SLR Ecologist wrote the book on local flora
We are lucky enough to have had Environmental Consultant, and now published author, Dale Leadbeater chat with our team. Dale has spent the last 14 years researching and writing Flora of Kawartha Lakes. A book that archives and lists the many plant species found in the City of Kawartha Lakes, Canada.
Flora of Kawartha Lakes is a fully researched book, filled with a current and historical list of all documented plant species found in this wonderfully diverse part of Ontario, Canada. Introductory chapters cover history, geography and geology. The main list has the status of each species, and a complete matrix lists all plant records as of 2021 geographically by City of Kawartha Lakes Townships. It contains 216 pages with over 150 photographs and illustrations.
Below you will find a few highlights from our discussion with Dale.
Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself and what brought you to work on this project?
A: After my undergrad at University of Toronto, I worked at the Green Plant Herbarium that is now housed at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). While maintaining my relationships with the ROM, I worked as an Environmental Consultant at SLR; typically working in the field or remotely while living in the City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL).
I joined the local nature club, The Kawartha Field Naturalists. This group was unusual in that it had so many members interested in plants (usually these clubs are infested with birders!) who were retired and enthusiastically supported nature-based projects. This is where I met our friend Michael Oldham, then Chief Botanist for the Natural Heritage Information Centre who pointed out the lack of information about vegetation in CKL.
With my consulting background, I was aware of the sometimes-uncomfortable relationship between Conservation Authority staff and landowners, due to legislation that potentially restricts land uses. By congregating this passionate group of diverse folks with the common goal of collecting the much-needed vegetation information, we might grant us access to private land we otherwise would not be able to access. Landowners were lining up for the opportunity to have us come and inventory their lands. We were so happy!
Q: What type of information can readers find in your book, Flora of Kawartha Lakes?
A: The first half of the book sets the stage for the association of plants that grow in CKL right now. It talks a little about historical occupation by Indigenous people and later settlement changes, how the flora reflects the underlying geology, soils and drainage, early botanical exploration, cool relicts of glaciation including the effects of the Atlantic Ocean once having reached up the Ottawa River. Then it goes into the wildlife and how they affected the flora, including Passenger Pigeons and invasive species. Why plants are grouped the way they are, and why some of them are on their way to extinction.
The second half is a list, in current scientific names and common names, together with how common or rare they are in the province and in the City and whether they are introduced from elsewhere. The list is interspersed with photographs of the plants and original plant portraits done by John Vandenberg, a member of KFN and a fine artist in his own right. Then – we listed the plants according to which township they were found, organized from north to south so that you can see the patterns of distribution. Plants in the south are associated with the Oak Ridges Moraine; those in the north are the Canadian Shield and/or the Land Between.
Q: What motivated you to take on this challenge of archiving this information?
A: I heard Paul Martin say, “if you can’t name it, you can’t manage it” when talking about Natural Capital, also referred to as the benefits that plants provide for people. I agree that Natural Capital and biodiversity are certainly key elements of the environment that should be documented. If we can’t describe the vegetation of the City of Kawartha Lakes, then how do we know when we are removing important pieces of it? How do we know when it is declining and will cease to clean the air and water, remove carbon and store it, provide us with lumber and food? We felt it was a contribution that we could make as volunteers to improve decisions made in CKL.
Q: Can you walk us through the effort that went into publishing Flora of Kawartha Lakes ?
A: First off, we would not be published without the help of Phill from Hawk Owl Publishing, so thank you for all your support.
My contributions started when we collected field data for 10 years including pressing, drying, mounting, photographing, labelling and entering data into a custom database thanks to funding from the Stewardship Council and the ROM. Over 100 volunteers from all walks of life including students from Fleming College and almost as many landowners who often provided lunch. My co-author, Anne Barbour, hosted so many mounting days and her husband, Brian, made endless gallons of soup! We could publish a cookbook with all the great meals we ate!
Then Anne and I spent countless hours combing through other published lists for CKL to update names and to determine whether they were real or errors, tracking down specimens from colleagues and those filed by historical figures such as John Macoun, the first Canadian Botanist who accompanied the Sir Sanford Fleming expedition across Canada in 1872. It was a trip not only through space but also time. Truly amazing.
Q: What were some challenges of collecting the info for this project?
A: Plant identification is always a challenge, luckily we had a lot of help from experts in their fields: Michael Oldham, Paul Catling, Peter Ball, Bill Crins, Wasyl Bakowsky…I’m going to forget some but they are all in the acknowledgements section of the book and we are so grateful for your contributions! Another challenge was understanding how published reports about geology and soil applied specifically to historical Indigenous and settlement patterns in CKL. Any errors are mine alone, but a goal of the book was to write down what we have learned, then hope that others will share their knowledge. This book is intended to be the start – not the finish.
Q: What are some key takeaways you hope the readers have?
A: That plants are not wallpaper – they are interactive and we must give, in order to receive. Reciprocity is the order of the day. That there are more species of plants in CKL than they could have guessed and the reason behind the diversity of flora in the area. I hope that readers can drive around the City and recognize the landforms we describe and understand why there are swamps on the flats in Mariposa, but the similar landform of Carden, dries up completely in the summer. Another takeaway is the fact that we can see evidence of climate change in CKL. This is something we talk about in greater detail in the book, but it’s fascinating to see these effects locally.
Lastly, I want readers to be grateful for this landscape that has been inhabited over the ages by the Wendat, the Haudenosaunee and the Anishinaabe – there is much more to that story than I could or should tell. And that our natural heritage is a gift that we need to protect, not a commodity for sale.
Q: Thank you very much for your time, is there anything else you would like to say?
A: Before I go through my list of thank yous to the incredible team, I would like to mention that this book is being sold as a non-profit, with all proceeds covering publishing and printing fees, with the remainder being donated to The Kawartha Field Naturalists Club.
This book would not exist if it was not for the help from Phill from Hawk Owl Publishing, your dedication to your job does not go unnoticed. John, thank you for your beautiful plant portraits, you are extremely talented, this publication would not be the same without you.
The material support and advice from the Royal Ontario Museum, and the grant from Victora Stewardship Counsel; without your contributions, this project would still be a dream. Thank you to SLR’s own Griffin Morgan, for helping with location mapping efforts. And lastly, to the hundreds of individuals who contributed to the book in one way or another, I appreciate each and everyone one of your contributions.
Flora of Kawartha Lakes was released on the 10th of November, 2021. If you would like to buy purchase this book, you can do so from the following websites:
Friends of Algonquin Park Bookstore - http://store.algonquinpark.on.ca/cgi/algonquinpark
Royal Ontario Museum’s Bookstore - https://www.rom.on.ca/en/collections-research/rom-books
Hawk Owl Publishing - https://mattholderfund.com/product/the-flora-of-kawartha-lakes/