A gingerbread person cookie on a holiday themed paper plate decorated in Christmas trees, mistletoe, and stars.

Roots, Shoots, Flowers, & Fruits: The Anatomy of a Gingerbread Cookie

Roots, Shoots, Flowers, & Fruits: The Anatomy of a Gingerbread Cookie

December is the time of year when people tend to eat desserts with lots of spices in them, including the ubiquitous gingerbread. Spices don’t come from any particular plant part, they are simply ingredients that are added in small quantities to add flavour, rather than calories, to a dish. The spices in gingerbread actually come from every part of a plant: roots, shoots, flowers and fruits.

Photograph of four ingredients laid out on a surface. From left to right: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.

The main spices in gingerbread consist of (left to right): ginger (Zingiber officinale), cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) and nutmeg/mace (Myristica fragrans).

An illustration of the elements of a ginger plant, from roots to flowers.


OK technically ginger (Zingiber officinale) is not a root, it is a rhizome, which is an underground stem, but close enough. This species is a tropical, herb native to southern Asia that has been cultivated for over 3,000 years! In Asia, ginger is often used fresh or pickled in savory dishes, like curries and stir-fries, but in Medieval Europe it was traditionally used dried in desserts like gingerbread because it could not be shipped fresh. Ginger plants are monocots and are thus related to grasses and orchids. They possess attractive, irregularly-shaped yellow flowers and long, strap-shaped leaves.


Image: Illustration of Ginger (Zingiber officinale) in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen by Franz Eugen Köhler. Public domain.


Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) comes from the shoots of broad-leaved, evergreen trees in the Laurel family; they are native to India and Ceylon. There are several species of Cinnamon but the most common one is Cassia Cinnamon (C. cassia). Ceylon Cinnamon (C. verum) is a bit more expensive but can still be found in North American stores. Once Cinnamon trees are three years old, the outer bark is harvested.  This distorts their growth forms into dense shrubs rather than trees. The dried, rolled bark (“sticks”) can be used whole as a mulling spice, or ground into a powder to use in baking. Cinnamon and Cassia have been popular for a long time; Egyptians in 2,000 B.C. imported it from China, and used it to enbalm mummies.  Nowadays most people just eat it.

Another food product derived from plant shoots that adds a distinctive bitterness to gingerbread is molasses. This sticky, dark syrup is actually a “waste” product from the sugar-refining process. Although Sugar Beets (Beta vulgaris) are sometimes used nowadays to manufacture molasses in colder countries, traditionally sugar came from Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum). In Canada most of our sugar is made from imported Sugar Cane, although some Sugar Beets are grown in Alberta. The shoots of this very tall, tropical grass native to the South Pacific, are harvested and then crushed to extract the sweet juice. This dark brown juice is then boiled to form sugar crystals; the thick brown syrup that is left behind is the molasses.

An illustration of the elements of a cinnamon plant, from seeds to flowers.

Image: Illustration of Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen by Franz Eugen Köhler. Public domain.

An illustration of the elements of a sugar cane plant, from seeds to flowers.

Image: Illustration of Sugar Cane (Saccharum officinarum) in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen by Franz Eugen Köhler. Public domain.

An illustration of the elements of a clove plant, from seeds to flowers.


Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) come from a tropical evergreen tree in the Myrtle family. It is closely related to several other economically important plants including Allspice (Pimenta dioica), Guava (Psidium guajava) and Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans). The part that we eat is a sun-dried, unopened flower bud. The rounded structure at the tip of the clove consists of the unopened petals, the spiky structures are the sepals and the “stalk” is the hypanthium, a fusion of the sepals and petals with the ovary. Cloves are ground up before being added to doughs but whole cloves are used to make mulled wine and hot toddies, or to flavour a ham. In addition to gingerbread, cloves are used in spicy cookies such as German Speculaaas and Pfeffernusse. The Clove tree is native to Indonesia, but has been planted elsewhere in the south Pacific to meet human demand.

Image: Illustration of Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum) in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen by Franz Eugen Köhler. Public domain.

An illustration of the elements of a nutmeg plant, from seeds to flowers.


Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), another tropical evergreen tree, is closely related to the Clove tree, being in the same family, and native to the same part of the world. However, the part we use is not the flower but the fruit.  Nutmeg is the hard seed inside an apricot-sized fruit called a drupe. Mace, another spice with a similar flavour that is also sometimes used in gingerbread, is a reddish covering around the nutmeg seed. Mace is typically more expensive than nutmeg, simply because there is less of it per fruit. Nutmeg is also used to flavour fruit cakes and mince tarts, and is the traditional garnish to a glass of egg nog.


Image: Illustration of Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) in Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen by Franz Eugen Köhler. Public domain.

Whatever you use spices for, they are guaranteed to do one thing: make your food delicious! Happy baking!

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

The Fungus Among Us 

Fungi grow just about everywhere and yet we are usually ignorant of their presence until they produce mushrooms in our lawns or mold on the food in our fridge. Although they are common components of ecosystems (and, disconcertingly, our fridges!), and essential for nutrient recycling, we actually know very little about them. 

Close view into the Museum’s Decomposer Diorama where two ravens scavenge among mosses, tree stumps, leaves, and mushrooms.

You can see many species of wild mushrooms and fungal hyphae in the Manitoba Museum’s spectacular “Decomposer Diorama”.

© Manitoba Museum 

What are fungi?

A long time ago, fungi were considered plants because they don’t move like animals do. But fungi are actually a completely unique group of organisms. Unlike plants, they cannot produce sugar via photosynthesis. They also have cell walls made of chitin not cellulose, like plants do. Chitin is actually the same material found in insect exoskeletons. Thus, fungi are actually more closely related to animals than plants. However, unlike animals, they obtain nutrition by absorbing, not ingesting, food. Animals put food into their bodies but fungi put their bodies into food! 

A round white mushroom on the ground surrounded by mostly yellow-brown grass.

