Nanaimo’s Rare Bog Birds-foot Trefoil

Speechless—that’s how I felt after spending a full day photographing flowers in Harewood Plains in Nanaimo. Not only is the flower display in the meadows absolutely stunning, it is also one of only five locations on Vancouver Island where you can find bog birds-foot trefoil (Lotus pinnatus).

Bog Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus pinnatus)
A detail of the flowers of Bog Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus pinnatus) showing the yellow keel and banner with the contrasting white wings of this distinctive two-toned flower.

Harewood Plains covers an area of about 3 square kilometers. It is mostly a series of open, wet grassy meadows which are connected by a service road underneath hydro lines. At this time of year, the meadows were dominated by a sea of pink sea blush and yellow monkey-flowers. Common camas was still in bloom, but earlier in the spring the same meadows that were awash in pink and yellow were covered in blue at the peak of the camas bloom. Last week I found some camas, but the majority were already gone to seed. There is plenty of edge habitat with open Douglas-fir forest and a few Garry oak.

Harewood Plains Wet Seep
Monkey-flower and sea blush create a wash of pink and yellow along the wet seeps of Harewood Plains in Nanaimo, British Columbia. It is easy to see how sensitive this area is.

The meadows are extremely sensitive habitat. The soil is thin over conglomerate rock and wet seeps run through the grass and flowers. In the past, off-road vehicles like ATVs and 4×4 trucks caused significant damage to the both the plants and the soil. It is easy to find scars in the landscape that indicate people have driven here before. Regrettably some of those tire tracks look relatively recent. Signage indicates that anyone causing damage to plants and/or habitat is liable for a fine of $50,000 per offense.

Bog Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus pinnatus)
This Bog Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus pinnatus) was growing along the edge of a deep muddy trough created by the tires of a 4×4 vehicle.

The signature plant of the meadows is the bog birds-foot trefoil (Lotus pinnatus). Harewood Plains is one of five places on Vancouver Island, and Canada for that matter, where this rare red-listed plant can be found. This is also the location which has the largest number of plants—approximately 80% of the total individuals in British Columbia, around 1500 plants. Including the bog birds-foot trefoil, at least 10 rare red and blue listed plants have been found in the meadows.

Bog Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus pinnatus)
A side view of Bog Birds-foot Trefoil (Lotus pinnatus) showing the leaves and pea-like flowers.

I felt very lucky to see this very rare plant in bloom. It is just one of the many reasons why this area should be formally protected as an eco-reserve. Harewood Plains is an incredibly interesting, sensitive, and beautiful place. It is definitely worth preserving.

Further Reading:


  1. Hi. I found your site as I was looking for info as to why I see so much cotton fluff/pollen…as we drove to Victoria there was a section where it felt it was snowing!
    Your site is so beautiful…you are both very talented. Thanks for sharing your passion with the world! I’d like to mention your site and some of your information on my blog.Thanks, Jackie

  2. Thanks Jackie – you might want to check out a post I did on cottonwood back in 2010: Cottonwood Snow in June. I’ve got a link to Jocie’s article on cottonwood as well on that post. There’s quite a bit of cottonwood seed blowing around in the Comox Valley right now as well!

    Are you looking to use content or images for your blog? Let me know using the Island Nature contact form what you’re thinking about.


  3. Pingback: Island Nature  :: Harewood Plains

  4. Hi Dave:
    I just read your article yesterday and was on Harewood Plains this afternoon. I worked on the site for ten years, removing car wrecks and cutting broom. Today we were almost run down by an aggressive dirt biker. The meadows are being trashed by off-road vehicles and they are in worse shape than ever.

    I tried and failed to create a conservation group. The people of Nanaimo are not sufficiently interested in conservation to do anything.

    Part of the area has been designated as park, but they are under the hydro line and south of it are still being trashed.

    Thanks for your article.

  5. I’m sorry to hear about this Charles – I remember seeing signs of off-roading when we first visited the meadows. I’m hoping to visit the meadows again this weekend to take a look for myself.


  6. Haven’t gotten down to the meadows yet Charles, will take an evening drive down to Nanaimo tomorrow night.

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