Plants of the South Shore IBA
The IBA contains many small pockets of diverse habitats, each with its own plant communities. Thin soils over limestone bedrock and poor drainage mean the presence of specialized habitats and seasonal extremes (e.g., flooding in spring and drought in summer). Much of the Lake Ontario shoreline is a ridge of cobbles that forms a barrier and prevents drainage. This creates Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) swamps, sedge fens and shrub wetlands all along the shore. Other permanent and seasonal wetlands and two large constructed wetlands support a wide diversity of flora and fauna. There are areas of pasture and old agricultural land reverting to Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) as well as small woodlands, open scrub, limestone cliffs and alvar-like habitats.
This botanical tour features 3 different habitats within this diverse area: Prince Edward Point Woods, the Miller Family Nature Reserve, and the Lighthall-Charwell wetlands and shore.
Prince Edward Point Woods
The National Wildlife Area around Prince Edward Point has the advantage of a variety of diverse habitats very close together. A small woodland around the harbour is comprised of Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana), Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata), Maple (Acer spp), Ash (Fraxinus spp) and White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). Spring is a great time to visit when the woodland floor is carpeted first with Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), and then later by Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata), White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum), Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens), Purple Cress (Cardimine douglasii) and Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba). Shrubs around the harbour include a variety of Dogwood (Cornus spp), shrub Willows (Salix), Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago), and Buffalo-berry (Shepherdia canadensis).
The nearby limestone cliffs host Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia), Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and rosettes of Rock Draba (Draba arabisans).
Access to the NWA is free and there are some marked trails. The gated road around the harbour to the lighthouse makes a pleasant 2km hike. The Bird Observatory operates for spring and fall migration and is also open to the public.
Miller Family Nature Reserve
This 466-acre site is administered by the Hastings Prince Edward Land Trust. The northern upland section was farmed in the past and still retains some very large Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) from old fence lines. In the spring, former pastures are filled with Early Buttercup (Ranunculus fascicularis), Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis), Pussytoes (Antennaria spp), Hairy Penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus) and Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). Large shrub wetlands and Black Ash swamps along the lakeshore feature robust populations of Arrow Arum (Peltandra virginica). A small wetland formed by a natural spring contains a wet meadow with a variety of interesting wetland sedges, grasses, Marsh Bellflower (Campanula aparinoides) and Marsh speedwell (Veronica scutellata).
Access to the site is restricted but permission can be arranged by contacting the HPE Land Trust or Prince Edward Point Bird Observatory who do bird monitoring at the site. The Reserve is prime habitat for breeding Whip-poor-will.
Lighthall-Charwell Wetlands and Shore
In the middle of this 2km x 2km block of land lies a large constructed wetland about 1km in diameter. A berm along the wetland’s southern boundary maintains water levels and controls the outflow at a dam. The stream flows for 800m into Lake Ontario, and although in drier summers the flow is intermittent, below the dam, it is usually edged with Rushes and Bulrushes (Scirpus spp, Schoenoplectus spp, Juncus spp), Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Swamp Candle (Lysimachia terrestris), Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba) and Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsifola). South of the berm, cracks in the limestone bedrock support Kalm’s Lobelia (Lobelia kalmia), Nodding Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes cernua), Shining Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes lucida – rare), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Hairy Penstemon (Penstemon hirsutus), Summer Bluet (Houstonia longifolia), Golden-fruited Sedge (Carex aurea) and Narrow-leaved Vervain (Verbena simplex). Where there is a bit more soil shrubs such as Swamp Rose (Rosa palustris), Serviceberry (Amelanchier), Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) and Buffalo-berry (Shepherdia canadensis) grow in thickets. The bright fruit of Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) often puts on a good show in the autumn. There is also a patch or two of Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor). The berm itself attracts many birds as it is lined with Silky and Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus obliqua, C. sericea), Honeysuckle (Lonicera dioicus) Downy Arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesquianum), Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) and Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana). Most years Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) puts on a good show and in the thickets I have found Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima) and Orange-fruited Horse Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum).
Access into the extensive marsh is difficult on foot, but in addition to the large cattail beds (Typha), it contains many aquatic species that can be viewed from the edges: Water Lily (Nymhaea odorata), Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi), Bladderworts (Utricularia), Blue Flag (Iris versicolor), Smartweeds (Polygonatum), Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) and a host of floating and submerged species.
The Lake Ontario shoreline is made up of ridges of smoothed pebbles but on the upper beach Silverweed (Pontentilla anserina) and Golden Corydalis (Corydalis aurea) have made a foothold. Bogbean (Menyanthes trifoliata) grows here, an uncommon plant for the area.
The land is all part of the Provincial Wildlife area and easily accessed on foot along a series of seasonal gravel roads (sometimes drivable but puddles
can be big!). For those interested in fauna the area is great for butterflies, dragonflies and birds. Snapping and Blanding’s Turtles breed here as well.
As with many natural areas in Southern Ontario, threats from invasive species are present in the South Shore IBA. Introduced weeds and flowers are found throughout the IBA. Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) is present in some of the wetlands along the shore. Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is very common as an understorey plant in woodlands as well as in the open shrub land. Access routes for people and vehicles have also been a path for invading Pale Swallowwort aka Dog-strangling Vine (Cynanchum rossicum) and Phragmites australis.