Log Cabin Chronicles

wild lily

© 1998 Charles Bury

Endangered flowers


Recently I mentioned we'd take a look at a bird that's on Quebec's endangered species list but shouldn't be, at least in my opinion. But something else came along, so once again the Kirtland's Warbler will have to wait.

That something else was a call from Katherine Mackenzie. And when she calls, I listen.

Mrs. Mackenzie, of Georgeville, Quebec, is author and illustrator of Wildflowers of Eastern Canada, a small but precious pocket book that was a first look at wildflowers for many Quebecers, including myself. That book and its French version (interestingly titled Le Fleurs Sauvage du Quebec), are sadly no longer in print.

Mrs. Mackenzie was sounding an alarm. Some very rare wild plants are being dug up along a local bicycle trail and taken home by people who want them in their gardens.

"There aren't many left, and we have to stop the people who are taking them. I hope you can do something to help."

Well it so happened that the very next day a friend mentioned she was going to go digging in the same spot Mrs. Mackenzie had mentioned. Then I heard of someone near there who had these wild plants for sale. Then someone else mentioned still another person they knew who had done some plant poaching in the same neighborhood.

So I knew it was time to get off the pot.

Now, no one's going to get out the old 12-gauge and go on patrol to save some plants. Instead, let's try shooting you full of information. The plants in question are Wild Garlic, the Ostrich Fern, and the Canada Lily. None of them is common. All are popular. And each requires a very specific habitat to survive. Two of these plants are well known, one is not.

Wild Garlic has received much attention since it was declared to be endangered several years ago. It's much desired for the sharp flavor of its bulbs, which are often used as a side dish in traditional Quebec cuisine. The Ostrich Fern or Fiddlehead is also familiar. It's picked for kitchen use, as a component in traditional salads and soups throughout eastern Canada.

These two plants are not in immediate danger of extinction but in many places, including much of the Eastern Townships, they have been over-picked to the point that very few remain. Officials are so worried about Wild Garlic that it has been accorded strong government protection, including 'take' and possession limits like those accorded birds and fish.

As far as I know, though no one eats the Canada Lily. Not unlike a pretty girl in a dark alley downtown, our third threatened plant is in danger because of its looks. People see them in the wild and want to have some for their own. They come back with a shovel and a plastic bag, dig up their prey and take it home. They plant their lilies in the yard, stand back and watch them grow. Except they don't grow. They die.

"They won't survive the transplanting," Katherine Mackenzie said. "People don't realize it, but they'll all die."

Botanist Frederic Coursol is a director of Flora Quebeca, a voluntary association devoted to the protection of the province's wild plant life. Reached Wednesday at his home in Mont Laurier, he confirmed that the Canada Lily is one of many wild plants which cannot be transplanted.

"These plants require a very specific habitat to survive," Coursol said. "They have to be in a very moist soil and in surroundings like the border of a certain type of swamp. It is virtually impossible to reproduce these conditions in a home garden," he added.

Indeed, even strictly controlled laboratory tests usually fail to keep such plants alive.

"They really don't belong in gardens," says Mrs. Mackenzie. "They belong in the wild and that's where they should stay."

Any individual who owns an endangered plant outside its natural habitat, or who harvests, sells or mutilates an endangered plant or any part of one, or who alters in any way the habitat in which an endangered plant lives, is subject to a fine of up to $40,000. For a company or other organized group, the fines go up to $80,000. And the list includes 19 plants.

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Copyright © 1998 Charles Bury/Log Cabin Chronicles/7.98