Carnivorous Plants of the Northwest Territories
Keywords: travelogue: Drosera rotundifolia, Northwest Territories
(Canada), Utricularia macrorhiza.
During the summers of 1997 and 1998 I had the unique
opportunity to conduct my field research in the Mackenzie Delta near Inuvik,
in the Northwest Territories, Canada. During my time there, I encountered
a great variety of animal and plant life. As an intrepid carnivorous plant
enthusiast, I searched high and low for the carnivorous plants which grow
within this region. This is an account of my quests.
Inuviks climate is extreme. Temperatures in the
winter frequently dip below the -40ºC (-40ºF) mark, while summer
temperatures can rise well into the 30's (approximately 95ºF), occasionally
making it Canadas hot spot. Precipitation is extremely low, with
the majority falling as snow. Freezing temperatures can occur any day
of the year. There are about six days of rain throughout the summer months
(June to August), barely enough to rinse the dust off your boots--but
a welcome respite from the Vancouver rains.
Figure 1: The Caribou foothills region, habitat for P.
vulgaris and P. villosa.
Even though the climate appears less than ideal for carnivorous
plants, there are other factors which allow them to grow with great gusto!
First, the entire region is situated over a layer of permafrost. Precipitation
does not readily soak into the earth--it just sits there along with permafrost
melt-waters. This provides a very wet, humid environment low in nutrients,
perfect for the native species of carnivorous plants! In fact, a walk
out on the tundra quickly reveals the majority of the ground to be covered
with Sphagnum. Second, all that water means an ideal environment
for insects, of which there are literally billions. Every horror story
you have heard about the insects in the north are true, believe me! Finally,
at latitudes north of 66.5º the summer means 24 hours of sun. Continuous
sunlight occurs over the majority of the growing season, and the plants
take full advantage of it. If you ever have the opportunity to visit this
wonderful region, do not hesitate! There is so much to see, including
The carnivorous plant genera found in this region include
Utricularia, Drosera, and Pinguicula. The most exciting
carnivorous plant here is P. villosa which is restricted to far
north regions, including the Canadian tundra. All species are capable
of surviving this harsh climate through the formation of winter resting
stages; turions and hibernacula. For anyone attempting to grow specimens
from here, heed their dormancy requirements. If your winters do not go
below freezing, you will likely have to make room in the freezer. Seeds
should definitely be stratified for several months before sowing.
By far, the most common carnivorous plant occurring within
the Inuvik region is U. macrorhiza. I found this in great quantities
in the lakes I was working in, tangled among Equisetum and other
emergent macrophytes. Water chemistry analysis indicated low (but present)
nutrients and slightly alkaline pH. Strands I picked out of the water
were at least one meter long or longer, although interestingly older sections
appeared to be previous seasons growth. All the bladders were full
of insect larvae and small aquatic crustaceans. By the end of July 1998,
I was treated to a show of blooms. Pictures of this flower do not do it
justice! The small yellow flowers with the three red lines on the large
upper palate are amongst the most beautiful I have seen, although I am
biased towards carnivorous plants! By mid-August, the large, walnut sized
turions form and flowers die rapidly, another season being finished. While
other species have been recorded as occurring within the lakes, I have
never seen them.
To find the other carnivorous genera in this region you
must head out towards the tundra. The tundra is thickly covered with willow
(Salix spp.) and the ground is very hummocky, making walking difficult
and treacherous. Combining this with the facts that mosquitoes are constantly
trying to feast on your precious blood and the willows are just tall enough
to hide grizzly bears, expeditions here are as exciting as searching for
Nepenthes in rainforests anyday! Due to time constraints and difficulty
hiking in this terrain, I was only able search for the remaining genera
During my hikes, I came across the pretty Drosera
rotundifolia growing wherever the Sphagnum grew (which is everywhere).
Many leaves were curled tightly around their prey, and flowers were in
full bloom. A small sense of satisfaction came from knowing they had trapped
a few of the many biting insects.
To see the two Pinguicula species, one has to
travel to the nearby Caribou foothills either by boat or by helicopter.
There are no roads leading to this region, and hiking would require some
mountaineering skills. I had arranged with the local helicopter company
to take some pictures of my research area and then land in the foothills
so I could search for Pinguicula. Unfortunately, this was not meant
to be as wildfires ran rampant the summer of 1998 and required the attention
of the regions small aircraft. However, I did get a first-hand account
from a local naturalist who was conducting surveys. He noted that P.
vulgaris was found in any wet depression, the soil being somewhat
alkaline and calcareous. He described the scene as butterworts everywhere,
about 5cm in diameter--true giants!
The carnivorous plant I dearly wanted to find was P.
villosa. However, I believe both summers I arrived too late for flowers.
The tiny rosettes are only a few millimeters in diameter and often buried
in Sphagnum or other vegetation making locating them out of flowering
season nearly impossible. However, herbarium specimens from the Inuvik
Research Centre, indicate they are definitely in the area--a fine reason
to head north some future summer.
I hope this article inspires you to search for carnivorous
plants. There are many types, and they live in many different habitats.
Perhaps your own backyard is a good place to start your search!