Paul Keddy, noted naturalist, wrote the following excellent article about the uniqueness of Blueberry Mountain following his visit to the mountain on July 27, 2017.
Blueberry Mountain: some Botany and Ecology
by Dr. Paul Keddy 2017
Tuesday, August 1, 2017.
Ten thousand years ago, the vast ice sheet covering Lanark County had just melted, leaving an extensive landscape of rocky hills interspersed with sand and gravel. Since trees had not yet returned north, the landscape of the county was much more like the arctic, with mostly herbaceous plants and small shrubs. It probably looked somewhat like Baffin Island does today. Slowly, the trees that had survived the ice age further south, returned north. For a short period, Lanark county had mostly coniferous trees, but eventually even maple, beech and oak returned north, producing our modem mixture of tree species.
The northward invasion of trees has been studied in some detail. As the ice melted, it left thousands of small lakes, each of which slowly began to fill with sediment. By removing cores of sediment in the bottom of such lakes, and studying them under a microscope, it is possible to count the pollen grains trapped in the sediment, and determine which kinds of plants occurred at which times in the past. Hundreds of lakes in eastern North America have now been cored in this way, and plant ecologists can actually make maps of how each species of tree migrated north after the ice age. So, we know the broad scale patterns, and in the case of Blueberry Mountain, we also know quite a bit of detail. Here is the reason: a sediment core was taken not far away, from Flower Round Lake in Lavant Township, and studied in the early 1990s at Queens University. The data from this core show that the lake formed 9,500 years ago, that the first trees to arrive formed pine and spruce forests, and that by 7,500 years ago, deciduous trees like maple beech and oak arrived.
Here is how tree migration matters to Blueberry Mountain. As the trees arrived, they replaced the smaller plants typical of post-glacial landscapes, turning open barrens into forests. The original plants survived only where trees could not grow. Hence, a clue as to what Lanark County looked like after the ice age, and before the trees, comes from looking at modern day environments where trees have not established, particularly cliffs and rock barrens of various types. When we climb to the top of Blueberry Mountain (or other large, high ridges in Lanark County) we can see plants that still live in areas not shaded by trees. On the top of Blueberry Mountain, for example, there are indeed blueberry plants (Vaccinium angustifolium), plants well-known to be intolerant of shade from trees. (For the same reason, blueberry plants also benefit from fires that kill trees — but that is another story). If you look more closely near the blueberry shrubs, other cliff and rock barren plants can be seen. Here are just a few examples. One of the most conspicuous is a low-growing evergreen shrub, Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).
Closer to the edge of the cliff, and even growing out of cracks, is Bristly Sarsaparilla (Aralia hisipida). There is quite a special fern, Rusty Woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis). Less conspicuous plants include Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata), Pinweed (Lechea intermedia) and Cow-wheat (Melamphyrum lineare). There is even a wild orchid, Slender Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes lacera). Taken together, these plants are part of a special ecological community that is mostly found on cliff tops and rock barrens, where trees cannot produce dense shade.
So, from one point of view, walking to the top of the Blueberry Mountain is somewhat like walking back in time, to a landscape without forest.
To put this is in a larger context, let us compare Blueberry Mountain to two other areas in Lanark County that have rock barrens, and are protected areas. The Keddy Nature Sanctuary, south and east of Blueberry Mountain, has a similar bedrock, and even some small steep rock slopes, but the plants above mostly do not occur. There is only one patch of blueberries, while Slender Ladies’ Tresses occur in several rocky clearings. The explanation for this difference is likely simple: the landscape at Keddy Nature Sanctuary being flatter, was once completely forested, and most rock barren species were shaded out, likely thousands of years in the past. Some of the rocky open areas at Keddy Nature Sanctuary today may look superficially like areas of Blueberry Mountain, but they likely formed recently when logging, followed by grazing, created openings in the forest. Now to another cliff face: Foley Mountain. This cliff is a little further south, and perhaps more importantly, faces more directly south, with the result that summer sun creates an even warmer (and possibly drier) microclimate. Here we find some of the Blueberry Mountain plants, but also new ones, such as another species of Woodsia, Blunt-lobed Woodsia (Woodsia obtusa). This fern is so rare as to be officially designed as threatened in Canada and endangered in Ontario. Foley Mountain is also different from Blueberry Mountain in having areas of calcareous rock, unlike the gneiss at Blueberry Mountain and Keddy Nature Sanctuary. Each mountain, or rock barren, then, can be thought of as a kind of sunny island in the treed landscape, with small groups of plants that grow in full sunlight.
