Red Trillium, aka Wake Robin or Purple Trillium [photo: Edward Morris]

Finding new flora

The Nature of PEI | by Gary Schneider

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The go-to place for information on native plants in Prince Edward Island is the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre website (accdc.com). They have excellent botanists who visit the province each year and regularly add new species of shrubs, wildflowers and especially lichens to the PEI checklist.

There are many other good sources for identifying what is native, including the Macphail Woods website (macphailwoods.org), and books such as The Plants of Prince Edward Island by D.S. Erskine, Roland’s The Flora of Nova Scotia, and many field guides.

The newest book in this area is Native Trees, Shrubs and Vines of Prince Edward Island: A Pictorial Library, by David D. Carmichael. I’ve not had a chance to see this one but I’m sure it will be an important addition to the literature. David has a long history of working with plants at the provincial nursery and over the years provided many people with helpful information on growing plants, identification, and controlling insects and diseases.

It is sometimes difficult to access what is actually native to the province and what has been introduced. After European settlers started clearing land for agriculture in the 1720s—which continues to this day—the landscape was drastically changed. We went from mostly forested to mostly agriculture. This is why it is not surprising when things that haven’t yet been found here pop up in isolated areas.

It is always of interest to me when a species is added to our provincial list. Last year someone confirmed that Trout Lily can indeed be found in PEI in isolated woodlands. I had been told for years that it was an introduced flower. But someone from Rollo Bay remembered finding it in the forest near where she grew up, and had pressed a sample as part of a science project.

I have written before about Red Trillium, also known as Wake Robin or Purple Trillium. There are notes of it being here, but no confirmed records. There is mention of this species in one of the Lone Pine books on wildflowers of Ontario. They say that it once was here but can no longer be found. In addition, Blythe Hurst Sr.’s slim 1933 publication on Flowering Plants and Ferns of Prince Edward Island lists it as the first of three native trilliums.

I was inspired to reach out to readers after a student from Acadia sent me a beautiful picture he had taken of a Red Trillium in flower. I’ve come across them in the Wolfville area, and they can be found in Pictou County as well. You’re most likely to find them in a mixed woodland, often along streams, and they are quite a sight to see in their natural habitat.

We just need to keep looking for plants in appropriate places, and who knows what might show up. We keep finding new populations of rare ferns, shrubs, and wildflowers, which become important in any efforts to restore populations and learn more about these species. Besides, it is never a bad thing to have an excuse to go out for a walk in the woods.

If you do come across a trillium in the woods with deep red flowers, please call me at 651-2575. And if there are things that catch your eye that you can’t identify, apps such as iNaturalist are great, or you could send a photo to me through macphailwoods.org.

There is always more to learn about our provincial flora, and it is great to see so many people helping to gather this knowledge.

Gary SchneiderThe Nature of PEI