The Bruce Peninsula – Part Two – Wetlands and Wildflowers

Wetland near Crane River, Bruce Peninsula

Forests of northern white cedar interspersed with lakes and wetlands are a common sight in the Bruce Peninsula. I made the photograph above along Rte 6, which is the main highway that stretches about 65 miles from Owen Sound in the southwest corner to Tobermory at the northwest tip of the peninsula.

Spring Creek, near Miller Lake
Large Blue Flags near Isaac Lake

Heading south along Rte 6 from the village of Mar, turn right on Isaac Lake Road, which leads through marshland to a parking area and boat ramp at Isaac Lake. Large Blue Flag Iris were blooming along the edges of the dirt road, and I listened to the territorial “conk-a-ree” call of a male Red-winged Blackbird, who flashed his vermilion epaulettes from a cattail stem in the marsh.          

Red-winged Blackbird, Isaac Lake

On the roadside, a male Bullfrog posed in the dirt, displaying his yellow throat and circular eardrum, called a tympanum, which in the male Bullfrog is much larger than the eyeball. Nearby, Chalk-fronted Corporal dragonflies hunted for insects over the marsh.   

Male Bullfrog, Isaac Lake
Small Yellow Lady’s-Slippers, near Dorcas Bay

The Bruce is famous for its orchids – 44 species are known to grow on the Peninsula, flowering mostly in late spring and early summer. By far the most common is the Yellow Lady’s-Slipper, Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens, which blooms in vast numbers along the roadsides.

Yellow Lady’s-Slipper Orchids, near Dorcas Bay

I had also hoped to see and photograph the much smaller and rarer Ram’s Head Lady’s-Slipper Orchid, which can be found along the trails at Singing Sands in Dorcas Bay, part of Bruce Peninsula National Park. Sadly, Singing Sands was closed for a major construction project, and several local orchid aficionados informed me that I was too late for the Ram’s Head Orchids, which had bloomed in mid- to late May.

Columbines near Dorcas Bay

While exploring some of the back roads near Dorcas Bay, I found the luxuriant colony of Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, shown in the photo above. Another red wildflower that was flowering in many roadside meadows was Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea, shown below.

Indian Paintbrush near Dyer’s Bay

Along many of the trails in the white cedar forests large groups of Fringed Polygala, Polygala paucifolia, were in flower. This plant, which is also called Gaywings, is very rare in Ohio, known only from the Oak Openings near Toledo, but it’s a common plant further north in Michigan and the northern areas of the Great Lakes.

Fringed Polygala and Starflower

Another favorite that was in full flower was the tiny Dwarf Lake Iris, Iris lacustris, shown below. This plant is not known from Ohio, but it is closely related to the Dwarf Crested Iris, Iris cristata, which is found in the Hocking Hills, Shawnee State Forest, and other woodlands in southeast Ohio.  

Dwarf Lake Iris
Maidenhair Spleenwort near Crane River

Many varieties of ferns grow in the forests and rocky places in the Bruce Peninsula. A new species for me was the Maidenhair Spleenwort, shown above, which I found growing on a limestone outcrop near the Crane River.

In addition to clothing, camera bags, tripods and other essentials I brought along an old leather briefcase from my consulting days, packed with several maps and about a dozen of my favorite field guides to wildflowers, birds, ferns, dragonflies, and lichens. In the evening, as I sort and process images taken earlier in the day, I enjoy spending time with these books as I identify and learn more about the places, flora and fauna I’ve seen and photographed. For the Bruce Peninsula, I especially recommend the series of field guides to the North Woods published by Kollath-Stensaas. For ferns, my favorite guide is Steve Chadde’s Midwest Ferns

In Part 3, we’ll visit the town of Tobermory and some of the scenic attractions near the tip of the Bruce Peninsula.              







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