lakeside daisy, manitoulin island, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon

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Illustrated on this page are some northern Ontario wildflowers that occur on sand dunes located on Manitoulin Island.  The dunes occur along the south shore of Manitoulin Island, adjacent to Lake Huron.  The dunes are transitional to alvar areas locate land-ward of the dunes.

The plant community on sand dunes consists of dune stabilizing shrubs, grasses, and rushes. The upper parts of dunes are generally dry and desert-like, where as the inter-dune areas are moist and may actually flood in the spring. Nutrient level is low on the dunes. Inter-dune areas may also be low in nutrients although moisture may be calcareous or limy.

The sand dune ecosystems are sensitive habitats.  These are fragile landforms that are held together by beach grasses and other vegetation.  The Habitat is easily destroyed by foot traffic of motorized vehicles. If you travel to dune areas, please travel "lightly".

Brief Geological History:

The conditions that lead to the formation of the Lake Huron dunes on Manitoulin Island relate to the post glacial history of the region.  About 25,000 years ago, much of Great Lakes area, including Manitoulin Island, was covered by glacial ice related to Wisconsin glaciation.  It is estimated that the ice was about 1 kilometre in thickness.  Under the weight of the glacier, the land was depressed - sunk actually - and the rock was scoured, grooved, scratched, and eroded as the glacier flowed across the land.

When the glaciers receded and melted, the left deposits of sand, silt, gravel and boulders. As melting continued, the melt water began to fill the Great Lakes area - the depression left by the erosion by and the weight of the glaciers. A large lake, named Lake Algonquin, formed and encompassed lakes Michigan, Huron, Nipissing and Georgian Bay. Interestingly, the glaciers blocked the present river systems at Sarnia and along the St. Lawrence River; instead, the large lake system that developed drained south along the Mississippi and Hudson rivers.  It is speculated that all of Manitoulin Island was initially covered by glacial melt water.

At about 11,800 year ago, parts of Manitoulin Island emerged from beneath the water largely in response to the raising of the land because the weight of the glacier was removed as it melted. It is estimated that the lake levels were about 8 metres (25 feet) higher than they are today. This means that Manitoulin Island has risen about 140 metres (400 feet) since glaciation.  The land is still rising today.

Relevance to dune formation:

With the substantial emergence of land by about 6000 years ago, prevailing winds began to concentrate sand dune deposits along the exposed shores.

Wild flower List:

Beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus); native perennial; also known as Sea Pea, Beach Pea, Circumpolar Pea, Sea Vetchling.

Family: Pea (Fabaceae)

Flower: Purple; 10-22 mm wide; dark purple standard petal and paler purple wing and keel petals; occur in racemes of 2-7 flowers.

Leaves: Arrowhead-shaped stipules embrace leafstalks; oval leaflets; pinnate, paired or alternate; waxy glaucous green, 5-10 cm long; 2-5 pairs of leaflets, the terminal leaflet usually replaced by a twining tendril; June - August.

Stems: Trailing, up to 80 cm long.

Height: Up to 0.6 m or spreads along ground.

Habitat: Sand dunes, gravel storm beaches.

Interest: The seeds remain viable while floating in sea water or fresh water for up to 5 years. This allows the seeds to drift to distant places. Seed germination occurs when the hard outer seed coat is abraded by waves on sand and gravel.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay
Date: July 21, 2009.

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beach pea flower and leaves, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Beach pea flower, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon,

Beach pea flower.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay
Date: July, 2006.

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Bearberry shrub, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay
Date: May 26, 2007.

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Bearberry; also known as Bears' Grape,  Mountain Box, and Kinnikinick; low trailing shrub.

Flower:White or pink in terminal clusters; bell-shaped; drooping; 5 fused petals; 5 mm long; May-July.

Leaves: Evergreen; 1-4 cm long; smooth, leathery, thick; green on both sides; rounded tip; 1 - 4 cm long.

Stem: Woody stems that lie on the ground; has many branches covered with dark flaky bark; forms large mats.

Fruit: Dull red berry that is edible, but that are dry and mealy.

