Gatineau Park’s beautiful ephemeral wildflowers
Need a fix of spring’s fresh air and blossoms? Stroll Gatineau Park’s trails.
After winter’s months of snow, ice and chill, I think there’s nothing more cheerful than heading outside in search of pretty wildflowers blossoming in Outaouais’ forested hills.
Where to go? Gatineau Park!
With 165 km of hiking trails in its 362 square kilometers, the Gatineau Park offers grand views of the Ottawa Valley and River from the Eardley Escarpment.
Also, pathways allow walkers to wander gentle trails through sheltered woods where ephemerals catch the sun and nod in the breezes.
What are ephemerals?
“Ephemeral” means “brief” and, in the botanical world, it’s a term for plants whose life cycle lasts 2-4 weeks or so. The term describes delicate wildflowers we all know and love such as trilliums, hepaticas, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot and others. They leaf, blossom, and die back within a few weeks, to survive the rest of the year as bulbs or rhizomes, below ground.
I interviewed the National Capital Commission’s Catherine Verreault, Manager of Land and Natural Resources in Gatineau Park about them. A botanist, she said ephemerals need lots of moisture and sunlight.
“They appear after the snow melts, when the soil is really saturated. They soak up lots of nutrients in this moisture and, because there are no leaves on the trees at this time, they get lots of sunlight.”
In turn, they provide important food for pollinators at a time when not much is in flower.
How to find them?
Verreault particularly likes Larriault Trail in Gatineau Park because people of various capabilities can hike its easy pathway.
Another favourite is Sugarbush, located in Chelsea near the Gatineau Park Visitor’s Centre (which has a very cool museum, too). The NCC offers bilingual guided spring wildflower walks, here, so consider joining one on the first two Sundays in May.
Beyond Gatineau Park
Where else does Verreault like to spend time outdoors in the Outaouais?
“I admit that even though I work in Gatineau Park, it’s where I go the most. Howe'ver, I really enjoy the shoreline of the Ottawa River, Forêt La Blanche Ecological Reserve, and Plaisance National Park. We’re so fortunate here!”
Leave No Trace
“Gatineau Park is a nature sanctuary,” Verreault reminded me. “So it’s illegal to pick any plant or take away anything – even a rock! Here we practice Leave No Trace philosophy, where we look, but never take anything except photographs.”
It’s important for you and me to do our part to protect wildlife. So admire the flowers – and leave them be. They have such a short life, and they provide critical food for other wildlife such as bees and butterflies. Did you know it takes 7-10 years for a trillium to bloom? And if you pick the flower, that it can take 2-3 years to re-flower?
So, whether they’re in Gatineau Park or growing alongside a country road, let’s all do our part, and teach our children, too. Admire them, take a photo, but and let them do their thing!