Further to the west of Lanark County, there are more extensive landscapes with rather few trees, and rock ridges alternating with ponds. These areas, known as rock barrens, have the same species you can see at the top of Blueberry Mountain. One fine example is protected in the Mellon Lake Conservation Reserve, 8656 hectares south of Highway 7 near Kaladar.
Blueberry Mountain then, apart from providing a lovely view, also provides an opportunity to see some special plants that were once much more common in our landscape. It also reminds us that our protected areas fit together, with each area protecting different kinds of environments, and hence different species.
Finally, a word to visitors. Since these plants are considered uncommon in Lanark County, and since they are confined to quite a narrow strip of land on the edge of the cliff, they are actually rather vulnerable to human activities. It would be better if you stayed carefully on the trail, did not stomp around with large hiking boots on the very edge of the cliff, did not sprawl in the plants for lunch, and did not bring large jumpy dogs to run back and forth along the trail. The dry conditions here cause plants to grow very slowly, and while these ones have survived for thousands of years, to survive into the future they need to be treated gently and with respect.
Catling, P.M and V.R. Brownell. 1999. The flora and ecology of southern Ontario granite barrens. Pages 392-405 in Anderson, R.C., J.S. Fralish, and J.M. Baskin (eds). Savannas, Barrens, and Rock Outcrop Plant Communities of North America. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. (a fine overview of rock outcrop vegetation. Table 24.2 gives a list of rare species found in these barrens. While that much of Lanark County is gneiss, rather than granite, this book chapter seems to describe our gneiss landscape rather well.)
Keddy, P.A. 2008. Earth, Water, Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. Motion Creative Printing, Carleton Place, ON. 73 p. (an overview of the natural environment of Lanark County, including a list of significant natural areas in the county, available at many local bookstores, and the Mississippi Valley Field-Naturalists)
Keddy, P.A. The Scientific Foundations for Conservation in the Ottawa Valley. http://www.drpaulkeddy.com/ottawavalleyscience.html (an introduction to the ecology of the Ottawa Valley, with a list of articles to read)
Keddy, C.J. 1994. Forest History of Eastern Ontario. Information Report No. 1. Eastern Ontario Model Forest, Kemptville, Ontario. (an overview of the history of Lanark County forests since the last Ice Age)
White, D. J. 2016. Plants of Lanark County. http://www.lanarkflora.com/ (a complete list of the plants of Lanark County, along with other information including significant natural areas.)
GIFT OF BEAUTY
Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
May 17, 2017 followed two days of drizzling rain. Ordinarily the fresh smells of nature, the sound of raindrops on leaves, the cleansing feel of renewal is special. But this day I was discouraged. We needed sunny weather for the fund-raising walk to Blueberry Mountain.
The walk was for nature – for its protection – why didn’t it cooperate? A childish question but I asked it anyway.
Stephane Tremblay started early saying he was a “bit of a loner” when it came to walks. On his return, he described how mystical it felt on top of Blueberry Mountain when the sun broke through the storm. He asked permission to take a grapefruit size, blackish, somewhat dirty stone that caught his attention.
His Facebook “Stone Orchard Creations” states:
“I went for a hike today in the Highlands in Lanark. Picked up a small piece of stone… it looked like it had character. So just like a kid, I picked it up. Wow I got home and started to clean it up. Let me tell you that the beauty coming out of this small stone is unreal. … will be donated back to cliffLAND as a gift and show piece … for future Generations to enjoy (hopefully) stay tuned A+”
June 18th Stephane, taking his girlfriend to Blueberry, dropped off a gift. Our breath was taken away. How beautiful. The polished blackness of the stone was accentuated by the whiteness of the Indiana limestone base. Obviously put together by the eye of an artist.
