Early June Excursions

It’s been a cool, wet June. The vegetation drought has ended. There are two types of droughts: vegetation droughts are at the surface, groundwater droughts are longer lasting and take more rain and snowmelt to reverse, which can take years. Vegetation droughts are worse in terms of fire danger. Groundwater droughts are worse for agriculture and other, mostly human concerns. The end of the vegetation drought is a huge relief for those of us worried about whether our local forests will burn up sooner than later. And it’s a treat for us botanists to get to see our native flora enjoy a more favourable year after the recent terrible drought/heat years that suppressed their growth and reproduction.

Here’s a sharing of photos taken on excursions with the talented young German botanist Ilias Kontos. Most of what Ilias saw was new to him, and some of what we saw during these excursions were pleasant surprises for me. Surprising indeed after twenty years of living in the landscape in these photos. This region of British Columbia is an under-appreciated treasury of biodiversity. I’m glad I got to share some of it with Ilias, and later Connor, for a couple of weeks.

The Clearwater River flowing wild
Carex eburnea
Candle Creek Falls
Along the Clearwater
The laciniata form of Tiarella trifoliata was long thought to be endemic to the inner coast of southern BC and adjacent Washington. But I’ve known of it in the Robson Valley for several years. And now we know it also grows here in the Clearwater Valley.
Kabuki passed through the portal in this tip-up root mound a few times just for the novelty of it. She has an interesting mind.
An Aneura maxima/pellioides/sharpii sort of thing
Sanicula marilandica, seldom seen in the west
Carex foenea, and in the background, a native Galium aparine-like species, and a curious Rubus intermediate between R. leucodermis and the R. idaeus complex.
Placid Lake being placid
A landscape architect could do no better. Equisetum fluviatile and Petasites sagittatus.
Meesia triquetra
Corallorhiza trifida in a calcareous fen
We visited Eocene Falls, which has changed utterly since I last saw it. Mass slope failures have filled in its splash pool, made the plunge more reclined, and brought down the cliff face that used to support a populations of Cryptogramma stelleri, Arnica gracilis, Mannia sibirica, and the only hybrids I’ve ever seen of Heuchera cylindrica x glabra. I guess this must have happened during the flash floods of 2020.
One of the northernmost Pinus ponderosa, near Dunn Lake. There are a lot of northernmosts around Clearwater.
Habitat for lots of interesting beings
Erythranthe patula, the widespread but seldom seen northern form.
Mannia fragrans, a new find for this region, I think.
Erigeron speciosus and a very hot dog who encountered her first yellow-bellied marmots this day. At first she was afraid of them.
Heterotheca villosa
A view of the so-beautiful North Thompson Valley.
Ominous weather over the Thompson Rivers University Wetland Preserve
Platanthera obtusata
Dryopteris cristata
Eriophorum viridicarinatum
Bog-dog with stick
Carex lacustris x C. utriculata (or true C. lacustris? it’s a bit too immature for a certain identification). Either way, it’s a new one for the Clearwater Valley.
Moul Falls, where Ilias and I were joined by Connor Wardrop. Buki followed me along the passage behind the falls. An intense experience of sensory overload for her. She was scared to do it, and she’s refused on previous visits to the falls, but this time she did it, and then on the way back trotted along the passage confidently. Very proud of Kabuki!
Ribes oxyacanthoides, an odd phorophyte for Collema coniophilum
A blob of the rare lichen Collema coniophilum, growing on Ribes oxyacanthoides in the sprayzone of the falls. Isn’t it beautiful?!

Thank you Ilias, Connor, and Kabuki for the great excursions. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have teken the time to go exploring.

The invisible hand of the garden

Triteleia grandiflora spontaneously appeared in the garden this year. I didn’t bring it here by any means: seed, bulb, or live plant. I wouldn’t even have planted or sowed it where it is growing (in the lush overgrowth of the Gift Garden down by the pond). If it weren’t flowering, I wouldn’t know it was there. Its leaves are so shaded by the adjacent Eupatorium perfoliatum, Mulgedium pulchellum, Tanacetum parthenium, it’s a wonder the plant can photosynthesize enough to produce a flower stalk.

Triteleia grandiflora is a plant of shrub steppe, grasslands, oak woodlands, and dry savanna in warmer and drier climates. The nearest known native populations are near the towns of Chase (SSE 115 km) and Lytton (SW 150 km). The species is far more common down in the US; I’ve seldom seen it north of the border.

