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Cultural Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology


Travelling Plants of the Prairies

Plants and fungi were challenging organisms to include in our new Prairies Gallery because most of our 50,000+ Museum specimens are preserved in a flattened, dehydrated condition. Not very attractive! Further, because these organisms don’t move the way animals do, people don’t seem to find them interesting. But are they really the passive, immobile creatures that we think they are? Our new exhibit case called Travelling Plants and Flying Fungi, attempts to dispel this notion.

Most Museum specimens are dried and flattened, like this Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) plant.

The fact of the matter is, plants and fungi need to be able to move, otherwise they would never have colonized land! However, it is not the adults that do the actual moving; it is their gametes (pollen) and offspring (seeds). Before a plant can make seeds, it has to have its eggs fertilized by pollen grains from another plant. Since a plant can’t just get up and walk to another plant to give it some pollen, they have to use wind or animals, called pollinators, as couriers. To depict this process, the new Museum case includes intricate 3-D models of a wind-pollinated grass and four animal-pollinated flowers, as well as their pollinators, instead of flattened plants.

Before the final graphics were chosen, the layout of the case needed to be tested.

The plant models were created by the Museum’s talented Diorama & Collections Technician. Two of the models are real plants that were “mummified”, and then painted to look alive. The other three are entirely artificial. To make them, a plant was collected, and then molds made of the parts. These molds were used to create fake leaves, stems, flowers and fruits, which were then assembled together and painted.

The Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) model has two pollinators on it: a beetle and a butterfly.

Once a plant is pollinated, seeds, protected inside fruits, develop. Seeds also need to disperse, and, once again, wind and animals are the couriers. To illustrate the different methods of dispersal, various seeds and fruits from the Museum’s collection were selected for display.

Inset cases display various kinds of fruits and seeds. These species have hooked burs that catch onto animal fur.

Some plants, fungi and lichens do not produce multi-celled seeds; they produce tiny, single-celled structures called spores. Since they are so small, they typically disperse very well in the wind. Specimens of several common prairie spore-producers, including fungi and club-moss, are displayed in between the plant models.

Puffball fungi (Calvatia spp.) were collected, and quickly dehydrated, for this new display case.

Manitoba prairies have many fascinating plants, fungi and lichens in them. How they survive and reproduce is now one of the stories we tell in the Museum. My only regret is that we couldn’t include more species in the gallery. Hopefully, this new case will inspire our visitors to spend more time paying attention to, and appreciating, the plants in our wild prairies.


What’s that stuff on my tree? A guide to Manitoba’s lichens

If you’re an observant person, you may have noticed colourful things growing on Manitoba’s trees and rocks. Although some of these organisms are mosses (especially near the base), they are more likely to be lichens.  Bright orange Firedot Lichens (Caloplaca spp.) are common on Manitoba’s elm and oak trees.

Lichens are symbiotic organisms; they consist of a fungus (called a mycobiont) and an alga (called a photobiont). In some lichens there is also a cyanobacteria or a second or third species of algae (there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to lichens). The common dog lichens (Peltigera spp.) typically have cyanobacteria in them, often from the genus Nostoc, a free-living species that looks like bits of crumbled tar when dry. The algae and cyanobacteria, if present, photosynthesize, producing sugar, which they share with the fungus. The fungus absorbs water and dissolved minerals directly from the environment (so it doesn’t need any roots), and shares it with the other species. Cyanobacteria can also take nitrogen gas from the air, turn it into a chemical form, and share it with the other partners.

Dog lichens (Peltigera spp.) are common on moist, forest floors.

Lichens grow in the patterns they do to maximize the amount of light they intercept; some species look like tree branches (called fruticose = branch-like lichens) for this reason. Other lichens are leaf-like (i.e. foliose), or crusty (i.e. crustose). Some lichens living in really harsh environments (like the Antarctic) are cryptoendoliths, meaning that they live inside the rock, penetrating the tiny spaces in between rock crystals.

