Looking at Plants in Ontario

Copied from the Bruce Trail Club’s Footnotes Spring 2016. Toronto BTC Footnotes Some of her references might be helpful for anyone interested in learning more about the plants in our ravine.

by Marilyn MacKellar

This year I began looking at the plants in a local ravine. What started on a spring walk, where nothing was at the stage I expected and many things were a total mystery, has developed into a plant list for that ravine. It has been an interesting experience, since this small ravine has a range of plants I hadn’t expected. It has also been an interesting experience because, within some species, there is a vast amount of diversity, not all of it easy to separate. Goldenrods, for example, are often similar to each other. Asters are worse. This fall has been a revelation.

How does one begin to look at plants more closely?
1. Start with a basic plant book and concentrate on one kind of plants: wildflowers, trees, bushes, grasses (save this one for later!), ferns…. I will include a few good book titles at the end, and many are available at the Public Library.
2. Invest in a small magnifying glass.
3. Take your camera and a notebook.

I start out with my camera and notebook handy. When I see a plant I don’t know I try to find it in the guidebook. It helps if there are flowers, since many guidebooks are divided by the colour of the flower, but you may just have to look through the whole book for some of them. You will learn to look at leaves, the height of the plant, the habitat, the shape of the stem….it’s a whole new world!
If I can’t identify the plant immediately, and I don’t want to spend all my time on one plant, I will take a photo of it. You may need more than one photo to include the flower and the leaves and the way it is placed (e.g. with lots of others, in a bog, about 4 ft high). Write in your notebook where you found it and what the numbers are for the photos and any other info you think may help. Use your magnifying glass to see if there are hairs on the leaves or stems and what the flowers really look like (especially useful for goldenrods!). Then you can take the photos home and look more closely at what you have seen. A little map sometimes helps place the plant.

It is also interesting, with the help of the guidebooks, to find out how many of our plants have come from outside the country (called ‘Alien’ in the books). I’ve been surprised by many.

Looking at plants has been very good for me. I have spent more time during the week walking into the ravine and around the area and it has improved my fitness, even when it’s such a slow walk. Curiosity has led me to appreciate some plants more than before. Asters used to be white or blue to me before this year. Now they are much more diverse and when I see them I really look at them. They will be in my garden next year. I have met some new people as a result of this interest. And I have a long list for next year.

Sources (a basic list):
Dickinson, Richard & France Royer

Plants of Southern Ontario. Lone Pine 2014

Farrar, John Laird

      Trees in Canada. Fitzhenry & Whiteside and Canada Forest Service, 1995

Soper, James H. & Margaret L. Heimburger

      Shrubs of Ontario, ROM, 1982

For more information on native plants check out Native Plant Database from Evergreen.ca.  The Ontario Invasive Plant Council also has a wealth of information.

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