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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
October 28, 2016
Canadian Excellence

Bruce Peninsula 2009: great memories

BI367 Field Botany—Medicinal Plants in Flora of Ontario

When: May 30 -- June 10, 2016. 2 weeks; 0.5 credits;


Photo Galleries: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012

Mihai Costea:

Basic principles of field botany with emphasis on the identification and systematics of medicinal vascular plants (ferns, gymnosperms and angiosperms) from Southern Ontario. The course will introduce you to field, herbarium, and laboratory methods used in plant systematics, biodiversity and pharmacognosy. Cultivated and native medicinal plants from diverse habitats, will be covered. Topics will include: plant collecting, plant identification and preparation of herbarium voucher specimens, documenting plant diversity in relation with ecological factors, observations on reproductive biology, natural history, and uses of plants by aboriginal peoples. Day trips will be arranged to various natural habitats from Southern Ontario, the Arboretum in Guelph and the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. Lectures and laboratory work will complement field instruction.

Disclaimer: please note that although the botanical information presented may be useful for a future health career, the course is not intended to teach you how to become a practitioner of medicine, pharmacy or naturopathy. Furthermore, information from this course is not meant to substitute medical advice; as with all health issues, professional assistance should always be sought from a physician. 


Course expense fee = $400 [$350 deposit; $50 balance due at the beginning of the course].

Please note that you would also have to pay the tuition as for any other course at your home university -- please don’t ask me why!). The course expense fee includes only the transportation to various locations in southern ON, two nights in Bruce Peninsula, and the consumables for laboratory work and herbarium mounting supplies. You must cover the travel expenses to attend the course, as well as to return to your original city, if that is different than Waterloo. Also, you must supply your own food (lunch bag during the field trips). More importantly, you must cover the costs of accommodation if you are not from the area, or if you don’t have family or friends around that can offer you shelter for two weeks. These are the accommodation possibilities:

1) Summer accommodations at WLU: ca. $200/week or lower if you are willing to share a room (see more details about rates here please). 

2) Arrange accommodations with the local students: probably the cheapest alternative, but I can neither guarantee I will find someone, nor I am responsible for any potential disagreements you may have with these people.

In either case, please let me know as soon as possible which one of the two options above you prefer to start making arrangements.

Course objectives

1. My main objective is to teach you HOW to learn plants in general, and medicinal ones in particular. There is a common misconception that knowing plants means being able to name them, and that plant identification is merely looking at the pictures within field guides. Wrong! Naming plants is only one of the end results of the process, and that this “end” is merely the beginning for the (ethno)botanist. A major emphasis here is on careful observation and on mastering the scientific language (botanical terminology) that allows us to observe and describe fine differences between taxa (species, genera and families).

2. To develop critical techniques of observation and description.

3. To practice the use of identification keys, and to learn to construct different types of keys.

4. To help you get a sense of the huge diversity of vascular plants in general and medicinal plants in particular.

5. To understand that plants have influenced human health throughout the millennia and continue to do so today. Each plant has a long story “story” given by a certain connection with the humans. Most plants in the region have been used by the aboriginal peoples for practical and/or spiritual purposes or they have been introduced by early colonists.

6. To understand the significance of herbarium collections as a repository of biodiversity information.


One-day field trips to various habitats from Southern Ontario, complemented by lectures and laboratory work. The lectures will be closely tied to the laboratory and field work. They will provide general and theoretical background to what you see in the field and the laboratory. During the laboratory you will identify those plants that require microscopes (which is the majority of them!), and you will essentially learn how to create a herbarium collection.

Tentative one-day field trips [ see Photo galleries: 2008; 2009; 2010; 2012]:

  Sudden Tract & Dickson wilderness: forest, meadows, wetlands.

Luther Marsh: bogs & fens.

 Backus Woods and Long Point: Carolinian forest & sand dunes

 Bognor Marsh: wetlands and the Niagara escarpment.

 Bruce Peninsula: various habitats/rare and endangered plants (we'll spend two nights there).

 Guelph Arboretum: cultivated & native woody plants.

 Belgian Nurseries: cultivated plants in southern Ontario.

 Royal Botanical Gardens, Hamilton: medicinal collections; Mediterranean plants.

  A disturbed, abandoned field in Waterloo/Kitchener area for weeds and invasive  plants.

  Field guides

Dickinson, T., Metsger, D., Bull, J. & R. Dickinson. 2004. The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario. Toronto ON, Royal Ontario Museum and McClelland and Stewart Ltd.

Farrar, J. L.  2000. Trees in Canada. Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited and Canadian Forest Service.

Soper, J. H. & Heimburger, M. L. 1982. Shrubs of Ontario. Toronto ON, Royal Ontario Museum

Recommended Literature

Foster, S. and R. L. Johnson. 2008. Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine.  National Geographic.

Lewis, Walter H. and Memory R. F. Elvin-Lewis. 2003. Medical Botany: Plants Affecting Human Health. 2nd ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ. 

Rätsch, C. 2005. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants. Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Park Stree Press.


1) A herbarium collection of 50 species (that you will keep if you want).

2) An individual final project. You will prepare a final paper based on your field data due at June 24, 2013.


Plant identification test 25%,  Project paper 45%, Herbarium collection 20%;  Participation 10%.

What will you need to bring in the field?

1. Insect repellent, sun-screen, water and food for one day [bring your own].

2. Sturdy shoes or boots, long pants, rain gear [obviously, bring yours].

Also, don’t forget that you must supply your own food (lunch bag during the field trips).

We will provide you with:

1. Field guides.

2. Plastic bags for collecting specimens; plant presses; cardboard and corrugated paper, mounting material.

3. Clippers or pruning shears.

4. GPS units.

5. Hand lens.

Attendance Policy

You are expected to fully attend on a daily basis.


Most safety concerns are common sense, but some are noted below (however, this is not an exhaustive list):

1. Insects, snakes, etc. If you are hyperallergic to insect bites, please let me know. Always look before you step!

2. Poisonous plants, poison ivy & mushrooms. Be careful, we are in the poison ivy country, and there are plenty other poisonous plants and mushrooms around.  

 3. Other health concerns. Let me know me if you are epileptic, diabetic or if you have a special condition so we will know how to deal with an emergency.