Blitum nuttallianum and Oxybasis salina are two other surprises in the garden this year, both of them salt-loving plants of dry climates. This is not the sort of climate, and these are not the sort of soils, where either should ever be expected to grow in or on.

Other astonishing and unexpected additions to the gardens have appeared in recent years:

The arctic and high-latitude alpine tundra annual Koenigia islandica appeared unexpectedly in the peat bed in 2022. It must have arrived on my boots after one of my journeys to the far north, though the chances of that happening are slim–it’s not a common species, and I don’t wear my hiking boots in the garden.

Ridiculously, the Koenigia was growing next to an unexpected Nicotiana attenuata, a wild tobacco species found in deserts, steppe, and ponderosa savanna. I had tried unsuccessfully to grow the tobacco for the prior two years in conditions more ideal for a desert plant than shaded, moist, cool peat by the pond, where it grew next to its arctic friend, happily blooming and looking better than any of the tobacco I’d grown intentionally.

Erigeron divaricatus, another steppe plant common on sandy soils among sagebrush and Purshia, flowered beautifully in a shade garden one year, in what should not be favourable habitat at all. One of its progeny is there in rosette form currently, perhaps preparing for a bloom in 2025? I hadn’t (at least knowingly) been in the presence of wild E. divaricatus for many years. How did it get here?

How did the South American red-flowered Geum magellanicum arrive? It appeared one year, announcing its presence on a stone wall by the pond with its hot red flowers.

And it isn’t only ornamentals and native species. Last year, a rutabaga appeared spontaneously in the gravel at the driveway edge where it meets the west base of the cabin. There’s not much soil in that gravel, which is underlain by landscaping sheets. Yet the root was large, delicious and tender. I had grown rutabagas unsuccessfully a few years before–I didn’t let them mature fully before pulling them all up and burning them since some had lumps on their roots that looked suspiciously like the dreaded clubroot disease. I also discarded the rutabaga seed packets in the garbage and applied quicklime thickly to the rows to raise the pH in hopes of killing the pathogen, if indeed it was there. It had been some years since I’d had rutabaga seeds in stock, and I know no one around here who grows rutabagas. And yet there was this perfect rutabaga, a gift of spontaneous generation.

Many other plants that I have not ever intended to grow have joined the garden list apparently of their own accord. But this only started happening about six or seven years ago. Prior to that, the only surprises were new weeds. Now I record several additional native or ornamental species each year in the various garden beds. What is behind this diversification? Whose invisible hand is at work here? I know it’s not just lapses of memory or poor record-keeping. I keep (meticulous?) records of all I sow and plant in the garden each year. I wouldn’t have omitted Triteleia grandiflora from the records. It’s probably not seed contamination, at least not in all cases. And no seed company would have Koenigia contamination in their stock.

In the past ten years, especially since 2020, the garden beds seem to have evolved into fuller, more thriving ecosystems, perhaps integrating the cultivated plants with new and/or proliferated fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates into networks of higher complexity than what they had to begin with. Twenty years ago, the gardens were sadly sparse, incapable, unlively, weedy. It was difficult to get desired plants to establish and thrive. Now it’s become easy. Most of the recently dug garden beds, even those on poor, stony soil, mature fast with lush results within two or three years. The soil of those new garden beds changes visibly from one year to the next: it becomes looser, darker, deeper. The plants start jostling for space, mutually supporting each other by stems and leaves. It’s like a vitality switch goes from off to on.

The gardens of Edgewood now seem more prepared to assimilate immigrant plants, whatever their vector of arrival. If a Triteleia seed hitched a ride on my pant cuff and shook off in the Gift Garden 15 years ago, I doubt it would have done anything but desiccate or rot. Maybe in those early years of the gardens, Triteleia seeds in quantities in the thousands might have provided the numerical chances sufficient for one to germinate and establish. But now it seems the gardens have gained much more capacity for fostering just one Triteleia seed into a mature flowering plant.

We will keep creating new garden beds here at Edgewood. We have hopelessly weedy ground to reclaim (hawkweeds and bluegrass patches), and former forest vegetation that has had to be cleared to reduce fire danger to our buildings. Those converted grounds must become new garden beds to prevent them returning to weeds and fire-prone woody growth. The newly cultivated ground will become garden-capable with the removal of stones and roots, and with the purging of weeds. I shall add a bit of compost or sand, and irrigate when needed, but the soil will be otherwise unmodified. And I’ll watch those gardens for the unexpected, unplanned additions, the work of the invisible hand (or an unseen serial guerilla gardener?).

