Tackling the hardest jobs

by Sandy Garland

Yes, it’s about dog-strangling vine (DSV) again, our major preoccupation at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. We’re making a bit of progress in some areas and noting that many native species (like walnut trees, goldenrods, and raspberries) are holding their own or even out-competing DSV. But there are places where DSV is so thick and robust, nothing else is growing with it.

This Tuesday (August 4), we welcomed another new volunteer, Louisa. After introducing Melanie, Kate, Ted, and Mirko, we decided to try different approaches. Some of us would work on the area I call the pine woods. In 1995, Fisher highschool students planted a couple of dozen white pine saplings just north of the original Old Woodlot. They are now about 8 metres tall and form a dark grove with lots of pine needles on the ground under them.

DSV has continued to grow around these trees despite repeated efforts to pull it out and mulch around the trees. Last fall a wonderful team of Carleton students pulled all DSV from the area and put it into bags to keep the seeds from spreading. The area looked so different (bare) and so ready for change that I decided to make a special effort to keep DSV from growing back.

Over the last year, I’ve been slowly digging out DSV roots and planting native species, like Large-leaved Aster, Sarsaparilla, Canada Mayflower, and sedges. Derek scythed the area at the end of June, and each of these efforts makes a visible difference. Today, we decided to see how much DSV we could dig out in one afternoon.

Meanwhile, super-volunteers Mirko and Melanie offered to continue scything the worst field in terms of DSV infestation – the one north of the woods where we are also trying to establish a large patch of Common Milkweeds (see Emily Pollington – conservation superstar).

This was Melanie’s first try at scything, but, like everything else she has attempted, she mastered the skill in no time. Quite frankly, I had no hope that she and Mirko would make inroads into the huge, tough DSV vines in the middle of that field, but an hour and a half later, my jaw dropped when I went to have a look. They had carefully cut DSV along the east side of the Red Osier Dogwood shrubs and White Pines and then moved out into the middle of the DSV stand. We can now see grass still trying to grow in that field, and, with a bit of work, we should be able to plant a couple of our butternut trees there next week. Huge difference!!

That pile of dog-strangling vine in the centre of this photo was once growing up into the Red Osier Dogwood shrubs and White Pine trees. Thanks to Melanie and Mirko, the shrubs can now spread and the bottom branches of the pine trees will survive.

That pile of dog-strangling vine in the centre of this photo was once growing up into the Red Osier Dogwood shrubs and White Pine trees. Thanks to Melanie and Mirko, the shrubs can now spread and the bottom branches of the pine trees will survive.

Meanwhile, Kate, Louisa, and I managed to dig up about 8 square metres of DSV under those pine trees. I’m thinking about all the Jack-in-the-Pulpit seedlings I grew this spring and will search our nursery for other appropriate woodland wildflowers for that location. Big changes!!

Now that Kate, Louisa, and I have made some room by digging out DSV under these White Pines, we can plant a variety of woodland wildflowers, ferns, sedges, and mosses.

Now that Kate, Louisa, and I have made some room by digging out DSV under these White Pines, we can plant a variety of woodland wildflowers, ferns, sedges, and mosses.

Flora, fauna, and ?

Virginia Creeper Clearwing moth photographed by Kate Davis

Virginia Creeper Clearwing moth photographed by Kate Davis

Just as Kate, Louisa, and I were getting shovels out to start digging DSV, a black moth caught our eye. A closer look revealed an interesting looking creature with yellow antennae and orange patches on its wings. Kate guess a clearwing, and we reached for our cameras to get photos for later ID. That evening, Kate sent me this photo and triumphantly proclaimed Albuna fraxini – Virginia Creeper Clearwing. And she couldn’t help reporting that this species has “boring larvae,” i.e., the larvae bore into their woody host plants.


liverwortAnother great find was not one, but two liverworts growing in one of our DSV-free circles just north of the woods and across the trail from our pine woods patch. The one at the left is a thallose species – it produces flat green lobes very close to the ground with a texture that looks a bit like liver. The one on the right (below) is a leafy species that I thought was a moss, but Kate recognized immediately as another liverwort. Those tiny leaves are about 1 mm long; they grow in two rows along a “stem” unlike mosses, whose “leaves” grow in whorls around the stem. The reason for all the quotation marks is because liverworts have no veins, so these names of vascular plant parts don’t really apply to them.

moss-liverwortLiverworts belong in the Bryophyte family with mosses, and like mosses have gametophytes and sporophytes. What you see in the photos are gametophytes, haploid forms that produce gametes (male and female). I don’t think it’s possible to tell whether these are male or female gametophytes unless they grow the little stalked structures in which eggs and sperm form (archegonia and antheridia, respectively). The sperm cells can swim, but need water to help them reach the archegonia, where they fertilize eggs to form sporophytes, which are the diploid stage of the species. There’s a much more detailed description of the life cycle and a helpful diagram on Wikipedia under Marchantiophyta.

