Posts Tagged ‘Purdon Fen’


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.


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.


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!


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.


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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Every June, Purdon Conservation Area, northwest of Perth, becomes a hot spot for nature lovers. Thanks to the efforts of Joe Purdon, a pioneer in conservation stewartship, 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.


The orchids bloom for a couple of weeks at the end of June and the beginning of July. I made a trip out to see the orchids on a sunny, hot day this week and was not disappointed. The area is now managed by the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority. (That’s right; there’s a Mississippi River in Ontario too.) A boardwalk meanders through the fen and allows visitors to get a good look at the orchids with minimum impact to the fen. The orchids grow amongst trees, nestled in grass and sedges and other wetland lovers.


Information signage along the trail helps in identifying plants and provides interesting information about the fen. The orchids are 1 to 2 feet tall, and as their name indicates, very showy, decked out in white and bright pink. The stems have a hairy appearance and the hairs can cause a skin rash if touched, another reason not to disturb the plant!



The fen is situated at the foot of a steep hill, and runoff of water from the hill helps to feed the fen with nutrients and moisture, providing the habitat the orchids require. The plant has vanished from much of its historical range due to loss of habit as a result of the draining of wetlands.


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