Who knows what I’ll find next.

What fun!

The garden in early June

Much has been happening. Come along for a tour…

The Siberian iris is a spontaneous pale (slightly grayish lavender), small-flowered form that came up from seed many years ago. So many of the recently developed cultivars with flowers that are too few/too large/too frilly. I prefer the more natural forms of Iris sibirica. I’ll keep dividing this one to propagate it and let it do its thing in the various perennial beds.
Penstemon fruticosus, seed-grown from a local population
On the left, a monkshood that came with a theoretical identification: Aconitum aff. moldavicum. It remains an unknown, one of two species in the garden with that (disprovable?) theoretical identification.
“Baby Moon”, our latest-flowering Narcissus.
In the “Gift Garden”
Patrinia, “Plectritis”, Aethionema, Dracocephalum, Gilia, and buried somewhere in there is Liebnitzia. We’re enjoying the self-sowers, at least those that are easy to control.
Leuzea carthamoides. A handsome plant from top to bottom.
The “Goat Path Garden” with Salvia austriaca (seeds kindly sent by Mike Kintgen, Denver Botanical Garden)
Geranium cinereum
Rosa spinosissima, etc.
Stipa ucrainica, finally flowering after many years of sulking. Seeds from Peter Korn, Klinta Trädgård.
The other Aconitum aff. moldavicum.
Achillea tomentosa, Antennaria parvifolia, and a hot-pink Saponaria that attracts the ravens, who’ve been picking it apart just for fun.
In the “Alder Bed”, with its meditating boulder.
Erigeron leiomerus, another one that I didn’t plant or sow. I’ve never purchased or gathered seeds or live plants of any monocephalous Erigeron except E. humilis. I’m guessing this came labeled as something that it isn’t.
In the shadowy side of the Gift Garden
The sunnier side of the Gift Garden
In the peat bed of the Sky Garden, Thalictrum alpinum, Salix reticulata, Poa arctica, etc.
Anemone cf. canadensis (like A. canadensis, but not rhizomatous, seeds wild-collected from Alberta and sent by Toby Spribille). Geranium erianthum on the right.
Gladiolus imbricatus, Arnica mollis, Oreomecon alpina, Agoseris lackschewitzii, etc. The Gladiolus has proven winter-hardy here in Zone 3 (so far).
Along the path from the back door, a flock of columbine (Aquilegia grata (?))
Penstemon glaber, the seeds of which were supposed to be those of P. whippleanus. I’m happy with either.
The green roof of the Hobbit hut still has more growing to do, but it’s coming along nicely despite the droughts of the first two of its three years since establishment.
Saponaria lutea surrounded by Salix yezoalpina. The Salix is getting a bit aggressive and overly large for an alpine garden.
The nameless little bed between the cabin and the storage shed. This used to be a hardscrabble, weedy patch with poor soil. Something eventually kicked in (though I never enriched the soil or increased its irrigation) and now it grows robustly. Something to do with mycorrhizae? Every plant ecologist would do well to grow a large garden; the ecological dynamics of cultivated ground raise interesting questions.
In the light of the sunset after another rain shower. We’re enjoying a good “June monsoon” this year. The drought years will return, and one of those years will bring a fire catastrophe to our surroundings. But for now, we can be thankful for all that the rain gives us.

Transcendental Whistling

You just put your lips together, and blow — Lauren Bacall

When’s the last time you heard casual public whistling? People used to whistle, but they don’t seem to do that anymore. At least not in North America. In the neighbourhood where I grew up, older folks would often whistle a tune as they worked on their minor chores. Someone walking along the sidewalk downtown passing by whistled so beautifully people would comment to each other. My grandmother was a very good whistler, she could really hit the high notes.

With no technology whatsoever, not even so much as a reed flute, music can be made. I used to whistle during less entertaining stretches of long drives, but it occurred to me the other day that I almost never do that anymore (which realization prompted this blog post). At first I was one of those public whistlers. Then I limited myself to whistling alone, too shy in the newly whistling-unfriendly society to let anyone hear me.

When I do whistle musically, I can whistle steadily onward through a full three octaves, plus a few more strained high notes over the top of the highest octave if I reposition my lips and the muscles of my throat just so. I can whistle the melodies of Bach and Prokofiev, or if I’m in a boldly American mood, John Philip Sousa. I don’t whistle when I’m in a bad mood. Or maybe whistling improves my mood (it does).