The nightshades – deadly and otherwise

by Sandy Garland

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

On Tuesday, while working in the woods, our volunteer group came across a number of nightshade plants of two species. The same week, one of our Friday morning volunteers brought in another nightshade species with little white flowers. All this prompted some focused Googling and this is what I found.

From Wikipedia: “Solanum is a large and diverse genus of flowering plants, which includes two food crops of the highest economic importance, the potato and the tomato. It also contains the nightshades and horsenettles, as well as numerous plants cultivated for their ornamental flowers and fruit.”

Solanum dulcamera = Bittersweet, European, or Climbing Nightshade has purple flowers (photo above) and large berries that start green, then ripen to orange and finally bright red. You can often see flowers and all stages of fruit on the same vine. This weed is common in our area and easy to find in the Old Woodlot at the FWG. Because the berries are highly toxic, this plant is sometimes called Deadly Nightshade, but the real deadly nightshade is the unrelated Atropa belladonna.

Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum)

Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum)

Solanum ptycanthum = Black Nightshade is likely the one our volunteer brought to the FWG. It has tiny white flowers, similar in structure to the other Solanums (photo at left). Berries are black when ripe and probably edible, but not when they are green. This is the only Solanum listed as native to Ontario in the Canadensys database.

Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. Canadensis)

Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. canadensis)

Circaea lutetiana ssp. canadensis = Enchanter’s Nightshade is not in the Solanum genus at all, but instead is related to Evening Primrose. It has very tiny white flowers (photo below) and its seeds are not berries, but little green discs that stick to clothing and hair.

To most of us, the important Solanums are potato, tomato, and eggplant.

Solanum lycopersicum = Tomato fruit, as we know, is edible, even when green. However, the leaves and stems of the plants contain the same toxic alkaloid found in other members of the genus (solanine), although in lower concentrations. See Tomato: Safety

Solanum tuberosum = Potato is the fourth largest food crop in the world. Flowers are white or pale pink, blue, or mauve. The small green fruits, like the leaves and stems, are toxic. Only the tubers are edible. See Potato: toxicity

According to our volunteer, Mirko, potatoes were first brought to Europe as decorative plants rather than a food crop. He sent me this interesting history, published during the International Year of the Potato in 2008: The Potato: Diffusion.

Solanum melongena = Eggplant flowers are white to purple, fruit is large and purple when ripe. Although the fruit is edible, other parts of the plant contain the toxic solanine and can be poisonous if eaten in large quantities. See Eggplant: History

Although this is an extremely superficial view of this genus, it shows how the chemistry of closely related plants can vary considerably. We’ve just had another example of this in the news, when a local woman was severely affected by touching Wild Parsnip, a member of the carrot family. The lesson: at the risk of sounding alarmist, be cautious around any plant unless you know for certain it’s safe. Wear gloves while gardening, and never, never assume a pretty berry is edible.

More tree planting

by Sandy Garland

Although last Tuesday was one of the hottest days of the year, Ted, Kate, Catrina, Melanie, and Mirko all arrived ready to work. We had decided to plant more trees – not the best time of year for this activity, but we needed to get the trees into the ground where they would be better off than in pots in the nursery.

We loaded the wagons up with two Striped Maples and the rest of the Bitternut Hickories, along with shovels, stakes, loppers, trowels, and containers for water. On the way to the woods, we saw a beautiful new Red Admiral butterfly. The Butterfly Meadow is a mass of blooms at the moment and a great place to sit and watch for hummingbirds as well as butterflies.

In the woods, we checked the trees we planted last week, which are doing well. Melanie, Kate, Catrina, and I started clearing more dog-strangling vine (DSV), motherwort, and burdock around the edges, while Mirko dug holes for the new trees. Ted continued searching for trees planted in previous years to make sure they have room to grow and are labeled so that we can find them to water and monitor their growth.

Catrina stuggling to untangle DSV from trees and plants like wild cucumber and grape vines.

Catrina stuggling to untangle DSV from trees and plants like wild cucumber and grape vines.

Melanie found a groundhog hole under a mass of DSV. She was reluctant to disturb it further, so we decide to leave that area for now and, when it’s a bit cooler, see if we can move some branches to protect the hole.

Groundhog hole previously hidden by a mass of DSV.

Groundhog hole previously hidden by a mass of DSV.

Although I had promised less-strenuous activity, any activity proved to be exhausting in the heat and humidity. We managed to get the trees into the ground with lots of water and lots of chip mulch to keep the roots damp, but we all knew it was time to stop for the day.

A Bitternut Hickory successfully planted, watered, and mulched.

A Bitternut Hickory successfully planted, watered, and mulched.

As we stood admiring our work and chatting, the woods suddenly seemed to fill with birds. We saw several Downy Woodpeckers, flycatchers, a Northern Flicker, and others that we were unable to identify.

Before leaving, we took a quick look at the Rough Goldenrods that Catrina had planting earlier in the year. These were transplanted from our Backyard Garden, so the tops were cut to ease the stress on the plants. They have all now branched and look like they will bloom later this summer.

