The Botanical Legacy of Canada C3

By: Canada C3 scientist Paul Sokoloff

Canada C3 Botany Samples at the Canadian Museum of Nature

You know that feeling you get when a package you’ve been waiting for finally arrives? When you see that brown cardboard box in your mailbox or finally see that “package delivered” after refreshing the courier’s website for the thousandth time? (OK, patience might not be one of my strengths). Well, imagine receiving four large crates, jam-packed with hundreds of dried plants, lichens, algae, and mushroom. Would you feel excited? Overwhelmed? Both?

Of the over 23 science projects that were a part of the Canada C3 expedition, three were led by researchers from the Canadian Museum of Nature, and only one had scientists and participants alike scrambling over tundra and through forests in search of diverse botanical specimens from all three coasts.

Crinkled Snow Lichen

Our Plants and Lichens of the Canadian Arctic project set out to collect these photosynthetic organisms from numerous sites along the expedition route; essentially a reallllly long transect, where these samples serve as the proof that these plants existed at these places and times. By adding these specimens to the National Herbarium of Canada, the museum’s collection of pressed and dried plants, the expedition’s botanists are contributing to the scientific body of knowledge on where plants grow across our northern nation, both by recollecting at previously studied locations, and by collecting at locations never-before botanized.

Cornus canadensis

Vaccinium oxycoccus

Red Algae

Over the course of the expedition the team collected plants and lichens at 57 sites in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Alaska, and British Columbia. While digging up plant samples and nabbing tufts of moss and lichen off the ground, each group of expeditioners would take notes on the location and habitat of the sample, the date collected, and who collected it. This information was critical as it will be used to make the labels that go with each herbarium specimen, pointing to the plants place in space and time.

Labled Moss Samples

After the samples and notes from each landing were assembled, it was back into the Zodiacs and off to the Bowhead Lab, under the bow of the Polar Prince. There, often late into the night, you could find the science team drying lichens and mosses in brown paper bags and squashing plants and algae flat in large presses. By the end of Leg 15, the lab was chock-full, and the 831 vascular plants, 181 mosses, 243 lichens, 27 algae, and 10 mushrooms collected on the expedition were shipped here to Ottawa in those four large crates.

So far we’ve identified a little under half of these specimens (48%) so far, but what we have found is quite exciting! Amongst the haul you can find a globally rare juniper (the Seaside Juniper – Juniperus maritima), only known in Canada from BC’s lower Gulf Islands, and collected there on Leg 15 by CMN researcher Roger Bull. And there’s the globally rare Arctic Orangebush Lichen (Teloschistes arcticus), which I collected on Leg 11 and wrote about on this blog previously.

No doubt as we continue to identify these specimens new records and range extensions will be found. And once we label them and deposit them in the herbarium they will certainly be useful to many research projects for centuries to come; a fantastic botanical legacy from this epic voyage.