Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador
Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador

Descriptions - The Flora of Newfoundland and Labrador

By Susan J. Meades and William J. Meades

This Flora is designed to facilitate the identification of vascular plants found in Newfoundland Labrador by amateur botanists, students, and professionals working in natural resources.  The descriptions are written at a fairly technical level, employing terminology less technical than that used in the Flora of North America volumes (FNA 1995+), but more precise than terms used in field guides written for the general public.  To find a mid-point that would benefit everyone, the descriptions include basic botanical terminology, with more technical terms added in parentheses (e.g., smooth (glabrous) or blunt (obtuse)).  In addition, a glossary is provided that defines all botanical terms used in the descriptions and illustrates basic terms such as variations in leaf shape, base, apex, and margins.  As more descriptions are added, the glossary will be expanded to accommodate newly introduced terms.  

The descriptions presented in this website were written by the authors based on a combination of personal observations and research, examination of specimens in the field and herbarium, and a review of the relevant literature.  Height and size ranges were taken primarily from the taxonomic literature, except where examination of local material expanded the range of measurements.  Publication information for each of the references cited in the descriptions is included in the Bibliography.  The initial descriptions written for the NL Flora focussed on the forest flora, expanding some of the brief species descriptions included in Newfoundland’s Forest Site Classification Manual (W.J. Meades and Moore 1989, 1994).  Future descriptions will highlight some of the interesting flora of the barrens and wetlands, as well as forested habitats. 

Description Format

Each description includes classification, morphological, and ecological information presented under the following headings, further described below:  

  • Scientific name
  • Common names in English (En), French (Fr), and (if available) Innu, and/or Inuit (Inuk).
  • Plant Family
  • General 
  • Key Features
  • Stems/twigs
  • Leaves/Needles
  • Flowers (for Angiosperms)
  • Fruit (for Angiosperms)
  • Reproductive structures/cones (for Gymnosperms)
  • Ecology & Habitat
  • Edaphic Grid
  • Forest Types
  • Succession
  • Distribution
  • Similar Species

To provide the reader with a better idea of what each species trait looks like, a series of numbered images is provided above each description; image numbers are referenced within square brackets [] in the text.  

The General section includes basic information about the plant type, available information from the literature about traits such as shade tolerance, root type and rooting depth, and maximum size (for trees).  Also mentioned are important uses and a brief explanation of any nomenclatural changes, especially where a long-standing scientific name has been replaced recently.  

The Key Features section is a summary of the most important morphological features of each plant, each of which is shown either on the illustration for that species or in the referenced images.  This section is included primarily to help viewers who prefer a less-detailed description of each plant.  The traits noted here are described more thoroughly in the headings that follow.

The heading Stems/twigs is used for the descriptions of tree trunks, winter twigs, and shoots of woody plants, including coniferous and flowering trees and shrubs.  For herbaceous (non-woody) flowering plants, the heading Stems is used.

Since coniferous plants (Gymnosperms) and flowering plants (Angiosperms) differ in their structure and terminology, the headings Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit are used for flowering plants, but are replaced with the headings Needles and Reproductive structures/cones for conifers.  When descriptions are added for the ferns, horsetails, clubmosses, and related plants, the headings Fronds and Sporangia will be used in the descriptions of these species.

In addition to the morphological traits detailed in the descriptions, information specific to the ecology and distribution of each species in Newfoundland and Labrador is included under the following heads, explained below:

Ecology and Habitat

Most of the information relating to the Ecology and Habitat section comes from the forest classifications for insular Newfoundland (Damman 1963, 1964, and 1967; W.J. Meades 1986) and Labrador (Wilton 1964, Foster 1983). These classifications are based on the tabular analysis of plot data, which uses species abundance and cover to differentiate combinations of plant species and define the vegetation types.  In this Flora, we refer primarily to the phytosociological associations, subassociations, and variants in which species occur.  Plant associations are plant communities with a common floristic composition and structure, subassociations have differential species, indicating some variation in site moisture and fertility, and variants are usually unique differences caused by geographic variation in geology or climate, or plant distributions.  

For a comprehensive description of the methodology for vegetation classification, refer to Mueller-Dombois and Ellenberg (1974).  The ecology and habitat of individual species can be determined by observing their distribution across the full spectrum of the vegetation classification.  Some species are very narrow in their ecological preferences, occurring only in one or two associations, whereas others may be very general and occur across the full spectrum of plant communities.   Most plants in the forest understorey occur in low abundance, in the range of 5–15% cover.  Often, frequency (the number of occurrences in the total number of plots in the type) is the best indicator of habitat preference.  The Newfoundland forest classifications are based on vegetation plot descriptions that were established primarily in mature successional stage forest stands with a closed canopy, except for open woodlands.  Therefore, the interpretation of species tolerance for shade and light are derived mainly from the literature and, in some cases, local observations from disturbed habitats, such as cutovers and burns.  Also, many species that we call 'forest species' can occur in barren and wetland habitats; this has been noted in the general description of their habitat.  The occurrence of species in different barren and peatland types has also been included.

