Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Some Wildflowers Wouldn't Go Amiss

It's the middle of winter, that long season that's not-too-affectionately referred to in this part of the country as "Novembruary". The landscape is uniformly grey-brown when the ground is uncovered, and of course white when there's been a snowfall. Like a lot of other residents of Atlantic Canada, I'm just about ready for some brighter colours -- I'm thinking about the wonderful variety of wildflowers that will paint the countryside here starting in just a few weeks. The sun may shine brilliantly on these short, cold winter days, but wouldn't it be nice to see a few bright splashes of pink, yellow or purple on the land?

When spring arrives, it's often the weeds we see first... dandelions with their cheery flowers decorating lawns and ditches. Later, the lupins follow, painting entire meadows with shades of pink and purple. They're so plentiful in southwestern Nova Scotia that the main road through the area was once known as the "Lupin Trail". They're a nitrogen fixer and a welcome addition to the very acidic soil found here. Daisies, of course, are scattered across pastureland.

Early summer brings the white blossoms of Labrador tea, Rhododendron groenlandicum, as seen in the photo at right. Just before they open, its white clusters of blossoms resemble large white raspberries. The plant's distinctive leathery leaves are creamy white to orange on their undersides, with a fuzzy, suedelike texture. As its name implies, an herbal infusion of this plant is sometimes used as a beverage, but be careful -- it higher concentrations it can be harmful.

Wild orchids of many varieties are native to Atlantic Canada, blue flag iris grow in marshy ground, and the globe-shaped maroon flowers of the pitcher plant decorate ditches and bogs. In August, large patches of bright fuchsia-coloured fireweed or Epilobium angustifolium (bottom photo) begin to appear. This beautiful plant, known as Rosebay Willowherb in England, is a pioneer species that takes its name from its habit of moving quickly into areas recently burnt over. Fireweed is a member of the evening primrose family, and in some areas its flowers are gathered to make jelly.

Meadowsweet, or Spiraea ulmaria (top photo) is present in mid-summer along with other white meadow flowers like tall meadow rue and Canadian burnet, a member of the rose family. Meadowsweet is a source of salicylic acid and was traditionally gathered to treat coughs and colds and as an anti-inflammatory. Another of the white wildflowers of summer is yarrow, Achillia milleflorium, sometimes known as the battlefield plant for its properties of promoting wound healing.

Yes, I'd love to see a few wildflowers right about now, and smell their scent on a gentle breeze. If you see any, please send them my way!

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