Monday, June 17, 2019

Chilling in the Bruce, Part 1

Lake Huron at the Evergreen Resort.

Back in January, the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS) had announced their upcoming annual trip would travel to the Bruce Peninsula in Canada. The Bruce is a strip of land lying between the northern shores of Lake Huron on the west and Georgian Bay on the east. Due to its geological origins and climate, it has some of the most unique native flora on the planet, so when I found that VNPS would be visiting the area, I signed up immediately. Here was my chance to see first-hand some of the most unusual and rare plants in North America!

I took two days to drive there, making an overnight stop in Buffalo, NY so that I could stop to see Niagara Falls along the way. When I was a child, Niagara Falls was billed as one of the seven wonders of the world, and I didn't want to miss it--it's one for everyone's bucket list. The morning was overcast, and a light drizzle was falling when I arrived at the state park--the advantage of coming early on a rainy day was plenty of parking and no lines, so I purchased a ticket for the Maid of the Mist tour to see the falls close-up and was able to board with no waiting.

The American Falls at Niagara

The falls are still as awesome as when the first European explorers saw them, despite having moved some seven hundred feet farther upstream due to natural erosion, but the rather touristy-industrial development on the Canadian side hasn't improved the landscape.  As one passes under the falls, the spray is such that the tour operators include a disposable plastic raincoat with the price of the ticket--another fellow tourist kindly obliged me to take this shot. It was overcast and there were no rainbows, but as the wall of spray hit my face, I opened my mouth to take it in--ahh, here was a taste of Niagara Falls!

Below Horseshoe Falls

I spent only a couple of hours in the park, just long enough to see the falls and then went on to cross the border into Canada, where the border guard asked about my destination. As I talked about my intended route the guard asked me if I was aware of the tolls on this road--turned out it was the most expensive route possible! I thanked him as he directed me to the visitor center just beyond to get a map and directions for an alternate route without tolls.

The clouds began to clear, though the traffic became heavier as I drove on the Queen Elizabeth Way towards Toronto. My exit at Hurontario Street took me through endless suburbs with street lights at every corner, and it was slow going until I left Brampton behind, but the route provided the opportunity to stop to fill up my tank. I'd been advised to buy "petrol" whenever possible, since unlike in the states, one never knows how far it may be to the next station.

Once in the countryside, I had the chance to observe that it was still early spring in these latitudes. The rolling countryside was mostly farmland and hay grass, dotted with old farmhouses and small hamlets. One elaborate Victorian house seemed to have had its charms overtaken by modern road improvements. The trees' leaves were just starting to unfurl, and as I drove further north, the trees were almost bare. Before turning off at the town of Sauble Beach, I caught a glimpse of Lake Huron and a dune.

I arrived at the Evergreen Resort in mid-afternoon and checked in, being directed to the cottage I was to share with Tana, who hadn't arrived yet. The chilly wind was whipping up whitecaps on the lake, the water coming up high over the rocks at the shoreline. I was glad I'd thought to pack my thermal underwear and both of my polartec vests, as well as two jackets.

The sunny lounge at Evergreen Resort

By dinnertime our group of twenty had all arrived and we met in the lounge by a roaring fire to introduce ourselves and discuss the next day's plans. We would carpool in five cars and caravan to the sites, rotating drivers and cars over the entire week so as to minimize our impact on the fragile sites--there was very little parking space at some of the places we would visit.

Next morning was still quite windy, so after breakfast we set out for Walker Woods, a mixed forest of evergreens and deciduous trees sheltered from the wind. The forest consisted mostly of white cedar, fir, spruce, hemlock, Canada yew, maples, ash trees and buckthorn alder. Marsh marigolds and buckbean were about the only plants in flower, though a panoply of gaywings, twinflower, ferns, sedges and low shrubs underneath were in bud. The moss and pine needles made a spongy carpet among  pools of water here and there.

Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris)

Buckbean (Menyanthes trifoliata)

I had my first glimpse of the dwarf lake iris--these endemics don't seem to bloom in masses as one would expect, and there were so many plants new to me: fly-honeysuckle, with pairs of delicate pendant cream flowers, Canada mayflower, wild sarsaparilla, a list too long to include, but here are photos of some of the highlights.

Dwarf lake iris (Iris lacustris)

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)

Fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis)
Starflower in bud (Trientalis borealis)

On our way back to the resort for lunch we stopped at a sandy clearing along the resort's gravel drive to find a patch of gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) in full bloom. Red-osier dogwood and bracken ferns were leafing out, red elderberry was blooming here.

Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia)

After lunch we drove out to see Oliphant Fen--a fen has water flowing through it as opposed to a bog, which has standing water. The wind chill was more noticeable here, close to the lake shore. We saw a number of plants by the roadside that most people would overlook as mere weeds, such as bastard toadflax, shrubby cinquefoil, silverweed, ragwort, wild strawberries and leaves of grass-of-Parnassus.

Oliphant Fen

Purple Pitchers (Sarracenia purpurea) and butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris)
Primroses (Primula mistassinica)

In the watery fen were purple pitcher plants in bud, some lovely primroses and a few yellowish leaves of rare butterwort, but with no flowers. The larches (tamarack) were just starting to put out their new leaves, and some sand cherries were opening their flowers.

Young tamarack tree (Larix laricina)

The wind chill was starting to get to us, by around five we were ready to call it a day, but not before stopping at the entrance of the resort to photograph a patch of bright red Indian paintbrush flowers.

Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)
Indian paintbrush

1 comment:

Herb said...

Flawless. ;-)