Field Guide

Hid­den away in PEI and New Brunswick, this uniquely Cana­dian Lechea is as charm­ing as it is rare

Canadian Wildlife - - CONTENTS - By Mel Wal­wyn

Hid­den away on coastal P.E.I. and New Brunswick, the uniquely Cana­dian Gulf of St. Lawrence Beach Pin­weed is as charm­ing as it is rare

Pin­weed are “quiet” he­lianthe­mums, mem­bers of the vast Cis­taceae or rock rose fam­ily. They are a gen­er­ally ad­mired bit of shrub­bery ap­peal­ingly fes­tooned with small flow­ers dur­ing brief blos­som­ings. Found pri­mar­ily in the tem­per­ate ar­eas of Europe (in and around the Mediter­ranean and other tem­per­ate ar­eas of the con­ti­nent), sev­eral vari­ants are en­coun­tered along the East Coast of Canada and down to Florida.

As prior read­ers of this col­umn might have noted, since tak­ing it on in the March/april 2017 is­sue, I have fo­cused on some out­liers of the Cana­dian plant king­dom, pro­fil­ing ob­scure species in out-of-the-way places. That trend con­tin­ues with this col­umn, since, the above de­scrip­tion not­with­stand­ing, the spe­cific plant we are con­sid­er­ing here is par­tic­u­lar and lo­cal­ized. Of the large fam­ily group­ing I men­tioned above, Gulf of St. Lawrence beach pin­weed plants are lo­cated only in one tiny cor­ner of the east­ern shore­line of New Brunswick and the north coast of Prince Ed­ward Is­land. Its full sci­en­tific name is Lechea mar­itima var. sub­cylin­drica.

It was one of the 20th cen­tury’s botany greats, renowned New Hampshire

botanist (and con­stant di­arist), Har­vard-trained Al­bion Reed Hodg­don who, in the 1930s as part of his PHD the­sis, tracked and recorded all Lechea vari­ants up and down the East Coast of United States and Canada. He iden­ti­fied the unique ver­sion ex­pressed in a pocket of the south shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It is an herba­ceous peren­nial with a roughly 10-cen­time­tre tap­root, erect branches and fruit­ing stems up to 35 cm long. Clus­tered low basal leaves are heavy and drab green, while stem leaves are crowded though al­ter­nat­ing. The tiny three-petalled pin-sized flow­ers are clus­tered in groups of six (or fewer) and are a red-hued brown. The fruit is an ovoid shape en­cap­su­lat­ing four or five seeds.

Its seeds may be the se­cret to its con­tin­u­ing ex­is­tence: like most Cis­taceae, the seeds have an ar­moured outer cas­ing. Al­though this means fewer seeds ger­mi­nate early, they are very small and sift into the sand, re­main­ing dor­mant for long pe­ri­ods of time. Even­tu­ally abraded and opened by the mov­ing grains of sand, a lit­tle rain­wa­ter seeps in and they soften and be­gin to grow. This is an adap­tive seed strat­egy for life in mar­itime sand dunes, which of­ten of­fer drought-like con­di­tions punc­tu­ated by salty storm seas wash­ing over as well as pe­ri­ods of in­tense pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

The plant’s hold on life is pre­car­i­ous: it clings to land­ward ar­eas pro­tected from winds, salt spray and blow­ing sand. (In­ter­est­ingly, its habi­tat is dif­fer­ent around Mi­ramichi Bay, where it ap­pears in wood­lands on sta­ble dunes well back from the shore.) Ac­cord­ing to En­vi­ron­ment Canada, “re­cent in­creases in the fre­quency of se­vere storm events, po­ten­tially as­so­ci­ated with hu­man-caused cli­mate change, have had an im­pact on coastal dunes sup­port­ing Cana­dian pop­u­la­tions of beach pin­weed, caus­ing in­creased ex­tent of flood­ing, ero­sion and breach­ing.” In ad­di­tion to the dam­age wrought by in­creas­ing mar­itime storms, recre­ational Atv-rid­ing is an­other threat to its sur­vival.

In 2008, the Com­mit­tee on the Sta­tus of En­dan­gered Wildlife in Canada de­ter­mined that one third of the ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tion of Gulf of St. Lawrence beach pin­weed is on pro­tected land: Kouch­i­bouguac Na­tional Park; Portage Is­land Na­tional Wildlife Area; Bouc­touche Dune; Cabot Beach Pro­vin­cial Park; and Prince Ed­ward Is­land Na­tional Park. Th­ese pock­ets are safe from dam­age from hu­man en­croach­ment. Through­out its limited do­main, the plant is pro­tected un­der the fed­eral Species at Risk Act and var­i­ous pro­vin­cial laws and reg­u­la­tions.

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