Trip Report – Parasitic Plants of Brackendale, July 16, 2017

Walk led by Rachel Shephard and Vanessa IsnardyGroupPhoto

We met at 9:00 AM at the corner of Ross Road, by the trailhead to ‘Cracked Patella‘.  In addition to the walk leaders, our enthusiastic group included two Squamish locals and three visitors:  two from Washington DC and one from Switzerland.

The main purpose of the walk was to look for myco-heterotrophic plants (plants that feed on fungi), however Rachel explained that our walk would lead through four different habitats and invited us to observe how the plant communities differed from one habitat to the next:

  • older coniferous forest (up to 80-100 years old, with little light penetrating to the forest floor)
  • an area clear-cut about 10-15 years ago and since replanted (young deciduous and coniferous trees, much more open with lots of sunlight at ground level)
  • a hydro right of way (open brushy area)
  • and an area cleared but not developed in the 1970’s and now young deciduous forest

LookingAtCoralrootOver the course of our walk, we saw five species of myco-heterotrophic plants: gnome plant, pinesap, western coralroot orchid, indian pipe, and candystick. The plants ranged in color from ghostly white, to salmon pink, to candycane striped. All of these plants lack chlorophyll and the ability to produce food. Instead they parasitize fungi, some species relying on one specific fungus for their survival.  It was fascinating to learn that the mycelium of the host fungus forms a network with the roots of nearby trees. The tree and fungus have a symbiotic relationship, the tree providing the fungus with carbon-rich photosynthates, the fungus helping the tree absorb water and nutrients from the soil, and the myco-heterotroph parasitizing them both!

We saw several other hemi-heterotrophic (partially parasitic) species including pink wintergreen, white-veined wintergreen, Menzies pipsissewa, prince’s pine, and rattlesnake-plantain which, despite its name, is actually an orchid.  Several of the wintergreen plants were blooming and had delicate bell-like flowers.

We found three species of orchid, the previously mentioned western coralroot and rattlesnake-plantain, as well as hooded ladies’ tresses. Whereas the coralroot orchids were past their prime, the rattlesnake plantain and ladies’ tresses, were just coming into bloom.

The eco-communities were also fascinating to observe:  the species dominating at ground level shifted from ferns, to berry-bearing bushes, to species of lily (eg. queen’s cup) and wintergreeen as we passed through the different areas of the walk.  Rachel and Vanessa pointed out berries that were particularly delicious to eat and those that had traditional medicinal uses. One of the participants from Washington DC had a keen interest in trees and we compared species found on the east and west coasts.

Because the day was cloudy and cool, we were lucky to observe more bird activity than one would expect at the time of day in July:  our expert leaders distinguished 17 different species by their songs.  Highlights were the flashy yellow and red western tanager and a pileated woodpecker.

The walk was rounded off by a visit to see the beautiful candystick, a myco-heterotroph which occurs infrequently in its BC range, in the extreme SW corner of the province.  A small cluster of these was found near to the finish of the walk back at Ross Road.

Thanks to Rachel and Vanessa for sharing their intimate knowledge and love of the flora and fauna of this area with us!

Trip Report Submitted by Sarah Shephard

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