Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 24 August 2015

Floodplain Favourites

Some parts of the local southern Ontario landscape don't look all that impressive at first glance.......a slow, placid meandering stream through a largely agricultural landscape, maybe with some trees and shrubs lining one or both sides. Ho hum. Yet some of them have a surprising array of interesting species of flora and fauna, including some that are quite rare.

Take this first image, photographed from the bridge just east of C-K Road 15 along Kent Line.

It is of a little known place called Long Creek and is largely on private property, so it doesn't get all that much attention as it passes from southern Lambton County into adjacent Chatham-Kent. But at this time of year, there is a surprising abundance of a fairly rare plant called Lizard's-tail (Saururus cernuus), which in places, lines both sides of this waterway.

Eventually when all the flowers have been in flower, the 'tail' will be almost straight up, but at this stage, it is quite attractive with its drooping nature. Although it is widely scattered across southern Ontario and can be abundant in areas where it does occur, it is listed as S3, which means provincially it is Vulnerable with between 21-80 known occurrences.

A bonus of stopping at this location is that just a few hundred metres away, along the road and a smaller branch of this waterway is another rarity and a member of the Legume family also in flower: Wild Senna (Senna hebecarpa).  It is sometimes known as Cassia hebecarpa.

Wild Senna is Critically Imperilled in Ontario, being officially ranked as S1, meaning 5 or fewer occurrences in the province. It is found on both sides of the road at this location, and therefore is in both Lambton and Chatham-Kent, although the majority of it here is in C-K. It also occurs in Essex. In spite of Wild Senna's extreme rarity, it has not yet been officially evaluated and placed on either federal or provincial legislated lists of Species At Risk.

Another rarity quite noticeable at this time of year is a member of the Composite Family: Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia). It was formerly known as Actinomeris alternifolia.

Its Ontario range is limited to Essex, Chatham-Kent, Lambton and Elgin, and is officially S3 (Vulnerable). Although technically Vulnerable, it has not yet been evaluated and added to either federal or provincial legislated lists. The 'wings' along the main stem and rounded central disk, are notable identifying characteristics. It grows along various floodplain woodland settings and sometimes at the damp edges of woodlands. This small stand of a dozen or so plants is one I came across while checking out another Lizard's-tail population along the Sydenham River.

Yet another rarity that grows along floodplain woods, as well as damp rich forests, is Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis). It isn't in flower now, as it only flowers for a very brief period typically in very late April or early May. The flowers are in their best condition just as the leaves are unfolding, as noted in the middle photo. The bottom photo shows the small red fruits that are present in mid-summer.

Goldenseal is considered S2 (Imperilled), meaning there are between 6-20 populations known in Ontario. It is legally listed as Threatened under the federal Species At Risk Act and the provincial Endangered Species Act.

Its rarity is due to declining habitat as well as its popularity for medicinal purposes. Due to its legislated status both federally and provincially, I will not be divulging any locations for it.

When exploring these meandering waterways, one can always be on the lookout for other rarities. Here is a Blanding's Turtle, enjoying some mid-August sun. Blanding's Turtles are also Threatened under both federal and provincial legislation.


  1. Allen, when we were doing the Kent County Natural Areas Inventory in 1985 (?) we found a site with Wild Senna. However, since I don't think the study was ever published maybe the location of our site is not widely known? Of course at this point I have no clue where the site was, but obviously someone has our original fieldnotes somewhere.

    1. Alan, you are correct that most of the work for that project was done in 1985. The final report was never published, but I have had a draft copy of the report for many years. I went through the 16 priority sites as well as the 6 special areas listed in the draft report and none of them had Cassia/Senna listed. Perhaps it was found on a site that didn't make it to these top 16/6 sites? I also have a lot of the background information, so I will see if it shows up in any of it.

  2. Another informative post! I did not realize some of these were rather rare. I have seen Golden Seal in Rondeau Park, knowing it was uncommon!

    1. Hey Blake...thanks for the comments (Pssst....don't tell anyone where you saw the Goldenseal at Rondeau)!