The calcareous barrens in the Watts Point Ecological Reserve support a unique variety of rare and endangered plants.
Located near the tip of Newfoundland's Great Northern Peninsula, this 30.9-km2 parcel of land stretches almost 7 km along the Strait of Belle Isle-which in many years is packed with ice from December through June.
Together, the area's combination of geology and climate yield conditions that foster a rare variety of arctic-alpine plants. Some of these plants occur only on the east and west coasts of North America, some have ancient affinities with European flora, and a few are found only in nearby locations in Newfoundland.
Watts Point Ecological Reserve lies within the Strait of Belle Isle Barrens ecoregion (762 KB). The flat coastal areas typical of the ecoregion have a thin vegetation cover that includes dispersed mats of crowberry over calcareous gravel and bedrock. There are few trees or tall shrubs.
The appearance is desolate, yet a closer look reveals tiny arctic plants that grow in the rock and soil. The harsh local climate, strong winds, and frost action are all good for these species, which are relicts of the flora that appeared following the retreat of the last glaciers.
Plant species in the reserve that are found nowhere else in the world but on the Northern Peninsula include the endangered (COSEWIC, 2001) barrens willow (Salix jejuna) and the threatened (COSEWIC, 2000) Fernald's braya (Braya fernaldii). The reserve's main terrace area also has patches of herbs such as purple mountain saxifrage and stunted, wind-pruned shrubs.
Because of the reserve's unique flora, it is often the scene of intensive research. In fact, the reserve was created to provide protection for the plants and for scientific research and educational touring purposes.
Watts Point was designated a provisional ecological reserve in 1986 and received full ecological reserve status in 1990.
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