I have a special whistle to call Buki to me when she’s gone away too far. It’s a different whistle (three short low notes and a longer rising fourth) than Purple’s “cuckoo whistle”, which I retired when she died. It didn’t seem proper to use her special whistle for another dog. For Ravena the Raven, I have another whistle to call her and Rowan to feeding time, one with one short low note followed by a long smoothly rising and then descending note. Or just to be conversational with Ravena, I whistle melodies and random notes while she cocks her head side to side in a dog-like way, listening, processing what she’s hearing.

Whistling is powerful magic. If you stop talking and start whistling, you might feel a sense of entering another plane…wait, that’s not so far-fetched, many cultures around the world have held the act of whistling apart from ordinary daily life, reserving it for shamanistic or other spiritual practices, or for moments of superstition (good luck or bad). Whistling sailors could induce the wind to blow harder, the wind joining the breath of their whistling to really make the sails billow. But careful with that whistle, sailor, you might bring on a gale or a hurricane. In stage theaters, which commonly employed out-of-work sailors to operate the complex backstage ropes and knots, no whistling was allowed, lest the vengeful spirits of dead sailors be called back for a haunting. Whistling as a means (accidental or intentional) of summoning ghosts or evil spirits is common among traditional societies around the world. Whistling may bring poverty, ruin crops, or portend a death. Or on the other hand, whistling can simply convey a happy mood and encourage others to cheer up.

Extremely good whistlers can mimic complex bird songs, adding fingering to the manipulation of air flow and vibration through the lips. Whistlers’ bird mimicry isn’t just for communicating a secret signal between comrades in arms and thieves, but also it’s an art, and for busking on the street and for tourists’ coins. There are traditions of bird whistling in various cultures around the world. I once heard such whistling in an old television program about the piratical Malayan cultures. It was astonishing to hear, and I wished I could do that myself.

Whole languages use only whistling to make words, a useful mode of communication across opposite sides of deep canyons and from mountain to mountain. Whistle languages are of cultural conservation concern, disappearing from their places of use in Turkey, Mexico, the Canary Islands and elsewhere. That too…why must all the magic fade away?

I wonder if there are still practitioners of the Daoist practice of 長嘯 (long whistling, or “transcendental whistling”). The characters are pronounced chángxiào, a rising tone on the chang, like drawing in a deep breath, and a falling tone on the xiao, like exhaling in a great loud whistle. Long whistlers were known for their masterful control of their breathing and of their 氣 (pronounced qì, flow of energy). A long whistle could be heard a kilometer away, and had power over spiritual beings, animals, and weather. 阮籍 (Ruǎn Jí, b. 210, d. 263), one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, was a long whistler. To quote Wikipedia’s article on him:

Ruan Ji was one of that kind of people, who themselves made their life a masterpiece. In the Chen Shou’s History of Wei Dynasty the mentioning of Ruan Ji was more than modest: “… highly talented, having an ability to avoid the chains of court morality and traditions, but unbalanced and undisciplined; he was eager to banish his temptations. Ruan Ji honoured the ancient Daoist sage Zhuangzi.” The History of Jin Dynasty describes Ruan Ji’s appearance and personality: “Ji’s appearance was uncommon, stubborn and self-willed, tempered, proud and independent. Following only the gusts of soul … Sometimes he would wander away on the hills and forget to return, and at length come back crying bitterly; at other times he would shut himself up with his books and see no one for months. He read a lot, especially liking Laozi and Zhuangzi. He drank a lot, he possessed the skill of transcendental whistling and loved to play on the qin (琴). Once inspired by an idea, he forgot about everything in the world. Many considered him to be a madman.”

And, referring to the era in which the famous Ruǎn Jí lived and to further quote Wikipedia, from the article on Transcendental Whistling:

Su calls the Six Dynasties (222–589) the “golden age of whistling”. Xiao seems to have permeated all strata of Six Dynasties society, and practitioners included persons from almost all walks of life: recluses, hermit-scholars, generals, Buddhist monks, non-Chinese foreigners, women, high society elite, and Daoist priests. “In general, poets, hermits, and people of all types in the Six Dynasties utilized whistling to express a sense of untrammeled individual freedom, or an attitude of disobedience to authority or traditional ceremony, or to dispel suppressed feelings and indignation.”

