Canadian Alpine Journal/Volume 1/Number 2/Flora of the Saskatchewan and Athabasca River Tributaries
FLORA OF THE SASKATCHEWAN AND ATHABASCA RIVER TRIBUTARIES.
By Mary T. S. Schaffer.
Another sketch appears in this magazine referring directly to the localities of whose florae I have been asked to write, so there is no need to duplcate a description of the ground covered.
As our stay was to be a long one, it was with dubious feelings that w^e asked permission to include among the necessities a plant-press and a limited supply of paper. Having collected plants from Banff to Glacier during a number of years, there were days on the earlier part of the journey when we would have been glad to get rid of the cumbersome, troublesome thing, and leave it hanging on some tree till we should return in the fall. But there came a day when a trained botanist went over the result of our perseverence, and we felt repaid for the annoyance and labor involved in gathering the unfamiliar blossoms by the wayside.
Mr. Stewardson Brown, of Philadelphia, has had them all thoroughly studied, and I herewith give a few notes, the result of his work upon them.
As far as the Wilcox Pass we found nothing particularly striking, until reaching a point at about 6000 feet we found the Pinus flexilus, its blue-green foliage betraying it quickly among the browner-green of the other trees. The cones, at that time a deep purple, vary from three to five inches in length. From there on we met many strangers (to us) of the plant world. The Picea Canadensis, not seen further south, was first noticed on the north shores of the Saskatchewan.
Mary T. S. Schaffer, Photo
Mary T. S. Schaffer, Photo
The Erigeron acris we found in August a few hundred feet below the Pinus flexilus, and, in the beginning of July, at 8500 feet, the Ranunculus pygmaeus, the tiniest butter-cup imaginable, struggling bravely to bloom in the icy winds of Wilcox Pass, and covering the ground like a golden moss wherever the winter snows had receded. Here, also, in full bloom, but or more exposed and barren sections of the pass, was the Aragallus inflatus. This was an especially interesting find as I had never seen anything more than the huge, inflated seed-pods before. The flower is a deep sky-blue, and, growing only upon higher elevations, not often seen. We gathered the beautiful crimsoning seed-vessels at the same place, the latter part of August.
From the north fork of the Saskatchewan to the headwaters of the Athabasca the Primula mistassinica and the Primula borcelis grew by the river banks, frequently in beds together; they were as often found apart.
In the Su Wapta flats was growing the Pilosella Richardsonii, as also the Arabis lyrata occidentalis. The former plant, varying in general characteristics, but withal the same, made our entire journey to Fortress Lake bright, its clusters of white blossoms garnishing the sandy river-bars.
On the Wilcox Pass grew the Viola cognata, and in the Fortress Lake region, at about 7000 feet, the Viola Langsdorfii. This violet is an especially beautiful, rich, luscious-looking flower, with strong, rank foliage. Down in the swamps of the Su Wapta we found the Utricularia vulgaris, and though known generally throughout Canada, I have never come across it in the mountains further south. At the same time of year, and in the same section, but at 7000 feet, we found the purple-crimson blooms of the Telesonix heucheriformis. Wedged deep in the cracks of the rocks, it was impossible to get any of the specimens entire. One and two hundred feet above this point we found the strawberry (Fragaris bracteata): great luscious berries three-quarters to one inch long. Sweeter than many a cultivated variety, they were welcome company at a height where there was no water.
On September 9th, we climbed a bare, rocky point to look for Brazeau Lake. There was little of the floral life left, though fungi of many varieties were very numerous, even to tree-line, and we were surprised to come across the little Erigeron lanatus at 9000 feet. The plant was a new one to me, though Professor Macoun mentions finding it at high points further south. The rays are a deep rose-violet, and the rest of the plant covered with long white hairs. As it lay blooming in the scree close to the summit of the mountain, it had the appearance of a purple flower nestling in a bed of cotton.
By the latter part of August all the river banks were a continuous strawberry bed, a welcome addition to our limited larder, but we never saw a bush of the blueberry (Vaccinium ovaliform) which grows so profusely in the Selkirks. Occasionally we came across the Vaccinium erythrococcum, whose tiny red berries made very tiresome picking, but were very good and toothsome when once gathered.
We found very many plants familiar to us as growing near the railroad, but with limited space I have only jotted down the strangers. It will be seen by this list that they are largely the plants best known as having their habitation in the more northern mountains of the Pacific slope.
We had stolen a march into the meeting grounds of two distinct floral sections, an interesting ground for a botanist who has time in the future to go so far from the beaten way.