Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

by Cheryl Morris

On Thursday February 18, 2016, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) will host the fifth presentation of the season. The theme for the current series is “Naturally Special Places.” The event will be held in the Social Hall of Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte Ontario at 7:30 pm.

Our guest speaker for the evening will be Shannon Gutoskie and her presentation is entitled “Purdon: Uniquely Natural.” Shannon is the Community Relations Coordinator for the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) and has many years of media and communication experience in the public and non-profit sectors.

Being a newcomer to the Mississippi Valley, Shannon has enjoyed exploring all that the area has to offer. In her presentation on February 18, she will take us on a journey into a fascinating world found within our local area that can only be described as “naturally special,” the Purdon Conservation Area. It is one of the “Seven Wonders of Lanark County” and is home to the largest colony of Showy Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) in Canada. This rare plant is a member of the orchid family.  It is native to North America and is restricted to the northeast region of the United States and the southeast regions of Canada. This beautiful orchid has vanished from much of its historical range due to threats such as habitat loss, wetland drainage, and over-zealous horticultural collectors. It grows in wetlands such as “fens” and also open wooded swamps.

purdon-banner

Photo banner,  MVCA

The main area within the Purdon wetland is classified as a fen, which is defined as: “A peatland characterized by surface layers of poorly-to-moderately composted peat, with often well-decomposed peat near the base.” The Showy Lady’s Slipper grows mainly in mossy hummocks within this fen. What started out as a small cluster of native orchids in the 1930’s when it was discovered by Joe Purdon, has grown into a colony of more than 16,000 blooms! After purchasing the property in 1984 with the help of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, MVCA pledged to preserve the site for public enrichment. The conservation authority cares for the colony by following a management plan that was created by Ted Mosquin, a well-known ecologist, who has volunteered his expertise since the mid-1980’s. The active management of the site consists of some tree clearing to allow more light to the fen, water level management through the beaver pond (also known as Purdon Lake), and hand pollination. The MVCA offers an Adopt-An-Orchid Program to support the upkeep of this unique and vital conservation area.

From late spring until early autumn, the Purdon Conservation Area is open daily from dawn until dusk for the nourishment of body, mind, and spirit. Spanning a three-week period of time in June, visitors can stroll along an accessible boardwalk for a close-up view of the orchids. Families can enjoy self-guided hikes through an uplands (hardwood) forest or experience “extreme birding” along the boardwalk of a rare fen wetland. The Ted Mosquin Highland Trail is a more challenging 1.3 km. route along the shores of Purdon Lake and into the woodland that surrounds the orchid colony. Interpretive signs lead you through the site, identifying the plants and wildlife and telling the Purdon story. Directions to Purdon Conservation Area are available on the MVCA website at mvc.on.ca/places-to-see/purdon

Please join us for this delightful and informative presentation. Refreshments and discussion follow the talk. There is a non-member fee of $5. For further information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair, Gretta Bradley at

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