C is for canadensis

Garden Chat

This, the 150th year since Canada’s founding (#Canada150), is a great time to learn about Canadian native plants.

I don’t know the exact number of native plants found in Canada (in the thousands, I’m sure), but when I come across a plant whose scientific name ends in “canadensis” (meaning “of Canada”), I know it must be a plant that was either first discovered in Canada, is prevalent throughout regions of Canada or may be found only in Canada. A few of these canadensis plants make great garden plants. Here are a few that you should be able to find without too much digging in local garden centres or specialty nurseries and mail order.

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Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis): Single, medium green, deeply lobed leaves (five to nine lobes) arise from a branching rhizome, at or slightly below, the soil, forms low (eight to 10 inches), slowly expanding colonies. The common name blood root refers to the bright red root tissue and orange sap. White flowers appear in early spring. Double flowered cultivars are sought after for their more impressive flowers and longer flowering period (single-flowered selections drop their petals shortly after pollination). Grows best in rich, moist, but well-drained, organic soil in semi shade, although can tolerate full sun. Dig up and divide rhizomes in spring or fall.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis): unlike its much taller woody relative, red-osier dogwood, bunchberry is a low growing (four to eight inches) perennial groundcover. Single un-branched shoots sprout from a slow-growing shallow, slender rhizomatous root system. Six medium green leaves are clustered near the end of each stem. In late spring/early summer, several tiny white flowers are clustered together above four conspicuous white bracts at the end to the stem. Several small (0.2 inche) green round berries mature to bright red in early fall. A woodland plant, bunchberry grows best in part to full shade in moist, well-drained soil.

Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis): a medium short (12-24 inches) herbaceous perennial arising from many-branched rhizomes. Leaves are deeply lobed (tree to five lobes), each lobe with pointed tips. Bright white flowers (one to 1.5 inches across) appear from May to July. Can form fast-growing colonies, but since roots/rhizomes are shallow, can be easily managed. Plant in part to full sun in moist soil.

Canada violet (Viola canadensis): a medium short (eight to16 inches) herbaceous perennial with branching stems. The heart-shaped (two inches wide by three inches long) leaves are light to medium green. White, five-petalled flowers may be up to one inch across. Flowers have a distinct yellow centre with purple radiating lines on the lower petals. It blooms in early spring and forms clumps that are easily divided. Prefers moist soil in part shade to sun.

Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis): a long-lived, short to tall herbaceous perennial (six to 36 inches). Leaves are light green and lobed. A late spring bloomer, nodding and downward-facing flowers are one to two inches long with yellow petals and bright red spurs and sepals. Easily propagated from seed, flowering in its second year. Plant in shade or sun with sufficient moisture.

— This column is provided courtesy of the Saskatchewan Perennial Society (SPS; www.saskperennial.ca; hortscene@yahoo.com; www.facebook.com/saskperennial). Check out our Bulletin Board or Calendar for upcoming garden information sessions, workshops, tours and other events.

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