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Belly Plants of Helliwell – Terry Thormin

One of the biggest challenges in plant photography is photographing “belly plants”, plants that are so small and low to the ground that you have to get right down on your belly to see them properly and photograph them. The biggest challenge is often getting everything you want in focus and still maintaining a soft, muted background. I will often search such a patch of flowers for some time before selecting the one I want to try, only to find when I get down there that there is something wrong with the plant or the angle is all wrong. A recent trip to Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby Island in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and mainland B.C. provided an opportunity to try my hand at several such plants. Here are some of the results.

The first species I have included is the poverty clover, Trifolium depauperatum var. depauperatum. This is a blue listed plant in B.C., with populations found only at Helliwell and in the Victoria area. For this photograph I decided to include some of the old, dried-up flowers and some of the leaves. I often find myself concentrating solely on the flowers and forgetting to photograph the rest of the plant, which is at times essential for positive identification of the species.

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My second plant is tomcat clover, Trifolium willdenowii, another pretty little clover with a much wider distribution. I have seen this species in a number of areas on Vancouver Island.

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The next species is another clover, white-tipped clover, Trifolium variegatum. Once again I decided to get the leaves in the photograph, making the challenge of depth of field more difficult. When I am searching for a plant like this I look for one that is already isolated from it’s background, is in good shape and that I can photograph with the sun behind me if I am out on a sunny day. My preference is to shoot on overcast days that are calm so that I can shoot at slower shutter speeds without any problems. The day I was at Helliwell was sunny and with enough of a breeze to make longer exposures difficult.

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The next flower is another clover, but one that is yet to be identified. Fortunately one of the people on the trip is a very good amateur botanist, and hopefully she will eventually come up with an identification. This is in the same genus as the others, Trifolium, but identification to species will just have to wait.

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Four tiny little clovers, and that was not all I saw and photographed. Rather than include all my photographs I decided to include just one last species. This is a clover that is not a clover. It is called the dwarf owl’s-clover, Tryphisaria pusilla. There are over 300 species of clovers world-wide and all are in the genus Trifolium. The dwarf owl’s-clover is not only not a clover (the genus name is a dead give-away), but is not even in the same family as the clovers. Clovers are in the pea family, Fabaceae, whereas the dwarf owl’s-clover is in the family Orobanchaceae along with the paintbrushes and louseworts. This is a small, rather non-descript plant that is easily overlooked. The flowers are incredibly tiny, and beyond the capabilities of my camera to photograph individually. Look for the deep maroon objects with a noticeable hook at the top. Although this plant is not considered to be threatened, it is not commonly found in the Comox Valley.

Dwarf Owl's-clover - Triphysaria pusilla 2a