Giant Western Puffball (Calvatia booniana) is a common fungus that erupts from nutrient-rich grasslands before cracking open and releasing billions of spores.

© Manitoba Museum 

Where fungi are found?

Fungi spend most of their lives being inconspicuous, but in reality, they are all around you. Many people know that fungal “roots” called hyphae, occur in the soil, but they are also found in places you might not expect. Fungi can be found in both fresh and saltwater environments. They also live on the outsides and insides of both plants and animals. Scientists have found at least several hundred fungal species living inside human guts, where they help us digest our food. As well, microscopic fungal spores float in the air all around us. Scientists estimate that there are 1,000 to 10,000 fungal spores in every cubic meter of air. Some fungi (e.g. lichens) have even found a way to live inside rocks! 

Four CD-ROM cases each containing a sheet with a rounded fungi spore print on it, and a label on the outside of the case.

The Museum’s Curator of Botany makes spore prints of fungus she collects to help with identification. From left to right, top to bottom Cortinarius sp. MY-238, Amanita sp. MY-457, Amanita porphyria? MY-233, Cortinarius sp. MY 456

© Manitoba Museum 

What do fungi eat?

Most fungi are saprophytes, which means they digest dead plants and animals. By doing so, they release the nutrients back into the ecosystem for other plants and animals to use. They are part of nature’s recycling crew. However, some fungi also poison or trap microbes like nematodes (tiny worms) to get protein, so they are at least partly carnivorous. 

A flat, half-circle white mushroom cap attached on a tree trunk near the ground.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) will poison and eat nematodes (tiny worms) when they run out of wood to eat.

© Manitoba Museum 

Many fungi are parasitic on living organisms. If you’ve ever had athlete’s foot or ringworm,  you’ve been parasitized by a fungus!

Fungal diseases can devastate plant, animal and human communities. The Irish Potato famine was caused by the introduction of a fungal potato disease from South America into Ireland. Right now, many of Canada’s bats are dying of White Nose Syndrome caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. 

Not all fungal relationships are negative though. Many fungi form mutually beneficial relationships called mutualisms, with algae and plants. Mycorrhizal fungi interact in a positive way with plants, receiving sugar in exchange for water and minerals. Most plant species (~90%) form mycorrhizal interactions with fungi. Lichens are communities of fungi living together with algae and cyanobacteria. They inhabit areas where neither organism could live alone, such as on rocks. In fact, lichens help create soil by breaking down rocks into smaller pieces. They also protect soil from wind and water erosion, particularly in dry areas, like grasslands. 


A grey angular rock with green-white lichens growing on it and the surrounding ground.

Lichens are commonly found on rocks and rock outcrops in Manitoba.

©Manitoba Museum 

Are mushrooms in Manitoba edible?

There are many species of Manitoba mushrooms that are edible, including many Boletes, Chanterelles, Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus sulphurous), Morels, Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus), Puffballs and Shaggy Mane (Coprinus comatus) to name a few. However, there are also deathly poisonous ones like Amanitas (Amanita) and False Morels (Gyromitra esculenta), that can be confused with some edible species. 

A mushroom with a ridge brown cap and a light-coloured stem lying on green moss.

Make sure you can identify the False Morel (Gyromitra esculenta) shown here, before collecting true morels! This lookalike species is poisonous.

© Manitoba Museum 

If you want to collect and eat wild mushrooms, obtain some good mushroom field guides, and learn how to identify both the edible AND the poisonous species found here. I highly recommend taking a mushroom foraging course, or going out with an experienced picker before eating any wild mushrooms. Only eat mushrooms that you are 100% certain you have identified correctly. Keep at least one mushroom whole and uncooked to take to the hospital in case you get sick. Collect only young mushrooms, as older ones can become inedible, toxic, wormy or woody. Also remember to forage responsibly by only collecting what you will eat, and leaving at least some mushrooms behind so that the species can reproduce. 

A multi-layered orange-yellow mushroom growing off the side of a tree truck.

The Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) grows on trees in the city and, when cooked, tastes like chicken! © Carol Hibbert 

Note: The Manitoba Museum is not responsible for any illness or poisoning resulting from incorrect mushroom identification and consumption. Please forage safely! 

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

In Manitoba, the Roses Aren’t Red

It’s almost Valentines Day and the flower that most people associate with that holiday is bright red. Long-stemmed red roses have long been the flower of choice for people wooing their sweethearts. But if you’ve ever gone hiking in a wild Manitoba grassland or forest, you might have noticed that the roses we have here are pink, rarely white, but not red. In fact, there are no bright red wildflowers in our province. Why not?

Why Flowers Have Colour

To understand the lack of red flowers in Manitoba, we need to think about why flowers exist at all. Flowers are the reproductive organs of plants; they produce eggs and/or pollen. Since plants can’t move around to find a mate, they often use animals to move the pollen from one flower to another. Successfully transferred pollen fertilizes the eggs of the receiving flower. To attract animals, plants grow structures that animals will find attractive, like beautiful or unique scents, and petals with eye-catching colours.  They also usually reward the pollinator with nectar.

Close-up on a plant, showing a cluster of small, orangey-red flowers at the top of the stem.

Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) is one of the reddest wildflowers we have in Manitoba, but it tends to be orangey-red rather than bright red. © Manitoba Museum

Close-up on a small pink and yellow vaguely bell-shaped flower.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) attracts hummingbirds, but butterflies, moths and bees are also important pollinators of this plant. © Manitoba Museum

The Nature of Colour

Colour exists because different surfaces reflect different wavelengths of light. Light is made up of a whole spectrum of colours, evident in a rainbow or when light shines through a prism. Just like some animals have a better sense of smell than others, they also see things differently. Birds and humans can see red flowers quite well, but most insects cannot. To an insect, red is difficult (though not impossible) to tell apart from green leaves. For this reason, areas where birds are common pollinators (such as tropical rainforests) tend to have lots of red flowers. Areas with mostly insect pollinators typically have lots of yellow and violet flowers. In Manitoba, our only bird pollinators are hummingbirds, the most common being the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).


Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) move pollen from flower to flower in exchange for a nectar reward. Illustrated by Silvia Bataligni © Manitoba Museum

Abundant Insect Pollinators

Insects are the most abundant pollinators in Manitoba, so most of our flowers are highly attractive to bees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps and/or beetles. Flowers that are orange, yellow, blue and violet are most attractive to insects, as these colours are readily visible to them. However, unlike humans, insects can also see into the ultraviolet (UV) range. This ability explains the presence of so many, seemingly white flowers in the province. Flowers that we see as pure white or plain yellow, actually usually reflect UV rays, and look much different to insects than to us. White flowers are also often pollinated by moths, because white is more visible in moonlight than any other colour.

Close-up on a pink Prairie rose flower. A bee sits on the yellow centre.

Small bees and flies, not birds, pollinate our wild roses, including Prairie Rose (Rosa arkansana). © Manitoba Museum

Close-up on a dandelion flower. On the right half of the image the flower is yellow, however on the left side it is shown under blue light, leaving the centre of the flower bright pink and the outer portions of the petals white.

Many insect-pollinated plants, like Dandelions (Taraxacum sp.) have patterns that are visible only under UV light (left) © Wikimedia Commons CCA-SA 4.0

Why do cultivated roses look different from wild roses?

Humans have been cultivating roses for thousands of years. In the process, we selected features that we find attractive but that make them largely unattractive to pollinators. Colour is one factor. Insect pollinators do not usually visit red roses because they can’t see them very well. Further, cultivated roses have many, densely packed petals (not just five like the wild ones), that cover up the pollen-containing anthers, making them difficult for pollinators to access. So, the end result is that these beautiful flowers now function only as aids to human, not wild, romance.

A museum display case titled

The Manitoba Museum’s new Prairies Gallery has a whole exhibit on pollination where you can see what native pollinators look like. © Ian McCausland/Manitoba Museum

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

From South to North: Climate Change Impact on Plants

This summer I went from Manitoba’s southern-most border all the way to its northern one within just a week. I was fascinated to see how differences in climate had influenced the plant communities. The massive trees of the south give way to nearly treeless tundra in the far north. But despite being separated by over 1,000 kilometers, both places had something in common: climate change was beginning to impact the plants.

To the Southeast

In early August, I drove to Buffalo Point First Nation to search for rare plants, with the permission of the community. Buffalo Point is in the extreme southeastern corner of the province. Many plants reach their northeastern limit in that part of the province, including Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana).

In addition to hiking the trails there, I travelled by boat down the Reed River with two Indigenous guides. I was looking for rare plants that grow on shorelines. Alas, they were not there. Due to the heavy snow and rain this year, the water level was higher than my guides had ever seen in their lives. The water extended right into the forest, killing some of the waterlogged trees and flooding once productive beds of Wild Rice (Zizania palustris).


A light-green fern growing in the grass.

Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) only grows in the southeastern part of the province. © Manitoba Museum

A selfie taken by Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson showing her sitting on a boat with a body of water and shoreline in the background. She is wearing a life jacket, a wide-brimmed sun hat, and glasses.

I went by motor boat to the pristine Reed River to look for rare plants. © Manitoba Museum

Vegetation growing along a shoreline, consisting on a variety of grasses, shrubs, bushes, and trees.

High water levels in the Reed River flooded areas where beds of Wild Rice (Zizania palustris) used to grow. © Manitoba Museum

To the North

A week later, I was on a plane to Churchill to search for rare plants in that part of the province. Once again, I visited a river that was swollen beyond its usual level: the Churchill River. My Indigenous guide commented that the normal shoreline vegetation was completely covered by water. But it wasn’t just the river vegetation that was being impacted, either.

Another Indigenous person I met told me that her 70-year old grandfather had witnessed huge changes in the tundra around Churchill in his lifetime. Tall shrubs, like Silver Willow (Salix candida), were much less common in the past. These tall species are now increasing in abundance, as they can out-compete the short, tundra vegetation when temperatures are warmer (Mekonnen, 2021).  With continued warming, this “shrubification” will likely continue, completely changing the plant communities in the far north.

Bushy grasses and vegetation emerging from high flood waters.

Vegetation along the Churchill River was flooded in 2022. © Manitoba Museum

Close-up looking down at a shrub on a riverbank with long, thin silver-green leaves.

Silver Willow (Salix candida) and other tall shrubs are encroaching on the tundra. © Manitoba Museum

Climate Change Consequences

I reflected that droughts and higher air temperatures are not the only consequences of adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Warm air holds more water than colder air, paving the way for unusually heavy snowfalls and torrential downpours (Konapala et al., 2020; Willett, 2020). Fewer natural wetlands in Manitoba’s south means that much of that moisture flows quickly into our rivers, causing floods, instead of being stored on the landscape. The huge Great Hay Marsh (southwest of Winnipeg), which used to cover an astonishing 194 km2, was completely drained in the early 1900’s, and no longer exists (Hanuta, 2001). Its water storage and filtration functions, which might have helped build resiliency to climate change, are now unavailable.

This summer was a stark reminder that the consequences of humanity’s behavior reverberates in the remotest areas of the globe. We have the ability to alter the ecosystems of the world, for good or ill. Protecting and restoring ecosystems, like wetlands, is just one way to help humanity weather the changes that are ahead.

Short, tundra plants like White Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia), shown above in fruit, may become rare in Manitoba, as climate change increases arctic temperatures and thaws permafrost. © Manitoba Museum

A close-up on an illustrated map of Manitoba, showing rivers and lakes.

