What’s Growing at the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens: Evergreens
By Melanie Priesnitz, Conservation Horticulturist
When we think of evergreens, we often think of coniferous trees, such as spruce and pine. However, there are many herbaceous plants and shrubs in the Acadian Forest Region that are called evergreens.The term evergreen simply refers to a plant that remains green throughout the year. Larch, one of our native conifers, doesn’t have any needles this time of the year. Each fall their needles turn yellow and drop, so it’s certainly not an evergreen. Larch does bear cones, so it is a conifer (a deciduous conifer).
Some of my favourite plants to find in the woods this time of year are evergreen ferns. It’s such a treat to stumble upon green leaves poking through the white snow on the forest floor. Our conservatory has a new fern display that highlights some of our native evergreen ferns. This display features Christmas fern, rock polypody, and intermediate wood fern. All three can be found in the woods of Nova Scotia. Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) commonly grows in moist woods and ravines throughout the province. It is quite distinct looking due to its leathery green leaflets. If you’re looking to plant native ferns in your home garden, Christmas fern is a great choice as it’s not too fussy and it has sturdy fronds.
A more delicate fern found in the winter woods is the rock polypody (Polypodium virginianum). I recently found beautiful patches while hiking in the Black River Lake area as well as on Moses Mountain in Windsor. Rock polypody often grows on large boulders, making it easy to spot in winter.
Intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) has a fine, almost lacy appearance. It’s the most common of the wood ferns in Nova Scotia and can be tricky to identify as it looks a lot like some of its relatives in the wood fern family, and also hybridizes with others.
Bogs in Nova Scotia are great spots to find native evergreen shrubs. Unfortunately, they are often missed by winter hikers as most of us try to avoid getting cold, wet feet. If you’re feeling brave, a hike into a bog will reward you with a fine selection of evergreens. Nova Scotia has two native rhododendrons that like cold, wet feet. The commonly found rhodora (Rhododendron canadense) does not retain its leaves in the winter, however Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum) does. Labrador tea is easy to identify by its leathery, hairy leaves that tend to roll under at the edges.
Another shrub that provides winter colour if you’re hiking in Southwestern Nova Scotia is inkberry (Ilex glabra). It is the only native holly in the province that retains its leaves all winter. It grows in bogs and swamps and is part of a unique group of plants known as the Coastal Plain Flora. Inkberry is in the horticulture trade and makes a wonderful low hedge. It can be sheared and used in the same ways as boxwood in the home landscape.
So, if you’re craving a little green, get outside and enjoy some winter hiking in the Acadian Forest. Arm yourself with a field guide and camera and see if you can identify the bits of green that you find. We’d love to see photos of you enjoying plants in winter, so we’re holding a contest for ‘Best Winter Woods Photo’ on our Facebook page. The winner will take home a warm, green fleece vest with our beautiful mayflower, honeybee, and scotch thistle logo on it. Visit facebook.com/HarrietIrvingBotanicalGardens to enter.
Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens