Plant biologist Ashley Hillman as found in her natural habitat: looking at wildflowers. | Supplied photo Scott Nielsen

Do you know your wildflowers?  

Ashley Hillman can help you spot Yellow Lady Slippers in the great outdoors. If you didn’t know that it was a plant, then she could help you with that, too.

The plant biologist is lining up a weekend-long wildflower identification course in Hinton. That means that soon you will be able to tell the difference between a Woolly Lousewort and a Western Wood Lily.

“I have done a lot of plant training for other students and other researchers, and I’ve taught undergraduate students on plant identification and plant ecology as well,” Hillman said.

“Elizabeth Beaubien reached out to me – she’s from the Alberta Native Plant Council and Alberta PlantWatch – and asked if I’d be interested in teaching this course. I said, ‘Talk about plants for three days? I’m there.’”

Hillman, who has experience doing rare plant surveys and working with the Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, said that her real area of expertise is the boreal forest.

“I started really learning alpine plants maybe about five years ago on my own recreationally. Part of my thesis work is tied at looking at conservation of disjunct populations of Arctic plants, so populations that are very far removed from the alpine or the Arctic.”

Sponsored by the Whisky-Jack Club, the course starts with an introduction on the evening of Friday, June 23 that leads into two full days of hiking in the field for some on the ground lessons in wildflower identification.

There are a few wetland areas (including the Beaver Boardwalk, the Brule area near the Athabasca River and Kinky Lake in Wildhorse Provincial Park) that might be on the agenda for Saturday. Sunday’s itinerary has the group busing up to the Cardinal Divide to look at the high alpine plants.

The guide said that the learning would be structured much like the university labs she teaches on plant identification, though likely without a final exam.  

“Part of that is learning . . . why does the species look like this? How is that different from other species?”

She has included some basic terminology to help the participants work through field guides and help them look at the characteristics of the plant.

The wide world of wildflowers awaits, with Hillman anticipating to point out Buckbean, False Solomon’s Seal, those Yellow Lady Slippers, plus the Woolly Lousewort and the Western Wood Lily. She hopes to also find some orchids that can be found in the wetlands.

There’s no need to stress, Hillman said, emphasizing the course’s easy “just a walk in the park” nature.

“It’ll be pretty casual. I just want to really introduce people to the plants in the area that they live in and the area that they frequently either recreate in or they are from that area, and just get a better appreciation of what’s out there and a variety of habitats.”

Registration costs $55. People can sign up by emailing the club at or by calling 780-856-4906.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 13, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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