Bob Betcher, MMLT`s most knowledgeable rock person, gave the following description:
“The … sample consists of two separate rock types annealed together. The smaller segment is a granitic gneiss which is a metamorphic rock (the original rock has been altered by heat and pressure) .. the larger dark coloured segment appears to be a metavolcanic rock. The gneiss gives evidence of having been intruded into metavolcanic rock since we see thin bands of gneiss having moved into the darker rock along narrow fractures. Individual mineral grains in the metavolcanic rock are not visible to the naked eye indicating the rock cooled very quickly while mineral grains in the gneiss are larger indicating the rock cooled much more slowly. The rock should be looked at… under a magnifying glass to come up with a more definitive description of the dark coloured rock.“
Indiana Limestone is considered to be the highest quality quarried limestone in the USA. Stephane said that it had been used in the Canadian Parliament Buildings, which led to another fascinating story. Eleanor Milne, Canada’s first woman National Stone Carver described as:
“the stone whisperer, an artist who could coax from the Indiana limestone of Parliament Hill all manner of images to illustrate the nation’s history”
Stephane created this beautiful sculpture from a stone that called him aside on his Blueberry Mountain walk; placed it on his created base from Indiana limestone, on Canada’s 150th anniversary. How fitting.
Rain dampened attendance soon forgotten, but Stephane’s gift enjoyed for generations.
NATURE 4 LIFE! VIDEO
ANNUAL FALL COLOURS NATURE WALK TO BLUEBERRY MOUNTAIN
Sunday, October 4th, 2015.
Bring a picnic lunch, bring your family and enjoy the sense of renewal that comes from the Annual Fall Colours Nature Walk to the top of Blueberry Mountain, hosted by the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT).
The Annual Fall Colours Nature Walk takes place on Sunday, October 4th. Registration starts at 10 a.m. and the hike starts at 10:30 sharp. It takes about 45 minutes to climb Blueberry Mountain, but it’s a fairly easy walk with only a brief climb near the top. You can enjoy the spectacular view while you eat your lunch and dessert will be served following the hike. Special certificates will be given to hikers under 12 or over 80 years of age.
The entrance fee is a $10 donation to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust. Entrance for children under 12 is free. For more information, please contact Howard or Jean Clifford at 613-259-3412.
A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF JOHN MUIR
ON BLUEBERRY MOUNTAIN
Saturday, May 10th, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.
MMLT is hosting its annual Spring Walk to Blueberry Mountain on May 10, 2015. We take delight and count it a privilege to dedicate this year’s walk to John Muir, considered by many to be the foremost naturalist of the past century. This year marks the 100th anniversary of his death. His life story continues to inspire and he has become the unofficial patron to cliffLAND.
Registration is at 9:30 and the Nature Walk starts sharply at 10 am. `John Muir` will appear at 11:15 at the top of Blueberry Mountain, weather permitting. If the weather is not cooperative he will appear in the in-door classroom at 12:15. Bring along your lunch to enjoy in this beautiful spot. Desserts, tea and coffee will be served. The entrance fee is a $10 donation to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust. Entrance for children under 12 is free. For more information, please contact Howard or Jean Clifford at 613-259-3412.
LANARK WILD FOOD CLUB – A UNIQUE OUTING
Saturday April 11th, 2015 at 10 a.m.
The Lanark Wild Food Cub, a partner of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust, invites you to a unique foraging event hosted by cliffLAND. Want to be part of a fun, novel, perhaps even a historic setting experiment? Then this may be for you.
Come and forage garlic mustard. This nutritional plant was historically eaten as a pot-herb green. High in vitamin C and A and was especially valuable in winter and early spring when greens are hard to find. At cliffLAND we find them a tart but pleasant nibble when eaten raw. The outing will provide a demonstration on ways they can be prepared and enjoyed.
Modern foragers are aware that taking wild food must be done with an eye for the plants well-being and sustainability. In many wild food outings this means, for many plants, we can only sample, not harvest. No such problem for garlic mustard.
You see, garlic mustard is an invasive species that needs to be controlled. Its seed can remain viable in the soil for up to 30 years. It is not eaten by birds or animals but seems to find entrance into wilderness areas by being carried by animals, humans, and dogs. Its encroachment is often along trails and disturbed areas. Even deer digging the soil nearby can aid in its advancement.
