Botanigal: The Beginning.

Welcome to the Botanigal blog.

As you may have guessed, I am passionate about plants, particularly those found in Ontario, and I have been studying Ethnobotany – the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses, for about 25 years now.

Being a nursery woman, environmental horticulturist, and ecological consultant by trade, I spend most of my time outside in the forests of Muskoka and Haliburton districts, collecting genetics and propagating indigenous plants for our native plant nursery and botanical gardens near Dorset, Ontario.  I harvest plant material from our acreage and our gardens for propagation, food,  and herbal applications.  I also lead ecological interpretive tours and flora walks, and sometimes lead birding and other faunal outings with fellow citizen scientists, most often in the areas around Algonquin Park, but I have spent significant periods of my life studying plants in other parts of Ontario and Canada.

During my younger years I planted trees for three summers across Northern Ontario (Thunder Bay, Ignace, Kenora, Atikokan, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Cochrane, Jellicoe, Geraldton), and Northern Manitoba (Swan River), and Northern Quebec (Rouyn-Noranda and Cadillac).

I spent a lot of time looking at the ground. Looking at the sky.  Looking at the little things.  Being by oneself for long periods of time in the brush allows one to notice subtle sights and smells.  I often found interesting plants by following my nose.  It took me a whole summer of tree planting to figure out that the alluring scent of strawberry was being released by dead Balsam Fir as it dehydrated towards decay.  Poplars, however smell pretty funky as they rot – but when alive, have a fine powder on their bark that can act as an impromptu sunscreen  and I am still learning new things everyday.  My good friend, Jeff the woodworker, gave me that little tidbit about the Poplar’s powder , which he had learned from a retired Algonquin Park ranger.

Aspens in fall
Poplar species, like these aspens (bright yellow), hold their leaves longer than most other deciduous trees here in Algonquin Park.  The Red Oak leaves (brown) are very rich with tannins and therefore, hold their leaves into the deep winter until the new leaf buds swell, thus ejecting the old leaves off of the tree.

I grew up in southern Ontario surrounded by farmland and fence-rows near the Holland Marsh north of Toronto.  Post-secondary studies drew me to:

  • Lindsay (Sir Sandford Fleming College – Integrated Resource & Ecosystem Management and Permaculture),
  • Peterborough (Trent University – Environmental Science BSc. Ecological Agriculture),
  • Sault-Ste. Marie (Laurentian University –Botany and Ethnobotany),
  • Milton, (Landscape Ontario Pre-Apprenticeship I and II Programs), and the
  • Humber River Valley (Humber College – Landscaping and Horticulture Apprenticeship).

I’ve seen many ecotypes, soil types, and micro-climates, along with varying levels of human development and have become quite appalled by urban sprawl, as it is everywhere.

On that note, I have borne witness to all of my sacred childhood learning places succumbing to development.  ‘Progressing’ towards  subdivisions, pavement, and automated farming.

I found comfort through these times by collecting the genetics of my floral friends and making more of them before the developers arrived, and the irony is that this Anthropocene drove me into my career.  I’ve been reproducing the genetics of these plants, among other rescues over the years, with bits of root and seed; the seeds of my teachers who listened with me, and are now still with me, holding memories of those dear places in their beauty.

We are now witnessing a very similar style of progress here, in Muskoka and Haliburton along what were once  peaceful shorelines of cottage country, where I have been lucky enough to have a life-long home too.

Despite the fact that contemporary urban landscape styles, new to Muskoka, with ‘lot-line-to-lot-line’ clear-cutting bring me paid work in the remedial niche; shoreline erosion mitigation, site replanting, and goose control landscaping methods, I still find it heartbreaking to know that what once was here, as I knew and loved, has been mown down for palatial estates.  These dear places where my family stories were held.  Held among wooden sentinel friends which towered over me as a child and adolescent, gone on somebody else’s whim.  It is a painful feeling and this is not a new emotion felt only by me. Generations before have felt the burn of extirpation and being separated from their home roots, along with  witnessing the loss of forest friends.

What we haven’t quite grasped yet as a wealthy waterfront society, is that these ‘urban clubhouse’ ideals are far more intensive to care for than the existing plant communities that grew with our great-grandparents.  The real irony is in how much input is actually required to remove and destroy cottage country’s low-maintenance forest gardens of beauty and age-old diversity.  Diversity which will take a century to return because the land has just been cauterized from the water, sun-cooked and barren, hindering dragonfly habitat, resulting in a new fortune being spent on irrigation.

I have resigned to the fact that this is a part of change, and I hope that future generations can change in a new way.  A way in which humans can hold a new understanding of the time it takes for a tree and its symbiotic community to grow.  Perhaps future communities will even apply a monetary value to this time, these trees, these plant and animal communities where:

More biodiversity on a site makes the site worth More $$, more valuable.

Perhaps one day we could even apply this idea to ones’ property value as an inherent understanding, that through maintaining existing plant populations, we improve human condition.  Leaving forest communities to thrive on a site will be inherent with the health of the human community.

On a lighter note, in the midst of all of these examples of questionable urban progress, the riparian zone is an amazing place to work and take photographs!

The biodiversity levels are fantastic in this ‘ribbon of life’, along the shorelines of our lakes and rivers.  I often find time to document these watershed edge zones.  My dearest waterfront clients show some serious old school respect for the waterfront and we have created the most beautiful spaces to spend time and make memories.  They are citizen scientists themselves and I will write about their efforts in the future.

I also get to spend lots of time in and around Algonquin Park and the Algonquin Highlands Water Trails chumming and chopping with my ‘artsy fartsy’ and scientific pals, and I am hoping to post what I think are fun and interesting finds and events on a regular basis.

WARNING: There will be pics of poo – and dead things.  Check out the ‘Scat and dead things’ group on Facebook.

This blog will likely be a visual learning tool more than a wordy one now that you have an overview of who is writing this blog.

So thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ll be interested enough by the posted content that you’ll follow along with me in this journey of my blog.

May the forest be with you.

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