The new map in the Museum’s Prairies Gallery shows the location of now extinct wetlands like the Great Hay Marsh. © Manitoba Museum

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

Dandelions: Filling the Ecological Vacuum in our Lawns

You may have heard the old saying that “nature abhors a vacuum”. To understand this expression, you probably won’t need to look any farther than your own lawn. Although lawns may start out as monocultures of Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis), they never stay that way. Inevitably, species like Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) show up, prompting a flurry of weeding and spraying of herbicides. We are told by lawn care companies that “healthy lawns won’t allow weeds to grow” but that statement is simply not true. Just look at any wild ecosystem in the world. Is it a monoculture with just one species? No, there are always many species. Weeds eventually invade lawns because monocultures are NOT natural. Ecosystems want to return to a natural state.

View of a prairie landscape with a wide variety of grasses and wildflowers growing.

Native prairie ecosystems are natural polycultures: systems with many plant species. © Manitoba Museum

A display case in the Manitoba Museum displaying large root systems of three different grasses.

What’s really under the ground?

To help people understand the natural state of a prairie grassland, the Manitoba Museum created an exhibit called “Anchoring the Earth” in the new Prairies Gallery. This exhibit shows the root systems of native plants. Some roots are shallow, like lawn grasses, but others are deep (over 4-m!). June Grass (Koeleria macrantha) grows early in the spring, then goes dormant. Other species grow mostly at the height of summer, like Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi). In addition to the grasses, there are also taprooted plants like White Prairie-clover (Dalea candida). Every possible habitat or “niche” in the ecosystem is exploited by one species or another, the complete opposite of a lawn.


One of the new exhibits at the Manitoba Museum shows what native prairie ecosystems look like under the ground. © Ian McCausland

Hand-drawn illustration of a False dandelion, a plant with long green leaves, and fluffy yellow flower heads.

The weed you can eat

Dandelions are native to Eurasia but were introduced to the Americas. They have taproots, which grow deeper than the shallow roots of turf grasses. Dandelions exploit the nutrients and water deeper in the soil, just like the native False Dandelion (Agoseris glauca). Far from being a useless weed though, you can eat all parts of a dandelion. I’ve eaten dandelion greens in spring, made fritters with the flowers, and roasted the roots to make tea and bake a cake (when the roots are ground up, the powder is similar to cocoa). Just 100 g of raw dandelion leaves have 64% of your daily required vitamin A, 42% of your vitamin C and a whopping 741% of your vitamin K. Sometimes when life gives you lemons, you just need to make lemonade!


False Dandelion (Agoseris glauca) is a native plant with deep taproots similar to the non-native dandelion. © Manitoba Museum, H9-23-260

Lawn Origins

But why did lawns even become popular in the first place? In Europe, in the 16th century, wealthy landowners began growing lawns to flaunt their status. They didn’t need the land to grow food, they were rich enough to grow completely useless grass on their property instead! As the European middle class began to grow, they also aspired to demonstrate their wealth by growing at least small patches of lawn, if they could. This Western appreciation of the lawn aesthetic still remains with us today, but there are signs that its time is up. Concern about the impact of lawn care pesticides on human health and vulnerable pollinators has prompted many municipalities to enact bans on these chemicals.

Further, the popularity of polyculture lawns is experiencing a resurgence. Polyculture lawns more closely mimic a natural ecosystem by including both grasses (ideally, low growing native species like Blue Grama a.k.a. Bouteloua gracilis) and low growing, broad-leaved plants, such as clover (e.g. Trifolium), native violets (e.g. Early Blue Violet a.k.a. Viola adunca), pussytoes (Antennaria spp.) and yes, maybe even some dandelions. Broad-leaved plants provide pollinators with food, and some species, like legumes, naturally add nitrogen to the soil, reducing the need for fertilizers. In shady areas where grass won’t grow well anyway, ground covers of taller, native plants like Ostrich Fern (Matteucia struthiopteris), Western Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) and Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) are great alternatives.

A small plant growing low to the ground with purple-blue flowers.

Early blue violet (Viola adunca) is a short, native violet that can add biodiversity to your lawn. © Manitoba Museum

A field with white clover heads popping up from among the vegetation.

White clover (Trifolium repens) may be considered a weed by many lawn purists, but it was once a staple in lawn seed mixes, as clover raises the nitrogen level. © Wikimedia Commons

Trying to keep your lawn “weed” free is like running on a treadmill: you spend lots of energy but you never get anywhere. Why not embrace the diversity of plant life, and save your money and back-breaking labour for something else?

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

In Search of New Species 

When I tell people I am writing a book that describes all of the plants that grow in Manitoba, they are often incredulous. “Don’t we already know how many plants species there are in Manitoba” they ask. Sadly, the answer is no. 

Close-up photograph looking down on a small, white, five-petaled flower. White Avens.

To this day, botanists are still finding plants that they did not know grew in Manitoba, like White Avens (Geum canadense).

© Manitoba Museum 

New to Science 

Believe it or not, botanists documented and collected two flowers that were not believed to grow in the province, for the first time ever in 2021. White Avens (Geum canadense) and Tawny Cottongrass (Eriophorum virgatum) grow in northern Minnesota and western Ontario. However, they had never been scientifically collected in Manitoba before. These species join 268 other species of vascular plants that have been scientifically collected since the publication of the “Flora of Manitoba” book in 1957. 

Further, the Royal Alberta Museum’s moss specialist, Dr. Richard Caners, also recently collected 34 species of moss that had not yet been officially documented in Manitoba. So, on average, nearly five new plant species have been added to our provincial list of flora each year for the last 65 years. 

Two unfolded pieces of paper each containing a moss sample (one dark-coloured, one green on small chips of wood), and a typed sheet with specimen details.

This recently acquired collection of mosses, contains specimens of several species that scientists did not know grew in Manitoba.

© Manitoba Museum 

Found in House

You don’t even need to do field work to find new species! In the last several years, Museum volunteers discovered several previously unknown species in the Museum’s collection of pressed, dried plants. These preserved plants, called “herbarium specimens”, officially confirm the presence of species in the province. Along with the specimen, data on when and where it was collected are provided. The Manitoba Museum alone has over 50,000 of these herbarium specimens. What makes them so valuable is that they can be examined by experts without having to travel back to the area where the plant was collected. Scientists use them to determine the rarity of species, and understand how the climate has changed over time, among other things. 