OK, so why am I writing about whistling in the EdgewoodWild website, anyway? What’s it got to do with the living world? This is a blog series about natural history, not culture and spirituality. Well, I’m getting old and nostalgic, and it grieves me to see so much cultural as well as natural loss; the differences between the world of my childhood and the world now are so sad, angering, and disappointing. Our cultures were so rich and varied until mass production, marketing, consumerism, Hollywood, and “high tech” all joined forces and swept away most of the power of traditions. Cultural diversity and biodiversity are twins.

Past cultures were all too often brutal and tribalistic and warlike. But through the primitive shone a lot of beauty. The people of diverse living cultures can learn a lot from each other. We can learn from our mutual traditions ways of living in a truly living world. Or we can learn from all our electronica the lie that we don’t need the living world. Or that the living world doesn’t exist, only a virtual world does.

Whistling is so out of place in the smartphone world that to hear a whistler walking along the sidewalk would seem jarring, even scary. Maybe that unexpected encounter with the past and with someone who’s walking along with half their presence in a transcendental plane might help jar us out of our unhappy complacency with the plans big tech has for us all. Spiritual power is weird. Luck and superstition are weird. Using whistling to communicate with other species is weird. Even just a whistler’s outward expression of simple happiness might seem weird now (it wasn’t when I was growing up). When society behaves that way, suppressing the magical, it’s time to bring out the “untrammeled individual freedoms”. So, be a Ruǎn Jí, be weird, astonish people, and whistle while you work!

The Garden, 22 May

Phlox adsurgens
Potentilla glaucophylla with Sidiritis syriaca
Geum triflorum var. ciliatum, seed-grown, blooming for the first time after many years of waiting.
Dicentra “King of Hearts”
Dryas drummondii
Oreomecon sp.
Antennaria parvifolia
Fritillaria affinis
Phlox diffusa subsp. longistylis
Senecio lugens
Valeriana supina
Lomatium utriculatum
Valeriana (Plectritis) congesta
Ozomelis stauropetala
Wild Amelanchier florida
Harvested for breakfast, crisp and sweet! Couldn’t be any fresher: less than 5 minutes from garden to stove top (poor things).


My foxtail millet seedlings brought out of the greenhouse in their pots to harden off before planting out in the garden.

It was a privilege for me in 2023 to participate in the Growing Millet Together group, a collaborative creation of Saori Ogura, University of British Columbia. Ogura’s project networks both experienced and beginning millet growers from Japan, Kenya, India, Zimbabwe, and Canada. I fall into the beginner category of millet growers; I’m just experimenting. So it was a great opportunity to be linked through Ogura’s group to experienced millet farmers who I could learn from and to read their observations as their crops grew and matured through to harvest and into their kitchens.

Millets are small grains; small in the sense of grain size and/or proportion of global grain production. They are diverse taxonomically, belonging to the genera Setaria, Echinochloa, Panicum, Eleusine, Pennisetum, Sorghum, Coix, Eragrostis, and others, but all the grass millets are part of the so-called PACMAD grasses, a large group of grass genera found mostly in tropical to warm-temperate climates. As far as I’m aware, all the grass millets use the C4 photosynthetic pathway, which for ecophysiological reasons gives them an advantage over the C3 grasses in hot, dry climates (most of the world’s plants use the C3 pathway). So the millets are grains of resilience where climate change is heating and drying agricultural growing conditions. Most of the millets are more tolerant of poor soils than most grain crops. Also, compared to many crops, millet cultivation can be done in a way that is less harmful to biodiversity and ecosystems, requiring less fertilizer and pesticides.

Millets are too often denigrated as “poverty food”. But they have high nutrient content and rich flavours, so they should be a grain of choice. Attitudes can and should change. I remember my grandfather refusing to eat whole grain bread because when he was growing up in Appalachia in the 1920s and 30s, only poor people, like his family, ate “brown bread”. Once he became an adult, he was ashamed of being from Hillbilly roots and so he left behind all the old foodways and would only eat white bread. Eventually, he developed colon cancer, which might not have happened if he hadn’t refused to eat the higher-fiber whole grain breads. Likewise with millets, there are good reasons to bury the old, outdated prejudice against them. With millets accepted into the kitchen, a whole world of sophisticated traditional foods opens up, foodways to adopt, learn from, and modify.

