Sunday, June 26, 2011

Native Plants of PEI

It's been a wonderful and relaxing weekend and we ended it today by taking a walk out in the woods.  I've been spending so much time in the garden lately that we haven't been for a walk in some time.  So we packed up our backpacks and drove out to Brookvale ski hill.  During the winter this area is used for downhill and cross country skiing, as well as snow shoeing.  In summer the cross country and snow shoe trails are good for hiking.  I was delighted by the amount of native plants that we saw on our walk today. In case you're not sure what I mean by native (hubby wasn't) it means that these plants are indigenous to North America, or are particularly found in this part of North America.  They have not been brought in from another country in the past.  They have always grown in North America and cannot generally be found elsewhere.

The first of the plants I stumbled on was Bunchberry or Cornus canadensis.

This plant is the smallest member of the Dogwood family.  It has creeping rhizomes that allow it to create small colonies such as the one in the photo above.  A closer look at the flowers reveals they look just like the flowers on a larger dogwood tree.

Also carpeting the forest floor was numerous varieties of ferns.  I must have seen a half dozen species today and I'm not even sure what they all were.  Unfortunately I did not look closely enough at this colony of ferns to be able to identify them after the fact. 

There are several ferns which form colonies and have a similar shape to this plant.  I would need to have an identification book on hand to be able to know what these ferns were.

Due to this fern's distinctive shape I was easily able to identify it from photos.  It is the Sensitive Fern or Onoclea sensibilis.

The fern below looks very similar to the Sensitive Fern but the leaves appear to be individual rather than joined.  I haven't managed to identify it yet.

In addition we saw Cinnamon ferns and Bracken ferns.  

Overhead there were many trees that caught my attention.  The first was this Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum).

The distinctive leaves are almost impossible not to notice.  They are so large (up to 1 foot wide!) and the shape is unlike any tree I know of.  Despite the large leaves it is not a large tree.  Rather it grows only to 15 - 30 feet tall.  The other distinctive feature is it's lovely striped bark.

The trunk on this tree is small but you can just see the stripes that identify it.
The other tree I spotted today that made me squeal with delight was this blooming Alternate Leafed Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia).

Another small tree that only reaches about 20 feet the leaves are also quite distinctive with many veins rippling the surface.  The flowers are unlike most dogwoods, clusters of blooms that turn into berries later in the season.

This diminutive tree is also known as the Pagoda Dogwood and is often used in ornamental plantings.  It's branches form horizontal layers and it's flat top is reminiscent of Pagodas.

I have saved the best for last.  Heading back down the hill on the last leg of the hike we discovered a secluded grove that held an amazing sight.

This is a clump of Pink Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule).  I wish I could show you the extent of this grouping but my crappy camera phone really didn't do even marginal justice to these beautiful plants.  

Camera phones can be frustratingly fuzzy
There were literally dozens of these plants scattered across the forest floor, all in full bloom.  A very rare sight that I exclaimed over to my husband who couldn't understand the significance.  The pink lady's slipper is the provincial flower of Prince Edward Island and is named after the flowers distinctive shape which looks like a dainty slipper.  They require a very specific habitat, usually in the mossy undergrowth of hardwood forests.  Lady slippers are part of the orchid family and like many orchids are very difficult to propagate.  The seeds require contact with a beneficial fungus in order to survive and transplanting is often difficult as the plant has very few and very fine roots that don't transplant well, in addition to requiring a specific environment to live in.  So you can begin to understand just how amazing it was to come across such a large grouping of these flowers.  We hiked over 8 kilometers today and only saw these orchids in one very small grove.  They obviously have just the right habitat in which to live and multiply. 


  1. When I was a little girl, growing up in Nova Scotia, I would come across lady slippers all the time. I believed that fairies lived in them and that trolls lived under toadstools. I was mesmerized by lady slippers and held them in high respect. I shied away from toadstools.

    I only saw one lady slipper since living here in NB and I was so excited to see it.

    Thanks for identifying plants I see often but have no idea what they are.

