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Bruce Peninsula National Park of Canada

Ecology

Plants

Our peninsula is unique in Canada for its wide variety of wildflowers. This is because, for a relatively small bit of land, the Bruce has an unusually rich diversity of habitats, from the rugged cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment to flat, dry rock plains called alvars, to various types of swampy wetlands.

Yellow Lady's Slipper
Yellow Lady's Slipper
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

One of our chief claims to fame is the profusion of species of orchids found here. They're not just tropical plants. There are, believe it or not, over 60 species in Ontario. Approximately 43 are found on the Bruce Peninsula, likely due to the area's variety of habitats. They are picky plants that often grow along with specific fungi, making orchids almost impossible to transplant. The plant uses the fungus to obtain nutrients and vice versa in a symbiotic relationship.

Showy Lady's Slipper
Showy Lady's Slipper
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

Orchids aren't the only unusual plants on the Bruce. It is also home to about half the world's dwarf lake iris, and most of Canada's stock of Indian plantain. The peninsula supports more than 20 kinds of ferns, including the rare Northern Holly Fern.



Maidenhair Spleenwort
Maidenhair Spleenwort
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

Perhaps the most unusual plant discovery on the Bruce is the ancient cliff-edge ecosystem. When Dr. Doug Larson of the University of Guelph was studying human impact on Eastern White Cedar trees along the Niagara Escarpment near Milton, Ontario, he found a cedar that was 511 years old growing out of the cliff face only a couple of kilometres from Highway 401.

That was in 1988, and since then he and his team have discovered even older trees all along the Escarpment; the oldest being found in Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. A dead 1845-year-old cedar was found on Flowerpot Island. It had died about 1500 years ago. The oldest living tree found so far is over 850 years old.

Even more surprising is that this ancient ecosystem survives at all. These cedars, lichen and mosses growing on ledges and out of cracks in sheer rock faces far from any soil. Fierce winds, ice, rock fall and searing sun exposure torment the trees and likely cause their dwarfed and twisted shapes. The 1845 year old tree was only 1.5 metres (5 ft.) tall!

Why is this happening? Well, the cliffs aren't the best place to grow but they're one of the safest places to live. There are no forest fires on the cliffs, nor logging.

The cedars are part of a much more complex ecosystem that was previously imagined. The barren-looking cliff face is actually covered with mosses and lichen, while countless caves and crevices provide homes for ravens, turkey vultures, swallows and bats. The cedars are only the most visible component of a strange and wonderful ecosystem stretching from Niagara Falls to Bruce Peninsula National Park and the islands of Fathom Five National Marine Park.

Cryptoendolithic
Cryptoendolithic
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

The rocks themselves are alive with cryptoendolithic life. "Cryptoendolithic" means hidden-inside-rock, and is used to describe green algae and fungi growing inside the dolomite cliff face-actually within the rock!

Wildlife

White-tailed deer
White-tailed deer
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

Commonly seen wildlife on The Bruce Peninsula includes chipmunk, squirrel, raccoon, porcupine, snowshoe hare, skunk, white-tailed deer, snakes and frogs. Black bear, fox, fisher, martin and the Massasauga rattlesnake are not as commonly seen.

Black bears are spectacular and beautiful creatures, and where they have had little contact with humans they tend to avoid us. Bears are strongly attracted to human food and garbage, and can lose their natural inclination to avoid us if they become accustomed to eating our garbage and carelessly stored food. These "denaturalized" bears can become a serious problem.

Black Bear into garbage
Black Bear into garbage
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

To help avoid a negative encounter when camping, store your food in your vehicle. If you are at a remote site, cache your food away from your site, or use a bear-proof container. Remember coolers and tents are not bear-proof. Pack out your garbage in sealed plastic bags. Never eat or keep food in your tent.

The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake, an endangered species, is now reduced to a few scattered populations. The snake was once found throughout Southern Ontario. When hiking in the area wear long pants or thick socks and boots. Always look where you are putting your hands and feet.

Massasauga Rattlesnake
Massasauga Rattlesnake
© Parks Canada/ PB Collection

Bruce Peninsula National Park plays an important role in preserving suitable habitat for wildlife. If you plan to visit the area, take the time to learn more about the Black bear and the Massasauga rattlesnake, by contacting the park.