More About Plants

Some fascinating information about the following species:


Indian Pipe

Wild Lupine

Wild Geranium


Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)

In early fall, the fields are awash in gold as beautiful, native goldenrod blooms. Goldenrod is hugely important in an ecosystem like High Park and we are thankful for it all year long.

Monarch feeding on Goldenrod
Jon (Nature Centre)

Many people assume that goldenrod pollen causes their alergies, but this is a myth. Humble-looking ragweed is the main culprit as it releases huge amounts of pollen into the wind. Of all the pollen in the air this time of year, a measly 1%-2% is from goldenrod. Below are 5 reasons we love goldenrod:

1.It provides food and shelter for so many insects all through the year. As we walked through the Bowling Field today we saw a number of bee species, butterflies, stinkbugs, froghoppers and a crowd of dragonflies hunting other insects attracted by the goldenrod.Right now it seems like a buffet out there!

2. It is beautiful…especially in the late-summer sun.

3. There are lots of different types! This diversity is perfect for us naturalists who like a good identification challenge.In High Park alone, you can find 9 different species: Tall Goldenrod, Early Goldenrod, Zig-Zag Goldenrod, Blue-stem Goldenrod, White Goldenrod, Giant Goldenrod, Gray Goldenrod, Stout Goldenrod…and lots of Canada Goldenrod!

4. Monarchs rely on the abundant goldenrod nectar as a source of energy before their heroic migrations south.

5. It is prolific. Goldenrod spreads by wind-carried seed, but also by spreading from underground rhizomes. Dense stands of goldenrod can hold their own against invasive speciees.

Please come out to High Park to witness the glorious goldenrod as it blooms. Please respect it by letting it grow.

Source: High Park Nature Centre website, September 2011

Indian Pipe (Monotropa Uniflora)
Indian Pipe
Jon (Nature Centre)

These leafless white wonders are commonly called “Indian Pipe” due to their pipe-like shape. Other names include “Ghost flower” and “Ice plant”. They almost look like fungi but they are truly plants! They have no leaves. The shoots grow between 10 and 30 cm and each has a flower atop. The flowers start off nodding and do a full rotation. Once fertilized, the flower points straight upward.

Why are these plants white?

Because they have no chlorophyll! Most plants are green because they contain chlorophyll, which turns sunlight into sugar. Indian Pipe is different. It has no chlorophyll or leaves and doesn’t need the sunlight to make food. Because these plants don’t need the sun, they can grow in very dark areas.

How do they get energy?

Indian Pipe roots have a special relationship with a fungus that breaks down the nutrients in the organic matter of the soil. This fungus also takes sugars from the roots of other plants and provides them to the Indian Pipe roots. The Indian Pipe uses the fungus to get sugar from other plant roots. They are kind of parasitic.

Pines and Oaks

Dark woodlands with rich humus are ideal habitats for Indian Pipe. They are often found growing among Pine and Oak trees. Perhaps they have a special relationship with the roots of these trees. Luckily High Park has some great White Pines and Oak trees.


Since these plants are so awe-inspiring, please enjoy them respectfully and remember to let them live so that they can spread their seeds!

Source: High Park Nature Centre website, Summer 2010

Wild Lupine (Lupinis perennis)
Wild Lupine: A bee checks for nectar
Jon (Nature Centre)

Upon a walk through the Savannah yesterday [May 18, 2010], we quickly noticed that the Wild Lupines are blooming!

These wild flowers were once abundant in the sandy soils of High Park’s Black Oak Savannahs before they almost disappeared.

Plantings and great care by groups such as the Volunteer Stewardship Program, along with prescribed burning of the Savannah have helped the Wild Lupines start to regenerate.

Wild Lupines grow excellently in the sandy soil of the Black Oak Savannah.

Not a Soil Wolf After All

The name for Lupines is all mixed up! People noticed that Wild Lupines grow on sandy, nutrient-poor soil and thought that the plants were hungrily eating up all of the soil’s nutrients similar to wolves eating. This idea lead people to name the plant Lupine, from the latin word for wolf: “lupus”. The funny part is that Lupines actually do the opposite of “wolfing” the nutrients from the soil; they improve the soil by adding nitrogen. Bacteria form nodules on the roots of Lupines and capture nitrogen from the air, and allow the plant and nearby plants to use it.

Karner Blue
Bob Yukich

Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner Blue butterfly no longer exists in the wild in Canada. It is considered “extripated” in Canada, meaning it no longer exists in the wild here.These tiny blue butterflies were last seen in High Park in 1926. They lay their eggs only on Wild Lupine and the caterpillars feed only on Wild Lupine leaves. When the Wild Lupine of Ontario became very scarce, the Karner Blue Butterflies disappeared. This is why it is important to be mindful of our footsteps among the lupines that have been planted in the Savannah and not to pick them.