A tan-coloured specimen attached to a sheet of paper, with specimen details in the bottom right corner. Deepest in the corner, details are handwritten, but above that is an added typed note haa been taped on the sheet with the updated species information. A small map of Manitoba is in the bottom left corner. Hickey’s Club-moss.

This specimen, collected in 1954, was recently determined to be a newly described species, Hickey’s Club-moss (Lycopodium hickeyi).

© Manitoba Museum 000004 

Close-up photograph of a cluster of small, yellow flowers growing from the same stem. Evening Primrose.

Image caption: Evening-primrose (Oenothera) species are hard to tell apart, even for professional botanists.

© Manitoba Museum 

One of my jobs as Curator is to make sure that all our plants are identified correctly.  This requires studying the  most up-to-date scientific research. While examining specimens of Yellow Evening-primrose (Oenothera biennis), my volunteer and I determined that two specimens were, in fact, a species that was not confirmed to be in Manitoba until very recently: Oakes’ Evening-primrose (O. oakesiana). 

Why is Manitoba a Botanical Black Hole?

So why are scientists still finding new plants in Manitoba? Part of the reason is that scientific field collecting is poorly funded. There is a widespread perception that Canada is well-explored biologically, and that there is nothing unusual left to find here. So, such expeditions are typically deemed unimportant and not funded. Another reason is that Manitoba has relatively few roads in the northern ¾’s of the province. This makes it very difficult, and expensive, for scientists to visit pristine areas where rare plants may grow. 

Photograph looking along the dense upper shoreline of a lake on a sunny day. Trees and bushes are green with leaves, with large rocks interspersedly visible.

Indigenous Contributions

When I say that a plant species is “new” to the province, what I mean is that no scientist had collected, preserved and stored a sample of that species in a registered herbarium.  This does not mean, however, that no one has ever seen the plant. Someone may have seen it, but not realized that it was anything unusual. 

Five white water-lily flowers grow out from a cluster of lily-pads on the water’s surface.

A new species of water-lily (Nymphaea loriana) was located and documented thanks to Indigenous guides from Cross Lake First Nation.

© Manitoba Museum

As the stewards of large tracts of undisturbed land, Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples are likely aware of the presence of plant species that professional botanists do not know much about. The Manitoba Museum is beginning to work with Indigenous peoples to incorporate their knowledge on the distribution and rarity of the province’s plants into our database. 

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki-Robson

The Plants that Ruled When Dinosaurs Did

When most people think of plants, they typically picture flowers: cherry trees in bloom, colourful tulips and exotic-looking orchids. This is because 90% of all living plant species are flowering plants (i.e., angiosperms). But when dinosaurs first evolved 225 million years ago (mya), flowers were nowhere to be found.

First Plants

The first land plants did not produce seeds; instead, they reproduced using spores. Like amphibians, they needed water for reproduction, which restricted them to habitats that were moist. These spore-producing plants included mosses, liverworts, club mosses, horsetails, ferns and several, completely extinct plant groups called Rhyniophytes and Zosterophylls. When the first dinosaurs evolved in the Triassic Period (252-201 mya), spore-producing plants, like tree ferns and human-sized quillworts (e.g. Pleuromeia), were common (Palmer et al. 2009). Although these sorts of plants still exist today, their ancestors looked much different than the ones we are familiar with.

A leafy fern growing at the top of a trunk in an indoor botanical garden.

Tree ferns, like this one at the Montreal Botanical Garden, were common when dinosaurs still existed. © Manitoba Museum

Close up on a short growing Prickly Tree Club-moss on the forest floor.

The tiny Prickly Tree Club-moss (Lycopodium dendroideum), which lives on Manitoba’s forest floors, is one of the few surviving club-moss species. © Manitoba Museum

Close up on the branch of a Modern Maidenhair tree with leathery green fan-shaped leaves partially concealing a cluster of round green seeds.

Ancient Seeds

Seed plants evolved in the Late Devonian (416-359 mya), eventually becoming the dominant vegetation by the Early Cretaceous (145-100 mya). A seed consists of a plant embryo, a source of food, and a protective coat. This adaptation helped seed plants, like conifers, gingkos and cycads, out-compete the spore-producing plants, particularly in drier habitats.


Modern Maidenhair trees (Ginkgo biloba) are considered “living fossils” because they look almost exactly like Jurassic fossils of ginkgos. From Wikimedia Commons.

Close-up on the centre of a fern with an oblong-shaped red-brown cone growing out from the centre point.

First Flowers

Flowering plants similar to modern magnolias, dogwoods, and oaks, appeared rather abruptly in the fossil record, about 90 mya (Late Cretaceous). Decades of searching by palaeobotanists for the first flowers has finally borne fruit (pardon the pun). The most recent evidence of an undisputed flowering plant is a fossil named Florigerminis jurassica (Cui et al., 2021). The discovery of this fossilized flower bud and fruit, indicates that flowering plants evolved nearly 75 million years earlier than originally thought, in the Jurassic Period 164 mya (Cui et al., 2021).


Dinosaurs would have eaten cycads, plants that produce cones in the very centre of their trunk. This specimen was at the Montreal Botanical Garden. © Manitoba Museum

A fossilized leaf in a slab of reddish-orange stone.

Floral Rarity

Part of the reason why flower fossils are so rare is because these structures are very delicate. Flowers likely decompose long before they can fossilize. In fact, some species that palaeontologists think were cone-bearing, may have actually borne flowers, since we only have fossils of their leaves. Another reason flowers did not often fossilize, is that Late Jurassic and Early Cretaceous flowering plants may have grown in relatively dry habitats, where fossilization rarely occurs.


Most plant fossils consist of leaves or wood; flowers rarely fossilize. © Manitoba Museum B-254

A bumblebee perched on a cluster of white-green tubular-shaped flowers.