Crustose lichens grow on rock outcrops in places like Whiteshell Provincial Park.

In the prairies, lichens often grow in hot, sunny habitats, such as sandy soils, and on glacially-deposited rocks. They are also common on fenceposts and abandoned human artifacts, like collapsing homesteads and rusty ploughs. In forested areas, lichens are common, growing on trees, as well as mossy, forest floors. In the Canadian Shield, rock outcrops are often almost completely covered by lichens. In urban areas, lichens are sometimes found on old buildings, like the legislature. Different species grow on these different substrates (hardwood vs. softwood, sandy soil vs. clayey soil, granite vs. limestone) so make sure you record this information when trying to identify lichens.

In the prairies, Reindeer Lichens (Cladina spp.) often grow along with Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) on dry, sandy soils.

Since they don’t need soil, lichens are some of the first organisms that begin growing after large disasters wipe out all vegetation in an area. They are often the first to arrive after hot fires or mining activity (such as sand, gravel and coal mining). Acids in the lichens break down rocks, contributing to soil formation. Lichens can completely desiccate when it is dry, growing again when it rains. Due to this periodic desiccation, lichens tend to grow very slowly, reaching extremely old ages. Some lichens can be aged the way trees are: by counting their growth rings. Some lichens (i.e. yellow-green map lichens) have been dated as being over 8,600 years old.

Lichens are often the first organisms to start growing on disturbed soils.

Lichens reproduce themselves vegetatively, by breaking off into tiny pieces, and both sexually and asexually. Sexual fruiting bodies of various kinds (e.g. pycnidia, asci, apothecia etc.) are produced by the fungus. They release small, single-celled spores which germinate into new, partner-less fungi. These tiny fungi must find free-living alga to become lichens again. To allow both the fungus and the algae to disperse together, lichens also produce asexual propagules, usually at the branch tips, of various kinds (e.g. soredia, isidia, pycnidia etc.). These tiny clusters of cells, once dispersed, often by wind, will grow into a new lichen.

A few of the most common lichens in southern Manitoba are described below:

Pebbled Pixie-cup Lichen (Cladonia pyxidata)

Pixie-cup lichens were so named because ancient Europeans thought that fairies or
pixies would use these structures as goblets to drink from. The “cups” are actually the reproductive structures of the lichen. This species found in all provinces, occurring on forest floors and sometimes tree bark.

Pebbled Pixie-cup Lichen (Cladonia pyxidata)

Reindeer lichen (Cladina mitis)

As the name implies, this species is eaten by “reindeer”, called caribou here in Canada. Reindeer lichen are common in the arctic and boreal forest, but are also found farther south. In Manitoba’s prairies, it is most common on sandy soils. This fruticose lichen grows sexual and asexual structures at the very tips of the branches. Vegetative reproduction via fragmentation is also a common method of spreading, as the branches are fragile when dry.

Reindeer lichen (Cladina mitis)

Sand-loving Iceland Lichen (Cetraria arenaria)

Like the reindeer lichen, this species is found on sandy or thin soils in the prairies. However, it is a prairie specialist, not found farther north. You can find it on the sand dunes near Portage la Prairie, Oak Lake and Carberry. It is a fruticose lichen with some flattish portions and upturned, spiny margins. This species reproduces mainly vegetatively via fragmentation or the production of asexual propagules. Sexual reproduction is infrequent, with the spore-producing structures (i.e. apothecia) located at the tips.

Sand-loving Iceland Lichen (Cetraria arenaria)

Rosette Lichen (Physcia spp.)

Species in this genus grow on alkaline substrates, such as calcareous, siliceous and basaltic rocks, bones, bark and soil. They often grow on substrates that are high in calcium, nitrogen and phosphorus, such as places where birds like to stand and poop. For the aforementioned reason, they have been called ornithocoprophiles (i.e. bird-poop lovers). They are foliose lichens that grow in a rosette. They mainly produce asexual soredia on their upper surfaces.

Rosette Lichen (Physcia spp.)

