Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Botany Walk

Last Saturday I had the chance to go on a botany walk with the Owen Sound Field Naturalists, which turned out to be terrific.  I always enjoy learning new things, and this was also in a new location where I've never walked, the 'West Rocks' along the escarpment on the west side of Owen Sound.

The most interesting part of the walk for me was heading up (and later down) through the huge mossy boulders of the talus slope below the cliff.  It really is a bouldery jumble of dolostone, and provides great habitat for a number of unusual ferns, which were the focus of our outing.

On this boulder were several plants of Marginal Shield Fern, a species very typical of this habitat.  And this is their typical growth form, hanging flat on the rock below the rootstock. Among other things, I learned that mosses and lichens have the unique ability to totally dry out and then re-hydrate when the rain comes.  Here they're growing directly on the rock with no soil, so I'm sure that happens in dry hot summers.

Another fern typical of this habitat is the Northern Holly Fern, a good example here.  All of the fern leaves we were seeing were last year's fronds, which stayed green under the snow; only a few new fiddleheads were starting to unfold.

We also saw a number of spring wildflowers, including this Wild Ginger, one of very few brown wildflowers, a flower that lies right on the ground under the bright green heart-shaped leaves as shown here.

This was my favourite photo of new fiddleheads coming up.  It's hard to tell what species this is at this stage, but I'm guessing it will turn out to be Fragile Fern or Bulblet Fern. both also typical of this habitat.

And the prize for me was this Ebony Spleenwort, the first one I've ever seen in Ontario.  I think I saw it once in the U.S., but it's quite rare here.  Ironically it was found on the disturbed slope below an old unused quarry.  It's like a small Christmas Fern, about 8" long, and looking fairly worn at this stage, having spent the winter under the snow.  I plan to return and see the new fronds later this spring. 

Tomorrow, a few of the other sights we saw, including a great view over Owen Sound from the cliffs.


  1. It looks like a wonderful place for a ramble about.

  2. It's fun to go out in the woods with knowledgeable people.

  3. The ferns are lovely! What a wonderful walk! Thanks for sharing, have a great day!

  4. Wonderful! The pictures in books are helpful, but often seeing a fern for real makes ID so much easier. The dark stem on the spleenwort is a clue too.

  5. That was a nice walk - and I like seeing what you're seeing -Nice photos.

  6. Those fiddleheads are cool looking. We have lots of them up on HT. Just learned what they were called from my son this past weekend. : )

  7. Calcareous talus slopes like this are home to a great collection of unusual plants, as your blogpost reveals. Love the bright red stems of those baby ferns. It's almost impossible to ID ferns as juveniles, but it's fair to guess it will be a lime-lover like the two you mentioned.

  8. Great photos... Seeing the moss and ferns growing on and around those rocks/boulders reminded me to the Smokies... We need to make a trip there --since we haven't been there yet this spring.


  9. I have some Wild Ginger but I call it Canadian Wild Ginger and its leaves are so interesting! Thanks for the Botany Walk! :)