Length: 0.5 km
Discovering the beauty of wildflowers can be both rewarding and frustrating – there are so many different ones growing in just this area alone. Unlike birds, however, they stay put and with a good field guide are quite easy to identify. For Catherine Macphail, the best-loved flower was the mayflower or trailing arbutus. Sir Andrew wrote that “her first excursion after the winter was gone, and snow lay only in shady places, was to the moist woods in search of those small pink flowers on their glistening vines.” The leathery leaves of the mayflower remain green throughout the year and always hold great promise for next spring.
Next to the native plant garden, you’ll see the start of a trail that has a large number of naturally-occurring wildflowers. Additional species have been grown from seed in our nursery and planted along the trail, or transplanted from ditches or woods roads. Since these woodlands have grown up on abandoned farmland, many of the plants are reminders of fields – dandelions, goldenrods, creeping buttercup, hemp nettle, fireweed and tansy ragwort. In the other parts of the woods you will find bluebead lily, with yellow flowers and large blue berries, and stemless lady’s slipper, our provincial flower. There are also patches of false lily of the valley,bunchberry, starflower, sarsaparilla, painted trillium, false Solomon’s seal, Jack-in-the-pulpit and wood sorrel.
This trail also begins to show the work of the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project. The native Acadian forest is made up of long-lived, valuable trees such as white pine, red spruce, hemlock, sugar maple, yellow birch and beech. Less common species include red oak, white ash, ironwood, and a host of shrubs and other forest plants. You will notice when you get to the Streamside Trail that the forest there has suffered less disturbance and is much closer to what the first European settlers would have encountered. The woodland you are now walking through is not representative of Acadian forests, though it is quite common. The flatness of the forest floor and high percentage of white spruce are characteristic of trees growing up on abandoned fields.
This area is being used to test and demonstrate conversions from primarily white spruce to a mixed forest. You will see small patch cuts along the trail, where some of the white spruce has been removed. Cutting small areas allows the seedlings to grow up in partial shade with more available moisture, and we have been able to plant white pine, red oak, butternut, white ash, yellow birch and many other species. The branches and trunks left on the ground are adding nutrients and becoming a perfect growing medium for future forests. This material slowly decomposes and is part of our efforts to rebuild soil quality on these sites. When looking at all the associated values of diverse forests, these plantings are positive alternatives to clearcutting the entire stand and turning it into a conifer plantation.
Along this trail, you will see two small areas of yellow birch planted by the province in 1980. The site was cleared and burned and the trees planted close together. While showing that you can indeed grow high-quality hardwoods in small patch cuts, these stands lack the diversity and ground cover of the surrounding areas. With proper pruning, we are working to improve quality within the stand and at the same time we are adding other species of trees and shrubs.
As you walk, look for white ash, hemlock, white pine, red spruce, red oak, sugar maple and striped maple planted along the trail. Many of the shrubs you’ll see, such as native honeysuckle, red osier dogwood, beaked hazelnut, mountain ash, red-berried elder and highbush cranberry, are important sources of food for wildlife throughout the year.
The trail leads into the Homestead’s original laneway. Horses and buggies carrying lords and ladies, governor-generals, Lucy Maud Montgomery and other dignitaries from near and far traveled this path. Things have changed in a great many ways since Sir Andrew’s time. Walking underneath the quiet canopy, it is hard to imagine that the woods on both sides were once cleared for farming. The Norway maple and English oak along the lane are not native to Prince Edward Island and were planted as landscape trees. At the clay road, two pillars mark the original entrance to the homestead. These were brought by Sir Andrew from McGill University early this century.