We still have several butternut trees that are certified native species by the Ministry of Natural Resources. We planted one last week, but I wanted to find out how best to care for these species trees, so we left the others until I can get this information.

Bumble bee on Grass-leaved Goldenrod at the FWG

Bumble bee on Grass-leaved Goldenrod at the FWG

Bumble Bee Watch – another way to help
We’re looking for ways to help pollinators, especially bees, and last week I started submitting sightings to Bumblebeewatch.org. This is a relatively new “citizen science” initiative; Ottawa U and Montréal’s Insectarium are among the partners in the project, and the web site is hosted by the Xerces Society.

Reporting a sighting is very easy. For me, the hard part is getting good photos of bumble bees. Once you have a photo (up to three of the same bee), you upload it and add the location, which can be done by pointing to it on Google Maps, you them compare your photo to diagrams of bumble bees’ heads, thoraxes, and abdomens. This narrows down the possibilities and helps you ID your bee. Luckily, “I don’t know” is also a choice and you can leave it to an expert reviewer to identify your record.

Walnuts and dog-strangling vine: a relationship in photos

by Sandy Garland

Once upon a time, 4-5 years ago, I pulled out the DSV that was growing under this walnut tree. I put down some newspapers to keep it from growing back (this doesn't really work) and forgot about it. This year, I noticed there is almost no DSV under this tree. The few DSV plants there are small and wilted.

Once upon a time, 4-5 years ago, I pulled out the DSV that was growing under this walnut tree. I put down some newspapers to keep it from growing back (we’ve learned subsequently that this doesn’t really work) and forgot about it. This year, I noticed there is almost no DSV under this tree. The few DSV plants there are small and wilted.

Another walnut tree, about the same age as the previous one, but this one has been ignored and is surrounded by DSV. A new volunteer has undertaken the job of pulling out this DSV in hopes of duplicating the experience just described, i.e., hoping the tree will inhibit regrowth of DSV.

Another walnut tree, about the same age as the previous one, but this one has been ignored and is surrounded by DSV. A new volunteer has undertaken the job of pulling out this DSV in hopes of duplicating the experience just described, i.e., hoping the tree will inhibit regrowth of DSV.

This walnut tree is probably about 20 years old, certainly old enough to be producing nuts.

Another walnut tree, this one is about 20 years old, certainly old enough to be producing nuts.

Under it, inside the "drip line," there is no DSV and, in fact some bare spots where nothing is growing.

Under it, inside the “drip line,” there is no DSV and, in fact some bare spots where nothing is growing.

Outside the drip line, there are patches of grass with no DSV, but the pattern is irregular.

Outside the drip line, there are patches of grass with no DSV, but the pattern is irregular.

A closer look at a DSV-free area next to the large walnut tree.

A closer look at a DSV-free area next to the large walnut tree. In this one, you can see that the green taller vegetation is DSV.

An area that was sprayed with Roundup last summer and again this spring. DSV is yellow and wilted, but most other vegetation has also been killed.

An area that was sprayed with Roundup last summer and again this spring. DSV is yellow and wilted, but most other vegetation has also been killed.

Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo, this large walnut tree has successfully defeated DSV and grass is growing under the tree.

Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo, this large walnut tree has successfully defeated DSV (except for that patch at the right of the trunk) and grass is growing under the tree.

Is this a relationship or just a lot of coincidences? Time to investigate it with some controlled experiments. Anyone interested?

Maples, butternuts, and bitternuts

by Sandy Garland

A fern, planted about 5 years ago along with other woodland species, is now overwhelmed by new growth and species responding to the increased light.

A fern, planted about 5 years ago along with other woodland species, is now overwhelmed by new growth and species responding to the increased light.

The Tuesday group wanted to plant trees – a positive, long-term, satisfying job at any time and much more fun than always pulling things out. I had doubts, because the Old Woodlot is so overgrown with opportunist species taking advantage of all the light to grow to gigantic proportions that there’s no room for anything else. We compromised by loading up a modest number of saplings from our nursery (three) and set off for the woods.

Here’s the situation

Can you see the fern in the photo (above right)? Derek knew it was something good, but it’s completely overshadowed by all the vegetation that has grown in the last 2 years since the ash trees were removed from the woods. The Old Woodlot has changed so dramatically that it’s always a surprise to find things that were planted even 5 years ago.

This Striped Maple was planted in 1997. It and 2 others planted at the same time are well over 3 m tall and are now producing seeds (some just visible in the centre of the photo).

This Striped Maple was planted in 1997. It and 2 others planted at the same time are well over 3 m tall and are now producing seeds (some just visible in the centre of the photo).

At the left is one of three Striped Maples (Acer pensylvanicum) planted as saplings back in 1997. This species needs shade, at the moment provided by Norway Maples, which we hope to eventually replace with native species.

While making a place to plant our Bitternut Hickories, we were also able to pull out some large masses of DSV that were covering ground vegetation and starting to climb up into trees.

Volunteer, Derek, after freeing that tree in the background from a mass of dog-strangling vine that was twisting into its lower branches.

