What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens – Easter Hares
By Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist
It’s that time of the year again when rabbits get a lot of attention. If an Easter Bunny visits your home here in Nova Scotia, it’s most likely a Snowshoe hare (Latin: Lepus americanus, Mi’kmaq: apli’kmuj.) Snowshoe hares are amazing creatures that live in the Acadian Forest. They are common throughout North America, however they can be shy and secretive so you may not have seen one. They smartly camouflage themselves with their forest homes by changing colour with the seasons. As the snow melts they trade in their thick white winter coats for fur of earthy brown.
You may have noticed the tracks of these furry chameleons in winter, as they are quite distinct. Snowshoe hares have large fur covered hind feet with four widely spread toes that allow them to glide easily on top of the snow. They leave tracks that show their big hind feet at the front and their smaller front feet at the back. Snowshoe hares browse on the buds, bark, twigs, and needles of trees and shrubs such as blueberry, maple, birch, spruce, fir, alder, and rose in the winter. They enjoy a snowy year when the snowdrifts lift them up so they can reach the higher branches of tall trees. In the summer they chomp on a variety of green plants such as ferns, dandelions, daisies, and clover as well as leaves of birch and willow if they can reach them.
The forests of Nova Scotia will soon be hopping with young hares that are born fully dressed in their summer coats, eyes wide open and ready to frolic and forage in the woods. Females average up to four litters a year each with 3 to 5 babies. Snowshoe hares have smaller ears than many of the hare species, which is thought to be an adaptation to the cold climates that they call home. Larger ears are used to disperse heat away from the bodies of their warmer-climate relatives.
We have seen no evidence of Snowshoe hares in the Botanical Gardens, but some may call Acadia’s Woodland Trails home. They like to live in vast forests with thick undergrowth and in swamps and thickets where they can find ample food and shelter. Instead of giving chocolate bunnies to the kids this Easter, why not give a donation in their name to a local habitat conservation group such as the Nova Scotia Nature Trust or another group working to protect the Acadia Forest, ensuring that Snowshoe hares and their friends will always have a safe place to call home.
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens