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A Walk on Carden Alvar

Father's Day, this year, was a beautiful day that began with a small group of us prepared and ready to learn about the unique flora on the Carden Alvar. We gathered here at the Nature Centre and then drove to the Prairie Smoke entrance, where we began our 5 Kilometer hike on the Alvar.

Our walk started through a hay field where 8 families of Bobolinks, a North American songbird, have been observed. This is great news as the Bobolink is listed in Ontario as a Threatened Species. Bobolinks nest on the ground in open hay fields, farm pastures and meadows. Loss of habitat and habitat disturbance, (early hay cuts) have resulted in the loss of these beautiful birds and their nests. To help with conservation and recovery many fields are now cut after the fledglings have as the saying goes "flown the coop". The Bobolink also has one of the longest migrations of North American songbirds. In late August they begin their long journey to southern South America. An amazing 20,000 Kilometer round trip! For more information about these special little birds visit

Now back to our flora walk. We left the open hay field and began a gentle ascent along a forest trail with hardwood and conifer trees and emerged onto the grassland Alvar.

Some participants on the Carden Alvar

This area is called Prairie Smoke Alvar Nature Reserve. This land was owned by Karen Popp, a local resident and is now owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Bob talked about the limestone bedrock and about grikes and clints. The clints are chunks of relatively flat rock and the grikes are the cracks in the rocks. The grikes collect soil and plants take root. As mentioned in a previous blog, Alvars flood in the spring and dry out during the summer months, there is little to no soil and the quality of the soil is poor. It is a rare, harsh and sensitive ecosystem. Juniper bushes, grasses, sedges and other small, flowering, unique plants live under these extreme conditions.

We walked through Prairie Smoke reserve and entered Little Bluestem Nature Reserve. These adjoining areas are named after the rare plant, Prairie Smoke(Geum triflorum). The clusters of flowers are pink or mauvish in colour concealing a tiny flower. The styles are at the end of the seed heads (achenes) and are wispy. These styles appear like puffs of smoke traveling across the field in the wind.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is a striking grass with a bluish stem that is drought tolerant.

Bob pointed out over 120 different plants, like Hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus), Rock sandwort (Sabulina michauxii), Small skullcap (Scutellaria parvula), Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum), Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), Long-leaved bluets (Houstonia longifolia), Seneca snakeroot (Polygala senega), Mossy Stonecrop (Sedum acre) and the list goes on with another 110 species.

Rock sandwort (Sabulina michauxii)

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

Mossy Stonecrop (Sedum acre)

It is estimated there are approximately 770 species on the Carden Alvar. Bob is currently compiling the list and is hoping to have it complete in a few months.

We will be organizing more tour walks on the Alvar in the Fall. We will keep you updated with exact dates as the season approaches. Until then check out our website for our summer program offerings.

Participants: June 19th, 2022 Flora Workshop

Photo Credit: J. Crinnion

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