Habitat: Grows on a range of soils, including coniferous forest with a rocky or sandy soil and on rocky areas and old beach transitions areas related to dunes and alvars on Manitoulin Island.

Interest: A wash of bearberry leaves is a folk remedy to stop the spread of poison-ivy rash. A wash of bearberry leaves is a folk remedy to stop the spread of poison-ivy rash. The leaves were also used as a tobacco substitute. A yellow dye can be made from the leaves of Bearberry. The Latin name means "bear-cluster, the grape of a bear".

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Bearberry fruit, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Bearberry fruit.

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: September 2, 2007.

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Bird's-eye Primrose; perennial native; Also known as Lake Mistassini primrose, Canadian primrose, Dwarf Canadian primrose, Bird's Eye primrose, Canada Cowslip, Oxlip.

Family: Primrose (Primulaceae)

Flower: Tubular; light lilac to pink-coloured; yellow centres; 5 notched petals; 1-2 cm in diameter; May - August.

Leaves: Oblanceolate to spatulate; some coarse teeth; small; grow in a basal rosette about 1 to 3 cm in diameter; green on both sides, short-stalked.

or sessile, and toothed.

Stem: Long; leafless and topped with flower cluster.

Height: Up to 10 cm.

Habitat: Marshes and bogs; wet, calcareous ledges, rocks, shores and slopes commonly found on alvars; argillaceous rocks.

Interest: This is one of the early spring-blooming plants. Primula mistassinica is named for Lake Mistassini, a large lake in Québec, where the plant was first discovered.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Michael's Bay
Date: May 20, 2006.

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Bird's-eye primrose, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Blue vervain:

Flower: Blue to purple; branching pencil-like spikes of small, 5-petaled flowers; individual flowers are inconspicuous, but flower spikes are showy; only a few bloom at a time advancing toward the pointed tip; July to September.

Leaves: Lower may be 3-lobed; opposite, narrow, toothed.

Stem: Grooved, 4-sided.

Height: up to 0.5 m.

Habitat: Roadsides, fence lines, low river banks, beaver dams, and lake sides.

Interest: Verbena is an ancient name for a scared plant. The name vervain is supposed to signify "enchantment".

Location: Burwash
Date: July 4, 2001

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blue vervain

blue vervain flower, copyright 2003 Andy Fyon.

Blue vervain flower close up.

Note the flower opens from the bottom up along the flower stem.

Language of Flowers: Vervain means "enchantment". Source

Location: Kingston
Date: August 3, 2003.

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Cut-leaved water horehound plant, Copyright 2004 Andy Fyon.

Cut-leaved water horehound

Family: Mint (Lamiaceae)

Native perennial.

Flower: White; 2-lipped; in tiny clusters on stems near leaf axils; July - September.

Leaves: Deeply cut, oak-like lodes on lower leaves; opposite, lance-shaped, upper leaves sharply serrated.

Stem: Slender and hairy; sparingly branched; square in cross section.

Height: up to 30 cm.

Habitat: Along the edges of ponds and lakes, wet roadside ditches, along streams, inter-dune area, low woods, and wet meadows.

Distinctive: Square stem; flowers in leaf axils; no mint smell, deeply lobed leaves.

Interest: Water horehound is a member of the mint family; however, it does not have aromatic leaves typical of wild mint. The large, rounded teeth on the leaves distinguish Water Horehound from other species of the Mint family.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay.
Date: August 2, 2004.

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Close up of distinctive, deeply lobed leaves and white flowers of cut-leaved water horehound.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay.
Date: August 2, 2004.

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Cut-leaved water horehound, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon.

Sticky false asphodel, copyright 2008 Andy Fyon,

Sticky false asphodel;  native perennial; also known as False Asphodel and Sticky Tofieldia.

Family: Lily (Liliaceae)

Flower: White to creamy white; tipped with deep red which is dominant colour before flowers open; many tiny white flowers in a dense cluster at top of stem; 6 spreading petal-like segments 3-6 mm long with 6 stamens that lie against them; pink or reddish anthers; June - August.

