From a friendly chat around the kitchen table about whether we could put together a plant list for Kawartha Lakes, grew a project that involves almost 200 volunteers and has been recognized by Ontario Nature for making a significant contribution to natural science research. The William E. Saunders Award was presented in the spring of 2014 to recognize “the leadership and volunteerism that is so essential to the protection of Ontario’s wild species and spaces”. Mike Oldham, Biologist, OMNRF who sparked our interest in the first place, said that it was an example of “citizen science at its best.” The Project is an initiative of the Kawartha Field Naturalists to document the plants that grow, or have been known to grow, in the City of Kawartha Lakes. The City stretches from the Oak Ridges Moraine in the south, across the Land Between north to the bedrock of the Canadian Shield, making the opportunities for uncovering unknown biodiversity not only possible, but probable. Our goal is to publish an annotated list of the flora of the City of Kawartha Lakes together with overviews of the City’s watersheds, the wide range of habitats, its unique geology and climate.
Historically, very little formal plant study had been undertaken in the City. Scarce records were scattered and buried in the notes of botanists and amateurs. Very few plant specimens collected from our city had been deposited at the herbaria in southern Ontario. A simple list of what grows in the City and where would be assist land management projects and impact assessments across the City. In addition, this baseline study makes it possible to measure changes in the local plant communities as a result of pressures such as introduced species, climate change and population growth. Plants are collected and pressed to be deposited at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) where they will be available for study by the scientific community worldwide. The Project is being used as a model for regional floras that may in the future, cumulatively form the backbone for the Flora of Ontario.
Through discussions with Project committee members, we intended to visit publicly accessible properties to record the habitats and the plants associated with them, in addition to what private lands might also be available. All observations of wildlife, soils and historical anecdotes were also recorded. To our surprise, once landowners became aware that volunteers were interested in visiting locations throughout the City, in all historical townships and in all habitats, the project was overwhelmed by requests to participate. In cases where the landowners requested confidentiality, the data will not be published, nor will locations of Species at Risk, in order to protect the innocent. To manage the many observations, locations and habitats, funds were provided by the Victoria Stewardship Council to pay for the design of a database that would enable us to provide our landowners with reports of the inventories, as a thank you for allowing us access to their properties. The database also allows us to list the data by former township, by habitat and by species. It also generates the label data for the Green Plant Herbarium (TRT) at the Royal Ontario Museum ROM, enabling them to accession the specimens into the ROM collection, and in time, provide the data on-line via CanadenSys: an on-line website providing plant distribution data across Canada and a standard reference for up-to-date plant names. And finally, published records have been reviewed that assist in providing a historical timeline, as well as augmenting the results of the inventories prepared through the lifetime of the project. Individual collectors have been very generous in sharing their data with the Project.
The volunteer committee overseeing the project includes KFN members: Don Smith, Lloyd Leadbeater, Dale Leadbeater, Dale Jackson, Jim Saigeon and Anne Barbour. Dale and Anne are co-chairs of the committee. Mike Oldham, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Deb Metsger, Curator of Botany, Royal Ontario Museum Green Plant Herbarium, provide technical advice. Since the preliminary survey work began in 2008, almost 200 individuals have participated in the project. These include volunteers from the Kawartha, Carden and other Field Naturalists’ clubs, landowners, Sir Sandford Fleming College students, Field Botanists of Ontario and other professional botanists.
The committee and volunteers have:
- Surveyed publicly accessible areas, including roadsides where many specimens were collected, after receiving permission from the landowners (the province, Kawartha conservation, City of Kawartha Lakes,Ontario Nature, Couchiching Conservancy, Nature Conservancy Canada, and Kawartha Land Trust and Ontario Land Trust).
- Surveyed private property where owners have given permission for entry onto their lands. The intent was to include all habitats in each of the former townships.
- Compiled any existing lists of plants that have been identified in Provincial Parks, Conservation Areas and Nature Reserves; also botanical records of CKL from individual botanists.
- Maintained contact with Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC) office.
- Maintained contact with the Herbarium at the ROM, following their direction as to specimen collection. Quality rather than quantity has been emphasized for the voucher samples.
- Searched the ROM (TRT) and other herbariums (DAO, TRTE, CANM) for voucher specimens of plants already collected from Victoria County, Ontario, Canada.
- Liaised with Sir Sanford Fleming in a program to promote student participation in the project (mounting of specimens, research, mapping, documentation, database maintenance and field investigations.)
From 2008 to 2015, inventories were carried out, including documentation, collecting of specimens and reports to landowners.
- A minimum of 109 properties have been explored in over 200 visits, by foot, canoe, boat and car. Specific species were targeted for collection in 2015.
- NEW SPECIES FOR the City of Kawartha Lakes: Based on a 1999 Preliminary Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Victoria Co prepared by Mike Oldham, the Project has added over 150 new plant species of which 90 are native and 60 are introduced that may be among the invasive species of the future.
- Almost 2000 specimens have been mounted for the ROM Herbarium. They are being accessioned, imaged (for on-line viewing) and their records made available on the publicly accessible website Canadensys.
The pressure is now on to produce a book that will include an annotated list of the flora of the City of Kawartha Lakes together with reflections on settlement patterns and local natural history. We want it to be a book that will be enjoyed by landowners, city residents, and tourists as well as botanists, while being discreet about the location of sensitive plants.
Due to the great interest in the alvars, the first product of the project (January 2016) is a checklist of the vascular plant flora of Carden Township, published in collaboration with the Couchiching Conservancy and intended to support their “Passport to Nature” program. The alvar is renowned for providing habitat for rare and endangered birds, but it is the unique plant assemblage for which the area is truly designated as a globally imperiled ecosystem. Feedback on the checklist is welcome, as are new records that can be reported to KFN, or directly to Dale Leadbeater and/or Anne Barbour.
Will the project end? The intent is to continue to maintain the database as a record of past and present observations. Field trips will always be a feature of the club, and when new information is available it is our intent to document and manage the information to the best of our ability.
The CKL Flora project has enjoyed significant support from the Victoria Stewardship Council (now disbanded), in addition to the sponsorship of the Kawartha Field Naturalists general membership. The Royal Ontario Museum Green Plant Herbarium, who receives and manages dried plant specimens prepared by the volunteers, has provided all the materials needed including paper, labels and seed envelopes, and archival quality glue. Brian Barbour constructed two plant presses and a plant drier, which would be useless without the cardboard donated by Coyle Packaging, Peterborough that promote the drying of plant specimens. Brian also provided countless pots of soup, and Anne was outstanding in her organization of volunteer mounting and databasing blitzes! And then there are the many landowners who hosted inventories, providing drinks, food, knowledge of their properties and sometimes even prose that have made this project unique.