Except in this case there may be a number of different Holy Grails, all depending on what your favourite Manitoba Wildflower is. Manitoba is home to hundreds of different wildflowers, shrubs, grasses and trees and based on what your personal favourites are, the search for the holy grail could lead you far and wide to all parts of our Province and beyond.
The Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla ludoviciana), Manitoba's Provincial Flower.
If you are looking for the Prairie Crocus, which just happens to be Manitoba’s Provincial Flower, you will need to know that this native plant is one of the first to emerge in early Spring, often with snow still on the ground and I have found it mostly in sandy soil at the top of a hill, often alongside a country back road. At one time these beauties doted the Manitoba landscape and could be seen by the hundreds along hills and ditches everywhere you looked. But like many flowers today, they are not as common and one has to go looking for them in more remote locations.
Low Prairie Rose (Rosa arkansana)
Another favourite prairie wildflower is the Prairie Rose, which has a few different varieties growing in our province, from the one we see growing along the side of the road, that if you are not careful you might run over; to the one that grows in the forest as a bush and if you plant this one in your garden will try to compete with that Elm Tree growing in your neighbour’s yard. They are a very hardy plant that has adapted to many different terrains and can be found all over Southern Manitoba.
Western Red Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)
The Western Red Lily is another wildflower that is native to Manitoba and used to grow everywhere you looked, in fields and ditches by the sides of the road. Often called the Ditch Lily because this is where you will most often find it today. As you can see from the flower above, the common colour for this beauty is anywhere from a bright orange to red, but there is an uncommon colour variation of yellow, and one that I have been lucky enough to recently find and photograph.
Uncommon Yellow variety of the Western Red Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)
Many of our native wildflowers are easy to find, growing in the ditches along the highways and back roads along your travels, but there are a number of rare and endangered flowers growing in Manitoba that are off the beaten path and more difficult to discover. Some of these grow in cedar bogs and marshes, while others can be found deep in old growth forests preferring the acidic soil and shade of Pine trees.
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Columbine can be found growing both in the wild and in someone’s yard as this is a very adaptable plant. In the wild it is mostly found in Red or Purple, but when it is planted in someone’s garden, if there are already cultured varieties of the plant, it is likely to come up the next year in a different colour and sometimes two-toned colours. It does well in a shady area and so is often found in the depth of a forest.
Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)
Another treasure in the search for the Holy Grail is Indian Pipe, also known as Ghost Plant or Corpse Plant, which grows in the shade of a cedar or old growth forest. It is a plant that doesn’t produce chlorophyll and therefor is unable to produce it’s own food, so it relies on the fungus growing among the roots of trees in the forest. This parasitic relationship is called myco-heterotrophy.
Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
Blue Flag Iris is another gem that grows wild in Manitoba and to many this would be their Holy Grail of wildflowers. You will find the Blue Flag Iris growing in wet environments, such as ditches and marshes along the back roads and in the open fens of cedar bogs. It is found from southern Manitoba eastward into the Atlantic Provinces. Although it is poisonous to eat, Aboriginal people used it to relieve a wide variety of ailments.
Large Yellow Lady's-Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum) (Var: pubescens)
Among my favourite of all Manitoba Wildflowers are the Orchids, with 37 species found growing in our Province. And of these, the Lady’s-Slippers (there are 7 of the Slippers found in Manitoba) are among my favourite. The first Lady’s-Slippers I ever saw were the most common of them all, the Large Yellow and the Northern Yellow, which can be found growing in the ditches and fields all across southern Manitoba. Like all wild Orchids, the Lady’s-Slippers have a very short window for when you can find them blooming in the Spring, which is anywhere from 1 – 2 weeks, depending on weather conditions and other factors.
Showy Lady's-Slippers (Cypripedium reginae)
Another fairly common Lady’s-Slipper is the Showy, which also grows in the ditches, along the edge of the forest and in the open fen of a cedar bog. This back to back pair of Showy Lady’s-Slippers caught my eye while I was searching for other flowers along a back road in southeastern Manitoba.
Moccasin-Flower or Pink Lady's-Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
The Moccasin-Flower or Pink Lady’s-Slipper is uncommon, but can still be found in parts of southern Manitoba and prefers a more acidic soil found in old growth jack pine or cedar forests. I have found that due to logging, much of it’s natural habitat has been destroyed and where I used to find these in more abundance, there are only a few left.
Ram's Head Lady's-Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum)
Of all Manitoba’s Wildflowers, the Ram’s Head Lady’s-Slipper is by far my favourite and one of my Holy Grails among a select few flowers. This tiny flower is quite rare and although not the rarest of the Slippers, it is still hard to find. It is the smallest of the Slippers found in Manitoba, with the flower itself being about the size of a dime. I found this one in a cedar bog in 2009 and have not found another since. I am always on the lookout for this my Holy Grail of flowers. I have yet to find the Sparrow’s-Egg Lady’s-Slipper (which is uncommon and grows in the northern part of Manitoba) and the Small White Lady’s-Slipper (which is rare and endangered both nationally in Canada and Manitoba and is a protected species). I know where it grows, but have missed finding it the past few years, but hope to get to see this other Holy Grail of Slippers this summer.
Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera praeclara)
The Western Prairie Fringed Orchid is another very rare and endangered species both nationally across Canada and Manitoba. It is only found in one location across Canada in the southeastern tall grass prairie of Manitoba. Last year was the first time I had found and photographed this Holy Grail of Orchids and Wildflowers. Although there are many more wildflowers for me to discover and record in photographic form, and at least one more Holy Grail among Wildflowers growing in the wilderness of Manitoba, I feel blessed that I have been able to find and enjoy the beauty of these and so many more native plants growing in our Province.