Sometimes—maybe most times—I feel as though I have the best job in the world. One of the greatest satisfactions I get from the Macphail Woods project is bringing back once-rare native plant species. These include rarities such as witch hazel, hobblebush, round-leaf dogwood, ironwood, as well as many ferns and wildflowers.
Since people know of my interest in native Island plants, I regularly get calls or emails about species they have found. These plants could turn out to be very common, or they could be rare ones.
Many years ago I had given a talk for a community school class in Montague during the winter. When I showed a picture of hobblebush in flower, someone from the area told me that she was pretty sure there was some growing along a nearby rural road. Once spring rolled around, she called and gave me exact directions on where to find them. I knew very little about these rare native shrubs, but followed her directions and there was indeed a small group of hobblebush. More importantly, I realized that the large, showy flowers were easy to see from a distance at that time of year, so I just kept on driving. I found several more areas with hobblebush growing and went back to these woodlands to collect seed in the fall.
In this way, Macphail Woods is able to diversify its seed sources as much as possible. This is not always easy when dealing with rare plants, but it is important to at least try to have multiple areas of healthy plants from which to collect seed.
A few weeks ago I received an email about a plant I’d never heard of before, which is always exciting. Photos were included in the email, which made it even more intriguing. The plant had been identified as Rock Harlequin (Corydalis sempervirens). Also known as Pale Corydalis, it has small, pink and yellow flowers and lovely pale green/blue foliage that immediately reminded me of Dutchman’s Breeches—for good reason, it turns out. They are in the same family.
While Dutchman’s Breeches are associated with damp, shaded places, Rock Harlequin are more likely to be found in disturbed areas. The ones we found were in dry soil in full sun.
Possibly the only reason these small plants were noticed at all was that the entire area had been clearcut about five years ago (before the present owner purchased the property) and they were right beside the woods road. Less than a dozen plants have been found on the property, though there may still be more. The Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre lists them as an S2—imperiled in the province because of rarity due to very restricted range.
That got me even more excited—another rare plant that is very beautiful. Some of the flowers had turned into tiny, pea-like pods and I collected a small amount without really knowing much about how to propagate them. As with many rare plants, they seem to be easy to grow, from what I’ve since read. I put the pods on a paper towel in a bowl and as they dried they started shedding tiny black seeds. We will germinate them in our new greenhouse, where they will get more attention than they would if they were outside in the nursery. These plants deserve the extra care.
If you do come across any out-of-the-ordinary rare plants, please let me know. You can email me right from our macphailwoods.org website. Any assistance would be most welcome.