Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Spot of White?

What Is That … Spot of White?


We admit it, we are nearing our threshold for embracing and enjoying white winter landscapes, especially since this year we decided not to travel to escape winter.  We do take some comfort, as we approach the spring equinox, in anticipating the approach of cottage season.  One way we lift our winter-fatigued spirits is to review photographs from previous seasons at our cottage on White Lake.  Images of flowers are especially spirit-lifting, even white ones which, ironically, remind us of fresh snow.  Here are just five of our favourite, less common, white cottage flowers.

The water-plantain family includes the broad-leafed arrowhead.  This aquatic/marsh plant can be seen along the shores and in the marshes of White Lake.  It has arrowhead-shaped leaves rising above the water and produces white, two to four-centimeter-wide, three-petalled flowers on a stalk that grows 30 to 120 centimeters above the water.  Flowers can be seen from June to August.  This plant’s starchy, edible rhizomes are an important source of food for ducks and muskrats.

The Canada anemone is a member of the buttercup family.  This plant grows in moist open areas and roadside ditches to a height of 20 to 70 centimeters. The deeply segmented, wedge-shaped leaves are sharply toothed.  The five-petal white blossoms are 2.5 to 4 centimeters across.  We see them during the late spring and early summer, May to July.  Anemones are often called windflowers because the flowers and fruit, which are on long stalks, are easily blown around by wind.

A member of the poppy family, Dutchman’s britches grow in moist, rich woodlands with flower stalks reaching 15 to 40 centimeters in height.  Leaves are divided into narrow leaflets and three to 14 flowers form on a stalk.  The white pantaloon-shaped flowers, reminiscent of traditional britches worn by the Dutch, are 1.4 to two centimeters long.   This plant was growing beside a creek near our cottage in May.  Fortunately, we do not have any grazing cattle near the cottage as this plant is poisonous to them.

False Solomon’s seal is a member of the lily family.  It grows in moist, wooded areas and has five to 13 distinctive lance-shaped leaves that alternate along an arched stem.  Clusters of white flowers grow at the ends of the stem which can reach 20 to 125 centimeters in height.  The numerous tiny flowers are only three to six millimeters across.  We see them from April to June.  Fertilized flowers turn into distinctive clusters of red berries.  One of our field guides indicates the berries are “edible but should not be eaten in large quantities.”   We will not be eating them.

Asters are the second largest family of flowering plants in the world and pearly everlasting is a member of this family.  Plants can be found growing in dry open woodlands and along roadsides.  They can grow to a height of 20 to 90 centimeters with numerous alternating woolly, haired leaves.  Flower clusters, containing 50 to 150 florets, range from five to 15 centimeters across.  Each small yellowish floret is surrounded by shiny, pearly-white phyllaries or bracts that are five to seven millimeters long.  Phyllaries are part of the understructure of the flower, supporting the bloom.  It is the phyllaries that give the flower cluster of pearly everlasting its pearly white appearance.  The overlapping rows of durable phyllaries make this an excellent plant for dried flower arrangements.  At White Lake, blossoms can be seen during July and August.  We are doubly-pleased because they attract painted lady butterflies.

So, while you may be tired of looking out over white snowy vistas, we hope this article will encourage you to look forward to spotting fresh, white wildflower blossoms after the snow has melted.

We relied on the following field guides in preparing this article: T. Dickinson, D. Metsger, J. Bull and R. Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; R. Dickinson and F. Royer’s Plants of Southern Ontario; and, J. Thieret and W. Niering’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region.




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