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 Wildflowers

Harewood Plains is an area of about 3 square kilometers of open, wet grassy meadows connected by a service road underneath hydro lines. At this time of year, the meadows are predominantly pink sea blush and yellow monkey-flowers. Common camas was still in bloom. Earlier in the spring the same meadows that were awash in pink and yellow were blue at the peak of the camas bloom. Last week I found some camas, but the majority had 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.

Sensitive Landscape

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.

Bog Birds-foot Trefoil

The signature plant of the meadows is the bog birds-foot trefoil (Lotus pinnatus). Harewood Plains is one of five places on Vancouver Island, 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. Harewood Plains is an incredibly interesting, sensitive, and beautiful place. It is definitely worth preserving.