Memories of July surprises last through the summer. (Photo by Ed McMackin)

Memories of July surprises last through the summer. (Photo by Ed McMackin)

Out There: The Memory of July Surprises

In this edition, Ed stumbles upon a rare flower he hasn’t seen since 1976

By Ed McMackin, a biologist by training and a naturalist by nature

Surprises are not always pleasant. There are some that are kind of mundane. Then there are others that we might respond to by saying, “Well, what else is new. These days most anything could happen.” Those kind of surprises are usually unpleasant. Actually, when I think of the term “surprise”. I usually think it’s something pleasant. It’s something that I often want to tell somebody about. So, here goes.

There were many surprises that came my way in July, almost the height of summer. But there are two that stand out above the others.

Several weeks ago I was out on a jaunt to check out a certain area along the general route of the Dewdney Trail. This took me up unto Leach Lake Bluffs, an area that arises abruptly from the west side of Leach Lake. The top of the bluffs was already getting very dry and a lot of flowers had faded and gone to seed. It was the time of year when most people would not choose this place for a hike.

On approaching the area that interested me, I started taking a closer look at my surroundings. I was looking for a plant with a vertical stalk, with leaves attached close to the stalk and on one edge surrounding it. These 10 to 15 mm.-diameter, cup-like leaves are found all the way up, on both sides of the 8 to 15-in. stem.. Each one of the little cups, if the plant is fairly robust, will have a little flower sticking out of it. Interesting, eh? I don’t know of any other plant like that in the whole of southeast British Columbia.

As I deliberately walked around, trying not to miss anything, I suddenly discovered the plant! There it was, right at my feet. But it’s flowers were gone. I was too late. Oh, wait, here are some more, and more! But still no flowers. Then I spotted one with a flower near the top of the stem. There were a few more with flowers, all blooming out of that little leaf-cup. There were still a few buds in the tops of some stems, but the flowering time for the plants was almost over.

One thing that made this such a surprise was that I had not seen this unique looking plant for many, many years, and I had only seen one! The other aspect was that it was a much more richly coloured flower than I had expected. The deep, dark blue of the Venus Looking-glass is a special kind of treasure to be sought in “them thar hills”.

Yes, many, many years ago, July 21, 1976, I had a brief encounter with this plant but never found it again, even though I looked for it over the years… until the July 17, 2022. That’s about 46 years ago, to the day. I won’t forget Venus Looking-glass (Triodanis perfoliata) for a few more years. I looked into the “looking-glass” and didn’t see my face, but saw a beautiful blue flower. Now for the second surprise.

I thank David Catherall for his “thank-you” expressed in a Letter to the Editor published in the Creston Valley Advance in the July 7 issue. Yes, it seems like many years ago, in fact, it does even seem like “forever”. It’s a “surprise” to me, that the writing is still happening.

I started this column with an article entitled “Into the Sun”. That was printed in the Advance on April 1, 2004. That was followed by “Spring flowers coming out” on April 8,“A flash of blue” on April 15, “Floral fireworks on April 22, and “Aligator rock” on April 29, 2004. All were about wildlife in the Kootenay Lake/Creston area, but not written without a few struggles, spent energy, and resources. After a few issues, I started digging up some of my photos to enhance the column. Also, many thanks to local nature photographers, Sharon Laughlin, Linda Van Damme, Berndt Stengl, Marcia Long, and others, who along the way, supported the column by sharing their photos.

Many surprises await those who get out and about in our natural surroundings!

Note: Readers can do a Google search for Venus Looking-glass photos, or check it out on my Facebook Public Page “Kootenay Lake/Creston Wildflowers”- Ed McMackin. Unfortunately, being somewhat rare, you probably won’t find it in too many field guides.

READ MORE: Out There: Plant Taxonomy

ColumnCreston ValleyNature

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