One might ask why does it need to be eradicated or controlled if it is not particularly unattractive and is edible? The reason is that garlic mustard often out competes and in some instances replaces our native early spring flowers such as trilliums, trout lilies, spring beauties, and hepaticas to name only a few.
Wild mustard has proven to be a stubborn and formidable foe when attempts elsewhere have tried to eradicate or control it. Some have resorted to pesticide use and one land trust owning a 17 acre parcel utilized 10 volunteers over a six year period and only recently think they have it under control. One major complication is that you have to safely dispose of the pulled stems or they can form viable seeds where ever you leave them.
Fortunately wild mustard has not made its way past the trailhead leading to Blueberry Mountain. There are two or three patches in disturbed soil by the driveway and herb garden.
The wild mustard has occupied these spots for a few years without triggering concern. Now being aware of the experience elsewhere, it is time to make a preemptive strike. But who wants to devote hours of volunteer time rooting and pulling out these plants in what others have described as an endless task? To us, pesticides is not part of the solution.
So what better solution then eating the “enemy”? We have talked with a variety of experts and they advise – “Go for it.” So come and harvest to your hearts content. Then come and harvest again. If, and we believe we will be, successful then we will spread the good news throughout the field. You will have been part of historic making experiment while meeting great people and having fun in the outdoors. As with all Wild Food Club outings a donation of $10 is suggested.
A hike to the top of Blueberry Mountain is always a pleasant option to end the outing.
For additional information, contact Peter Fischl 613-267-9557 or Howard Clifford 613-259-3412.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS – JANUARY 10TH, 2015
The Lanark Wild Food Club is hosting a day at clifLAND on Educational Hunting. We are all delighted that local expert Len Dickinson will speak on the values of responsible hunting and how it fits into conservation values.
There will also be a video on how to skin a moose, an amusing and whimsical talk by Bill Barrett on snaring squirrels. Bill is a great supporter of the Wild Food Club and never fails to draw a chuckle or two.
Chad Clifford, of Wilderness Rhythms, and active supporter of the Wild Food Club will lead a session on winter tracking. Anyone taking one of his courses inevitably leaves impressed with Chad’s knowledge and experience.
To top things off, from this winter outing, what could be better than a nourishing bowl of hot wild chili prepared by Brenda Trudel.
Donations received will be given to the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT). From its inception the Lanark Wild Food Club has named MMLT as their chosen charity. It has been a wonderful relationship – Both share so many common values.
Can’t think of a better way to start the new year!! CliffLand is delighted to host this Wild Food Club event. Peter Fischl is to be congratulated for all his hard work in bringing this event to fruition.
ANNUAL FALL WALK TO BLUEBERRY MOUNTAIN
Saturday, October 4th, 2014 at 9:30 a.m. (rain or shine)
“Each year the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust (MMLT) offers its annual Fall Colours Nature Walk at cliffLAND. The featured entertainment this fall will be a visit from the renowned conservationist “Grey Owl”, who will be telling one of the many tales about his wilderness adventures. Also featured will be a demonstration of our new Soundscapes equipment provided by a grant from the TD Friends of the Environment. This new highly sensitive, cutting-edge technology provides an introduction to new ways of experiencing the natural world more intensely than ever before through these listening devices. Where the human mind naturally filters out sounds, this provides a new dimension to the nature experience. Just as binoculars enhance birdwatching, Soundscapes provides more detail than ears alone, whether listening to frogs or the sighing of trees. This relatively new science also serves for bio-acoustic monitoring to help the Land Trust monitor changes over time. Visitors to the Fall Colours Nature Walk will be provided with a hands-on experience by our bio-acoustic technician, Chad Clifford.
Registration for the Nature Walk begins at 9:30 a.m. and a guided, interpretive tour will set out at 10:00 a.m. sharp. A donation of $10 per person (children under 12 are free) will go towards maintaining the Land Trust’s protected properties. As usual, refreshments will be served following the hike.”
excerpt from the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust
LET THEIR VOICES BE HEARD: Listen to the Sounds of Spring on Blueberry Mountain using Soundscape Technology
Sunday, May 11th, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.
Guided Nature Walk and Soundscape Demonstration
$10 donation to Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust
Rain or shine.