Fieldwork in unexpected places

To date most of our dispatches have focused on fieldwork done in rural and remote areas of Canada and the world. And my fieldwork, as you might recall, was never any different until last summer when I had the chance to do fieldwork somewhere really neat and equally unexpected – the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, ON, a busy city just outside of Toronto. The Royal Botanical Gardens is Canada’s largest botanical garden and also a National Historic Site. Their mandate is to bring together my three favourite things: people, plants and nature and they do a fantastic job at it. Their focus on education, conservation and sustainability is admirable and I was really excited to visit. I was interested in relationships between wild plant body size and fitness, and this was an ideal place to find some unique species.

Beautiful water garden at RBG

Beautiful water garden at RBG

My family is from the rural Niagara area so it was convenient that I was able to stay with them over the duration of the trip. Even better, I got to bring my Dad along as my field assistant which was really cool. I think my project makes at least a little more sense to him now that he’s had the chance to tag along and participate.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, I didn’t just burst through the gates of the Royal Botanical Gardens, clippers in hand, and start plowing down peonies, roses and lilies (although that would make an excellent blog, wouldn’t it?). What many people don’t realize is that RBG has kilometres upon kilometres of untouched wildlands containing all types of habitats from wetlands and bogs to fields and forests. This was an amazing place to look for wildflowers.

I’m still not really sure what I was expecting when I arrived at RBG. I think I thought the wildflower Gods would reach down from above and point me in the direction of new species but that was not the case. My Dad and I approached the main building, permit in hand, signed ourselves in and then we were on our own. I knew where I was allowed to go to sample, but I wasn’t even sure where to start. So I just did what any field biologist would do (and what seems to be a recurring theme on this blog)…explore. It was Labour Day (and pouring rain, I mean really really pouring rain) and we started hiking around the different tracts and pieces of RBG property. Every once in awhile I’d stumble across a plant I didn’t recognize and I’d try to key it out. Since it was Labour Day, a lot of the species were well past flowering and as such a pretty big puzzle to key out but I’ve always liked a challenge. Once we had it ID’ed we would measure it, bag it and continue on. After several hours, lots of funny looks and about an inch of water in our shoes, the sun came out and we spent the rest of the trip admiring the creativity and imagination of the botanical gardens. All things considered it was a great trip and I collected lots of interesting new samples.

It’s no secret that fieldwork is usually rural or remote and you’d expect to see the elusive field biologist lurking in the bushes in the most unique, untouched areas of the world, but my trip to the Royal Botanical Gardens is a perfect example of how fieldwork happens everywhere, even in the busiest, most unexpected places!

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite photos I took of the gardens that day!

Note: these photos are all species in the maintained gardens (not wildflowers), I didn’t take any of them (I swear)!

Chinese hibiscus

Chinese hibiscus – one of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen!


Bumblebee doing his thing on the stunning coneflowers

Bumblebee doing his thing on the stunning coneflowers

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4 thoughts on “Fieldwork in unexpected places

  1. Pingback: Welcome to the (urban) jungle | Dispatches from the Field

  2. Pingback: The California condor Search and Rescue squad | Dispatches from the Field

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