Searching for bright-green spikerush and other rare plants in N.B.

Sean Blaney,  executive director and senior scientist with the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, said the organization's goal is to understand biodiversity and provide information on it so it can be managed and protected.  (Submitted by Sean Blaney - image credit)
Sean Blaney, executive director and senior scientist with the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre, said the organization's goal is to understand biodiversity and provide information on it so it can be managed and protected. (Submitted by Sean Blaney - image credit)

Scientist Sean Blaney was up to his waist in "bog muck" while searching for the bright-green spikerush, a plant that has not been seen in New Brunswick for four decades — until now.

The senior scientist and executive director of the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre set out in the summer to find some of the province's rare plants, which sometimes required wading through bogs and exploring coastlines.

Some plants were easier to get to, like the pale green orchid which is a rocky shoreline plant. It was found on the Oromocto River near Fredericton Junction.

The yellow bartonia was found at Point Escuminac on the northeast coast of the province.

Submitted by Sean Blaney
Submitted by Sean Blaney

"In that area, that sea coast is eroding quite rapidly," said Blaney. "And this plant is metres away from being swept into the sea."

He said the organization's goal is to understand biodiversity and provide information on how it can be managed and protected. An analysis was done to find out which species hadn't been seen in the province for a while and then records were checked to get an idea where they might be found.

Submitted by Sean Blaney
Submitted by Sean Blaney

Even when the team didn't find the species they were looking for in a particular area, Blaney said sometimes they located something unexpected.

Surprising finds along the way 

As an example, Blaney described a trip to Chamcook Mountain near Saint Andrews. The group found the grassy species they were looking for up on the peak — called Merritt Fernald's sedge.

As they were climbing down the steep slope through a rocky forest, Blaney said they found a plant called panicled hawkweed, something they had looked for at a previous location.

Submitted by Sean Blaney
Submitted by Sean Blaney

"This was a whole new site for that plant," said Blaney. "And that plant had not been seen since the early 1980s in New Brunswick."

He said during their search, they did find some places where the plant's habitat had changed dramatically. Some of these places included the Northumberland Strait coast, said Blaney, and salt marsh habitats that have been changed by climate change.

While he said coastal changes are natural, climate change has accelerated that process. The habitat that once housed the species in the 80s or 90s is now gone or "significantly altered," he said.

Submitted by Sean Blaney
Submitted by Sean Blaney

There were also some places where the habitat remained but they just couldn't find what they were looking for.

One of the plants that Blaney hoped to find was the northern valerian. He said it was found once in New Brunswick in 1960 at Purvis Brook outside a forest research centre near Edmundston. Blaney said they've looked for it a couple of times since, but haven't found it.

Blaney said plants captured his attention at a young age and he keeps coming back to explore them, partly due to the variation.

"There's over 1,500 species in New Brunswick, and each one of them has its special characteristics and special ecology, and is a part of our whole natural heritage," said Blaney.

"You can spend a lifetime learning about them."