Well east of the city’s centre, beyond the government buildings, at the edge of deep suburbia, in the Ottawa river, lies one of the city’s most beautiful treasures. Sure Petrie Island has got a great, big sandy beach, beach volleyball leagues and Carivibe, but tucked away down a narrow spit of land is a part of the island that gets me really excited. Visit the quieter, western end of the island and you will discover a beautiful wetland and wilderness delight. A unique habitat, Petrie Island’s ecosystem is closer to the Carolinian forest of Southern Ontario, and includes many uncommon and rare species of plants that you won’t find elsewhere in the Ottawa region.
Last Sunday I led a plant walk hosted by the Petrie Island Nature Centre and we explored some of the edible and medicinal plants of the island.
We found many of the usual suspects in flower like goldenrod, evening primrose and soapwort.
It was a pleasure to see so many aquatic plants in such abundance. We nibbled on a few pickerel weed fruits (achenes) and I talked a little bit about arrowhead and the use of its tuber for food. As an urban forager I don’t have access to clean sources of water so I could only speak about these plants from what I have read and not from experience.
The real highlight of the walk for me was finding groundnut growing profusely. This pea family plant has stunningly gorgeous and strongly scented flowers and produces an edible, starchy tuber that is high in protein. This ecosystem also supports an abundance of sweet gale, a sweetly aromatic, native plant.
As a conservation area, it is not appropriate to forage or wildcraft here, but it is a wonderful place to come and observe and learn about the plants of Petrie Island. The Nature Centre has done an amazing job of posting informative signs of many of the plants all along the nature trails, including botanical names and edible and medicinal uses. Visit the centre itself for wonderful, interactive displays on the flora and fauna of the site.
I was introduced to two new plants while I was there, showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) and square-stemmed monkey flower (Mimulus ringens). I can’t wait to return to learn more about these plants and see what other surprises I find.
Here are two short (not great quality- sorry) videos I took of a few other plants on the island.