Connecting Lake Simcoe's Community

So, just what is an alvar?

2021 06 24 alvar by michaelGrowing up I had always heard my family talk about the Cameron Ranch, now part of the Carden Alvar, northeast of Orillia. I didn't really pay much attention to this neighbouring area. As an adolescent, the landscape looked barren and nearly bleak. Little did I know that years later I would become fascinated with this area.

Alvars can be found in the United Kingdom, Ireland, northern Europe and the Great Lakes region. Many people are not aware that alvars are globally rare, unique eco-systems and that almost 75-percent of North American alvars are in Ontario. That is incredible! Right here in our own backyard, we have a chance to learn, explore and protect these special habitats.

An alvar is based on limestone with little or no soil. Many areas have shallow exposed bedrock that formed over 500 million years ago. These areas are subject to flooding in the spring and drought during the summer months, preventing many species of plants from growing. Given these conditions, alvars provide a distinctive habitat for species that cannot grow or exist anywhere else.

Rare and unusual flora arise each spring, peaking during the month of June, creating a dazzling display. Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum), Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) and Balsam Ragwort (Packera paupercula) are just a few of the more than 400 plants that flourish on alvars.

Alvars are also home to rare species of birds such as the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Towhees and Grasshopper Sparrows.

It's a dream come true for birders, with more than 200 species observed and documented on the alvars.

Butterflies, dragonflies and moths also make alvars their home.

The nature centre is located on the most westerly boundary of the Carden Alvar, where the Dragonfly and Butterfly counts are carried out in July every year. We will be hosting the count this July.

Blog by June Crinnion

Photo by Michael Elmer: Prairie Smoke, which is found only on alvars.

Robert L. Bowles Nature Centre, founded by June Crinnion and Michael Elmer, is a nature and wellness centre in Ramara, named after Lake Simcoe Living Nature Detective Bob Bowles to honour his role in protecting and caring for the environment. For more information, go to

An unusual find: Crawe's Sedge
Hay — watch out for that bobolink nest!

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