More lichen information can be found in this nifty little booklet available on-line (https://www.muskokawatershed.org/wp-content/uploads/LichenID.pdf) but if you are really serious about lichens I recommend investing in Irwin Brodo’s Lichens of North America.


Manitoba Museum Opens New Prairies Gallery Completing the Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Renewal Project

Winnipeg MB (April 7, 2021): Tomorrow, the Manitoba Museum opens its new Prairies Gallery, marking the completion of the $20.5 million Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Renewal Project. Over the past four years, this Project has seen the renewal of the Nonsuch Gallery, Boreal Forest Corridor, and Welcome Gallery, and the creation of a new Winnipeg Gallery, and now, the Prairies Gallery. 

The new Prairies Gallery reveals a deep and layered view of history through geological time, exploring human connections to the land, with an eye to the future.  The plants, animals and fungi of the prairies – superbly adapted to the unique challenges of their environment – are showcased. Visitors will gain a greater understanding of Manitoba’s smallest and most densely populated biome’s past, biodiversity, and stunning landscapes.

“We’re thrilled to be able to invite Manitobans and the world back to the Museum and to see the province portrayed in new and engaging ways. We know visitors will be amazed by the profound changes throughout the Museum,” says Willow Krauchi, Director of Marketing, Sales and Programs.

The Prairies Gallery features new immersive exhibits. “Society and technology are moving forward at a tremendous pace. We wanted to enrich our visitors’ experiences with engaging multi-media environments and other state-of-the-art techniques to educate, enthrall, and entertain. Video interactives tell stories about real communities in Manitoba, and feature people who live and work in the region. ­ In this gallery, you can watch and listen to the flurry of birds at Whitewater Lake; examine layers of history in an eroding riverbank; and walk into an old-fashioned schoolhouse.,” says Kevin Brownlee, Curator of Archaeology. While Brownlee was the Content Lead of this final phase of the Renewal Project, all seven Museum Curators, the Collections and Conservation team, and many other Staff members worked with local communities and international experts to realize this impressive space.

“We are so grateful for the guidance of the Museum Indigenous Advisory Circle, the Museum Community Engagement Team of Newcomers to Manitoba, and so many diverse community representatives and scientific partners,” added Seema Hollenberg, Chair of the Bringing Our Stories Forward Renewal Project and Director of Research, Collections & Exhibitions. “Their contribution has enabled us to enrich the historical and contemporary stories of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities, and the legacy, experience, and impact of colonialism, Treaties, immigration, and settlement on Manitoba society and ecology, and its changing landscape due to trade, agriculture, and climate change. With the completion of the Prairies Gallery we now able to share many more important stories of this incredible province and its defining landscape and people.”

The Manitoba Museum thanks all the donors to the Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital & Endowment Campaign for their help in continuing the legacy of providing awe-inspiring experiences of Manitoba’s diverse human history and natural sciences.

The Manitoba Museum is open Thursday to Sunday, from 11 am to 5 pm. The Museum Galleries are open; however, due to public health orders, the Planetarium and Science Gallery remain closed.



Manitoba Museum Introduces a New Brand and Graphic Identity

The Exciting Evolution of the Manitoba Museum

Manitoba Museum Introduces a New Brand and Graphic Identity

Winnipeg, MB (March 30, 2021): Today, the Manitoba Museum unveils its new visual identity and rebranding to better align with its transformative evolution.

“This rebranding is an outward reflection of the work and the many changes that have been going on within the Museum,” says Willow Krauchi, Director of Marketing, Sales & Programs. “We are pleased to launch our new brand identity as our doors have reopened and the public is able to see the transformation of many spaces, including the completion of our Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Renewal Project.” The Renewal Project saw the transformation of more than 50% of the Museum Galleries with special attention to updating the stories of Indigenous Peoples and Newcomers to Canada.

