Archives for 2020

Aug
18
August is the Month for Sandy Dune Specialists in Saskatchewan!

 


While thinking of the prairies might bring to mind rolling grasslands and big blue skies, parts of southern Saskatchewan are also much sandier than many people realize. As the ice sheets retreated 10,000 years ago and remnant glaciers melted, the resulting glacial lakes and water channels gathered sediment to form ancient sand bars that would eventually form the many sand hills of Saskatchewan. This includes the well known Great Sand Hills and Elbow Sand Hills, massive areas with wide open active dunes, but also lesser known areas right across the southern portion of the province, including the Mortlach, Dundurn, Webb, and Burstall Sand Hill areas.

These sandy habitats support unique ecosystems. They are home to sand dune specialist species found nowhere else, including many of the province’s rare plants. In the month of August two of these rare plant species, Smooth Goosefoot and Hairy Prairie-clover, are in bloom, making it the perfect time to get out and search for them!

 

Smooth Goosefoot is a small annual plant with a yellowish green colour that is federally listed as a threatened species. Its leaves are fleshy and smooth with a visible central vein. The flowers resemble small balls and grow in dense clusters that are sparsely spaces along the branching stems. Smooth Goosefoot likes to grow at the edges of dunes and blowouts and along slopes of stabilized sand hills. It can be found in 11 Saskatchewan sand hill complexes mostly in the southwest Great Sand Hills area, but also within the Mortlach, Elbow, and Dundurn Sand Hills.

 

Hairy Prairie-clover is a somewhat woody perennial species that is listed as special concern in Canada. It looks similar to the much more common Purple Prairie-clover, but as its name suggests the entire plant is covered in soft dense hairs. Purple flowers grow in long spikes with the lower, older flowers opening first. “The whole plant is soft to the touch, including when the seeds start to develop,” explains Emily Putz, Habitat Stewardship Coordinator with Nature Saskatchewan. “A good way to tell it apart from some of its look-a-likes is to run a stem through your hands, none of the other prairie clover species are nearly as hairy.” Hairy Prairie-clover grows in sand blowouts and partially stabilized sites, found within the Mortlach and Dundurn Sand Hills.

 

Just like many of the province's rare plants, these species are threatened by a number of factors contributing to habitat loss. “Stabilization of dune habitat is a big challenge for specialist species,” explains Putz, “lack of grazing, invasion of non-native species such as leafy spurge, and encroachment of woody shrubs and trees can all contribute, making it hard for these plants to find the kind of habitat they need.” Other threats such as sand and gravel extraction, oil and gas activity, and changes to hydrological processes due to climate change also lead to declines.

If you or someone you know own land with sandy soils in the areas mentioned, we encourage you to take a look in your pasture this month and report any sightings to Nature Saskatchewan’s Rare Plant Rescue Program. New sightings contribute to a better understanding of these species’ distributions in the province and can help inform recovery actions in the future.

 

Since 2002 Nature Saskatchewan’s Rare Plant Rescue program has worked with landowners to raise awareness about Saskatchewan’s rare plants, document and monitor rare plant occurrences, and conserve rare plant habitat in Saskatchewan. If you think you’ve seen these species or have any questions on the Rare Plant Rescue program, please let us know by calling our toll-free Hoot Line at 1-800-667-HOOT (4668) or by emailing rpr@naturesask.ca. Personal and sighting information is never shared without permission.

 

Photo credit: Candace Neufeld

 

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