If you feel like flower watching, Wild Lupines are an excellent choice. Aside from the throwing of seeds and the visiting pollinators, you can watch the leaves to help you tell time. Another name for this plant is “Sundial Lupine” because the leaves follow the sun throughout the day.


Once the flowers are pollinated, often by bees and butterflies, the seed pod develops. The mature seed pod will dry on its sunny side first. This creates a tension and and the pod will…..EXPLODE! The seeds fly as far as 1 meter from the plant. Although it seems like a far throw for a plant, the seeds do not travel much further so the Wild Lupines tend to grow in groups called colonies.

Source: High Park Nature Centre website, Summer 2010

For more information check out:

Rare Plants of the Endangered High Park Black Oak Savannah guidebook by the Volunteer Stewards of High Park.

Pollination Canada’s Article about the Karner Blue Butterfly

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
Wild Geranium
Jon (Nature Centre)

As you walk through the woodlands this week, take notice of these delicate purple-pink flowers. These are wild geraniums! Most people associate the word “geranium” with house and garden plants. Those types of geraniums are distant relatives in the same family, but in a different genus from wild geraniums.

Tough Stuff

Although a very delicate flower, it is also quite tough. A woody, resilient system of rhizomes allows the wild geraniums to grow in colonies in the same spot each year. This is because of the spreading rhizomes that survive the winter underground. These rhizomes have been used medicinally by humans to treat diarrhea and to stop external bleeding among other ailments.


If you take a close look at the flower, you will notice that there are light-purple lines leading to the centre. In the right light, the lines are transparent. These lines are easily noticed by insects and help guide them to where the nectar is stored. The lines are appropriately called “nectar guides”. These help guide the insects to the nectar. Once guided to the nectar, hungry insects pollinate the flowers.

Exploding Seed Pods

Keep watching these wildflowers. After they are pollinated and the seed pod elongates until it looks like a crane’s bill, it distributes its seeds through propulsion! The seeds at the base of the seed pod sit in tiny little cups. The cups are attached to bands that slowly tighten until the little cups are pulled from the base and send the seeds flying through the air! The seeds land a couple of feet from the plant.

Another Name

Some people call the wild geranium “Cranesbill” because of the seed pod’s resemblance to the bill of a crane. In fact, the word “geranium” comes from the Greek word ” geranos”, meaning crane.

Source: High Park Nature Centre website, Spring 2010

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
Jon (Nature Centre)

This fascinating perennial grows in the moist woodland soil along the Nature Centre trails.

Plant Parts

Interestingly, we can’t see the actual flowers of jack-in-the-pulpit because they are deep inside the column (called the “spathe”). The canopy part of the spathe keeps rain from drowning the tiny little flowers. The little club-like spike inside the spathe is called the “spadix” and bears the flowers near its base. The leaves are dark green on the top and pale-green on the underside. Each leaf is made up of 3 leaflets.

Sex Change

Jack-in-the-pulpit can change its sex over its lifetime. All jack-in-the-pulpits start off with male, pollen-bearing flowers. With enough nutrients, after about 3 years, the plant becomes female and can produce berries! It gets better: if conditions change and nutrients are lacking, the plant becomes male again.

The way to tell male and female plants apart is by their leaves. If the plant has one leaf (divided into 3 leaflets), it is a male plant. Female plants usually have 2 leaves (both composed of 3 leaflets).


By emitting a certain smell jack-in-the-pulpit tricks fungus gnats into believing that there is fungus inside to lay their eggs on. Inside, the fungus gnats slip to the bottom where they are dusted with the pollen of the male flowers before escaping. If they go to a female plant next, the pollen rubs onto the female flowers and pollinates them, allowing them to develop into dense clusters of red berries.

Some scientists believe that jack-in-the-pulpit may eventually evolve into an insectivorous plant! Often in female plants, there are many dead fungus flies inside the column. These plants sure are tricksters.

Notice how the canopy of the spathe shelters the spadix and the tiny flowers at its base. The lines on the inside help guide insects to where the flowers are.


This plant is not edible. All parts of the plant are toxic and can cause burning and painful irritation.

It is because of amazing plants like jack-in-the-pulpit that we ask people to walk on the trails when in the woodlands and to keep dogs on-leash in on-leash areas. Erosion, soil-compaction and trampling feet all threaten these wildflowers. Please show respect.

More Information:



Much of this information is from “Up North Again” by Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner. Find their highly informative books on Ontario nature at your local bookstore or public library!

Source: High Park Nature Centre website, Spring 2010

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Content last modified on October 16, 2011, at 08:54 PM EST