Volunteer, Derek, after freeing that tree in the background from a mass of dog-strangling vine that was twisting into its lower branches.

Melanie, planting her first tree ever!

Melanie, planting her first tree ever!

We cleared our more burdock, motherwort, some Manitoba maples, and some buckthorn, finally making a place big enough to plant our two Bitternut Hickories and a Butternut.

We were fortunate to acquire 5 butternut trees this spring by trading wildflowers for schoolyards with Nature Canada. They are certified native species – unlike the many hybrids that populate the area. Hopefully, they are also canker-resistant and will live many years to feed our wildlife and produce seeds for more native butternut trees at the FWG. (More about the butternut recovery program)

Done! Three more trees planted, an area cleared for more, another balsam fir marked (left), and Jada (the dog) is ready to go home.

Done! Three more trees planted, an area cleared for more, another balsam fir marked (left), and Jada (the dog) is ready to go home.

How to tell the difference between Norway and Sugar Maple

This is a very important skill as our Old Woodlot contains many Norway Maples, which are not native and create too much shade for our understory plants. Sugar Maples are a much better choice for an eastern Ontario forest and we have been planting Sugar Maple seedlings for many years.

Our woodlot started as mowed grass under a plantation of ash trees interspersed with Red Oaks – not very “natural” looking and not particularly wildlife friendly (see photo from 1991). The mowing was stopped and OFNC members donated their fall leaves to the cause of creating a rich humousy soil for future planting of native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. Unfortunately, more than just leaves arrived – seeds of many unwanted trees and other plants have grown up over the years, but Norway Maples have been most persistent and difficult to weed out as they resemble Sugar Maples.

Three reliable ways to tell the difference (leaf shape being unreliable)

Comparing the keys of Sugar (left) and Norway Maple (right)

Comparing the keys of Sugar (left) and Norway Maple (right)

1. Keys or those double seeds that maples are famous for are very different. Norway Maple keys are much larger and flatter and the wings form almost a straight line (in Sugar Maples they make an upside down V).

Comparing buds of Sugar (left) and Norway Maples (right).

Comparing buds of Sugar (left) and Norway Maples (right).

2. Buds of Sugar Maples are brown and pointed; those of Norways are purplish and rounded.

3. Easiest of all, during the growing season sap of Sugar Maple is clear; sap of Norways is white. Pick a leaf and cut through the leaf stem (petiole) to check sap colour.

Plants and creatures of note

Toad in wood chips, dried “skeleton” of Wild cucumber fruit – all that’s left are the veins of last-year’s seed pod, Eastern Cottontail, Eastern Chipmunk.

Another double header – two gardens in one day

by Sandy Garland

Tuesday must be a good gardening day. Actually, it was the weather that dictated planting the new garden beds at the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne on Tuesday morning – cloudy with showers expected in the evening.

Lynn Armstrong, who is designing a series of raised beds there, asked if the FWG would like to contribute plants to a bed devoted to butterflies. Yes, of course, was the answer, so I delivered Joe-Pye Weed, Flat-topped Aster, Butterfly Weed, Pussytoes, Nodding Onion, Gray Goldenrod, and Virgin’s Bower (clematis) to the area early Tuesday morning.

Of course, I couldn’t just walk away, so I helped Carol McLeod plant, put up shade cloth, and fetch poles, scissors, etc. The other beds contain a variety of annual flowers and vegetables, garden perennials, etc., so “our” bed will be a showcase for native species.

Lynn Armstrong of the Ottawa Horticultural Society and colleague planting annuals.

Lynn Armstrong of the Ottawa Horticultural Society and colleague planting annuals.

Carol MacLeod watering the future “butterfly bed” next to the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne Park

After lunch, it was time to meet the Tuesday Old Woodlot group at the FWG. Jesse and Melanie were the only volunteers, but they did the work of a full crew and we had a great time chatting and learning new things about the wildlife at the garden.

We had decided in advance not to try to do anything strenuous, as the day was hot and humid. Instead, we looked at a lot of recently planted trees and shrubs to give them some space and always-needed water.

We started by watering and mulching the maple trees planted by Ottawa U students last Tuesday (see Double header – two volunteer groups in one day). Young trees really need water and rain just doesn’t provide enough to get their roots growing. Then, to hold the water in, we added a thick ring of wood chips around each tree.

Jesse and Melanie mulching newly planted Sugar Maple trees in the Old Woodlot.

Jesse and Melanie mulching newly planted Sugar Maple trees in the Old Woodlot.

Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris)

Next we had a look at the south edge of the woods where we’ve planted a variety of fruit trees last year and this spring. The trees are all doing well, but the “weeds” are doing better. We removed some Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense; deceptively named, as it’s not native), a bit of Motherwort, all the Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) we could find, and the ubiquitous dog-strangling vine. We’re keeping the latter at bay in this area, but we’re always on the lookout for masses of seedlings, where we missed a DSV plant last year.

