Plant Identification: Methods, habitats and native species in Halifax.

Walking into the North branch library on a damp rainy day, the last thing I expected was to be staring at a bouquet of local flowers. Something about the haphazard bundle of twigs and flowers set the tone for David Patriquin’s talk on Native Plant Identification.

The topic could very well have been a very dry dissertation on Linnaean nomenclature and dichotomous differentiation to arrive at a Latin name. Dr. Patriquin made the speech lively with his animated voice, prizes of local plants and books, and constant participation with the audience.

It was my pleasure to live tweet the event as @skyhsmith, with the #nativeplant moniker. I’ll include a few of the tweets as I go on.

Dr. David Patriquin introduces himself, not as an expert on native plants, but as an Oceanography student gone awry.

@skyhsmith: In 2004 dr. Patriquin decided to learn about his “biosphere” or 50km from his house to get to lawrence town and Polly’s Cove #nativeplant

He became interested in organic farming and gardening, and developed a love for what we call weeds. In fact, most of our food crops came from weeds that grew well in disturbed soils.

@skyhsmith: Most weeds are “friendly exotics” which are important for wildlife, pollinators, and organic management for farming #nativeplant

We started talking about introduced ‘exotics’ vs. native plant species. Most exotic plants are not much of a threat to our biodiversity. Plants like your garden impatients cannot survive without you, and cannot naturalize. Naturalized plants include clover and dandelion, which thrive in freshly disturbed soil. We freshly disturb soil, a lot, everywhere we go.

@skyhsmith : Nova Scotia has aprox. 2k wild plant species. 62% are native, pre European settlement. The rest are naturalized. #nativeplant

Dr. Patriquin shared some of his favourite resources for determining a plants identity, including the website for the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre the best online source for identification. Since it is quite difficult to lug large books, this link may be the best way to have a way to identify plants on the go. Some books he suggests are Newcome’s Wildflower guide, and Carl London’s Native Orchids of NS.

Since Nova Scotia is an Isthmus, and it is relatively separated from the rest of the North American mainland there is very little biodiversity, though we have several biomes. These including Salt marshes, dunes, bogs, Acadian forest, boreal forest, and even some arctic areas in the Cape Breton highlands left over from the last glaciation.

Dr. Patriquin brings our attention to the flowers he brought. They are all from Point Pleasant Park, including, verbena, red maple, pin cherry, and honeysuckle, all gathered that morning.

@skyhsmith: There are about 300 types of plants at Point Pleasant Park. #nativeplant

He recommends that you do not take samples of plants from the wild. While there are few endangered species in HRM (such as ladyslipper) it is best to keep a digital herbarium: if you don’t need vegetation samples: take pictures.

@Skyhsmith: Hurricane Juan gave Point Pleasant Park a chance to biodiversify. Lots of goldenrods and asteracea in the first years #nativeplant

The deforestation from hurricane Juan allowed the park staff to bring it closer to the Acadian forest biome it would have been without our interference. For example, exotic linden trees are being replaced with local basswood trees. Most surprisingly, berries took off like weeds. How did they get there though? Dr. Patriquin suggests that some existed but were hidden by other plants, and that birds brought others.

We are becoming more aware of planting local, and it shows. With professionals like David Patriquin, we are moving forward. We cannot forget that naturalized exotics are now part of the equation, and are in some cases very necessary for the local fauna; including the red clover seeds the Ecology Action Centre gave us at the end of the evening.

So remember when identifying plants: vascular plants have veins, and non-vascular do not.

Follow this link to an incredible resource that Dr. Patriquin put together.

Written by Schuyler Smith

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