Canadians can now explore three of our country's iconic ecosystems — Prairie grassland, Arctic tundra and the boreal forest — all without leaving Ottawa. How, you ask?
“It’s a living exhibit. It’s going to grow and evolve,” says Meg Beckel, president and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Nature, of the museum's new Landscapes of Canada Gardens. The outdoor educational exhibit, which opened to the public on June 17, features about 40 species of plants and trees from the major biomes of Canada. The museum has also recreated the mammoth steppe, Earth's most extensive biome at the peak of the last Ice Age.
Located on the museum’s west side, the gardens are free to explore and will remain open year-round. Here’s a summary of unique highlights of each landscape:
The centerpiece of the Arctic tundra area is a new 13-metre-high stainless steel iceberg sculpture created by Bill Lishman, an artist and conservationist perhaps best known for his work with Canada geese, which inspired the movie Fly Away Home. The iceberg is surrounded by rocky terrain typical of Canada’s far north and low-lying plants such as moss campion, bearberry, dwarf birch and Arctic willow.
A towering rotten tree? Sure, with its bare, jagged limbs it sticks out in the boreal forest section, but it’s a key reminder of the life cycle that regenerates the nation’s largest ecosystem. A trail of log stumps provides a natural play area among boreal species such as trilliums, ostrich ferns, white spruce, trembling aspen and balsam fir.
The tallgrass prairie is one of the most threatened ecosystems in North America, which makes this area of the garden particularly special. The field features big bluestem grass, which will grow one to three metres high, as well as black-eyed Susans, purple cornflower and prairie crocuses.
The museum's three beloved mammoth sculptures have been moved around the corner from their original location to their new home in the garden. They’ve been surrounded with plant species that were common in their habitat 12,000 years ago, including tufted hairgrass, common yarrow and Iceland poppy.