of purple-pink flowers that crowds out native plants much needed as food by wildlife. To discourage this invasive species, you can pull the plants out, carefully placing them in a bag so as not to spread their seeds.

If walking on a trail, stay on the path and don't trample the flowers. Don't step on a pile of leaves to get a closer look at a flower. There may be a tiny plant underneath, ready to push through and open its leaves. With these cautionary measures, you ensure that the wildflowers will be as plentiful the following year -- a living bouquet that you can visit year after year.

Check out the following guide for the spring wildflower haven near you.

For a precious few weeks each June, the Purdon Fen wetland (tel: 613-259-2421; fax: 613-259-3468; glows in a soft pink. Out of the floating mat of saturated moss and peat soil rise more than 16,000 showy lady's slipper orchids. Although the one-kilometre loop is short, this trail has lots to offer: a 500-metre boardwalk that winds through the heart of the orchid colony, a scenic lookout and a variety of fen wetland species.

Each May, the white and red of trilliums are among the first colours to appear in the transitional forest of La Mauricie National Park (tel: 819-532-2282; You can follow the easy three-kilometre Lac Gabet Hiking Trail that winds through a maple forest and ends at the lake. A 14-kilometre linear multi-purpose trail along Lac Edouard passes through areas where trilliums bloom.

Each summer, showy lady slipper and yellow lady slipper orchids appear along the six-kilometre Lomond Hiking Trail in Gros Morne National Park (tel: 709-458-2066; Many wildflowers bloom in this region of land-locked freshwater fjords, sheer granite headlands and unique magnesium rocks (exposed from the earth's mantle and seen nowhere else in the world).

New Brunswick
Along the 10-kilometre Coastal Trail, bunchberries carpet the forest floor during July and cluster into orange-red berries in August. The trail travels inland along the coast of the Bay of Fundy, through the Acadian coastal forest and old red spruce stands, crosses headlands and rolling landscape, and follows a ridgetop with a scenic view of the Bay.

Fundy National Park (tel: 506-887-6000: fax: 506-887-2308; has more than 100 kilometres of hiking trails, many abundant with wildflowers, from the pitcher plants along Bog Trail to bunchberries on the Coppermine Trail.

Even on the edges of glaciers, wildflowers cling to the soil. In May and June Glacier or Avalanche Lillies carpet meadows as the snow is melting in Banff National Park (tel: 403-762-1550; fax: 403-762-4834; They are abundant in the moisture and sun on the five-kilometre Stanley Glacier Trail. In August, the Snow Orchids bloom in the shadow of Mount Rundle on the Rundle

Riverside Trail. Manitoba
Prairie grasses part with the wind, opening a window onto wildflowers in Riding Mountain National Park (tel: 204-848-7275; fax: 204-848-2596; www. On the 20-kilometre Long Lake back country loop trail you'll walk among Wood Violets, Fireweed, Black-Eyed Susans and Asters as you stroll among aspen trees through open meadows and prairie grasslands. If you want a shorter trail you can try the 10-kilometre Grasshopper Valley loop trail. Both lead through wooded areas and open meadows with prairie flowers on the western side of the park.

Katherine Jacob is author of the Canadian bestseller trail book series published by the Conservation Lands of Ontario.


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