The Fentastic Voyage: Part 1 Oliphant Coastal Wetland

Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland

This journey began with a mystery. More than a decade ago, on a long weekend cottage trip with friends, I was told that there was a place, somewhere north of our destination on the Lake Huron shoreline — no one seemed to know where it was for sure — where there were carnivorous plants growing wild. The thought of seeing some of my favourite plants growing wild sparked a desperate need to find this elusive place. It stayed on my mind for quite some time until, on another visit to the area, I asked Davin’s dad about it. A few hours later I was standing on a boardwalk looking out across the fen, a peat-based wetland ecosystem, at northern pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) and slender-leaved sundew (Drosera linearis).


Singing Sands Fen
Singing Sands Fen (photos taken in August 2003)

It was the end of the day when we finally found it, just minutes before the sun went down. There was hardly enough time to explore. I vowed to go back again soon. There was so much left to see.

Sometime later, I heard rumours that there were other fens just like it in the Bruce Peninsula along the Lake Huron shoreline and recently, I began looking into where they are. I located two more with possibility of a fourth, and so, last weekend, nearly ten years later, we rented a car and set out to find them. Because every journey needs a ridiculous name, we dubbed it The Fentastic Voyage.

Unfortunately, we did not make it back to the original fen at Singing Sands, but we did find most of the other fens on my list. The next few posts will be about the fens and the flora and fauna we found there.

Oliphant Wetland
Looking out towards the Fishing Islands. You can walk out to them when the water is low.

Oliphant Wetland

Oliphant Coastal Wetland. Click image to see a larger view.

Oliphant Beach and Sandy Coastal Wetland

The first location we visited is the shoreline wetland in Oliphant, Ontario, Canada. To call this a beach is not entirely accurate. Yes, there is a lot of sand, but it is also very shallow. After parking the car, we had to walk out for sometime through and around a series of pools before we hit the water, and even then it was very shallow. I suggest wearing rubber boats if you visit in the springtime and don’t want to get your feet wet.

Oliphant Wetland Map
You can park at Oliphant Beach. There is only roadside parking at the boardwalk fen.

Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland

Oliphant Wetland
Kids were playing in the shallow pools, searching for tadpoles.

Oliphant Wetland Tadpoles
We found some, too.

The landscape just a little out from the beach was more like a fen, and it was there that I started to see the ground beneath me change from pure sand to a mix of peat/sand.

Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland Primula

I also started to see signs of fen plant life, including many grasses and a few little bird’s eye primrose (Primula mistassinica).

Oliphant Wetland Oliphant Wetland Primrose

I did a happy dance when we came upon this first flower and spent several minutes fixated on it, getting down on the ground to capture it from various angles with a host of cameras. Full coverage. Of course, it turned out not to be so special and I came upon several more throughout the course of the day. It was actually the most prominent plant in bloom. Still, you never forget the first and I have the pictures to prove it.

Oliphant Wetland

Tomorrow: The Oliphant Fen and Boardwalk

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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13 thoughts on “The Fentastic Voyage: Part 1 Oliphant Coastal Wetland

  1. Ooooo! I would have papparazzied that primula too! Looks almost like a tidal wetland, with the shallow puddles!

    • I thought so too, but I tend to associate that term with oceans, not lakes. But this particular area does experience some similarities in that rising and lowering waters does flush the wetlands.

      I was really surprised that something that looks like this is so close to where I live and I had no idea. We liked all of the locations that we visited, but both liked this one best for the overall views.

  2. In my mind’s eye I’d always visualized a “fen” as being very lush and green. I didn’t realize they could be sandy, too. Love, love the sweet primula. I can understand why it captivated you, the intrepid plant explorer.

  3. That is so beautiful! I can’t wait for part two, keep up the amazing work! You’re a huge inspiration.

  4. We rented a cottage last summer on Singing Sands – I was completely taken by the amazing plants. Beautiful photos.

  5. Leaving Buffalo NY area for Awenda cammping the weekend. Fri 5/22/13. Was double checking Oliphant (found it last year) Think too far to go from Awenda. Singing Sands was our “favorite” when we camped up Bruce (Cypress – Toberbory)Now that Oliphant is on our agenda Singing Sands will have to take second place. Great that i found your site. I’m the camera girl for all flowers.

  6. I grew up on the Bruce and enjoyed the plant life of fens along the shore during my teenaged years, Peterson’s Guide in hand. Your pictures could have been some of my best childhood memories.

    Did you get to see the sundews or butterworts?

    I can’t wait to see your next post. :)

    • Alas, we did not at the Oliphant fen, but we did at another later that day. Next post is up. I still have another coming up.

  7. Lucky me!I have all the plants mentioned growing Practically on my doorstep.The birdseye primrose(one of my favorites) grows by the edge of my driveway and the carnivores in a fen just up back.

  8. You will have to come back to see something even more rare – the Lakeside Daisy (Hymenoxys herbacea). It grows directly on the limestone alvar rather than in the fen.

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