Plants of the limestone barrens
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Plants of the Limestone Barrens. A Presentation by John Maunder Curator Emeritus of Natural History The Rooms Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador The Limestone Barrens Habitat Stewardship Program Conservation and Sustainable Ecotourism Conference Plum Point, Newfoundland

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Plants of the Limestone Barrens

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Plants of the Limestone Barrens

A Presentation by John Maunder

Curator Emeritus of Natural History

The Rooms

Provincial Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador

The Limestone Barrens Habitat Stewardship Program

Conservation and Sustainable Ecotourism Conference

Plum Point, Newfoundland

October 12-13, 2006

Plants? … What plants? …

Cape Norman

At first glance, there’s almost nothing there!

Burnt Cape [photo: Pat Montegue]

But, when you begin to look more closely …

Watt’s Point

… usually MUCH more closely….

Watt’s Point

Flowers Cove

You’ll see an amazing garden of botanical treasures!

Redtipped Lousewort - Pedicularis flammea – Big Brook

Some quite spectacular …

Glacier Sedge – Carex glacialis – Boat Harbour

Others pretty dull …

But, what’s all the fuss


Alpine Ragwort - Packera pauciflora – L’Anse aux Meadows

Dwarf Hawk’s Beard – Crepis nana – Burnt Cape

What makes these plants so special?

Aren’t they just like plants from other places?

Common Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale – Raleigh

Well … some are …

Northern Anemone - Anemone parviflora – Burnt Cape

But most aren’t …It’s all a bit complicated

Our limestone barrens species fall into about 5 special categories …

… grouped by their general distribution

near Eddies Cove West

1. Newfoundland Endemic “Limestone-Loving” Species

Species found only in Newfoundland, in the whole world!

Barrens Willow – Salix jejuna – Cape Norman

Fernald’s Braya – Braya fernaldii – Big Brook and Watt’s Point

Long’s Braya – Braya longii

Sandy Cove and Yankee Point

… and, MAYBE?

“Burnt Cape Cinquefoil” -Potentilla usticapensis … [orPotentilla pulchella var. pulchella]

… There are varying taxonomic interpretations

… so its endemic status is uncertain

Burnt Cape

2. Gulf of St. Lawrence Endemic “Limestone-Loving” Species

Species found only in the Gulf of St. Lawrence region (which includes the Newfoundland west coast and Strait of Belle Isle), in the whole world!

St. Lawrence Primrose – Primula laurentiana – Raleigh

Newfoundland Pussytoes – Antennaria eucosma

Cape St. George

Longleaf Arnica – Arnica lonchophylla – Humber Gorge

3. Disjunct “Limestone-Loving” Species

Species found both in some far-away place, AND in our area, with a BIG GAP in between.

Dwarf Hawk’s Beard – Crepis nana – Burnt Cape …. Disjunct to N tip of Labrador, and arctic and western North America

Newfoundland Orchid – Pseudorchis albida subsp. straminea

Burnt Cape - Disjunct to Greenland and one locality in Hudson Bay

Woolly Arnica – Arnica angustifolia subsp. tomentosa – Point Riche Peninsula … Disjunct to mountains of northwestern North America [photo: Rene Charest]

Pendantpod Oxytrope - Oxytropis deflexa var. foliosa – disjunct [from S Labrador] to N tip of Labrador, Gaspe, Hudson Bay, and low arctic and western North America

Bodin’s Milkvetch – Astragalus bodinii – Cook’s Harbour … disjunct to western North America

4. More Widespread “Limestone-Loving” Species

Calypso Orchid - Calypso bulbosa var. americana – Burnt Cape

Yellow Ladyslipper – Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens – Port au Choix

Small Roundleaf Orchis - Amerorchis rotundifolia – Burnt Cape

Frog Orchid – Dactylorhiza viridis

Killdevil Mountain [photo: M. Anions] and Burnt Cape

Purple Mountain Saxifrage – Saxifraga oppositifolia – Table Mountain

Tufted Saxifrage - Saxifraga cespitosa – Old Port au Choix

Island Gentian – Gentianopsis nesophila – St. John Bay

Alpine Chickweed – Cerastium alpinum subsp. lanatum – Lower Cove

White Mountain Avens – Dryas integrifolia

Sandy Cove [photo: N. Djan-Chekar] and Flowers Cove [photo: Pat Montague]

Yellow Mountain Saxifrage – Saxifraga aizoides – Eddies Cove West

Alpine Bearberry - Arctous alpina – L’Anse-au-Loup

Newfoundland Oxytrope – Oxytropis campestris var. minor – Mount Parent, P.Q.

Elegant Milkvetch - Astragalus eucosmus – L’Anse aux Meadows

Hairy Willow - Salix vestita – Port au Choix

5. Widespread Species which are not “Limestone Loving”

They’ll grow almost anywhere!

Larch – Larix laricina – Big Brook

White Spruce – Picea glauca – Table Head [photo: Pat Montague]

Living on the limestone barrens can be quite a challenge!

How do the plants manage it?

Trailing Juniper - Juniperus horizontalis – Port au Choix [photo: Pat Montague]

What conditions do they have to overcome?

Alpine Pussytoes – Antennaria alpina subsp. canescens – Watt’s Point

Many, it seems!

It is really useful to understand what makes barrens of ANY type, “barrens”.

