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Taxonomy, empty lots, roadsides

June 20, 2007


Louise was breathless with excitement and it didn’t help that Reba was pulling at the leash. As usual I was on my knees pulling out Swamp grass and clover from around the heather. She was so proud of her beautiful Labrador Retriever who had just found a trail hidden among the overgrown bushes at the end of an empty lot off Wilmot Road. It was just a few minutes from our hill-side homes overlooking Cowichan Bay. The lot was not really empty as it was completely overgrown with clover, daisies, Swamp grass, wild blackberries and dozens of other plants many of which I had been battling as weeds for the last 18 months in the garden. Here they flourished and were stunningly beautiful swaying in the breeze.

Suddenly the quiet was broken with industrial size squawking. It reminded me of the sound of raptors in Jurassic Park. As we zigzagged through patches of thorny plants we could see huge heron nests that seemed to be balanced precariously atop Alder trees that were too thin and fragile for this weight and responsibility. The loud squawking seemed to increase and decrease in lulls which I thought at first was due to our arrival or maybe even an attack of an eagle. But as I stood silently watching I could see the adult herons incessantly leaving the nests and returning with food for their offspring. The young were rowdy and ungainly and the branches thrashed as they competed for food. One graceless young heron perched precariously on a branch that bent and swayed under his weight.

All around us underfoot were trunks of trees cut long ago to clear the land to the edge of this ravine tucked in behind Pritchard. The ravine meanders with branches leading into Cowichan Bay estuary somewhere near Wessex Inn.

Roger Tory Peterson1 reminded us that the majority of flowers that grow in vacant lots and along roads in North America are aliens. Hundreds of wayside plants came from Europe. Some came from gardens but most came unseen as seeds mixed in with shipments from across the sea. The first known station for a foreign plant is often at seaports or along a railroad track. In the prairies certain flowers came at first to airfields. In 1968 Peterson had already noticed that the best place to find remnants of the disappearing prairie flowers was along the railroad right-of-way. Roadsides are relatively poor because of mowing and plant-spraying operations. Even coastal marshes have lost their flowers through ditching and draining (1986:x11).

Flowers are rooted to earth, often separated by broad barriers of unsuitable environment from other ‘stations’ of their own species. “Therefore over the centuries, subtle differences have often developed with strains that are so marked that botanists have given them varietal names. Others are ignored because they would overburden an already complex taxonomy. Or a flower, from the same seed, may be depauperate in a sterile soil or where lack of competition has favoured it in some way. Familiar flowers than can look unfamiliar. Some hybridize (Peterson 1968:xii).”

“What of the future of rare native wildflowers? Because of the attrition of habitat, some are in a precarious position. Bogs along the southern margins of glaciated country are becoming fewer and orchids requiring bog conditions are harder to find. When a forest has been cut, its shade-loving orchids may also disappear, and half a century or more may pass before succession makes the forest suitable again for them. How can they return? […] Can seeds remain viable in the soil for half a century or more, until succession renders their habitat suitable again? We know little about this (Peterson 1968:xii).”

We entered the trail that Reba had shown us and there was a third space of semi-tropical rain forest. This hidden treasure is tucked away in the village of Cowichan Bay. A small stream, that dries up in the summer, winds through this hidden ravine. It is a corridor of towering douglas fir, cedar trees and arbutus trees with dense foliage that is tucked in between developed areas on either side. Sword and maiden-hair ferns and a wide diversity of wildflowers grow in the cool, moist mini-ecosystem. A few villagers have maintained a trail with an almost invisible entrance at the end of a clearing on Wilmot. I am not sure that it is precisely located on the Flickr map but the coordinates are (48°44’23.86″N, 123°37’39.45″ W).

This is linked to my Flickr and to my Google Earth Community and will be linked to Youtube, Facebook and Google Video.

Notes
1. I usually try to separate my own phrasing from that of an author whose works I am citing. In this case these words are a blend of direct quotations from Peterson’s Introduction and my own editing to shorten and summarize. His phrases and wording are so exact, poetic and appropriate that I wanted to enhance their metaphorical quality by keeping them intact. If I included all the “” the result would be too cumbersome.

Bibliography

Peterson, Roger Tory. 1968. “Introduction.” in Peterson, Roger Tory, McKenny, Margaret. 1968. A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America: A Visual Approach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Peterson, Roger Tory. 1968. “Survival.” in Peterson, Roger Tory, McKenny, Margaret. 1968. A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America: A Visual Approach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
p. xii.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Taxonomy, empty lots, roadsides.” >> Speechless. June 18.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Taxonomy, empty lots, roadsides.” http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_304fp4w32 June 18.

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