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So Just What is an Alvar?

Growing up I had always heard my family talk about the Cameron Ranch, now part of the Carden Alvar, northeast of Orillia, Ontario. I didn't really pay much attention to this neighbouring area. As an adolescent, the landscape looked barren and nearly bleak. But little did I know that years later I would become fascinated with this area.

Alvars can be found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, northern Europe and the Great Lakes region. Many people are not aware that alvars are globally rare, unique eco-systems and that almost 75% of North American alvars are in Ontario. That is incredible! Right here in our own backyard, we have a chance to learn, explore and protect these special habitats.

An alvar is based on limestone with little or no soil. Many areas have shallow exposed bedrock that formed over 500 million years ago. These areas are subject to flooding in the spring and drought during the summer months preventing many species of plants from growing. Given these conditions, alvars provide a distinctive habitat for species that cannot grow or exist anywhere else.

Rare and unusual flora arise each spring, peaking during the month of June creating a dazzling display. Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) and Balsam Ragwort (Packera paupercula) are just a few to mention among the more than 400 plants that flourish on alvars.

Prairie Smoke found only on Alvars*

Here's the link to our upcoming Alvar Flora workshop led by Bob Bowles.

We'll be learning about the uniqueness of alvars, the species that make these areas their home and the rare flora that flourishes. Be sure to reserve your spot.

Alvars are also home to rare species of birds like the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Towhees and Grasshopper Sparrows. It's a dream come true for birders with over 200 species that have been observed and documented on the alvars. Butterflies, dragonflies and moths also make alvars their home. The nature centre is located on the most westerly boundary of the Carden Alvar, where the Dragonfly and Butterfly counts are carried out in July every year. We will be hosting the count this July. Details to follow.

White Admiral-Carden Alvar*

Northern Crescent-Carden Alva*

Hope to see you at our Alvar Flora workshop held on June 16th and another one on June 19th.

*All photographs taken by Michael D. Elmer

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