  2. This is such a wonderful, exciting and informative post! I could almost feel myself walking with you..finding the most treasured of plants...pagoda dogwood, lady slippers and that creeping fern..we have that I think...don't know it's name but it is a beautiful groundcover. What a day. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. We share quite a few native plants. On my property, I have lots of bunchberry and some cinnamon fern. I see pink lady slippers in bloom every year, but I tend to see only solitary flowers, not whole stands of them (and mine finished blooming a couple of weeks ago). -Jean

  4. how nice. I grew up in a very rural area and sometimes miss being able to just go take a walk in the woods.

  5. That's incredible that you found such a large stand of lady slippers! They sell for really big bucks down here and I think they have to be kept as houseplants. I love native plants! They make gardening so much easier!

  6. Hi Marguerite, Great post! What a treat to see so many Lady Slippers on your hike. I was also taken with the large leaves of the Striped Maple and the tiny flowers of the Bunch Berries.It was really interesting to learn a bit more about native plants.

  7. A walk in the woods is so inspiring. What a nice way to see nature's beauty. I love all the fern and, of course, the lady slippers - a favourite from my youth in Nova Scotia. What a nice treat to see a large clump of them. So glad you had your phone camera! :)

  8. I think I must move to PEI. The two plants I have fussed over the most in my garden in southern New England are the bunchberries (can't get them to spread) and the pagoda dogwood (hard to find one to plant.) And you find them growing wild in the woods! What a delightful walk you had.

  9. Michelle - I remember lady slippers as a kid too! I thought they were the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. I haven't seen one in the wild in many many years so this was such a treat.

    Bren - I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It was hard to explain how exciting these finds were to hubby, I couldn't wait to come home and blog my finds as I felt some of my readers would be as excited as I was.

    Jean - how interesting that your plants bloomed so long ago! One of the things that I was so excited about was finding these plants in full bloom. To be able to catch them right at the perfect time was an extraordinary stroke of good luck.

    Jess - I worried when we moved here there would be no wooded places to walk. although there aren't many we have managed to find a few. It's such a treat have some quiet time amongst the trees.

  10. TS - To purchase a lady's slipper at a nursery is quite expensive here too. I haven't seen any at island nurseries but when I lived in BC I came upon some once at a nursery selling for 60 or 70 dollars each. They really are difficult to propogate.

    Jennifer - the more I see those Striped Maples the more I covet them! They have them for sale at the local native nursery and eventually I think one will come home with me.

    Ms.S - it is lucky I had that camera with me! Although I was wishing desperately we had a proper camera. The details on the slippers are completely lost with a camera phone in the shade.

    Laurrie - Although I often see bunchberries (hubby once dragged me to the golf course to see the 'trilliums'. it turned out they were bunchberries!) I have never seen a Pagoda dogwood before. I was amazed at how good the habitat was at the ski hill of all places to support such a variety of hard to find natives.

  11. I've been doing just the opposite! Plenty of walking, not enough gardening! I do have an excuse though, two little ones that love going for walks with their mum. The best days are the ones on which I can both garden and go for a walk with the kids. We usually walk around downtown Charlottetown since it's where we live and it's easiest. I'm planning on adding more native plants to my garden hopefully in the very near future. Ferns especially, they remind me of the incredible forests of BC. One of the things I miss most since leaving the province.

  12. Kim - Although I love getting out in the woods we often take walks in town too. The houses in many of the neighbourhoods are really inspirational and just downright pretty to look at and I always enjoy getting down there. I miss ferns too and BIG trees. I like the rolling hills but some days it seems kinda, empty?

  13. Marguerite I didn't realise I was so behind with reading your blog, I'm glad I paged back though as I really enjoyed this post and can just imagine your joy at finding the lady's slippers, I'd have been the same,
    the flowers on the alternate leaf dogwood are the same/similar to the clusters of tiny blooms on the red and yellow stem dogwoods I have over here it's the first time I've seen these small blooms on a north american blog as it is usually the large flowers, that often had me wondering if we are talking about the some plant family/genus (whatever it's called I don't understand the listing/naming thing)

  14. Frances - With gardening season in full swing it's easy to fall behind on blogging and blog reading I find. You're right that many of the dogwoods have the larger, very identifiable flowers. I've never seen these small flowers on a larger tree but generally see them on the smaller red osier dogwood.