John Alexander & Peter Kaellgren - Weird, Wild and Wonderful Carnivores, Parasites and Other Unusual Plants

November 28, 2016 Meeting and AGM

Meetings are held at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church, 250 Dunn Avenue, just south of Queen Street West. Doors open at 6:30pm. This meeting will start earlier than normal - at 7pm. We are having a brief AGM to vote in our board and accept financial and other reports.  Arrive after 6:30pm and enjoy coffee and cookies while you check out the Hort library, chat, and ask questions!

In their quest to document wild orchids, John and Peter found many unusual and intriguing botanical curiosities. Peter (former ROM conservator) will share the plants’ characteristics and habitat, John (photographer, artist) the challenge to document and conserve them.


The immediate post U.S. election period is a time for reflection on much we Canadians hold dear. This is especially true of things that may soon disappear in our neighbour to the south. Take diversity. Only Ecuador and Mexico can boast a higher diversity per square kilometre than Canada—of orchids, that is! Yes… Canada, and Ontario in particular, is home to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve which helps in the conservation of over sixty of Canada’s total of 70 endemic varieties. They are the wild and wonderful part of this month’s presentation.

The presentation, by Peter Kaellgren and John Alexander, will feature photographs of a dizzying array of orchids, and that doesn’t mean those specimens, cloned by the 1000s, that can be purchased at the supermarket. These two men are serious plantsmen who chanced upon orchids and consequently a community of experts (lay and otherwise), aficionados, and even the Bruce Peninsula Orchid Festival.

“Chance upon” is perhaps the wrong description for John’s relationship with orchids. He was first introduced to them in Fredericton by a grade 1 classmate whose family had a greenhouse full of them. In his teens he took an interest in photographing plants and trees, which grew into a career in photography. During their travels throughout Ontario, John and Peter, a retired Decorative Arts museum conservator who has developed a special skill in identifying flowers in the many forms they are represented, learned about Ontario orchids while exploring nature near the town of Purdon.

John and Peter have developed highly choreographed expeditions wherein John carries his camera and Peter, the ‘Sherpa’, carries the accessories, such as a sun diffuser and kneeler pad. Together they scour the trails they walk, each fixing their eye on one side, looking, not just for the sometimes minute blooms of our indigenous orchid species, but more often, their less showy, but uniquely identifying foliage. On the return, they maintain their gaze, which now falls on the opposite side of the trail. With a different set of eyes, together with a change in the way light falls, they are sometimes able to identify plants they missed on the first pass.

Such dedication has paid off in their having become respected speakers, not just at horticulture and orchid societies all over Ontario, but at conferences as well. This month they’ll share photographs of their discoveries and stories about the experience as well as the issues that these delicate plants raise. And that’s where the post U.S. election period comes in. Should climate change agreements be cancelled or brazen political disdain for environmental protection creep into legislation during the Trump presidency, it’s quite certain that these wild and wonderful plants might suffer. As to the weird ones—well, they won’t be any better off.

Maria Nunes

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