Changing Ecosystems

It wasn’t just the animal world that changed when that giant asteroid hit the earth 66 mya; it was the plant world, too. In North America, about 50% of the plant species (mainly the slower-growing, cone-bearing plants) went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period (Condamine et al. 2020). Afterwards, the evolution of flowering plants was rapid, thanks in part to coevolution with pollinating insects like bees (Benton et al. 2022). With their quick growth, drought tolerance, and long-lived seeds, flowering plants were better able to colonize the devastated earth than cone-and spore-bearing species (Benton et al. 2022, Condamine et al. 2022). Thus, the evolution of flowering plants parallels that of mammals.

Above: Many modern flowering plants, such as Early Yellow Locoweed (Oxytropis campestris), coevolved with pollinating insects, such as bumblebees (Bombus). © Manitoba Museum

So, when you visit the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit at the Manitoba Museum during summer 2022, remember to look closely at the murals behind the dinos. They accurately portray the kinds of plants that supported those ancient creatures so long ago.

A mural depicting ancient vegetation including trees, ferns, and fungi.

Mural art from the Ultimate Dinosaurs exhibit showing ancient vegetation communities. © Ultimate Dinosaurs Presented by Science Museum of Minnesota. Created and Produced by the Royal Ontario Museum. Mural Artist: Julius Csotoyi



Benton, M.J., Wilf, P. and Sauquet, H., 2022. The Angiosperm Terrestrial Revolution and the origins of modern biodiversity. New Phytologist, 233(5), pp.2017-2035.

Condamine, F.L., Silvestro, D., Koppelhus, E.B. and Antonelli, A., 2020. The rise of angiosperms pushed conifers to decline during global cooling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(46), pp. 28867-28875.

Cui, D.F., Hou, Y., Yin, P. and Wang, X., 2021. A Jurassic flower bud from the Jurassic of China. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 521.

Palmer, D., Lamb, S., Gavira Guerrero, A. and Frances, P. 2009. Prehistoric life: the definitive visual history of life on earth. New York, N.Y., DK Pub.

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

A fruit in vegetable’s clothing

Like many of you, I am eagerly awaiting spring so that I can start planting my vegetable garden. There’s nothing better than eating bruschetta with freshly harvested vine-ripened tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) and steamed green beans (Phaseolus sp.) with fried cream (see recipes at the end). My mouth drools just thinking about it! But the funny thing about tomatoes and green beans is that they are not actually vegetables: they are fruits masquerading as vegetables.

In fact, there are many other things we think of as vegetables that are actually fruits: avocados (Persea americana), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), eggplant (Solanum melongena), okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), olives (Olea europaea), peppers (Capsicum spp.), snow peas (Pisum sativum), squashes including pumpkin (Cucurbita spp.), tomatillos (Physalis spp.) and zucchini (Cucurbita pepo). We tend to define fruits as plant parts that are sweet and vegetables as plant parts that are not sweet. However, botanically, a fruit is a ripened ovary that contains seeds inside it, so all of the aforementioned plants meet the definition of a “fruit”, even though we rarely eat them the way we eat fruit (in a pie with ice cream!). For this reason, some people call them “vegetable fruits”.

A pile of long, thin green beans.

When you eat fresh green beans, you are eating the fruit (outer pod) and the immature seeds inside. From Wikimedia Commons.

Two avocados on a grey background. The avocado on the left is whole, with purple-brown skin, and the one of the right has been cut in half showing the green flesh and round brown seed.

Although it is not sweet, avocado is still considered a fruit because of the seed inside. From Wikimedia Commons.

Complicating things further is the fact that the fleshy parts of some “fruits”, like apples (Malus domesticus), pears (Pyrus spp.) and strawberries (Fragaria spp.), are not actually ripened ovaries at all, but greatly enlarged fleshy petals, or upper flower stalks.

“Aha” you might be thinking, what about bananas (Musa spp.)?  They don’t have seeds. You may have noticed though, that there are little black specks inside bananas; those are tiny ovules (unfertilized seeds) that never ripened  because the plants are sterile. Since people don’t usually like spitting out seeds, plant breeders have found ways to produce sterile, seedless varieties (often with an odd number of chromosomes) of certain plants such as citrus fruits, watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) and bananas.

Two apples on a white background. The apple on the left is cut open, showing the inside. The apple on the right is whole showing its green skin.

The apple “fruit” is actually just the core; the fleshy part we eat is formed from petal tissues. From Wikimedia Commons.

A wild banana cut in half. The oblong fruit has a thick green skin, and on the inside has many brownish seeds in the cream-coloured flesh.

Seeds inside a wild, fertile banana. From Wikimedia Commons.

There are actually four different kinds of vegetables, which vary according to the part of the plant you are actually eating: roots, stems, leaves, or inflorescences. Root vegetables are either fairly slender taproots (e.g. carrots or Daucus carota), or swollen, tuberous roots (e.g. sweet potato or Ipomoea batatas).  Roots store starch that the plant can use the following year to grow new leaves.

Two potatoes on a white background. The potato on the left is cut open, showing the inside. The potato on the right is whole.

Some of the vegetables we eat consist of stems (e.g. corms, tubers and rhizomes) or leaves (e.g. bulbs) that grow underground.  Like roots, these structures are fleshy and store starch.  However, corms grow upright and rhizomes grow horizontally. Tubers, on the other hand, can grow in any direction.  Tubers also possess tiny “eyes” all over it that represent leaf buds. For this reason, you can plant a single tuber (or just part of it as long as there is an “eye” on it), and it will grow into a whole new plant.


Seed potatoes are tubers that can be planted to grow new plants. From Wikimedia Commons

The non-green parts of bulbs, like onions (Allium cepa), are actually special, fleshy leaves that store starch. Some vegetables, like broccoli (Brassica oleracea), actually consist of upper stems and unopened flowers, known as inflorescences. See the table below to find out what your favorite vegetables actually are.