The Manitoba Museum initiated the review and evaluation of its brand several years ago, as the Bringing Our Stories Forward Capital Renewal Project began. Designed by a Winnipeg firm, Winslow Creative, the new graphic identity and positioning features a stylized letter ‘M’ reaching out to reflect the Museum’s welcoming approach to making connections and sharing the stories of Manitoba. “Experiences at the Museum are a journey, engaging emotionally and intellectually, creating memories and connections that last a lifetime. The new visual identity will act as a contemporary and flexible backdrop to all aspects of the Museum’s wide range of digital and traditional marketing and communications offerings.”

These are unprecedented times of change and the Museum is engaging with new audiences daily in innovative ways. Virtual Museum field trips and new digital marketing initiatives were launched over the past year. For this well-known cultural institution, the flexibility of the new brand allows the Museum to continue to evolve and resonate with its many visitors. Krauchi adds, “We’re thrilled to be able to invite Manitobans and the world back to the Museum for awe-inspiring experiences of Manitoba’s diverse human history and natural sciences.”



Welcome to a New Gallery!

When the Museum opens to the public again, our visitors will be in for a pleasant surprise. The very first of our nine galleries, now called the Welcome Gallery, has been completely renovated. The much-loved Bison diorama is still there, but the exhibits surrounding it are all different. Originally built in the 1970’s, this gallery definitely had a dated vibe to it that needed to change. Further, it was no longer doing its job as an effective introduction to the province of Manitoba or to the Museum’s galleries.

The welcome wall introduces visitors to both the province, and the Manitoba Museum.

The role that First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples played in the settling and formation of the province of Manitoba is now described in several places in the renovated gallery, including a beautiful new exhibit on treaties. This exhibit was created in cooperation with the Treaty Relations Commission of Manitoba, and features the medals, pipes and pipe bags associated with these agreements. It demonstrates the fact that the Museum is committed to working with Indigenous peoples to accurately tell the history of Manitoba.

A beautiful, new treaty exhibit was set up to the left of the iconic Bison Diorama.

Another prominent component of the gallery is a new wall projection depicting 18,000 years of Manitoba history in two minutes! The Museum’s seven Curators all worked together on this video, which portrays, among other things, melting of ice age glaciers, changes in vegetational communities (i.e. biomes) over time, migration of Indigenous peoples into Manitoba, migration of settlers after confederation with Canada in 1870, and predicted future temperatures due to climate change.

Curators pulled out many candidate specimens and artifacts when deciding what to put in the new gallery introduction case.

The most eye-catching new exhibit is the gallery introduction case. The theme of each of the Museum’s remaining eight galleries are revealed through the iconic objects–animals, plants, fossils, minerals and artifacts–on display. Some galleries feature human history stories such as the fur trade in the Hudson’s Bay Company Collection Gallery, but four galleries are about Manitoba’s biomes (e.g. Arctic & Subarctic, Boreal Forest, Parklands and Prairies), and feature both natural and human history exhibits. Curators looked deep into the Museum collections to find some of our most intriguing objects to display. Unique colours and icons on the banners associated with each gallery are repeated at their entrances in the Museum, to let people know where they are, and what they will be seeing.

A new case describes each gallery, including the Prairies Gallery, and displays iconic specimens like little bluestem grass, and artifacts from the Museum’s collection.

As a scientist, I was disheartened that the old Orientation Gallery did not highlight the fact that this Museum has scientific collections and does research. The new Welcome Gallery does a better job of explaining this, allowing us to display and depict some of Manitoba’s fascinating wildlife. In particular, the new Discovery Room exhibit, The Museum’s Collection Illuminated: Celebrating 50 Years, highlights specimens and artifacts collected by, or donated to, the Museum. A slide show gives visitors a peak into the lives of the Curators and Collections staff that brought this new gallery to life.

This giant puffball fungus, donated to the Museum many years ago, is now on display in the Discovery Room.

As the lead Curator for the Welcome Gallery renewal, I am thrilled with the look of this space! I hope our visitors will enjoy seeing what we have been busy making during the pandemic.

New introductory panels are now located at the entrance to each gallery to help our visitors know where they are.