Leaves:  Long, 5-20 cm, erect and narrow with sheathing stem at base; grass-like and linear.

Stem: Supports flower raceme; smooth; slightly sticky because of glands and short hairs.

Height: 10 - 50 cm.

Habitat: Lime-rich or calcareous areas that are inundated with water each season, such as river edges, shallow rocky areas in rivers that are exposed during low water, ledges, marly bogs.

General Interest: This is not a common wildflower. The species name glutinosa refers to the sticky, glandular hairs on the stem beneath the flower clusters.

Location: Murphy Point, Manitoulin Island 
Date: July 25, 2006.

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Sea Rocket (Cakile edentula) flower, copyroght 2007 Andy Fyon,

Sea Rocket (Cakile edentula) plant, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Great Lakes Sea Rocket; Native annual herb; also known as American Sea-Rocket.

Family: Mustard (Brassicaceae)

Flower: Pale lavender colour; flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs; July - October (frost).

Leaves: Fleshy, succulent;

Stem: Fleshy; many branched, erect.

Height: Up to 60 cm.

Habitat: Sand beach at the high-wave line and toward the shore, on sand dunes.  Sea rocket is sometimes found at a distance from the water's edge, even on perched dunes; however, it most often occurs on the beach.  The seeds break into segments that are dispersed by the waves and thus produce new plants where the seeds are washed ashore along the beach.

Interest: A sandy beach is a difficult place for plants.  Sea-rocket has an important role as a sand anchor that helps to stabilize sand dunes. Sea Rocket is generally the first terrestrial plant to grow on the beach. It grows on sand beach at the high-wave line and on sand dunes. As Sea Rocket disperses, grows, and holds the sand so that small dunes begin to form around the plant.  Storm waves wash away the plant, but the seeds are dispersed by the waves and thus produce new plants in the spring where the seeds are washed ashore along the beach.  Sea rockets produce glucosinolates, which are thought to provide a defensive function for plants in the mustard family.  The "hot" taste in radishes and mustard are attributed to glucosinolates.

Location: Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island.
Date: September 11, 2005.

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Iceland yellow cress, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon.

Iceland Yellow Cress; also known as American watercress, Mountain watercress, Common watercress, Yellow watercress, Marsh cress, Northern marsh yellowcress, Great yellowcress; Annual, biannual or short-lived perennial native.

Family: Mustard (Cruciferae)

Flower: Yellow; 1-3.5 mm long; sepals often yellowish or purplish; Late May to frost.

Leaves: Basal and lower stem leaves oblong 6-20 cm long, 0.5-4 cm wide, short-stalked to unstalked, irregularly saw-toothed, incised, deeply lobed, may be hairy.

Stems: Branched and spreads out.

Height: Up to 1 m.

Habitat: Wet meadows, boggy areas, and on beach or dune sands; circumboreal and occurs throughout North America.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay
Date: September 11, 2005

Language of Flowers: Cress means "stability, power, reliability". Source

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Iceland Yellow Cress plant growing on the flats between the sand dunes.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay
Date: September 11, 2005

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Iceland yellow cress, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon.

Lyre-leaved Rock Cress; Native; biennial or short-lived perennial herb; also known as Lyrate rock-cress, Sand cress.

Family:Mustard (Brassicaceae)

Flower: White; 4-parted; less than 1 cm wide; flowers occur in a terminal cluster or raceme; the seed pods are long (2-cm), flattened, and project upward; May - July.

Leaves: The lower leaves are lyre-shaped and have lobes at the base; the stem leaves generally have no lobes.

Stem: Erect stems with many weak branches originate from from a hairy base.

Height: Up to 30 cm.

Habitat: Rocky and sandy soil, on alvars, rock ledges and cliffs.

Interest: The Greek word "Arabis" means "mustard" or "cress".  The Greek word "Arabia" may refer to the ability of the plant to grow in rocky or sandy soils.

Lyre-leaved rock cress, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay west
Date: May 26, 2007.

