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The line between trees and shrubs is not a clear one. Distinctions are obvious between a large pine tree and a small, bushy alder. But other species fall somewhere in the middle, or have characterstics of both trees and shrubs.
As a general definition, shrubs are low, woody plants that at maturity are under 25 feet (7.6 m) in height. They usually have several stems, but this is more common in some species than others. The definition is not important – the key is how interesting and useful shrubs can be. More and more people working in the areas of forest restoration, wildlife enhancement and watershed protection are realizing the values of shrubs. This is part of an increasing recognition that we need to view ecosystems as more than a few species of trees, ducks and fish.
This section focuses on native species of shrubs, yet the definition of “native” is also elusive. Plants migrate, their seeds spread by wind, water and animals (including people). There are plants native to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that are not considered native in this province. Would they have naturally migrated here, spread by wind or animals ? And since, 80% of Prince Edward Island was cleared for farming by the late 1800’s, many small populations of shrubs could have been wiped out without anyone being aware of the loss.
The Plants of Prince Edward Island (updated in 1985 with new records) is our best source of information and we try to stay within their findings of native and introduced species. Native plants are usually very reliable – they have adapted to the climatic conditions of the area and serve a variety of functions within the ecosystem. The shrubs listed here are “native”, but more important they are proven performers – hardy, fitting into a wide variety of habitats, valuable to wildlife, useful for stabilizing streambanks and/or controlling soil erosion.
Native Shrubs of Prince Edward Island
The Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre (ACCDC) in Sackville, N.B. has been a great asset for determining what is a native plant and its rarity. They have a ranking system for plants found in each individual province (S1 to S5). Some of the species which we will be planting, such as white spruce, wild raisin and red osier dogwood, have a ranking of S5 – “widespread, abundant, and secure under present conditions”. Though common, these are still very useful plants and can be planted in a wide variety of open sites, such as in the school plantings where there is full sun.
The ACCDC rankings for rare plants are:
- S1 – Extremely rare: May be especially vulnerable to extirpation (typically 5 or fewer occurrences or very few remaining individuals)
- S2 – Rare: May be vulnerable to extirpation due to rarity or other factors (6 to 20 occurrences or few remaining individuals).
- S3 – Uncommon: or found only in a restricted range, even if abundant at some locations (21-100 occurrences).
- S4 – Usually widespread, Fairly Common: and apparently secure with many occurrences, but of longer-term concern (e.g., watch list)(100+ occurrences).
- S5 – Abundant: widespread and secure, under present conditions.
- SU – Unrankable: Possibly in peril, but status is uncertain – need more information.
Over the past few years we have made great progress in increasing our numbers and varieties of rarer Island plants that can be used in a variety of landscape and restoration projects. The witch hazel we have been planting out is one of our rarest native shrubs and listed as an S1. It has been producing seed starting at about three years old. Hobblebush is one of our showiest plants throughout the year, although these shrubs are so rare that few Islanders have had the chance to see them.
As you scroll through our guides, you’ll notice some guides have more information or better photos than others. We are always looking to increase the quality and accessibility of our nature guides.
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