The new exotic: Canadian arctic tundra plants

Maple trees

The Landscapes of Canada gardens will include plants native to the boreal forest including spruce trees (and let’s hope a couple of good ol’ maple trees, too).

Introducing exotic plants into your garden can be tricky although do-able if you’re into high maintenance gardening or you keep them in containers and bring them inside just before the first frost.

But that’s just it. Here in Southern Ontario, we often think of exotic plants as being fragile beauties from tropical paradises much farther south. So it’s refreshing to learn about the ambitious gardening plans the staff of the Canadian Museum of Nature has for their new outdoor botany gallery called the Landscapes of Canada Gardens.

Deep in the heart of not-so-exotic Ottawa, the new gardens will feature plants from three iconic Canadian ecosystems: the Arctic tundra, the boreal forests and the prairies. The boreal forest and prairie plants won’t be that much of a challenge. But in a posting on the museum’s Nature blog, Paul Sokoloff admits the Arctic tundra zone “will be one of the trickiest aspects of the gardens to pull off successfully.” Arctic plants just aren’t that keen on warmer climes. Part of their garden design strategy is to choose cultivars of Arctic plant species or plants that can survive in Arctic and Subarctic environments as well as factoring in “special care” for them.

The museum is counting on russet sedge (Carex saxatilis), crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) and dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa) to be some of the plants that should survive in Ottawa. Let’s hope to see these and many more Arctic plants that successfully make the move south in Southern Ontario garden centres soon. Flipping the idea of exotic on its ear seems like a particularly Canadian thing to do.

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