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Lyre-leaved rock cress flower, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Location: Manitoulin Island, Carter's Bay
Date: May 21, 2006

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Lyre-leaved rock cress, copyright 2008 Andy Fyon,

Typical form of Lyre-leaved rock cress - branching.

Location: Misery Bay, Manitoulin Island
Date: May 18, 2008

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Mossy Stonecrop

Flower: Yellow; starlike; 5 petals on top of stalk; June-July.

Leaves: Tiny flat fleshy leaves; succulent.

Stem: Branched.

Height: 2-5 cm.

Other: Alien; found also on rocky beaches. It is possible that this plant escaped from cultivation.

Interest: Cacti, including sedum, have an interesting way to conserve water during the very hot, dry, desert weather typical of their environment. These plants only open their stomates during the cool of the night. However, this means the plants do not get CO2 from the atmosphere that is needed by the plant to create sugars, by a photosynthesis reaction that takes place during the daytime. The adaptation goes like this: at night, the plants open their stomates and take in CO2; that CO2 is stored in various organic compounds; during the daytime, when the light-based photosynthesis takes place, but the stomates are closed, the plants take the CO2 from the organic compounds.

Location: Burnt Island Alvar, Manitoulin Island
Date: July 3, 2010.

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Mossy stonecrop sedum, copyright 2010 Andy Fyon,

Mossy stonecrop sedum, copyright 2010 Andy Fyon,

Close up of Mossy Stoncrop sedum flower.

Location: Shequiandah, Manitoulin Island
Date: June 21, 2009.

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Ohio goldenrod, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon

Location: Manitoulin Island, south shore
Date: August 2, 2004.

Ohio goldenrod; perennial herb.

Family: Aster (Compositae or Asteraceae)

Flower: Yellow; large umbrella-shaped head with hundreds of tiny yellow flowers; flat-topped; June to October.

Leaves: Flat, not triple-nerved; long, erect, upward-pointing.

Stems: Erect.

Height: 40 0 90 cm.

Habitat: Characteristic of calcareous fens and common in moist areas, such as Alvars, beaches, ditches, moist meadows.

Interest: Can be confused with Riddell's goldenrod (Solidago Riddellii), which occurs in similar habitats; however, S. Riddellii has leaves that are are sickle-shaped, folded, and triple-nerved, and its inflorescence is hairy.  Solidago comes from the Latin word solido meaning "to strengthen; to make solid". Ohioensis is the Latin word meaning "of Ohio".


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Ohio goldenrod plant growing in the alvar habitat.

Location: Manitoulin Island, south shore
Date: September 11, 2005.

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Ohio goldenrod plant, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon

Pitcher's thistle plant in flower, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Location: Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island.
Date: June 21, 2009.

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Pitcher's thistle; native short-lived perennial; also known as Dune thistle.

Family:Aster (Asteraceae)

Flower: Creamy white to very light pink flower heads; guarded by spines; nectar source for bees and other insects; flower heads appear at the end of branches from the leaf axils; mid-June to July.

Leaves: Long, narrow, gray-green leaves are protected by spines and dense, silvery hairs; in non-flowering form, it grows a low rosette set of leaves.

Stems: Stem and underside of the leaves are densely covered with white hairs. The plant is anchored by a long taproot, up to 2 metres in length, which holds the plant in place, draws water from within the dune, and helps to stabilize the sand on the dune.

Height: Up to 1 m.

Habitat: Undisturbed sandy shorelines, dunes, and stabilized dunes. In Canada, Pitcher's thistle is only found (endemic) on the sand dunes of Lake Huron and on shoreline sand dunes in Pukaskwa National Park, Lake Superior.

Interest: Endangered Provincially and Nationally; Global distribution is restricted to the Great Lakes basin; in Canada it occurs only at four sites; two places on the Lake Huron shoreline south of the Bruce Peninsula; on Manitoulin Island; and at one location on Lake Superior. Pitcher's thistle blossoms once; it is a monocarpic plant. It dies once the flowers have gone to seed.  Pitcher's Thistle matures for 3 to 10 years before it flowers and dies. Pitcher's Thistle was named after Dr. Zina Pitcher, a 19th century American medical doctor and botanist. He first documented the plant in 1827.

