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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That ... Shoreline Flower?

What Is That … Shoreline Flower?

Waddells

With autumn days growing shorter and colder we thought you might be warmed and brightened by seeing the varied shapes and colours of some of the shoreline blossoms we encounter during our summers at White Lake.

Most of the colourful, flowering, non-woody plants we enjoy at the cottage grow in terrestrial environments.  The colours on land are complemented by the blossoms of aquatic plants.  Some flowering plants live with their roots in both the terrestrial and aquatic worlds.  These plants grow along the shoreline around our cottage.   Shoreline plants are identified by environmental and conservation groups as important contributors to healthy lakes.

First up is a plant with distinctive purple flowers and vibrant oval red-coloured fruit, the bittersweet nightshade, also known as climbing nightshade.  This perennial is a member of the tomato family.  Its climbing stem can grow to three meters.  The blossom’s five purple petals form a star shape that measures one centimetre across.  The cluster of anthers forms a yellow center in each blossom.  We see these flowers from May to September.  The 0.8 to 1.2 centimetre oblong fruit appears throughout the growing season.

Our next plant, a member of the rose family, is the marsh cinquefoil.  It is also referred to as purple cinquefoil.  This perennial grows to 60 centimetres in height.  The reddish-purple to maroon blossoms can grow to 2 centimetres across and can be seen around White Lake in late June and early July.  The seeds of this plant are eaten by waterfowl.

Most people are familiar with the northern blue flag which is a member of the iris family.  This perennial can grow to 80 centimetres tall and often forms colonies of plants.  The large flowers are blue to purple.  Flowers are six to eight centimetres across.  Blossoms can be observed in June and July.  The rhizomes are food for beaver, muskrat, and waterfowl.

The flowering rush is the only species of the flowering rush family in Ontario.  This perennial plant grows to a height of 1.5 meters.  The cluster of pink flowers grows atop a solitary stalk and can be seen from June to August.  The individual three-petalled blossoms measure 2 to 2.5 centimetres across. Although attractive to our eyes, the Ministry of Environment identifies it as an aggressively invasive species, and we should be careful not to disturb it.  For more on this see www.invadingspecies.com.

The common helleborine is a member of the orchid family.   These perennial plants can grow to 80 centimetres tall.  Clusters of 15 to 30 flowers form along a single stalk. The intricate greenish-purple blossoms are 10 to 14 millimetres long, 5 to 6 millimetres wide and have a heart-shaped lip that is 8 to 11 millimetres long.  We see the flowers in July and August.

Our final shoreline plant for today, the turtlehead, is a member of the plantain family.  A perennial, plants can grow to 80 centimetres in height.  Flower clusters grow on 3 to 8 centimetre long spikes.  The individual white to pinkish tubular blossoms have two lipped petals with the upper lip growing over the lower lip, resembling the shape of a turtle’s head.  Flowers can be seen from July to early September.

These and other shoreline plants display an interesting range of colours and shapes while helping to protect water quality and provide food for aquatic and terrestrial herbivores.  So don’t forget to take some time next summer to appreciate the diversity of shoreline plants and respect their contributions to healthy lakes.

We relied on the following field guides in preparing this article: Timothy Dickinson et al The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; Steven G. Newmaster et al Wetland Plants of Ontario; and, Roger Tory Peterson et al Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central North America.

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