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Posts Tagged ‘Pitcher plant’

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It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I first viewed the display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) at Purdon Conservation Area, northwest of Perth. This weekend, the weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed a family excursion on Father’s Day to see the orchids, which are just reaching their peak period of bloom.

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Thanks to the efforts of Joe Purdon, a pioneer in conservation stewardship, the colony of a few dozen orchids, which he discovered on his property in the 1930s, has grown to 16,000 blooms. It is probably the largest display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) in North America. A well-maintained boardwalk allows visitors to stroll through the wetland and enjoy the remarkable display.

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Fens are very special places. A fen forms when layers of peat (dead plant matter, such as sphagnum moss) build up to form a mat around the edge of open water. The mat slowly grows as live moss at the surface dies and drifts to the bottom of the water. As the open water is gradually filled in, a peatland is formed. While slow-moving water is still flowing through the fen, it rinses out some of the acidity of the peat. Fens support sedges and grasses and low to medium-height shrub cover along with a sparse covering of trees. Fens may require 5,000 years to form. When movement of water is completely obstructed, the fen becomes more acidic and develops into a bog.

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A specialized plant community thrives in a fen. The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is carnivorous and uses insects for food. Rainwater collects in the hollow leaves of the plant, where an insect-digesting enzyme is mixed with the water. Insects are attracted into the leaves and are unable to escape because of smooth hairs at the opening. In this way, pitcher plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor environments where other plants could not. In early summer, wine and green-coloured flowers are produced on stems separate from the tubular leaves. The photograph above shows a birds-eye view looking down past the wine-coloured flower into the pitchers formed by the leaves.

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Slender Cotton Grass (Enophorum viridi-carinatum) is actually a member of the sedge family. The long silky bristles of its fruit clusters give them the appearance of soft cotton. Cotton Grass is found in bogs and fens across boreal North America.

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Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora) features yellow globe-shaped flowers. Also known as False Buckwheat, it is found in swamps and fens across temperate North America. Other interesting plants that we observed include the Northern Green Orchid and Twinflowers. Below, Seabrooke (The Marvelous in Nature) captures a view of a Showy Lady’s Slipper.

(Just a note: The highly invasive alien, Purple Loosestrife, isn’t related to native loosestrifes and belongs to a totally different plant family. It should more properly be called Purple Lythrum (Lythrum salicaria))

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While the Showy Lady’s Slipper Orchids are the star of the show at this time of the year, they are by no means the only feature of interest at Purdon Conservation Area. Twinflowers (Linnaea borealis) were also blooming in the fen. These delicate, moisture-loving flowers are the smallest members of the honeysuckle family. Their upright stalks terminate in a fork, with each side bearing a single pale, pinky-white trumpet-shaped flower.

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The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is carnivorous and uses insects for food. Rainwater collects in the hollow leaves of the plant, where an insect-digesting enzyme is mixed with the water. Insects are attracted into the leaves and are unable to escape because of smooth hairs at the opening. In this way, pitcher plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor environments where other plants could not. In early summer, wine and green-coloured flowers are produced on stems separate from the tubular leaves.

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Flowers aren’t the only attraction. I also saw a sampling of wildlife. Here is a Green Frog (Rana Clamitans). Check out the green upper lip on this dude!

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Several White Admirals (Limenitis arthemis) floated by. These woodland butterflies are common and widespread. Interestingly, White Admirals and Red-spotted Purple butterflies are different morphs of the same species. Their larval food plants include willows, cottonwoods and poplars.

I disturbed this Garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis), who had been contentedly sunning itself on the boardwalk until I arrived on the scene, prompting his hasty departure.

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The fen lies at the bottom of a hill, where it is fed by water runoff. Climbing the trail to the lookout on top of the ridge offers a view over the pond that borders the fen. The pond was created in the 1960s by introduced beavers, who dammed the small creek that was draining the area. The conservation area thus features 3 kinds of wetland, with marsh and swamp around the edge of the pond complimenting the fen. A fen differs from a bog in that it has a groundwater source. The moving water brings nutrients and reduces the build-up of acidity. A bog has no water source except rainwater and snowmelt. It is therefore nutrient-poor and highly acidic.

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