Location: Providence Bay, manitoulin Island
Date: June 21, 2009


Pitcher's thistle, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Location: Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island.
Date: June 21, 2009.

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Pitcher's thistle, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Location: Providence Bay, Manitoulin Island.
Date: June 21, 2009.

Pitcher's thistle plant in non-flowering stage, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Pitcher's thistle plant in non-flowering stage.

Location: Carter's Bay sand dune field, Manitoulin Island.
Date: July 29, 2006.

Sandcherry flower, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Sand Cherry; native perennial shrub; Also known as Beach plum, Dwarf American Cherry, Great Lakes sand cherry, Sandcherry.

Family: Rosaceae (Rose)

Flower: White; 5 petals; clusters of 2-4 flowers occur in leaf axils; 25-30 stamens; June.

Leaves: Alternate; narrow (10 to 18 mm wide) oblanceolate; dark green; 4-7 cm long; entire to finely toothed; lustrous on top surface and pale on lower surface.

Stem: Twigs are red but become gray with age.

Height: Up to 0.5 m high and 1 m. spread; prostrate growth.

Fruit: Turn a deep blackish purple; larger than choke cherry fruit; favourite fruit for wildlife; the fruit are edible; June-July.

Habitat: The Great Lakes sandcherry is often found on well drained glacial sand plains or sand dunes bordering larges bodies of water, on alvars, along gravel bars or shorelines, on cliff faces, rocky slopes, and on calcareous.

Interest: Sandcherry has an important role of stabilizing the sand dune.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay
Date: June 11, 2005

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Sandcherry fruit, copyright 2006 Andy Fyon,

Sandcherry fruit.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Providence Bay
Date: June 11, 2005

Prostrate sandcherry shrub, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Sandcherry shrub illustrating a prostrate form, growing close to the surface of limestone pavement. Note that the shrub is rooted in a karst crack in the limestone.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay west
Date: May 26, 2007

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Shrubby Cinquefoil (Shrubby Potentilla); botanical name for a group of hardy perennials and shrubs; is the only shrubby species among the cinquefoils.

Flower: Yellow; saucer-shaped; June to September.

Leaves: Smooth-edged; compound with 3 - 7 leaflets, but generally 5, hence the name "cinquefoil"; 

Stem: Woody shrub; the bark is reddish-brown and shreds easily.

Height: up to 1 m.

Habitat: Hot and dry locations or moist partial shade areas, such as alvars, open fields, edges of rivers, dunes, and rocky areas.

Interest: "Potentilla" means potent. Historically, the entire plant can be gathered as medicine to reduce inflammation of gums and tonsils, the tannin was used in the tanning of leathers, and the plant was used to stop the flow of blood when applied directly to open cuts; also used as a fever-reducing agent. The leaves have been used to make tea. Potentilla is a popular "home gardener" shrub because it is easy to grow, showy, is low maintenance and is tolerates dry conditions.

Location: Manitoulin Island, south shore
Date: 2005


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Shrubby St. Johnswort, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon,

Shrubby St. Johnswort or Kalm's St. John's-wort; spreading deciduous shrub; native to North America.

Family: Clusiaceae (St. Johnswort)

Flower: Yellow; 2-3 cm wide; 5 petals, 5 sepals, numerous stamens; the large fluffy stamens at the centre of the flower are diagnostic; July - August.

Leaves: 5 cm long; opposite, linear to oblong; clusters of tiny leaves present in axils of larger leaves.

Stem: Branching.

Height: Up to 1 m.

Habitat: Found on rocky soils or limestone pavement (alvar) in this area and margins of dunes, but requires access to moisture, typically found in cracks in the pavement alvar on Manitoulin Island. It also tolerates alkaline soil (calciphile).

General Interest: Shrubby St. Johnswort is one of the few plants that will grow under the Black Walnut tree. It does well in dry soils and in full sun. Hypericum is a Latin modification of a Greek name for a European species of the genus. Prolificum means "abundant in number".