Today is the opening of Saori’s and Derek Tan’s exhibit at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum showcasing the progress through the year of the Growing Millet Together collaboration. 2023 was designated by the United Nations as The Year of Millet, so the project was timely. If you happen to be in Vancouver through the duration of the exhibit, I hope you’ll stop in and take a look. And I hope the millet grains have a place in your garden and/or kitchen.

Thank you Saori for helping to popularize these wonderful grains!


Taraxacum (the genus of dandelions) receives little attention from taxonomists because it’s so bewilderingly complicated and because morphotypes often correspond to clonal lineages that are supposedly incapable of sexual reproduction. Clonal in the sense of their seeds being in a sense just outgrowths of the mother plant, no pollen involved in their production. The asexual species are often dismissed as “merely microspecies”. But in order to devise a taxonomic model that actually works, the asexual lineages have to be treated as species having the same taxonomic status as the sexual ones. Otherwise, none of the taxonomy could make any sense. There are over two thousand of these asexual species, with more being discovered and added every year, and trying to fit them into their sexual species of origin would make all of the species un-identifiable and undefined. It isn’t impossible to figure out the biology of these beings, to identify them as morphospecies, and to apply the taxonomic names correctly (or at least consistently). But it isn’t easy.

Here are some pairs of dandelion species from here at Edgewood, with taraxacological commentary. For ten years I have been studying these species and the rest of the array of species that occur here at Edgewood. And for ten years I have studied the dandelions of northwestern North America, both the native and non-native species. All of these are treated in most floras as “Taraxacum officinale” (a name that is essentially meaningless). I know of most of these from other localities in the Clearwater Valley or beyond. Some are very common and widespread, others less so. And they are all introduced from Europe. Our native dandelions are not close relatives and are not similar to these.

Above are two similar species. The one on the left has shorter and less pigmented petioles, and darker involucres with the outer bracts more tightly recurved. Both lack pollen, but the one on the left has somewhat paler stigmas. Both belong in section Borea. I believe the one on the left is T. brachycephalum and the one on the right T. praecox, but it is difficult to find reasons to be confident about applying names to most of the species of section Borea. They are native only in northern Europe, but a large portion of them have shown up in North America as common introductions, especially in Canada and the northern tier of the US. Comprehensive identification keys to section Borea are lacking, even in Europe. Identifications must rely on comparing each specimen to the type specimen of each species. Types are the specimens that define a species. In a sense, only the type is the species; all else is only comparison.


Above are two more species superficially similar to each other, both with complexly lobed leaves having the “shredded” look. The one on the left has longer, more pigmented petioles, somewhat paler leaves with a broader terminal lobe. Also, the left one has pollen, the right one does not. The leaf distinctions aren’t easy to see in the above photo, so in the photo below are leaves isolated from the plants and set so that the four on the left are from the left plant and the five on the right are from the right plant. The left plant is section Taraxacum, and is, I believe, T. fagerstroemii, and the right plant is section Borea and is, I believe, T. expandens.


Two squat little species of section Borea with enlarged terminal lobes on the later-forming leaves. Distinctions: the one on the left is stiffer and darker overall, with richer purple pigmentation in the petioles and outer bracts, and with on average more lateral leaf lobes. Plus left has a bit of pollen and dark stigmas, right has no pollen and yellow stigmas. Left is T. boreum (the type species of section Borea), and the one on the right I will tentatively name as T. laceratum, though I am used to larger representatives of that species than these runty little plants.


Both of the species below have more or less erect leaves with enlarge terminal lobes, the species on the left has somewhat broader petioles than the one on the right, and its scapes are not much longer than the leaves. Also, left has leaves with on average a smaller terminal lobe, and though the photo doesn’t make it clear, the leaves on left are glossier and less hairy. Also, left has recurved bracts that are more tapered while right has reflexed bracts that are of almost even width to near their ends (see second photo). In the third photo, the greater number (on average) of leaf lateral lobes and the relative slenderness of those lobes on the left species is apparent (the six leaves on the left), as are the characteristic pairs of opposite teeth a bit above the midpoint of the leaf terminal lobe on the right species (the six leaves on the right). Left: section Borea, tentatively named as T. biformatum; right: section Taraxacum, T. retroflexum.


In the following photo, both plants lack pollen and are of section Borea. The left plant has petioles with broad green wings and little pigmentation. Otherwise similar. Left is, I think, T. poecilostictum and right is, I think, T. prasinescens.