At this time of year, many native plants and “naturalized aliens” are growing faster than DSV. Some of those naturalized aliens are Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota), Catnip (Nepeta cataria), and Toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). All of these are great wildlife plants, well used by pollinators. Queen Anne’s Lace is even a larval host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)

Queen Anne's Lace (Dauca carota)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

More watering. Young trees cannot get too much water.

What we saw
Melanie is very interested in helping bumblebees and we were delighted to see bumblebees on thistles, Catmint, and Queen Anne’s Lace. We’re hoping to contribute these sightings to the new citizen science initiative, Bumblebee Watch, if we can only get photos!

A pair of Summer Azures swirled together, we saw a Banded Hairstreak on a thistle, and a large orange Eastern Comma (or perhaps a Question Mark) perched on some wood chips, but not long enough for a photo.

We saw a beefly, but again the minute I raised my camera, it disappeared. The clematis is in full bloom and covered in bees and flies of all kinds. I also saw the first Black Swallowtail of the year (for me).

Jesse also saw a Common Gartersnake in the Butterfly Meadow and a now common Cepeae snail on DSV.

Huge Gypsy Moth caterpillar. The finger is there to show the scale (the caterpillar measures 5 cm).

Huge Gypsy Moth caterpillar. The finger is there to show the scale (the caterpillar measures 5 cm).

But Jesse won the find-of-the-day prize when he noticed a huge caterpillar on the trunk of an oak tree. I took a few photos and later used the Discover Life guide to ID the creature, which was 5 cm long!

I was horrified to discover that our beautiful caterpillar was the larva of the Gypsy Moth, which is known to destroy forests in North America. I quickly emailed our nature expert to ask if this was cause for panic. She replied, no, we DO have this species at the FWG (and other parts of Ottawa) but not in sufficient numbers to do any damage.

She said, “Sometimes I find large egg masses of the species, but only a small percentage survive to reach adulthood. I think I have found all stages every year for about the last 20 years at the CEF. This is not to say that they are not a big problem in some areas in some years. They seem to exist in quite low densities for a long time and then suddenly there is a big population explosion. However, we have a good and healthy Peromyscus population at FWG and they like eating gypsy moths, and many birds eat the larvae including jays, catbirds, robins, etc. – all species we see at FWG and the CEF.”

The moral for the day: not all alien species are bad. In fact, those like Queen Anne’s Lace can be beneficial to local wildlife. And even species with a bad rep, like Gypsy Moths, can live in balance with the other wildlife in our area.

Questions: Are the filamentous fungi in our piles of wood chips “good” or “bad”? If we’re not supposed to pile mulch close to the trunks of trees (because they might develop fungi), why is it okay to mulch with chips that are full of mycorrhizae?
Note to self: We’re pretty certain Black Walnut trees inhibit the growth of DSV, but they sometimes need help. Remember to cover the mass of DSV under the walnut at the southeast corner of the woods. If we can kill the plants that are there now, the walnut tree might keep others from growing back. This has worked in the past; is it a reliable method?

Double header – two volunteer groups in one day

by Sandy Garland

Yes, despite the threatened thunderstorms, both the Tuesday group and a crew of people involved in the Learning Garden at Ottawa U came to work in our Old Woodlot the same day.

In the afternoon, Derek and Mirko tackled the milkweed field with scythes. Despite the hot, humid weather, they succeeded in clearing the west side of the field. However, Mirko hinted that we might think about hiring someone with a gas-powered (rather than human-powered) cutter.

Derek and Mirko cut dog-strangling vine in this part of the milkweed field. Although cutting does not stop growth of DSV, it does keep it from “strangling” trees and from producing seeds. Another cut in August should prevent new seeds in this field.

And our Common Milkweeds are growing in that field, despite being surrounded by DSV.

And our Common Milkweeds are growing in that field, despite being surrounded by DSV.

Balsam Fir saplings still growing under all those taller plants.

Balsam Fir saplings still growing under all those taller plants, including dog-strangling vine.

Meanwhile, new volunteer, Melanie, and I decided to tackle our burdock “trees,” continuing Jesse’s work from last week. We worked along the east edge of the woods, cutting the large first-year rosettes as well as the massive second-year plants. Some motherwort had to come out as well, but we uncovered a number of Balsam Fir trees that seem to be doing well.

Eastern Comma, another butterfly whose larval host is Stinging Nettle.

Eastern Comma, another butterfly whose larval host is Stinging Nettle.

We stopped to watch an Eastern Comma and noticed a couple of new-looking Red Admirals – apparently not all the caterpillars on the nettles were eaten.

Other wildlife: we saw a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers (possibly the ones that nested in the box near the bridge), several toads, mason wasps using the insect hotel, Summer Azures, a Cabbage White, and a couple of snails.

Despite the shade along that east path, White Snakeroot is already starting to bloom. It has spread throughout the woods and can usually be counted on to shine in late summer, early fall, when other plants are starting to fade.

White Snakeroot, blooming early?

White Snakeroot, blooming early?

Blue Vervain is spectacular this year – there’s a huge bunch of it along the southern edge of the FWG just south of the woods.

Blue Vervain - attracts both bees and butterflies with its striking blue colour.