Table 1. Plant parts that vegetables represent

Main plant partCategoryExamples
RootBeets, burdock, carrot, cassava, celeriac, daikon, horseradish, parsnip, radish, rutabaga, sugar beet, sweet potato (Ipomoea), turnip
Stem (above ground)StalkAsparagus, bamboo shoots, celery, cinnamon, fiddleheads, heart of palm, kohlrabi, rhubarb
Stem (below ground)CormTaro, water chestnut
RhizomeGalagal, ginger, lotus, turmeric, wasabi
TuberJicama, oca, potato, sunchokes, yam (Dioscorea)
Leaf (below ground)BulbsGarlic, leeks, onion, shallots
Leaf (above ground)GreensArugula, bok choi, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, Chinese mustard, dandelion, endive, goosefoot, herbs (e.g. basil, oregano, rosemary), kale, lettuce, mustard greens, nettle, rocket, spinach, sorrel, Swiss chard, watercress
InflorescencesArtichoke, broccoli, capers (flower buds), cauliflower, rapini

To finish off, here are two of my favourite “vegetable fruit” recipes. Unfortunately, you’ll just have to wait a few more months to try them.


Coarsely chop however many fresh tomatoes you want to eat, and put in a bowl. Mix in coarsely chopped onions and some sliced fresh basil. Pour in enough olive oil and balsamic vinegar to generously coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss. Let sit for 15 minutes. Heap onto garlic toast and savour the flavour of summer!

Beans with Fried Cream

Steam fresh yellow or green wax beans until tender. Meanwhile, finely chop some onion and sauté with butter till golden over medium heat. Add cream to pan and cook, stirring until thickened. Add paprika, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over cooked beans and toss. Bon appétit!

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

The Weird World of Plant Sex

A small plant growing from a wooded ground. The plant is topped by a flower with large, drooping pink petals. Two large leaves encircle the stem at the base.

On the surface, plant sex seems pretty simple. Birds and bees transfer pollen from one flower to another and voila: seeds are produced. But, like most things in life, plant reproduction is much more complicated than initially meets the eye.

Finding a Mate

For starters, plants are not like mammals when it comes to gender. Only about 5-6% of all flowering plant species are dioecious, that is, having separate “males” (i.e. producing only sperm-containing pollen in stamens) and “females” (i.e. producing only eggs in pistils). The most familiar dioecious plants to most people are Manitoba Maples (Acer negundo; left, below), willows (Salix spp.) and marijuana (Cannabis sativa). However, the vast majority of plant species are monoecious, producing both sperm AND eggs in a single plant. This strategy makes sense for organisms that can’t move around to find a mate. When you make both sperm and eggs, your possible number of romantic encounters doubles. Most of the common garden flowers that we love, such as lilies, roses, tulips and orchids, are monoecious.

A close-up of a tree branch with green leaves and elongated green winged seeds.

Some plant species, like Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo) have separate male and female trees. This tree is female, and has produced winged seeds.
Image: © Manitoba Museum

Photo looking down at a Western Red Lily in the grass. The Orange-red flower has six petals, with a pistil in the centre, surrounded by six small stamens.

The flowers of Western Red Lily (Lilium philadelphicum) have a single pistil in the center, which contains the eggs, and six sperm-producing stamens surrounding it.
Image: © Manitoba Museum

A mid-range photo of a White Spruce tree. The nearest branch has many brown cones on it.

The female cones of White Spruce (Picea glauca) are usually near the top of the tree and the male cones near the bottom, to prevent self-fertilization.
Image: © Manitoba Museum

Some species are cosexual, with both stamens and pistils in the same flower (e.g. the Western Red Lily, Lilium philadelphicum; centre, above). Other species produce separate male and female cones or flowers on different parts of the same plant, or at different times of the year. For example, White Spruce (Picea glauca. Right, above) trees produce male cones at the bottom of the tree and female cones at the top. Alder (Alnus spp.) shrubs typically produce their male flowers first, and then their female flowers afterwards. The separation of pollen- and egg-production in either space or time, helps prevent self-pollination and inbreeding.

Two pressed and preserved branches of Four-wing Saltbush. The two branches are laid falt on a large sheet of white paper, with specimen details typed at the bottom.

However, even plants with separate “males” and “females” may be able to change sex in a pinch. Imagine what would happen if all the plants in a certain area happened to be female. No babies would be made at all! Scientists have described instances of plants switching from making female flowers to male flowers in response to environmental conditions (Freeman et al. 1980). Light levels, soil fertility and temperature are some of the factors known to alter floral sex in certain species (Varga and Kyto viita 2016; Freeman et al. 1980). When resources are scarce or growing conditions poor, making sperm is less energy-intensive than making eggs and seeds. Thus, for example, a dioecious tree may produce male flowers when it is young and short, and female flowers when it is older and taller, as larger trees capture more light.


Left: Four-wing Saltbush (Atriplex canescens) plants have been documented as changing gender after particularly stressful weather events, like cold temperatures and drought (Freeman et al. 1984). Image: © Manitoba Museum, 29685

Going Solo

But we have only scratched the surface of plant weirdness. Sometimes, flowers will not receive any pollen.  This means that all the energy invested in egg production will go to waste. In the name of efficiency, some species, like sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), self-pollinate by curling parts of their pistils around their stamens. In other species, a process called agamospermy results in the egg maturing into a seed without being pollinated at all. It’s kind of like a virgin birth, with the offspring being genetically identical to the parent plant.

Other species, often those in cold, alpine or arctic climates, don’t even bother producing seeds; they just make tiny clones of themselves called bulbils. This is a kind of asexual reproduction. Once the bulbil is large enough, it detaches, perhaps when a stiff breeze is blowing, and grows into a new plant. That would be like growing a tiny version of yourself on the outside of your belly (like a giant pimple). Then one day it would just fall off and become a new person that looks exactly like you. Native plants like Bulb-bearing Water-hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera) and Viviparous Sheep’s Fescue (Festuca viviparoidea), and house plants like Kalanchoe (Kalanchoe spp.) use this technique to reproduce.