Two large species with pale petioles. Left has exserted stigmas and larger capitula which (on sunnier days than today) open so widely that the top is domed and the outermost florets somewhat reflexed. Left has messy-looking outer bracts, which twist and bend this way and that (second photo), while the outer bracts on right are tidily, regularly recurved (third photo). Left has pollen and lighter coloured stigmas; right has no pollen and dark stigmas. Also, left has more leaf lateral lobes, many of which have an abruptly upflipped terminal portion (fourth photo, leaves on the left). Right has distinctly larger terminal lobes and the leaves are dull and with a characteristic rubbery texture. I believe left is T. ingens (section Taraxacum). I’ve never been able to get right identified, so I just know of it as “rubbery” (one of the large species of section Borea).

Photo Essay: Hemp Creek Falls

A grand day out. We’ve been working far too hard for far too long. The hefty responsibilities of Edgewood keep Trevor and me from putting recreation on our agenda. But this one Sunday, we decided to neglect our duties and go for a hike.

Looking homeward from the Flat Iron Trail
Chrome Canyon
Kabuki on the precipice. Be careful!
Vaccinium myrtilloides. I hope it will be a good berry year. This species has small fruits, but the flavour deserves superlatives. Last year’s berry crop was a droughty disaster.
A photo just for the love of birches
Time for a picnic.
This skinny form of Ramalina dilacerata caught our attention. No specimen taken. That would be work. No work today.
Prosartes hookeri
Hemp Creek in its spring freshet stage
A healthy colony of Cladonia chlorophaea aggr.
The intriguing dark woods of the opposing slope
And there’s the falls. I’ve lived within walking distance of this place for 20 years, and yet this is the first time I’ve been here.
The view from the top. There wasn’t time to scramble down for a view from below. As usual, we left too late and dawdled too long on route to our destination.
A patch of the moss Saelania glaucescens, with its characteristic coating of diterpenes that give it a whitish tinge. I don’t know of any other moss that coats itself in such a substance. I wonder what’s its story.
The wild lettuce Lactuca canadensis, which is supposedly an introduced weed in western North America. But our Wells Gray populations are all in wild vegetation (except those that grow in our garden at Edgewood), and they don’t have weedy tendencies. And there are some 19th Century (pre weed-invasion era) specimens from the west. I’m pretty sure it’s native here. Our other native lettuce, Lactuca biennis is very bitter, but L. canadensis, at least our local form, at least in spring, is very tasty and tender, as good as the famous cultivated Yedikule lettuce.
There are many sylvan pools in this area. In eastern North America this would be called a “vernal pool”, but that term was first applied to completely different ecosystems in California, and should only be applied by the original definition. So “sylvan pool” should be the name, or so I say.
I can’t get enough of the Clearwater Valley birch forests. So beautiful. So full of bird song at this time of year.
Wild mint. The Mentha canadensis complex needs more study. There are old treatments of the group that attempted to apply names sensibly to the eco-morphotypes. In more recent times, most taxonomists have suppressed the use of the more refined treatments and instead call it all by the European name Mentha arvensis. I have no fear of splitting appropriately, but I’ve not yet had time to study the complex. I would welcome someone else to take it on.
Crataegus douglasii
The first Castilleja we’ve seen this year. Looks like C. fulva, a species that was first known from the Peace region of boreal northeastern BC, but which later turned out to be common also in northwestern BC. In both of those regions, the floral/bract colours are highly variable from yellow through orange and red. But it turns out that a red form has been spreading rapidly along the highway corridor connecting the two originally known clusters of populations and southward along the Yellowhead Highway corridor toward Clearwater. But there also are some local populations in wild habitat that may be spread there by tourists, as the one in this photo. The red form is usually assumed to be the more widespread red C. miniata, but with practice, the two can be differentiated. And to add to the confusion, there’s a mysterious hybrid swarm of Castillejas in the local subalpine meadows, which include forms that resemble wild C. fulva in its myriad-colour forms. Castilleja is a confusing genus. It’s hard to get to the taxonomic bottom of things, especially in the northern latitudes where difficulty of travel makes it hard to access enough populations of the species to really understand the whole diversity present, and where post-glacial revegetation dynamics might have mixed up species in such complex ways as to create a level of confusion that isn’t present to that degree among Castillejas south of the southern glacial limits. It is often the case among plant genera: northern representatives tend to be more difficult to sort taxonomically. It’s especially hard work to be a northern botanist.
Returning, early dusk.
Worn out. We were all quick to fall asleep after such a grand good day.


