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Naming national flower could protect native species, MP and EY gardener say

Bunchberry plant & flowers -POWWOWWILDERNESS.COM

Bunchberry plant & flowers -POWWOWWILDERNESS.COM

\ BY GARY WEBB-PROCTOR \

All of Canada’s native plant species could benefit if a petition started by an East York Master Gardener and sponsored in the House of Commons by Beaches-East York MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith succeeds in having a bloom commonly found across the nation named the country’s “national flower”.

Although Canada’s national tree is well known to be the maple and many provinces have a symbolic flower —such as Ontario’s trillium— there currently is nothing designated for that role federally.  Honouring a native species that way would help create public awareness of the need to protect our indigenous flora, gardening experts say.

The plant known as bunchberry, with distinctive white flowers and red berries and which grows readily from sea to sea, would be best suited for the symbolic designation according to the MP and the petition organizer Maureen Hulbert, a longtime East York resident and executive director of the Toronto Master Gardeners group.

Maureen Hulbert -COURTESY

Maureen Hulbert -COURTESY

The flower, called Cornus canadensis by botanists, was favoured by 79% of the respondents in a nationwide poll of nearly 10,000 Canadians conducted by the Master Gardeners Of Ontario.  The poll, which ended on Canada Day, was promoted by CBC Radio and included two other finalist plants derived from consultations with research horticulturalist Todd Boland.

“Our natural history is an important part of the Canadian identity and after 150 years it’s about time we had a national flower,” says Mr. Erskine-Smith, who presented the petition in the House earlier this month, in a press release issued this week.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith -STAFF

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith -STAFF

“With its white and red flowers, and its distribution in habitats in every province and territory, [bunchberry] is an ideal candidate to be designated as Canada’s National Flower,” Erskine-Smith noted in his press release.

Also known as “quatre-temps” in the French language and as “kawiscowimin” in Cree, the flower is native to Canada, which makes it important to protect, say Ms. Hulbert and MGOO president Claudette Sims.

“Native plants have never been at such risk, both in Canada and globally,” the gardeners said in a joint statement.

“They are under threat from destruction of wild areas, the spread of non-native invasive plants and the lack of awareness in the general public about the role that native plants play.

“When you take the time to name something and recognize it, you imbue it with power.  The Ontario trillium is a good example of that.  Its designation encourages people to both protect the plant in wild populations and plant it in private gardens,” their statement adds.

Erskine-Smith, a member of the governing Liberal party, said the petition, created through the government’s “e-petitions” process, is “a perfect initiative to commemorate Canada 150.”

He urged the government to rely on the expertise of the gardeners’ organization or “at a minimum Heritage Canada should undertake a public consultation, to build on the work of the Master Gardeners Of Ontario” and name a botanical emblem for the country.

In addition to its other appealing qualities bunchberry, like Canada, changes with the seasons, producing white flowers in late spring and red berries in summer.  One of the smallest members of the dogwood (Cornus) family, bunchberry forms a low, carpet-like mat of leaves, up to four inches tall, usually in moist and shady woods.

In late spring it produces the showy white flowers (which are actually modified leaves, called bracts, that attract pollinators to the tiny actual flowers in the centre) and in summer come the edible red berries, a food source for black bears, martens, snowshoe hares and other small mammals, as well as many migratory birds.  It is also a winter forage plant for caribou, elk, deer and moose.

Hulbert said she also likes bunchberry’s very Canadian botanical name: Cornus canadensis.

“It has Canada right in its name.  It’s a great selling feature,” she said.

 

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