Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Honey Locust to Stinkhorn.....native plant highlights

A couple of posts ago, I gave a summary of some of the interesting species of fauna I came across while conducting a flora and fauna survey of a decommissioned railroad in Chatham-Kent. This post will focus on some of the highlights of the native flora. A future post may describe some of the many non-native species of plants.

Such railroad corridors are largely unexplored, since they frequently have 'No Trespassing' signs at the typical access points. When the railroads are in operation, if you are not paying attention trains can sneak up on you in a hurry! (Don't ask...... :-).

Typical scene along one section of this rail corridor
 Obviously there isn't much, if any, pristine natural area habitat along these corridors, but it is surprising how much native flora and fauna use what habitat there sometimes is. For example when doing a survey on a corridor in 2012, I discovered a provincially rare plant that had never before been seen in Chatham-Kent and a butterfly that had very limited records in C-K.

In such wide open sections as shown in the image above, there is always the hope that some prairie vegetation may be found, maybe even a patch of prairie. Such was the case in 2012.

Most obvious prairie vegetation becomes more visible from mid-summer to late summer. I'm hoping that my future visits to this corridor in the next few weeks will enable me to find more prairie species along here. Historically areas not far from this corridor had some of the largest extent and best quality tallgrass prairie in Ontario!

Some of the prairie associates that I have found so far, include:

Canada Anemone
 Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis) is certainly not limited to prairies, as it is frequently found along the sunny edges of woodlands. Prairie is where this plant really does well.
Prairie Milkweed
 Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is rare in Ontario, limited mainly to the extreme southwest. It is just coming into peak flowering condition now, slightly later than the similar looking Common Milkweed. Butterflies and other pollinators love it!
 Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is often found in disturbed old field, but is definitely a prairie associate, and numerous pollinators can be found using it.
Climbing Prairie Rose
Climbing Prairie Rose (Rosa setigera) is rare in Ontario, being officially designated as "Special Concern', and is largely limited to Essex, Chatham-Kent and Lambton, although small populations do occur beyond those areas.

Some sections of this corridor are adjacent to bits of woodland, and there the diversity of flora changes.

Some species occurring there are likely remnants of the forest habitat that was there prior to the railroad being constructed.
Honey-Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) is unofficially rare in Ontario, being most common in the extreme southwest.
Wild Yam
Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is a climbing vine which is uncommon in Ontario. It doesn't have showy flowers......they don't get much showier than those tiny little balls on the slender branches shown here, but their leaves are distinctively heart-shaped.
Michigan Lily
Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) is a tall, brightly coloured flowering plant. It is widespread in southern Ontario but never seems to be abundant. It often occurs in woodland openings, and its bright orange flowers are pleasing to the eye.

Along the sides of the corridor are wet areas, prime habitat for plants such as this Southern Blue Flag (Iris virginica).
Southern Blue Flag
Another 'plant' that I came across, although not everyone would initially identify it as being a plant, is this unusual fungus:
Dog Stinkhorn
Dog Stinkhorn (Mutinus ravenelii) is, as its name suggests, a stinky fungus. I usually encounter them in the late summer or early fall, but for some reason, this one was evident in late June. One can usually smell them before seeing them, depending on which way the wind is blowing. It is this feature than enables them to spread their spores. Flies are attracted to the odour thinking it is a rotting bit of flesh and are looking for a place to lay their eggs, which fly larvae (maggots) will hatch out from and consume the rotting material. The flies crawl over the gelatinous tip of the fungus from where the odour emanates, searching for a place to lay their eggs, and this is where the spores are located. The spores then stick to the flies feet and are transferred to the next place the fly is inspecting. Just another one of the many wonders of nature!


  1. Allen, your knowledge of Ontario's fauna is inspiring. I've taken more and more interest in plants since starting to read your blog. I found Culvers' Root today at Brunet Park in LaSalle... Something I would have not noticed last year! Also, I noticed your contributions to the ROM botany field guide. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and photography!

    1. Dwayne: I'm so glad to hear of your expanding interest in plants. There is always a ton of things to enjoy in the natural world, and never enough time to see it all. The area around south Windsor is one of the best places in Ontario to see some of this diversity, as you know. Congrats on finding the Culver's Root. It is too bad the ROM guide doesn't cover many of the prairie wildflowers, but of course its intent is to cover the more common wildflowers of Ontario. The Falcon Guide to Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers is certainly a valuable companion, if you have access to a copy of that one.

  2. Awesome finds. I will keep my eye open around here for these since i live in tall grass prairie.


  3. Thanks for the continual informative blog posts such as this one, Allen! That railway line looks like an interesting place to explore, especially being well off the beaten path for most naturalists.

    1. One never knows what is just down the path of a previously unexplored is great fun!

  4. An FYI for large trees you may or may not already be aware of:
    1. Tupelo @ corner of Kenesserie and Henderson Li. (on lily farm property, visitors welcome)
    2. White Oak? very large. @ Clearville Rd.past Camp Cataraqui entrance, go down Clearville Rd past camp entrance to old laneway on right (10m long) that ends at an old fence, continue past fence, down steps to small open area, the oak is at north end. Walk quietly as you are on Boy Scouts Canada property.nuff sed

    1. Thanks for the info....I'll try and check them out some day.

  5. Great stuff. Really enjoy your posts.

  6. Thanks, Brian....I hope it is a pleasant deviation from the usual stuff you deal with :-).