Backlands to some, heart lands to others
|Alnus viridis ssp. crispa|
The locals were surprised at how much I was enchanted with the common alder in the Maritimes: it is ubiquitous, and apparently non-descript most of the year, but in spring the dangling aments glisten like golden earrings, and last year's cone-like capsules are a wonderful contrasting black. Of course, this grew in every kind of habitat--but every region seems to boast something unique. In the Halifax area of Nova Scotia there is an extensive ecosystem that is not found anywhere else: they call them the "backlands"--and they extend along a series of hills almost to the sea in a belt south and a bit West of the city. I was very lucky to spend a day with knowledgeable locals who are hoping to find ways of having the backlands preserved in perpetuity. Although only encompassing a thousand or so acres, the backlands have many faces and facets: I was enchanted!
|Lichen and crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)|
|Bob Howard and Ilex mucronata|
Pin cherry is a rather local plant in my area near Denver, but it was dotted around the barrens--a stunning flower this time of year.
A "pseudo" bunkers--a number of these installations mimicking real gun were scattered around Halifax during the war to fool potential bombers. This one attracted some vandals, although their artwork is upstaged somewhat dramatic patterning made by the seeping colors from the cement.
Although dominated by pines, there are many deciduous trees and shrubs here as well--aspen, maple and a wonderful groundcover of ericaceous plants in a half dozen genera.
Blueberries and crowberry make a groundcover that would be the envy of any designer!
The jackpines are all relatively stunted, and the shallow soils over the granite are hungry: the lichens seem to be the most enthusiastic colonizers. Many of these are decades old--prime for another fire!
I was enchanted by the cloud like masses of reindeer-like lichens everywhere...
They made patterns that suggested abstract art.
More than anything, I kept thinking "Japanese Garden" as I looked around the area--the gnarly little jackpines and the rich texture of groundcover could easily be tweaked to create a heavenly Japanese garden if one wished to do so: why bother--I prefer what's already here!
Much to my delight, there was Rhodora in the moist spots (Rhododendron canadense)--one of the loveliest shrubs herabouts. Truth be said, it's so abundant around Halifax I don't think I saw a single one in a garden...
Sensitive fern forming an uncharacteristically tight clump--usually these spread widely. I love this despite its spready tendencies...
Here's a closer look at it...
I loved the burnished color of wintergreen in the full sun on the recently burned area.
|Alnus viridis ssp. crispa|
The dead trees stretch on for acres: this will not be forested again for some time, but a wonderful carpet of color is already growing thickly beneath. To build homes here is a sort of madness--this is a landscape that relies on fires.
To the untrained eye the barrens are austere and homely. To the trained eye they are rich and varied.
David Patriquin is a remarkable and very versatile biologist has dedicated countless hours to scouring the region studying the vegetation. What a privilege to spend a day with him! Check out his website to see the wide range of his study and experience. His enthusiasm for the area was contagious!
|Gaultheria procumbens and Vaccinium spp.|
I love the persian carpet of tiny ericads everywhere.
The lovely yellow flowered "heather" was found here and there: I've seen Hudsonia growing abundantly on Long Island and the New Jersey Pine barrens--although perhaps not this species.
This rather rare Ericad occurs in barrens in the United States as well--but never common. A beautiful groundcover.
The various crowberries, coremas, vacciniums and other ericads all make dense cushions on the hungry barrens--a wonderful tapestry of color all year long.
We drove down closer to the sea on a Cove where trees shrunk to miniature size and all the miniatures took over.
|Crowberries, strawberries--a wonderful contrast|
|Festuca aff. rubra|
David surveying the realm....
A beautiful miniature Scirpus along the pathway...I thought it was veyr decorative.
Much of the coastal headlands have been preserved, but the neighboring jackpine/crowberry ecosystem is still potentially "developable". I have been privileged to visit a variety of Provincial parks around Halifax. They have been generous in setting aside many of the lakes and woods that have the conventional "woodsy" feel people love so much. We have seen scads of pink ladyslippers and trilliums and Clintonia borealis galore, but I believe that this endangered coastal and exposed Backland would one day have far greater economic benefit and biological significance. I hope that the far seeing conservationists prevail--and this swath of just 1000 acres or so south of Halifax may one day be preserved in perpetuity.