Plants also engage in vegetative reproduction. This is when plant parts, like leaves or stems, that become detached go on to grow roots and become new plants. Many cacti and other succulents, can do this: cactus “pads” (actually swollen stems) that become detached grow into new plants under the right conditions. For humans, this would be like removing a leg, and then having it grow into a clone of yourself. The “parent” would then grow a new leg to replace what was lost, kind of like what the Marvel Cinematic Universe character Deadpool did in the movie sequel (his whole body regrew from his head!).

A ywllow sunflower in front of a blue sky with faint whisps of white cloud. Near the centre of the sunflower are two small, black and yellow striped pollinator insects.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) can pollinate their own seeds if they have to, but production is lower and the offspring are not as genetically diverse. Image: © Manitoba Museum

Pads of several low-growing Plains Prickly-pear Cactus growing among grass and brush. A yellow flower grows from one of the pads.

Cactus pads of Plains Prickly-pear Cactus (Opuntia polyacantha) that become detached can grow into new plants. Image: © Manitoba Museum

Plants also engage in vegetative reproduction. This is when plant parts, like leaves or stems, that become detached go on to grow roots and become new plants. Many cacti and other succulents, can do this: cactus “pads” (actually swollen stems) that become detached grow into new plants under the right conditions. For humans, this would be like removing a leg, and then having it grow into a clone of yourself. The “parent” would then grow a new leg to replace what was lost, kind of like what the Marvel Cinematic Universe character Deadpool did in the movie sequel (his whole body regrew from his head!).

Plants have had to evolve some ingenious ways to ensure their reproductive success because they are rooted in one spot. Imagine how much stranger our lives would be if humans reproduced like plants.



Freeman, D.C., K.T. Harper, and El L. Charnov. 1980. Sex change in plants: old and new observations and new hypotheses. Oecologia, 47: 222-232.

Freeman, D.C., McArthur, E.D., and K.T. Harper. 1984. The adaptive significance of sexual lability in plants using Atriplex canescens as a principal example. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 71: 265-277.

S. Varga, M.-M. Kyto viita. 2016. Light availability affects sex lability in a gynodioecious plant. American Journal of Botany, 103: 1928-1936.

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson

Who Turned Out the Light?

With the days growing ever shorter, I find myself thinking about light and how we tend to take for granted the hard work that plants do, harnessing the energy from the sun. Photosynthesis is the beginning of most food chains on earth, the exceptions being bacteria (Archaea) that can obtain energy from inorganic chemicals like sulphur and ammonia. But since we don’t eat bacterial ooze for breakfast, this process remains relatively unimportant to humans. Photosynthesis is what gives us life!

Looking down at three small plants growing from the ground. Each has several green leaves, and a single white four-petaled flower.

Photosynthesis is a process where plants, and plant-like aquatic creatures such as phytoplankton, use energy from the sun (photons) to combine water (H2O) with carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, to make sugar (C6H12O6). Oxygen (O2) is a “waste” product of photosynthesis. This reaction takes place in special green-coloured plant cells called chloroplasts. Plants and phytoplankton use the sugar they make to grow and reproduce themselves.


Plants like Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) engage in photosynthesis, one of the most important chemical reactions on earth. © Manitoba Museum

Animals and fungi are incapable of photosynthesizing; they have to “eat” plants to stay alive. Even meat-eaters (i.e. carnivores) are ultimately dependent on plants for their survival, because they eat animals that eat plants or phytoplankton. Further, the oxygen that plants produce is also required by animals to breathe. Thus, we depend on plants for our very lives.

Some northern plants are “evergreen”, which lets them begin photosynthesizing as soon as the ground thaws in spring. In contrast, deciduous plants have to grow a whole new set of leaves before they can begin photosynthesizing again. As there is almost continual sunlight over the summer months in the far north, tundra plants can photosynthesize almost non-stop during this time. They must quickly produce enough sugar over the short summer to stay alive, in a dormant state, over the long, dark winter.

A bumblebee crawling on the centre of a yellow flower.

All animals, including insects like this bumblebee (Bombus sp.) on a sunflower (Helianthus sp.), depend on plants for food. © Manitoba Museum

A patch of low-growing purple flowers with occasional white flowers interspersed among them.

The evergreen Purple Saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia), begins photosynthesizing as soon as it can, even when there is still snow on the ground. © Manitoba Museum

Close up of a white flower with a yellow centre.

One way that plants can increase the amount of light they receive is by slowly moving in response to the direction of the sun (i.e. heliotropism). Like tiny solar ovens, species such as Entire-leaved Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia), move their flowers each day so that they continually face the sun. As a result, the flower temperature is several degrees warmer than that of the air. This improves seed production, in part, because pollinating insects are more likely to visit warmer flowers. In other plant species (e.g. sunflowers or Helianthus) it is the leaves that rotate to be perpendicular to the sun, increasing the amount of light for photosynthesis.

Many ancient human societies in the northern hemisphere held religious gatherings or celebrations around the winter solstice (typically Dec. 21 or 22) because even though they knew many cold days were still ahead, the amount of sunlight would begin to increase again. Evergreen plants, like spruces, pines, mistletoes and holly, were sometimes part of these events, because they are the plants that refuse to wither when the light begins to fade.


The umbrella-shape of the flowers of Entire-leaved Mountain Avens (Dryas integrifolia), concentrates the sun’s rays on the young seeds developing in the center.© David Rudkin

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Dr. Diana Bizecki Robson

Curator of Botany

Dr. Bizecki Robson obtained a Master’s Degree in Plant Ecology at the University of Saskatchewan studying rare plants of the mixed grass prairies. After working as an environmental consultant and sessional lecturer…
Meet Dr. Bizecki Robson