Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Milfoil and Wintergreen

Photo by Alison Fox, University of Florida, Bugwood.org

The water milfoil (from French, milles foille, meaning 1000 leaves) is an invasive aquatic plant found world wide. It can get quite long and tangled and is sometimes found in masses on the surface of ponds or lakes, blocking sunlight from reaching under water plants and choking them out. It can live in pretty extreme water conditions, too, so pollution has little effect on it. Which is, in our case (the Sackville Rivers Association), a good thing. It's a great collector of crappy stuff in waterways.

Sebastien, our resident plant expert, and I went out today to harvest some of this water plant, what little is still alive at this late stage of the fall. At this point I must set the stage. As you know, I've been doing a lot of walking in all temperatures and conditions this fall. Cold, wind, rain, whatever is going on I'm dressed for it, but today, Sebastien asked me, when I picked him up, if I still wanted to go. It was freezing and windy and there were snow flurries. I was dressed for it so said of course. He got his son's chest waders for me to wear and we were off. We didn't have to travel far, only a kilometre or so, and we were on the land of a local lumber company that has set aside a piece of land as a green space. Included in this property is Feely Lake, our destination. We put on the waders (mine were a touch too small in the legs) and we were off. Because the waders didn't allow me to bend my knees farther than, say 20 degrees, I ended up walking like a penguin. For 50 feet along the fence, across a stream that came over my knees, and around the end of the fence I waddled. I also needed help going up inclines.

Anyway, we made it to the lake and started wading along the edge to retrieve the plants. I think we walked 2-300 metres along the shore with the wind and snow flurries around us. There were some obvious beaver signs and the bottom of the lake is rather sandy so there'll be a bunch of leeches for me to check out next summer. Sebastien also said there's a lot of eels there as well. After gathering a bag full of the milfoil, we climbed out of the lake and walked through Acadian forest back to the fence. Along the way, Sebastien pointed out wintergreen (Eastern teaberry) and picked a couple of berries for me to try. They taste like....wintergreen! Of course. Why was I so surprised? Anyway, I also tried the leaf of the plant which is also strongly flavoured - but even more so, and rather bitter. I'm afraid I had to spit the leaf out.

All in all, and despite my waddling, it was a great little trek into an area I'd not visited before. Sebastien will hang onto the plants we collected until (maybe tomorrow) he and other members of the group can get them to areas along the Little Sackville River for river remediation since the oil spill last month. I'm hoping to join them as well at some point...and will remember my camera this time, too.