Blue Vervain – attracts both bees and butterflies with its striking blue colour.

It was a pretty hot day, so we packed it in early and sat in the cool of our Resource Centre drinking water and comparing notes on what we saw and did.

Home for dinner, and for me a return trip to the garden to meet Renate, a long-time FWG volunteer, and her colleagues from Ottawa U’s Learning Garden. The FWG donates plants to this garden every year in exchange for an evening’s work in our garden.

After introductions, Alan, Amanda, Afnan, and Nicholas loaded up the wheelbarrows with maple trees and tools and set off for the woods. After an afternoon in the jungle the woods has become, I had serious doubts about finding a place to plant these trees.

Afnan and Amanda started by removing Canada thistles (an alien invader despite its deceiving name), from around the fruit trees on the south side of the woods. Meanwhile, Nicholas, Alan, and I found a path into an area just south of where I had planted maples last year. Once I explained which plants were “good” and which needed to go, we set to work.

Nicholas

Allan-Amanda-Afnan

In no time at all, the intrepid crew had cleared some space and we could see bare ground. We could also see a big patch of trilliums that I rescued many years ago from the middle of a soon-to-be highway 416 off-ramp. Nice to see these old friends – and doing so well!

White Trilliums rescued many years ago, now spreading nicely in their new home.

White Trilliums rescued many years ago, now spreading nicely in their new home.

Renate brought the 10 trees and buckets of water and they were soon in the ground – not a moment too soon as the rain finally arrived, capping off the evening with a good soaking – of plants and people.

Thanks so much for all the hard work – Tuesday group AND Learning Garden guys!

Best nature walk yet!

by Sandy Garland

Great sunny weather and a number of Facebook friends made this the best nature walk we’ve had this year. Don’t worry, though, there’s still time to join us for the next one. We’re having guided walks at the garden every second Sunday afternoon until the fall. They’re casual and fun – just a good time to get outdoors and relax.

Laurie Wilson photographed by Lisa Vee

Laurie Wilson photographed by Lisa Vee

Laurie’s enthusiasm about nature and the garden make these walks a lot of fun for everyone. Of course, it always helps when Marilyn comes along to identify birds for us. Today, she pointed out a Red-tailed Hawk sailing over the garden and impressed everyone by identifying birds by their songs alone.

Armed with field guides, binoculars, and a butterfly net, we all set off to see what was happening at the garden today.

The best place to see hummingbirds. Photo by Aroop Ghosh

The best place to see hummingbirds. Photo by Aroop Ghosh


First stop, the bridge – a great vantage point to see hummingbirds in a few weeks when the Jewelweed growing just below starts to flower. Today we could see a young Tree Swallow peering out of a bird box across the pond in the other direction.

Watch out for nettles. Photo by Aroop Ghosh

Watch out for nettles. Photo by Aroop Ghosh

Don’t touch the nettles! They’re covered in tiny hairs that break and inject you with chemicals that make your skin burn and itch. But Red Admiral butterflies lay their eggs on these plants and their caterpillars not only eat the leaves, but curl up inside them. How do they do that?

Silver-spotted Skipper photographed by Aroop Ghosh

Silver-spotted Skipper photographed by Aroop Ghosh

On to the Butterfly Meadow where two kinds of milkweeds are blooming along with fleabane, vervain, Queen of the Prairie, bedstraw, mallow, beebalm, and more.

We caught this Silver-spotted Skipper in our net and popped it into a bottle for a closer look before releasing it back into the midst of the flowers. Aroop snapped this great photo of it perched on the edge of a Queen Anne’s Lace flowerhead.

Banded Hairstreak photographed by Aroop Ghosh

Banded Hairstreak photographed by Aroop Ghosh

He also captured this lovely little Banded Hairstreak poised on Daisy Fleabane. And we saw a very fast-moving Great Spangled Fritillary.

On to the Insect Hotel, but bitter disappointment. The mason bee boxes that we had installed this spring had been full of larvae, sealed in their tunnels behind clay walls. Today, predatory wasps had arrived and it was clear they had broken into many of the bee tunnels. We talked a bit about whether it does more harm than good to build a bee hotel and concentrate these species where predators can then easily find them. No easy answers, of course. We try our best.

Our Insect Hotel, photographed by Aroop Ghosh

Our Insect Hotel, photographed by Aroop Ghosh

Green Frog tadpoles in our small backyard pond. Photo by Aroop Ghosh

Green Frog tadpoles in our small backyard pond. Photo by Aroop Ghosh

Back to the Backyard Garden, a bit of shade, and a drink of water. We were all drawn to the pond and were delighted to see dozens of tadpoles swimming among the water plants. These are likely Green Frog tadpoles as this species is common in our small pond.

The garden was buzzing with bees, many on this fine stand of Fireweed, below.

Fireweed in full bloom, photographed by Aroop Ghosh

Fireweed in full bloom, photographed by Aroop Ghosh

Canada Lily, photographed by Lisa Vee

Canada Lily, photographed by Lisa Vee

Another spectacular native wildflower that’s at its best right now is this Canada Lily. The numerous blooms and the way they each grow on a separate stem make it look like nature’s chandelier.

