A Wildflower Drive

by Mrs. Silas Bowman | Apr 1, 2024 | 0 comments

bird's-foot trefoil flowers
Bird’s-foot trefoil. Photo © Klaus Reitmeier|Dreamstime.com.

Every time I have gone away in the summer has been a wildflower drive for me all the years we have lived in northern Ontario. Farmland is bordered by fencerows and broken by rocky bluffs, marginal forests, and swamps. Our roadsides are seldom, if ever, sprayed with chemicals and are not mowed until midsummer or later. All this contributes to our abundance of wildflowers. In peak season, which is late June to July, I have identified, in driving past, up to sixty-five different species in bloom over a stretch of roughly 25 miles (40 km). But in late May the story is different.

When we started on our 14-mile (22-km) drive today, I did not think to take along my Peterson’s Wildflower Guide, but most of the flowers I see are very familiar to me. Innumerable white flowers are blooming now. Starflowers, their twin, six-pointed stars above whorls of shiny leaves, decked the ground in our neighbor’s softwood bush. Scattered among them were the bigger bunchberry blooms, a single “flower” (actually just bracts, not petals) in the middle of a whorl of six heavily-veined broad leaves. Looking like smaller versions of the same flowers were common strawberries, which have been blooming for weeks.

For a mile or so, nothing caught my eye except common dandelions. Then I thought of the patch of clustered bellflowers with rich purple upward-facing bells I eagerly await each year. I knew it was too early, but I looked anyway and was rewarded by a clump of sky blue true forget-me-nots.

true forget-me-not flowers
True forget-me-not. Photo © Janis Skaldis|Dreamstime.com.

Flowers are not the only wild things around. In passing Kahri’s bluff, I probed the shadows of the oaks, hoping to see feral peacocks on the bald-faced rocks. Instead, a striped skunk galloped along the rocks on its solitary business. I thought of the Sunday a few weeks ago when farther along this stretch of road three elk bounded from one grass field to the next, crossing the road ahead of us. A fourth, probably a yearling, caught on the fence it was trying to jump and flipped onto its back in the ditch. It took him a minute to recover his composure and right himself; then he leaped across the road after his fellows…but no elk were in sight today.

Eagerly I awaited my first glimpse of the glamorous flowering crab in the fencerow at the foot of the bluff. Surely these magenta-pink blossoms were the showiest flowers of the day, although they are not classified as wildflowers.

Every year I hunt for the small purple fringed orchids, which used to grow in one spot in a grassy ditch. Today, knowing it was much too early, I didn’t bother to stop, but someday in August I’d like to check it out more carefully. Are the plants still surviving, merely hidden in taller grasses? I hope they have not disappeared, because that would be a bit like losing a friend.

We passed a marshy stream where later on the larger blue flags will bloom, and a few yellow iris, but I didn’t see any color yet. After all, a few marsh marigolds were still flaunting their golden yellow.

I grieved that the stretch of ditch where the greatest profusion of these wildflowers used to dabble their toes in the rollicking stream among the rocks, now is scraped bare of vegetation and character. Fortunately the ditch on the other side is untouched, and I could see the masses of leaves where starry false Solomon’s seal grows. These were not blooming yet, but later in the day we passed stretches where their small spikes of white flowers were visible. At first I thought they were Canada mayflowers, and I was surprised by their size. Then I saw some right against the road and realized what they were.

Ditch cleanup is hard on our wildflowers. Years ago another stretch of ditch was populated by an extended family of purple avens. After cleanup, I mourned their loss. They are not really pretty flowers and may remain unnoticed by many, but I considered them a special discovery. They are also called water avens, or, in the vernacular, chocolate root because of their dark color. (Unfortunately, they don’t make a tasty chocolate drink!) To my delight, some roots survived the backhoe’s ravishes, and today they were blooming again.

On a sandy corner of a lawn, I looked for the mossy stonecrop that always grows there. The moss-like masses of tiny fat leaves were visible, but I couldn’t see any yellow star-like flowers. They should begin blooming soon.

We passed over the sluggish Desbarats River. I noticed the first bullhead lilies floating on the surface were in yellow bloom. Sometimes we also see white flowers on our local ponds and streams, but I have never come close enough to identify them.

As we crested a ridge where years ago I saw my first clintonia, I looked in vain for the frilly green-tinted yellow bells. Neither did I see any trilliums, although I knew I had seen plenty some other years. Since we were on a business trip, not a wildflower hike, I didn’t ask my husband to stop so I could search for the specimens I wanted. Instead I kept on visually sweeping the roadsides.

Up and down hills, around a bend we drove, and—surprise! Masses of clintonia grew right up to the road. Their heavily-veined leaves were clearly visible, so different from the mottled leaves of the adder’s-tongue, which is easy to confuse with clintonia.

While I still basked in that discovery, I was rewarded again. All day I had been hoping for a glimpse of Ontario’s floral emblem, the large-flowered trillium. Numerous times I thought I saw some white flowers in the maple stands we passed, but always it proved to be merely splashes of sunlight on the shady green leaves. Trilliums are prolific a few miles south of us on St. Joseph Island, which has limestone bedrock, but here on the mainland where we are grounded on granite, these showy white flowers are quite scarce. Now at last I beheld a sizable patch of large-flowered trilliums, close enough to avoid confusion. Somehow, that find was a crowning touch to my day.

A few days later, I was looking for wildflowers as we traveled along the highway to visit friends. The yellow goat’s-beard were blooming. Purple vetch and its yellow companion, birdfoot trefoil, lined the road. Suddenly my attention was diverted from flora to fauna. A full-grown black bear trotted across the highway in plain sight, then disappeared into the trees. Summer drives in Northern Ontario can be both inspiring and exciting.

bunchberry flower
Bunchberry. Photo © Jiri Jecminek|Dreamstime.com.

Browse Categories

Help Your Family Explore the Wonders of God's Creation

Full color magazine delivered to your door + digital access. Subscribe now for just $5 a month!

Buy Magazine: $5/month

Buy Magazine + Study Guide: $7.50/month

Buy Gift Subscription