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Tag Archives: plants

WADING FOR WATER LILIES: How a landlubber botanist learned to love collecting aquatic plants

I’m a landlubber I admit it. How could I not be? I’m from Saskatchewan. That’s the driest place in the country! Not only is it completely devoid of coastline, but its largest lake is practically in the arctic. Before I came here I did field work in Grasslands National Park, a place where the Frenchman “River” is shallow enough to wade across. Then I did field work in the Great Sand Hills, a place where there is no water at all, just sand. When I moved to Manitoba I noticed right away that something was wrong; the air was weird. I’m used to having all the moisture sucked out of…

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EXPLORING MANITOBA’S MOUNTAINS

Last week I spent some time looking for rare and under-collected plants in the “Turtle Mountains” of Manitoba. First off let me say that I think the term “Manitoba mountain” needs its own definition in the dictionary. To most people the word “mountain” conjures up images of snow-capped peaks and sure-footed Mountain Goats clambering up rocky screes. Climbing a mountain is to risk life itself due to treacherous terrain, exposure to harsh weather and utter physical exhaustion. In contrast, climbing a “Manitoba mountain” is to risk breaking out in a light sweat, if it’s a hot day-a really hot one.  Now please don’t get me wrong, I love the Turtle…

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The summer of ugly plants

For the last 13 years I have spent part of my summer studying beautiful plants; plants with big displays of nice-smelling flowers. The reason I was studying them was because I was interested in learning which insects like to visit them for their nectar and pollen. However, this year I realized that for too long I have been neglecting the ugly plants; you know the ones that we step on without a care. So what are these ugly plants and why are they so unattractive? Most of them are grasses, sedges and rushes but some are aquatic plants–the ones that tickle your legs when you go for a swim in…

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WATCH OUT FOR WATER-LILIES!

Water-lilies (Nymphaea spp.) have the largest flowers of all Manitoba plants. Unfortunately, because they grow in deep water, the only time you can usually see these lovely flowers close up is when you are in a boat. For this reason, botanists who specialize in water-lilies are a unique breed because they spend a lot of time jumping into lakes and rivers to get good specimens. The distribution of water-lilies in Manitoba is poorly known due to the huge number of lakes and rivers we have here, as well as their inaccessibility. At the Manitoba Museum there are only 64 specimens of water-lilies of any kind in our collection. Manitoba has…

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The art and science of diorama making part 2: The illusion of reality

Most of the plants in the Museums’ dioramas are real plants that have been preserved and often painted. However, in some cases the preserved plants can simply not be used. This is especially true if the diorama is set in spring (e.g. wolf diorama in the Boreal Forest Gallery) or summer (e.g. bog diorama in the Boreal Forest gallery). In such cases, we make our own plants. The process required to create a realistic fake plant is a long and laborious one. The first step is to actually obtain a real, live plant of the species that you want to reproduce. First off, a location as close to the Museum…

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The art and science of diorama making, part 1: Perfectly imperfect

When people come to the Museum and see our dioramas they are usually impressed with the majestic, taxidermied animals in them. But what they really ought to be impressed with are the plants. I find it amazing that the trees in the elk diorama are perpetually in the process of shedding their leaves. Anyone familiar with Manitoba’s forests and prairies, know that the plant species in our dioramas are the same ones that occur in the wild. That’s because, for the most part, they ARE real specimens. Although fake plants are readily available in stores, they are almost all tropical species that don’t occur in Manitoba. Further, mass-produced fake plants…

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Museum’s Charlie Brown Tree Gets “Spruced Up”

This January what I like to call the Museum’s “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” in the Arctic/Subarctic gallery, got polished up with some new paint and a new background. It’s still lopsided as ever (it did grow in the arctic after all) but now it has some friends in the background. This often missed mini-diorama is about Manitoba’s treeline: the part of the province where trees start to disappear.   The black spruce (Picea mariana) tree in the diorama is known as a “krummholz”, a German word that means “crooked wood”. Krummholz trees grow in environments that are extremely difficult to survive in, including the far north and the tops of…

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Oh no, mistletoe

Although Christmas is considered to be a “Christian” holiday, many of the rituals we associate with it, such as kissing under mistletoe, are actually pagan in origin. European mistletoe (Viscum album) was considered to be a magical plant by Druidic priests because it mysteriously grew on the branches of trees without its roots reaching the soil. Further, it stayed green in winter, and produced its berries in November and December when other plants were going dormant. Druidic priests collected mistletoe from oak trees to hang in homes in the hopes that it would ward off evil. The custom of kissing under it might have grown from a Scandinavian myth regard…

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WHY I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT HOUSEPLANTS

When people find out I’m a botanist they always start asking me about their houseplants. Unfortunately, I really don’t know much about houseplants as they are pretty much all tropical or desert plants, not native species, which is where my expertise lies. Not wanting to seem rude by saying “how should I know what’s wrong with your stupid Ficus”, I began thinking about the things I could say using my knowledge about plant ecology. The best advice I was able to come up with is to learn about where your houseplant comes from originally and use that information to adjust how you treat your plant. In this spirit, here is…

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What a difference a year makes

One of the first papers on pollination I tried to publish got rejected because I had data from only one field season. So I withdrew the paper and did another year of research. But why is having two years of data so important? It is mainly because the world is a messy place. This year I conducted a second year of pollinator surveys at the Yellow Quill Prairie Preserve. One thing I learned was that the flowering season starts much earlier than I had anticipated. Initially I thought August would be the month with the most flowers blooming but now I know that May has more due to the abundance…

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