All in all a busy day at the FWG. I really enjoyed meeting everyone, chatting about plants, and catching insects with that charming young man who plans to study zoology. Let’s do this again some time!

Special thanks to Aroop and Lisa for taking such wonderful photos. You can see more of Aroop’s in his Fletcher Wildlife Garden album on Facebook and Lisa’s in the FWG Facebook group.

Burdock, motherwort, and nettle jungle (or It’s not always about DSV)

by Sandy Garland

Tuesday again and another chance to work in the Old Woodlot! I was rather disorganized this week as it sort of looked like rain, except when the sun came out, and volunteers arrived one at a time, so it was hard to know how big a job to tackle. So we loaded a little bit of everything into the wagon and set off for the woods.

Riddell's Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii) protected by a wire fence until they become established.

Riddell’s Goldenrod protected by a wire fence until they become established.

Kate wanted to plant something, so I gave her five goldenrods – Solidago riddellii, a species new to me. I acquired these plants this week in a trade with Renée De Vry, who manages the Meditation Garden next to the Unitarian Church on Cleary Avenue. Well worth the visit, by the way, as Renée does a fantastic job and has created a bee sanctuary as well as a truly beautiful garden filled with layer upon layer of both “tame” and wildflowers, shrubs, trees, and grasses. Stroll the paths or sit on one of the benches and just breathe in the greenness.

Ted continued to uncover and mark small trees that we’ve planted over the last few years to give them room and light to grow. We found a more suitable flagging tape for this purpose, so you’ll see little flashes of red all over the woods this week.

Jesse chose to cut burdock, which has now reached the size of small trees. After ensuring that he could identify the right plants, he set off into the east part of the woods with our heavy-duty loppers and disappeared for the next hour. Just as we were thinking about sending a search party, he appeared to ask what to do with the cut burdock, which was now filling the east trail! (For more about burdock, please see our invasive species fact sheet in English or French.)

This was Derek’s first time working in the woods. (Previously, he had helped pot up plants for the sale in early June.) We introduced him to the scythe and turned him loose in the part of the woodlot we call the pine forest – a stand of about 15 White Pine trees planted by Fisher highschool students in 1995. Derek took to scything like a pro, and quickly cut all the dog-strangling vine (DSV) in this area.

Derek scything DSV in our “pine woods.”

Derek scything DSV in our “pine woods.”

Well-rotted DSV (right) used to cover tiny DSV seedlings (left)

Well-rotted DSV (right) used to cover tiny DSV seedlings (left)

Meanwhile, I decided to finally empty the garbage bags that have been sitting next to the pine trees since last fall when a group of Carleton students filled them with DSV that they had pulled up. I wanted to use the contents to mulch around more Red Osier Dogwood shrubs where DSV seedlings were growing thickly.

Another aside: Last week, I mentioned that we were going to try to find out whether DSV plants lying on the ground would affect the growth of “good” plants near by. Naomi Cappuccino (a professor at Carleton who has been studying DSV for many years) wrote: “There have been papers on the allelopathic effects of DSV, with chemicals exuding from the roots that can harm other plants. I would be surprised if a rotting pile of DSV had the same effect though. I would imagine that the compounds in the leaves would not be stable for long in the environment, and since rotting plants, unlike living roots, wouldn’t be continually producing these compounds, I doubt there would be a problem. But you never know! I think that if you haven’t noticed anything obvious, if there is an effect it is probably small.” Which I interpret to mean: go ahead and leave the pulled DSV in the woods, but keep an eye on adjacent plants. I also Googled DSV allelopathy and found an excellent article on the ecology of DSV.

I inadvertently disturbed a bumblebee nest in this bag of dead DSV

I inadvertently disturbed a bumblebee nest in this bag of dead DSV

Unfortunately, in my enthusiasm to empty those bags, I accidentally evicted a queen bumblebee who I believe had made a nest inside. I backed away immediately and watched as she tried to figure out what had happened to her home. We moved to another part of the woods in hopes that the queen would be able to find her nest and continue to use it.

Kate and I decided to tackle an area where I have been planting Sugar Maple trees in hopes of making space for more. In addition to burdock, Motherwort, which seemed so innocuous in the spring, has now grown to be 2 metres tall, completely covering any trees and plants. We also have to watch for stinging nettles, as grabbing one in error can result in a painful sensation that lasts for hours.

Slender Stinging Nettle

Slender Stinging Nettle

Slender Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica ssp. gracilis) is a native species and the larval host for Red Admiral butterflies. So we don’t want to remove it even though it can give our volunteers a nasty burning sensation if they so much as brush against it.

A month ago, we noticed Red Admiral butterflies paying attention to these plants and a couple of weeks later found lots of caterpillars eating and “nesting” in the leaves. We’re eagerly awaiting another generation of butterflies…

After showing nettles to everyone in the crew and pointing out potential anitdotes to the skin reaction they cause – mainly the multitude of Spotted Touch-me-nots growing nearby – Kate and I got into a discussion about what causes the skin reaction: sharp hairs covering the leaves or chemicals that the plant produces.