Forest Types

Under this heading, the forest types in which a species commonly occurs are listed to provide an indication of the range of habitats in which the species most likely occurs.  For insular Newfoundland, the phytosociological classifications that describe the various forest types were developed by Damman (1963) for northern Newfoundland, Damman (1964) for central Newfoundland, Damman (1967) for western Newfoundland, and W.J. Meades (1986) for eastern Newfoundland.  These classifications include the formal Latin nomenclatural convention, following the Braun-Blanquet relevé sampling method for each association and subassociation.  Common English names for each vegetation type are also provided.  Some discrepancies in the nomenclature exist between various publications; for example, in 1963, Damman used the name Cariceto-Piceetum for his black spruce fen association, however, in 1967, Damman used the name Carici-Piceetum for the same association.  To deal with such discrepancies, the Flora uses the nomenclature described in Damman 1967, since this was his most recent treatment.   The eastern Newfoundland classification (W.J. Meades 1986), for the most part, follows Dammam's nomenclature, with a few exceptions for types unique to the Avalon Peninsula.  
The Forest Site Classification Manual (W.J. Meades and Moore 1989, 1994) was intended as a practical field manual to support forest management, thus, it included only common names of the forest vegetation types.   Also, it did not include many of the non-commercial forest types, such as alder swamps.  In the descriptions for the NL Flora, common names from the Manual are matched with their formal phytosociological names.
For Labrador, the studies of Wilton (1967), Foster (1983), and Foster and King (1986) used only common names to describe their forest types.  Wilton’s classification is fairly general and covers all the forest of Labrador.   His types were defined primarily on productivity and the dominant tree species, with some general description included of the understorey species.  Foster’s forest classification was limited to southeastern Labrador, but included formal analysis of vegetation data from 88 plots using TWINSPAN software to identify differential species groups of 5 community types.  

Edaphic Grids

The edaphic grid (sometimes referred to as an edatopic grid or the edatope of a site) is a schematic representation of where a plant most commonly occurs in nature with respect to soil moisture and fertility.  In the Newfoundland forest classifications, moisture regime is assessed using a scale with 6 levels, ranging from extremely dry to very wet, and based on soil texture and the depth and intensity of mottling and gleying caused by soil water movement or stagnation.  The 4 levels of fertility, ranging from very poor to very rich, are not readily assessed using soil characteristics, but are based more commonly on a knowledge of plants species, correlated with increased diversity and productivity.  In wet habitats, the differentiation of whether the ground water is ombrogenous (primarily from rainfall) or soligenous (water in contact with the mineral substrate) is a deciding factor in differentiating between poor and rich sites.  Within the forest classification,  each vegetation types is assigned a position on the edaphic grid.  The position for individual plant species is determined by observing their frequency and abundance, as documented in the vegetation tables used to define the forest types.  In most cases, the assessment represents a distribution, with respect to moisture and fertility, that one would expect in a mature forest community.  These relationships can change with disturbance and across wide geographic ranges.  Because the forest classification is based on a limited number of plots, uncommon and rare species may be absent from the forest tables, in which case our assessment is based on the cited literature and personal observations in the field.

The section on succession describes how a species will respond to disturbance primarily after harvesting or fire, or in some cases herbivory.  These assessments are based on a combination of personal observations in the field and a knowledge of the species' reproductive characteristics and relative shade tolerance, based on the available literature.  There are very few species that can survive only in the forest.  Some orchids and other light-intolerant species are important exceptions, which are referred to as 'interior species.'  Most of the shrubs and herbs that reproduce vegetatively, spread rapidly after harvest by way of rhizomes or root sprouts.  Other species have seeds that remain viable in the forest humus for up to 50 years and germinate when light, moisture, and temperature reach a critical threshold.  Intense fires can destroy soil seed banks, underground rhizomes, and root sprouts, causing the site to revegetate slowly from seeds dispersed by animals and wind or by the spreading of small patches of vegetation within the burn that escaped the fire.


Information on the distribution of plant species in insular Newfoundland was obtained from Rouleau and Lamoureux's Atlas (1992), with updates based on more recent collections documented by the Atlantic Canada Conservations Data Centre (ACCDC) and from personal observations.  For Labrador and other parts of mainland Canada, Scoggan (1978) was the most commonly used source of information, with additions from verifiable consultant records, mentioned in the Checklist annotations under each species.  The USDA PLANTS database (USDA, NRCS 2016) provided detailed ranges for many species whose distribution extends into the United States.  Sources for the distributional information is cited in each description.

Similar Species

Species that have similar traits or are closely related to the species described are discussed under the Similar Species heading, which is placed at the end of each description.  Here, only diagnostic features that distinguish the species from one another are mentioned.  

About the Images

Images that accompany each description include digital photographs and, when available, a pen-and-ink illustration.  Most of the photographs were taken by Susan Meades during the authors' field work, but several other colleagues have generously contributed images.  Each photo is identified with the copyright symbol preceding the photographer's initials or name.  The botanical illustrations were drawn by Susan Meades; some done for the Newfoundland Forest Site Classification Manual (W.J. Meades & Moore 1989, 1994) or Indicator Plant Species in Canadian Forests (Ringius & Sims 1997), others are published in this Flora for the first time.  All photographs and images are copyrighted by the photographer or artist, and cannot be used without written permission.  Please contact the authors here for use of images or other content in this website.

Photo Credit initials: Susan J. Meades (sjm), William J. Meades (wjm), Debra N. Meades (dnm), Sean Bennett (SBennett), Joe Brazil (JBrazil), Michael Burzynski (mb), and Henry Mann (HMann).