Part 55: Indian Acres Road West to Lindenwood Road
Date: 4 August 2020
Start: Indian Acres Road West, Georgian Bluffs
End: Lindenwood Road, Georgian Bluffs
Distance Covered: 13.1 km
Total Distance Covered: 685.2 km
673. Early on today’s hike we enter the Fossil Glen Nature Reserve, a small but picturesque area south of East Linton Sideroad West. Here there are 430 million-year-old fossils to be found on the exposed dolomite, but as they are of brachiopods and sea sponges rather than of T. Rex and stegosauri, we turn our attention to the many beautiful ferns that decorate the ledges and crevices. Ferns have been around for 350 million years, that is, since the early Carboniferous period, way before the dinosaurs, yet they’re still going strong. Pteridophobes should look away for the next few entries.
674. In entry 638 on Hike #52 I vowed to identify and photograph two of the rarer ferns to be found in these parts. And so I will. But let’s begin with one that isn’t rare but is different enough from your average fern to be quite recognizable … and it has such a memorable name! Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) is deciduous, perennial, and widely distributed in North America. It’s so called not because it bursts into tears at the least provocation but because it is easily killed by the first frost.
675. Now for the rarer ferns that are mentioned frequently in Bruce Trail literature but are so far unseen by us, the ferns that don’t look at all … ferny. We spot a fine display of North American walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum) on moss-covered dolostone ledges lining the shadier side of the crevices that the Trail runs through. Walking fern has long, undivided, bladelike evergreen leaves whose tips have the ability to root into the moss and form a new plant, hence its name. (Though when I first heard of “walking ferns,” I imagined an ambulatory plant like a triffid that devoured everything in its path.) The Bruce Peninsula is the northern limit of the range of walking fern. And if you’re inspired now to visit walking ferns, please don’t try to transplant them: it can take 500 years for them to adapt to the rocks on which they grow. The walking fern is the official emblem of the Toronto Bruce Trail Club and features on its end-to-end badge.
676. Hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium) is rarer still. Also an evergreen with undivided leaves, it takes its name from its resemblance to the tongue of the hart, or adult male red deer. Its rarity in North America is almost certainly due to people plucking it from the wild with the intention of transplanting it to their home rockeries, an aim fated to meet with little success, as these ferns have what we might call reproductive issues. As one expert puts it, “Hart’s tongue fern plants grow from spores that start out asexual in the first year and give rise to the next generation, which has sex organs and is called a gametophyte. The plants are slow growing and the process is difficult to mimic in culture.” They are also very intolerant of non-organic chemicals of the kind often found in the average suburban garden. In Ontario the hart’s-tongue fern grows almost exclusively on the Niagara Escarpment as far north as the southern Bruce Peninsula and it’s on the list of Provincial Species at Risk.
677. This pteridomaniac’s paradise is surprisingly intimate, a maze of narrow crevices and sharp turns cushioned with moss. It must have come into being when enormous blocks of dolostone detached themselves from the edge of the Escarpment but did not fall far down the gentle slope, leaving a narrow channel between them and the low dolomite cap.
678A & B. There is a plethora of mushrooms of all kinds to be seen on today’s hike. At this point in The Glen I figure we have struck gold and found some wild chanterelles, especially after I accidentally kick this one over and see its fluted shape. But the bright pumpkin-orange colour seems wrong, and so it is: these are young jack o’lanterns (Omphalotus illudens), a kind of agaric that glow in the dark. Indeed, one mushroom expert describes being able to read a newspaper at night near a large clump of them. Tempting as it is, a nocturnal experiment of this kind would not be wise on this section of the Trail, for reasons I describe in entry 683 below. Oh, and notwithstanding their similarity to chanterelles, jack o’lanterns are quite poisonous.
679. A panorama looking northwest from the edge of the Escarpment over the Glen Management Area, featuring treetops as far as the eye can see. The original industry of the Bruce Peninsula was lumber: “Telegraph poles for the United States, logs for the sawmills at Wiarton and Owen Sound, and ties for the Grand Trunk Railway flowed from local forests”: William Gillard and Thomas Tooke, The Niagara Escarpment (1975).
680. On this hike I get a good close-up shot of some Indian pipes (see entry 664 in Hike #54). For those wanting to know all there is to know about Emily Dickinson’s love of these plants, see Barbara C. Mallonee, “Leaving Latitude: Emily Dickinson and Indian Pipes,” in The Georgia Review Vol. 53, No. 2 (Summer 1999), pp. 223-244. In partial compensation for pandemic constraints, you can currently read this and 99 more academic articles for free if you open an account with the online digital library JSTOR. In the meantime, here’s another poem by Dickinson, only four lines long, featuring her “preferred flower of life”:
White as an Indian Pipe
Red as a Cardinal Flower
Fabulous as a Moon at Noon
681. These small orange mushrooms are, I think, a species of Hygrocybe, that is, waxy caps. If that’s what they are, they are probably not poisonous, though frankly one is reluctant even to touch these slimy fellows.
682. We have crossed the start of many Bruce Side Trails, but few have had such a striking portal as this one. It’s called simply “The Gap,” is a mere 300 m long, and runs down a crevice in the Escarpment to a parking lot on Concession 14.
683. Here’s an example of the special challenge the Trail provides in this area. A crevice less than 50 cm wide but of immeasurable depth runs straight towards the edge of the Escarpment in the background, the Trail crossing it by a kind of stepping-stone-bridge. Hereabouts we have learnt to watch carefully where we put our feet. Hikes at night to visit phosphorescent fungi are definitely out.
684. A charming little Jurassic swamp south of Lindenwood Road.
685. Wild basil (Clinopodium vulgare), a native wildflower of the mint family whose small irregularly-spaced rose-purple bell-shaped flowers intermingled with hairy bracts are everywhere along the sides of this section of the Trail in early August. Wild basil is pollinated by bees and butterflies. It can be used as an aromatic herb and as an infusion, though its leaves are less fragrant than those of the herb sold commercially as sweet basil. Mrs. Grieve in A Modern Herbal notes: “The name of the species, Clinopodium, signifies ‘bedfoot.’ An old writer says ‘the tufts of the plant are like the knobs at the feet of a bed,’ but the comparison is not very obvious.” A more modern herbalist claims, “The plant is aromatic, astringent, cardiotonic, carminative, diaphoretic and expectorant. A wild basil infusion helps to overcome weak digestion.”