Cape Norman

The first challenge is DRYNESS … even in areas that receive a lot of moisture

Burnt Cape [photo: Pat Montague]

Wind is usually the critical factor … especially in winter.

It’s not hard to tell how deep the sheltering snow gets in this area!

Eddies Cove

Trailing Juniper – Juniperus horizontalis – Port au Choix [photo: Pat Montegue]

Even in summer, it helps to have a low profile to stay out of the drying wind, and within the thin, sun-warmed, surface air layer

Dwarf Hawk’s Beard – Crepis nana – Burnt Cape

Tight cushion architecture can conserve a core of dampness within the cushion

Flowers Cove, “White Rocks”

Some plants find other ways to stay out of the wind

Laurentian Fragile Fern – Cystopteris laurentiana – Flowers Cove “White Rocks”

Other plants just grow smaller in exposed areas [while usually preserving flower size!]

Greenland Primrose – Primula egaliksensis – Cook’s Harbour and Boat Harbour

Rand’s Eyebright - Euphrasia randii – Cape St. Francis

Hair creates a layer of dead air against the plant surface to help slow moisture loss when the plant’s pores are open

Netvein Willow – Salix reticulata – Lower Cove

Waxy and leathery surfaces help slow water loss from the surface

Reddish Sandwort - Minuartia rubella – Port Saunders

Narrow leaves with less leaf surface area lose less water

The second challenge of the barrens is COLD.

However, cold is only partly a winter concern. For most arctic and alpine plants, once the temperature has dropped below a certain point, cold is just cold

W of Red Bay, Labrador, July 12, 2001

The main thing affected by cold is the total length of the growing season …

L’Anse-Amour, Labrador

This photo was taken July 8 – and the willows are still just in early bud!

Moss Campion – Silene acaulis – Burnt Cape

  • Tight cushion architecture allows for a layer of “dead air”, within the cushion, that can warm up and stay warm all day

Cold also leads to frost disturbance ….

Watt’s Point

… seen most dramatically in patterned ground

Burnt Cape [photo: Pat Montague

Daubenmire (1941)

tap roots anchor plants deeply into the seasonally-disturbed frost-heaved soils

This rare species, the Cutleaf Fleabane, grows in Humber Gorge

Long’s Braya – Braya longii – Yankee Point

Some roots are contractile ... each time a plant is heaved upward by frost, the root of the affected plant shortens to pull the plant back down into the soil, where it belongs.

The third challenge of the barrens is obtaining sufficient NUTRIENTS. Barrens usually occur on thin, poor soils.

Boat Harbour

The THINNESS of the soil is largely the result of ice-age glacial scouring …

Glacial Striae – Hawkes Bay

Cape Norman

… and subsequent wind and water erosion.

Cape Norman

The POORNESS of the soil is usually the result of its basic geology, or of its history of poor organic accumulation in places where vegetation has long been sparse.

Cape Norman

But even here, plants manage to grow …

Barrens Willow - Salix jejuna - Cape Norman

In general, precipitation tends to run off quickly … or just drain away, downwards, through the substrate …

carrying unconsolidated nutrients with it.

Port au Choix

Oval-leaf Spearwort – Ranunculus flammula var. ovalis – Port au Choix

Even so, some species, like this buttercup, seem to need such changing conditions!

Arctic Bladderpod - Lesquerella arctica – Burnt Cape

As you have already seen, plants of the barrens have all kinds of survival tricks

Moss Campion – Silene acaulis

Daubenmire (1941)

LONG ROOT SYSTEMS are critical in accessing scarce moisture and nutrients from a very wide area of soil

EVERGREEN LEAVES conserve hard-won and costly resources that would otherwise be lost, and have to be regenerated every year …

Hollyfern - Polystichum lonchitis – Burnt Cape

….and, as long as evergreen plants stays relatively green throughout the year, photosynthesis can take place, on warm days, in any season, effectively lengthening the plant’s growing season

Trailing Juniper – Juniperus horizontalis – Port au Choix

In the limestone barrens, the chemistry of calcium adds to the challenge

Encrusted Saxifrage - Saxifraga paniculata – Burnt Cape

This saxifrage secretes excess lime from the edges of its leaves

A major advantage of living on the barrens – is a lack of competition!

Dwarf Hawk’s Beard – Crepis nana – Burnt Cape

Many barrens species, such as Long’s Braya, actually thrive in disturbed areas where nothing else tends to grow

Yankee Point

But, in general, the plants of the barrens live on a razor’s edge

Burnt Cape

Alpine Milkvetch – Astragalus alpinus var. alpinus – Burnt Cape

… with the rarer ones just making it …

Balsam Ragwort – Packera paupercula var. balsamitae – Indian River

… and some others doing much better

… But, we really don’t know what’s ahead for them

Peter Scott

… will climate change help Long’s Braya … but hinder Fernald’s Braya?

… or vice-versa?

… or neither!

We might guess … but we really don’tknow.

Will humans and nature eventually find ways happily co-exist?

It would be nice!

One thing is for sure … Even as tourists arrive in increasing numbers …

Cape Norman

… and humans in general continue to expand their influence

Heavy equipment re-arranging the Romaines River floodplain, August 1, 2006 !

We still have much to learn

Boat Harbour

… any many discoveries to make!

… End

Crab Spider on Yellow Lady Slipper – Burnt Cape

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