Location: Killarney
Date: September 1, 2004.

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Across: Shrubby St. Johnswort leaves. Note the tiny leaves in the axils of the larger leaves.

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: July 8, 2001.


Below: Shrubby St. Johnswort flowers. Note the numerous, large stamens on the flower.

Location: Killarney
Date: September 1, 2004.

Shrubby St. Johnswort, copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

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Shrubby St. Johnswort leaves

Silverweed, Copyright 2009 Andy Fyon,

Location: Belanger Bay, Manitoulin Island
Date: June 9, 2007

Silverweed; also known as Crampweed, Five fingered grass, Five-leaf grass, Five-leaf, Five-fingers, Five-Finger Blossom, Goosegrass, Goose tansy, Moor grass, Rough-fruited Silverweed, Silver cinquefoil, Potentilla.

Family: Rose (Rosaceae)

Flower: Yellow, 5 petals, present on runners and stalks.

Leaves: 5-parted radial leaves; the underside of the leaf is covered with silver-coloured fine hairs.

Stems: Prostrate stems, rooting at nodes.

Height: Hugs ground.

Habitat: Common on moist areas, such as Alvars, beaches, moist inter-dune areas, ditches, moist meadows.

Interest: The presence of the silver-coloured hairs on the underside of the leaf gives the plant its name "silverweed".  The plant spreads by red-coloured runners above ground to form large patches of plants.

Language of Flowers: Means "beloved child", "a beloved daughter", or "maternal affection". Source

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Silverweed leaves. Note the "silver" colour that helps to reflect the Sunlight.

Location: Misery Bay west, Manitoulin Island
Date: May 26, 2007.

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Silverweed leaves, copyright 2007 Andy Fyon,

Swamp milkweed plant, copyright 2008 Andy Fyon,

Swamp milkweed

Family: Milkweed (Asclepiadaceae)

Flower: Deep pink; clustered at top of stem; flowers 6 mm wide; 5 recurved petals and elevated central crown; June - August.

Leaves: Opposite; up to 10 cm long.

Stem: Tall, up to 1.2 m; branching, crowned by flower clusters.

Fruit: Elongated pod up to 10 cm long, but are slender and tapered at both ends; opens along one side.

Height: 30 to 120 cm.

Habitat: Wet areas such as edges of lakes, swamps, alvars, and wet inter-dune areas.

Distinctive: Flower form is distinctive of milkweeds. Juice is less milky compared to other milkweeds.

Language of Flowers: Milkweed means "hope in misery". Source

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: July 25, 2006

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Swamp milkweed flower.

Location: Great La Cloche Island
Date: August 2, 2004.

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Swamp milkweed flower, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon.

White camass plant, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon,

White Camass; Native; perennial herb; also known as Death Camass, Alkalai Grass, Mountain Death Camass, Smooth Camass.

Family: Melanthiaceae or Lily Family

Flower: Yellowish white, greenish white to cream coloured; lily- or star-like flowers at top of leafless stalks; basal part of petals and sepals are yellowish-green in colour; flower heads are 10 mm long and 12 mm wide; flowers do not have a pleasant smell; June through July.

Leaves: Pale green; mainly basal; 10-20 cm long, linear, keeled, almost grass-like,  and 5 to 10 mm wide; somewhat fleshy.

Stem: Leafless; lily-like in growth form.

Height: Up to 50 cm.

Habitat: Open, damp prairies with soils having a high lime content,  alvars, beach transition areas.

General Interest: Grows from a bulb. This plant is poisonous. The seeds are the most toxic part of the plant. The Death Camass is Z. gramineus.

Location: Manitoulin Island, Misery Bay
Date: July 26, 2006.

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Detail of flower head of White Camass.

Location: Manitoulin Island
Date: August 2, 2004.

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White camass, copyright 2004 Andy Fyon.

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© 2010 Andy Fyon
Sudbury, Ontario

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Date last modified:

Andy Fyon

July 31, 2010

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