What ever happened to the gods? The Romans had their annual local sowing-time holidays, the Sementivae, to honour Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, and Tellus, the goddess who we (in the English language) now call Mother Earth. Some of us at the time of sowing pray to the Yahweh god for a good harvest. But he’s responsible for everything (at least everything he doesn’t delegate to the devil). It’s a lot of responsibility, even for a god. If you want something done, ask a busy god. But the everything god doesn’t really take up selected attributes or responsibilities. We don’t think of him as being, like the Green Man, covered in leaves all over and with flowers and fruits in his beard. We don’t see him in the first growth emerging from a cabbage seed. He’s not the god of seeds, nor do we have a god of seeds. And we don’t see him in the carrots we pull in October. He’s not the god of harvests, nor do we have a god of harvests, or a god of carrots. We westerners used to have a harvest god, her name was Demeter.

The Green Man, neo-folkloric demi-god, might do for a mid-summer festival here at Edgewood. No risk of accusations of cultural appropriation–he’s a recent creation, and a wonderful one who should be kept alive. We’ll let him represent growth, life, greenness, productivity, vitality, happiness, solitude. A sort of Pan for the 19th and 20th and now 21st Century. Visitors on the summer solstice might find me dressed all in leaves with a twig hat and flowers in my beard–not a very convincing Green Man, who shouldn’t be so thin. Or visitors might entirely miss the Green Man, who is after all, a god of solitude. He’s a bit shy and introverted.

But who will stand in for the Green Man when it’s only mid-May, sowing season? The Green Man is not responsible for sowing, soil, or harvests, only green growth. We all do well to honour someone divine when sowing, just to be on the safe side, to protect us from the devils’ untimely frosts, droughts, aphids, spider mites, damping disease, hail storms, weeds, floods, high winds, and other destructive elements. So who should I/we honour in our Sementivae in 2024 in the mountains of western Canada? I don’t know.

I looked up a list of soil gods in Wikipedia. Earth gods from around the world. That wasn’t satisfying. It seems that throughout religious history, the responsibilities and attributes of soil gods are not all they have on their job descriptions. They are also burdened with unrelated matters such as human fertility, snakes, war, death rites, truth, owls, earthquakes and all other matters of the terrestrial Earth, and even the moon or the entire sky. Even Tellus, Mother Earth, isn’t exactly the doyenne of dirt.

While tilling our soil to prepare the vegetable beds for sowing, I’ve thought a lot about the qualities of soil. There are great differences in the garden beds: there are patches of horrible cottonwood-root-bound cobbles in the grain bed next to rich sandy loam. We’re spared the curse of clay in most of the garden, but we do have some lenses of it, tinted with rust-coloured iron oxides. The main upper and lower vegetable gardens have their depleted, mineralized soil where I grew the potatoes in 2023–amazing how well-grown potatoes will starve the soil. That patch will need extra compost this year. The parsnip bed’s virtuoso soil grows roots of magnificent size and rich sweetness…now that’s soil!

So who are the gods of good soil? Soil that enthusiastically grows great crops? Soil like what our parsnips sink their long, long roots into? I find it strange that among the world’s agrarian societies, there are few gods who stand prominently for, specifically, agricultural soil. There are gods whose responsibility is for harvests and little or nothing else, and gods who, like the modern-day Green Man, are all about growth. But it seems that no god wants to be known only for good dirt. I guess soil is too humiliating for a god. Too homely.

So be it. No gods to choose from. And anyway, you don’t just order a god from a catalog. So I honour the dirt itself, godlessly. Now and then a sniff of the good scent that indicates soil health. The effort of the day’s shovel thrusts into the ground to turn in compost. The welcome (or at least accepted) feeling of deep fatigue at sunset after I’ve put my strength into the garden all day. A love of the soft sinking of my steps across a freshly tilled bed as I sow my seeds in their rows. A libation of my evening beer and a wordless look at the garden before sowing: admiration, worry, and hope for the growth and harvest of the crops.


Garden Tour

No text, only scrolling. A mute garden tour. Because even I, the botanist, can’t remember all these plants’ names. And I can’t take the time to look them up. I’m in a hurry get back outside to pull weeds. But you can trust that they are rare and wonderful, and that they give me a little thrill every time I see them as I work around them, pulling weeds.