Pink lady’s slippers and dune tour

by Sandy Garland

Today (1 June 2014), OFNC members were treated to a tour of an Ottawa gem: the Pinhey sand dunes. According to Biodiversity Conservancy International’s (BCI) web site, the complex “has survived over 10,000 years since the last ice age. This unique ecosystem is home to a number of plant and animal species which can only live in well-drained, open areas with exposed fine white sand.”

It’s quite a surprise to drive down a treed suburban street, then walk a few steps into a hot, desert-like scene. But that’s what you find if you explore the trails at the corner of Pineland and Vaan.

Peter Dang showed us how the dune has been slowly disappearing.

Peter Dang showed us how the dune has been slowly disappearing.

BCI president, Dr. Peter Dang, showed us the extent of the “original” dunes back in the 1920s. In the 1960s, plantations were in vogue and the NCC planted 1000s of trees in the area, reducing the dune to a tiny fraction of its former size.

But in 2011, a dedicated group of volunteers saw the value of this rare habitat and its unique creatures and set about reversing the trend that was turning it into forest. They convinced the NCC that the dunes were worth saving and obtained funding from the Trillium Foundation and the City of Ottawa.

Orleans scout troop helping to restore the dune.

Orleans scout troop helping to restore the dune.

Since then, they’ve been spending weekends sifting sand, making an inventory of species they find, and removing weeds and other debris. Luckily they have help. Today, a scout troop from Orleans was on site working busily in one corner of the sandy area.

Pink lady's slippers grow in the well drained sandy soil under the pine trees that surround the dune.

Pink lady’s slippers grow in the well drained sandy soil under the pine trees that surround the dune.

We DID see lady’s slippers, by the way. A band of forest surrounding the dune helps stabilize the sand and provides a nice shaded trail for circumnavigating the area. Pink lady’s slippers were in full bloom. Pipsissewa was also abundant, but not yet flowering. We also saw Christmas fern, Canada Mayflower, clintonia, and poison ivy.

Back on the sand, we saw tiger beetles scurrying across the now-hot surface. I remembered that last summer, OFNC member Jon Ruddy organized a trip to this area to look for robber flies, and that group was not disappointed. Check the project web site to see other strange creatures, including antlions, sand mushrooms, and the ghost tiger beetle.

Although most work is focused on removing debris from the sand, the group is also planting - mainly grass, but other sand-loving species as well - in a band across the dune.

Although most work is focused on removing debris from the sand, the group is also planting – mainly grasses and sedges, but other sand-loving species as well – in a band across the dune.

The Pinhey Dunes Watch group meets every Sunday and can use help. In exchange for your effort, you’ll discover an amazing habitat unlike any other in the city. Well worth the visit!

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