of the Cariboo Chilcotin & Central Coast
From early spring to late fall, the Cariboo Chilcotin is abloom with a vast array of wild flowers. For so many of us, when traveling we first just want to enjoy the changing scenery, the brilliant colours - be it a field of purple fireweed, a mass of blue lupine, bright yellow arnica and the red, pink or sulphur greens of paint brush.
As we relax into our journey, small details and a curious mind may take over. Walking amongst the forest we may be delighted to find the delicate, waxy, yellow blooms of tiger lily sharing a bed with the ornately designed red columbine. There is a wide range of habitat in the Cariboo Chilcotin which accounts for the large number and diversity of wild flowers.
Spotted and Diffuse Knapweed are two species found in our region that possess extremely invasive tendencies. Both are capable of producing large quantities of seeds - thousands from one plant alone - that can survive in the soil for over 20 years. They are able to invade undisturbed ecosystems, and once established, require long-term management to control their spread.
Unfortunately, some of this beauty is being eroded by the fierce competition of invasive plants. Many of these plants came from Europe and Asia, and are in some cases just as beautiful: brilliant gold/orange fields of the orange hawkweed, slopes of white oxeye daisy and the brilliant flowers of blueweed. Along our shorelines, native bulrushes and water lily compete with invasive domesticated yellow flag Iris and the beautiful large plumed purple loosestrife. In this section we wish to highlight some of our native wild flowers and raise awareness of the invasive plants we have unknowingly introduced into their habitat, and the potential threat they pose to our region's biodiversity.
what defines a wildflower? They include both native and non-native flowering plants that grow without human tending, from desert to mountain-tops, to city sidewalks. From mountain meadows to the dry-belt grasslands, even down to road side banks, we are treated to splashes of colour and sometimes masses of radiant blooms. Some are native plants - those wild plants that originated in the area - while others have been introduced from other parts of the country or world. Introduced plants do not all become invasive or pose threats to our native wild flowers. An invasive plant differs from what we call a weed. Weeds are defined as any plant not wanted where it is found and they vary from area to area. In California, lupine is considered a weed, while in England dandelion, lamb's quarter, peppermint, mustard, mullein, St. John's wort, burdock, coltsfoot and wormwood are used for medicinal purposes and not considered weeds, as they are here. Invasive plants, however, are plant species (usually non-native) that are regarded as harmful in that they adversely affect ecosystems, plants, animals, or human health, or interfere with economic pursuits.
Wildflowers From Spring to Fall
Spring is a time when first we notice the land greening and splashes of early colour. Flowering shrubs of Saskatoon with its bouquet-like white flowers later provide a deep blue berry in clusters. Chokecherry with its fragrant, white, drooping blooms mature into bitter but bright mahogany-red cherries which hang like wild miniature grapes. Low to the ground the waxy, serrated edged leaves of Oregon Grape are graced with clusters of brilliant yellow flowers in spring, followed in summer by grape-like bunches of blue berries on red stems. Tiny, fragrant, pinkish flowers of Dogbane or delicate pink bell flowers of kinnikinnick grace the dry, open spaces. Ornamental clusters of bell-like purple flowers of penstemon grow on dry, sunny gravel banks. In the grasslands the silvery-green leaves of arrowleaf balsamroot surround clusters of sunflower-like yellow blooms. The dryland's prickly pear cactus also blooms in May and June, with delicate, yellow flowers set amidst the sharp spines of the cactus. Another flower found on dry meadows and along roadsides is brown-eyed Susan, with its dark brown centre surrounded by brilliant yellow rays. Wild onion blooms with soft white petals, while delicate violets draw the eye close to the ground, with their regal purple blooms.
Come summer, wildflowers are found blooming in moister areas of our region: the tall brilliant blue arctic lupine may be spotted from forests to roadsides or en masse in sub-alpine meadows during mid-summer. Watch for marmots, which are fond of eating these lupines. On open grassy slopes and in moist to dry forests, at mid-elevation grow the bright red paintbrush. Considered once by the Carrier or Nlaka'pmx peoples as sacred, paintbrush attracts hummingbirds. Another common native plant is the delicate red columbine. Stored in the tips of the columbine's five reddish spurs under which hangs a skirt of yellow petals, sweet nectar attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Variety abounds, from the delicate and rare Calypso orchids on forest floors, to clusters of brilliant pink moss campion and vibrant yellow blooms of succulent lance-leaved stonecrop in rocky terrain of the alpine. Tall, nodding Indian Hellebore and pure white blooms of yarrow, decorate mountain meadow paths. In late summer and fall the grassland rabbit-brush and big sagebrush glow with small flowers creating yellow tips. The reds and golden leaves falling in the forests often surround clusters of purple asters, while wild roses don brilliant red rose-hips and juniper bushes produce blue berries.
Why fight Invasive Plants?
Details on the area's top trouble-makers
Invasive plants are known for their ability to grow and establish quickly in disturbed soils, and spread rapidly by massive seed production and/or aggressive root growth. Compared to other threats to biodiversity, invasive plants are second only to habitat destruction. The environmental impacts caused by invasive plants are degradation of wildlife habitat and the choking out of native plants. Greater even than pollution or disease combined, invasive plants negatively impact agriculture, forestry, fisheries and cost billions of dollars a year in North America to these industries in lost production or costs of control. When visiting an area there are simple ways to ensure you do your part in preventing the spread of these plants, especially when you plan your activities to have a minimal amount of disturbance to the environment. Unlike many areas, the Cariboo Chilcotin is relatively weed-free, so we have a chance to try to keep it that way!
