Butterflyweed

This is the time of year the tawny day lilies are blooming in roadside ditches. Driving back from Ottawa the other day, I encountered swaths of the orange flowers along the road as I drove on Highway 7 through Marmora and Havelock and then down 30.They looked very pretty. It is understandably difficult for anyone who isn’t a native plant  buff or field ecologist to understand that tawny day lilies are a problem, that the introduced plants displace the native plants, the plants with dense ecological connections.

So let me show you some pictures of what could be blooming orangely along country roads this time of year:

All these lovely butterflyweeds, or butterfly milkweeds (Asclepias tuberosa), were growing in Goodrich-Loomis Conservation area, off Highway 30, a bit north of the 401. They were attracting monarchs and bumblebees and silver-spotted skippers and other small skippers. Blooming with them were wild bergamot, round-headed bush clover, and showy tick-trefoil.

Last month I visited Mt Ararat, a farmstead overlooking Rice Lake which had been the home of author Catherine Parr Trail. She described the vegetation of the Rice Lake Plains, the open savannahs on the sandy glacial hills, such as the esker that forms the backbone of Goodrich-Loomis CA. Although the Mt Ararat site was no longer being farmed, the distinctive savannah species were not reestablishing, except where the conscientious owners were doing some hands-on restoration work.

While in Ottawa, I visited an old farmstead on the north end of Gatineau Park, where hard-working Irish settlers had eked out a meagre living on the infertile sandy hills. This, too, had not been a working farm for many decades. The diverse and colourful lichen indicated a site relatively unburdened with nitrogen from air pollution. Common juniper, blue-eyed grass, and pussytoes were recolonizing the sparse pastures. This far north and east, I could not expect the full slate of savannah species to have ever been here. Yet I still felt there were species missing. Black-eyed Susans? Little bluestem? Indian grass? The succession from pasture to native vegetation was being led by sumac. The colourful wildflowers of  native grasslands are very slow to come back after farming establishes European pasture grasses.

Quality sites like Goodrich-Loomis CA, and the wonderful savannah on the Alderville Reserve south of Rice Lake, are vital to tell us what we are missing in our landscape.

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Published by

Trish Murphy

Artist: botanical, still life, and natural history illustration. Garden designer: native plants and naturalistic gardens