It turns out we were both right. The leaves and stems are covered with tiny hairs “whose tips come off when touched, transforming the hair into a needle that will inject several chemicals: acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid. This mixture of chemical compounds causes a painful sting or paresthesia from which the species derives one of its common names, stinging nettle, as well as the colloquial names burn nettle, burn weed, and burn hazel” (see Wikipedia for references and more info). See also the US Forest Service database for everything there is to know about this species and its close relatives. And see WebMD for reputed medicinal uses, side effects, etc.

Summer Azure

Summer Azure

Despite the gloomy damp day, we saw a White Admiral butterfly as well as the ruffled bumblebee. The day before, I had also found a Summer Azure, a pretty little blue butterfly examining, of all things, dog poop. Although we definitely want dog walkers to stoop and scoop, it is well known that butterflies are attracted to the nutrients in dog feces. I will leave that bit of information with you to do as you wish; but please do not experiment with feces at the FWG!

Rollers, nibblers, and spit

by Sandy Garland

This Red Osier Dogwood is probably over 15 years old.

This Red Osier Dogwood is probably over 15 years old.

I remember when this Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) shrub was just a tiny thing at the edge of the path. It sent out roots – one of them sticking out so that we’d trip over it every now and then. We almost dug it out, but eventually it got so big we just walked around it and the roots were no longer a problem. Now it’s more than 3 metres across and teeming with life.

Red Osier Dogwoods are great if you like wildlife. The flat flower clusters attract butterflies and other pollinators, and in late summer and fall, birds come to eat the berries. According to our Planting the urban landscape: Selected trees and shrubs for birds, “Ninety species of birds have been recorded using C. stolonifera as a food source.” Some are Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireos, Hermit and Wood Thrushes, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Cardinal, and Evening and Pine Grosbeaks.

Banasa stink bug (Banasa dimidiate) - These attractive green stinkbugs are very common and seem to be especially so on Red-osier Dogwoods.  (photo and caption by Christine Hanrahan)

Banasa stink bug (Banasa dimidiate) – These attractive green stinkbugs are very common and seem to be especially so on Red-osier Dogwoods. (photo and caption by Christine Hanrahan)

Illinois Wildflowers says, “The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies…. Other insects feed on the leaves, suck plant juices, or bore through the wood. These species include the caterpillars of many moths, long-horned beetles (Cerambycidae), leaf beetles (Chrysomelidae), aphids (Aphididae), plant bugs (Miridae), and others.

“Because of their higher than average fat content, the white drupes of Red-Osier Dogwood are an important food source of wood ducks, songbirds, and upland gamebirds. The White-Footed Mouse and other small rodents also eat the drupes. The White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbit browse on the leaves and woody stems; beavers also use the stems as a food source and as construction material for their dams and lodges. To a minor extent, the fallen leaves are eaten by some turtles, including Chelydra serpentina (Snapping Turtle).”

White web under a leaf.

White web under a leaf.

As I looked closely at our large dogwood, I could see many rolled leaves, where an insect had wrapped itself for protection. Under one leaf, a delicate white web held a more dense cocoon of some kind in its centre (left).

Schizura concinna on Red-osier Dogwood (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Schizura concinna on Red-osier Dogwood (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

This colourful caterpillar (right), the larva of a Notodontid moth, feeds on dogwood. And the Calligrapher Beetle further below makes a meal of the leaves.

Although I didn’t see any spittlebugs, the shrub was covered with white globs of foam, betraying their presence.

Dogwood spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus) - In early summer, dogwood shrubs, mostly Red-osier Dogwoods, are festooned with little white foamy globs. This is the "spittle" of the Dogwood Spittlebug nymph. Eventually the adults (inset) appear and can be seen quite commonly on the shrubs.

Dogwood spittlebug (Clastoptera proteus) – In early summer, dogwood shrubs, mostly Red-osier Dogwoods, are festooned with little white foamy globs. This is the “spittle” of the Dogwood Spittlebug nymph. Eventually the adults (inset) appear and can be seen quite commonly on the shrubs.

Dogwood calligrapher (Calligrapha philadelphica) on Red-osier Dogwood (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Dogwood calligrapher (Calligrapha philadelphica) on Red-osier Dogwood (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

At the FWG, Song Sparrows have nested in our dogwoods and we’ve seen Gray Catbirds carrying the white berries to their nestlings.

In fall, the leaves fall off dogwoods early, leaving bright red branches. The field to the north of our Old Woodlot looks like it’s on fire on sunny days when the red dogwood stems glow against golden aspen leaves.

Even in winter, the red of the osiers brightens dull days.

Photographed in the Old Woodlot, the remains of the seedheads were coated in ice, as were the red stems. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Photographed in the Old Woodlot in January, the remains of the seedheads are coated in ice, as are the red stems (photo by Christine Hanrahan).