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When the lady's slipper meets the hiking boot
2012-03-31T17:55:07+08:00

Tough love isn't just for teenagers. It also helps little wild orchids, which thrive best if people come along and stomp around where they live.We're used to hearing words like delicate, fragile, and other damsel-in-distress terms to describe lady's slipper orchids and others like them.

Now an Ottawa biologist's study of national parks and conservation areas shows that wild orchids grow best right at the edge of hiking trails, where the earth is packed and people occasionally step on flowers.

Paul Catling's conclusion: Human disturbance helps these flowers. And park managers who fence off rare plants for their own protection may be killing them with kindness.

On an island in Fathom Five National Marine Park, where Lake Huron meets Georgian Bay, Catling counted 172 orchids from eight species growing within one metre of a trail that gets hundreds of hikers a day. But when he looked a metre farther away he found just 29 plants, and only two species.

 

He found the same pattern in Stony Swamp, the Marlborough Forest, Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario's Bruce Peninsula, and parks in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.
He found the same pattern in Stony Swamp, the Marlborough Forest, Sandbanks Provincial Park, Ontario's Bruce Peninsula, and parks in Alberta and the Northwest Territories.