How You Can Help:
Prevent soil disturbances in all activities. Undisturbed, natural soil cover (even the thin lichen crust) provides the greatest resistance to invasive species.
Pull/dig out new patches of invasive plants and carefully bag and dispose to landfill (spotted knapweed seeds need to be burned at a temperature higher than a campfire).
Don't drive or ride on grasslands; stay on designated trails; frequently check yourself, your vehicles and pets for clinging branches or seeds/burrs; and dispose of hitch-hikers at the landfill.
Learn to recognize invasive plants and report sightings to the local invasive plant committee in the area, particularly invasive, unwanted plants
Spotted knapweed (Centaurea biebersteinii) flowers blooms in July and August. The purple flower head is surrounded with a black tipped fringe, giving it a spotted appearance. The plant will have many blooms at one time, tolerates a wide range of temperatures and elevations, and is quick to spread along road systems.
Diffuse knapweed (Centaurea diffusa) has white to pink flowers with short rigid spines around the flower heads. It is common in dry microclimates throughout the Cariboo Chilcotin.
Leafy Spurge (Euphorbia esula) establishes itself in an area through an extensive creeping root system (up to 9 horizontal meters) with up to 300 new plants (buds) on these roots! It is able to invade healthy plant communities, and prefers dry roadsides, grasslands and open forest at low to mid elevations. Leafy spurge reduces forage and contains a white, milky substance that can cause severe irritation swelling and itchy blisters on people and livestock.
Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) spreads through seed production as well as by fibrous root systems that cause blanket-like monoculture infestations to form. Fields of the vibrant orange-red hawkweed can be quite impressive, and many a gardener has unknowingly taken the seeds of this invasive home mistaking them for wildflowers. They grow at mid to high elevations and invade meadows, roadsides and clearings.
Marsh Plume Thistle (Cirsium palustre) is a biennial with clusters of purple flowers that spread rapidly by wind-borne seeds and are extremely fast growing and invasive. It grows from a single, unbranched stem, can reach 2 metres in height and create a spiny, impenetrable wall that chokes out wetlands. Marsh plume thistle can form dense clumps in cut-blocks, causing irreversible damage to tree seedlings.
Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) has violet-blue flowers that bloom from July to September, reproducing seeds at 2,000 per plant! It forms dense infestations and though it is slow spreading, is very difficult to eradicate. Field scabious invades meadows, roadsides and openings and tolerates a wide range of elevations. A large infestation exists east of Quesnel near the Cottonwood House Historic Park where agencies are coordinating control efforts in order to stop this plant from spreading further.
Blueweed (Echium vulgare) also known as Viper's Bugloss, begins as a low-growing plant, forming a flat rosette from which single, dark stems covered with stiff hairs arise. It grows up to a height of one metre and its tap root reaches deeply for moisture in the dry, gravelly soils it prefers. Blueweed's brilliant blue flowers grow in bristly clusters. Though it is a short lived biennial, it produces many seeds and is very hard to control. It is often spread by the transportation of gravel into which its seeds have fallen.
Dalmatian Toadflax (Linaria dalmatica) has a snapdragon-like flower with pale green heart-shaped waxy leaves on tall stems. The flowers are bright yellow with an orange spot on the lower lip. This plant is a perennial that spreads by tap-roots and seeds that can still grow after 10 years in the soil. It prefers roadsides, wet meadows and fringe forest areas, and tolerates low temperatures and poor soil conditions at low to mid elevations. It can be effectively controlled by bio-control (use of a beetle, Mecinus janthinus) to reduce plant density in areas where eradication is no longer possible.
Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) has sulphur-yellow flowers with five heart-shaped petals and leaves that are divided into 5 - 7 hairy, toothed leaflets. It is a long-lived perennial that likes grasslands and dry forests at low to mid elevations. There are over 20 native cinquefoils in BC, making positive identification of the invasive sulphur cinquefoil, difficult. This cinquefoil produces many seeds and spreads through creeping root systems. Small infestations can be managed by digging.
Hoary Alyssum (Berteroa incana) likes to invade disturbed plant communities, preferably in gravelly areas. The entire multi-stemmed plant is covered in star-shaped hairs. In bloom the white flowers contain deeply notched petals, which mature to form flat, oval seedpods attached close to the stems. Hoary alyssum can be toxic to horses, and prefers low to mid elevations. Many herbicides and biological control are ineffective in its control and bio-control is not possible due to its similarity to canola.
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is found in wetlands, along lake shores and in wet ditches and marshy areas from low to sub-alpine elevations. This perennial is sometimes confused with our native fireweed. Purple loosestrife can be distinguished by its square stems and when in flower, its purple-magenta clusters of flowers.
Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) is found along roadsides, pastures and in disturbed openings with poor soil and moist to dry sites. It frequents areas from low to mid elevations, invading fields and replacing native grasses.
Thank you to Spectra Energy and their WISE grant for funding support!
photos by: Chris Czajkowski