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), Catmint (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.

Catmint (Nepeta cataria)

Catmint (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).

Treasure hunting in the Old Woodlot

by Sandy Garland

It may be easy to see this young tree, but can you see the other smaller ones in the background? Stakes help.

It may be easy to see this young tree, but can you see the other smaller ones in the background? Stakes help.

This Tuesday, we took a break from scything DSV and went on a bit of a treasure hunt.

Ted pointed out that as he’s been weeding he’s coming across all sorts of small trees that we’ve planted over the past few years. Many are still so small that they are easily overgrown by the prolific jewelweed, ferns, etc. Armed with stakes and ribbons, Ted and Jesse marked a bunch of the young trees and cleared some of the surrounding vegetation to give them more light.

Meanwhile, Kate, Luke, and I tackled a previously untouched part of the woods near the north end. Jesse joined us, and we dug and pulled DSV out from around a couple of large dogwood shrubs, resprouting ash trees, and young oaks. Hard work, but pretty satisfying, especially when we find “treasures” like the oak seedlings that Luke uncovered.

Luke dug and pulled DSV, uncovering many oak seedlings (see inset) - offspring of the 50+ year old Red Oak nearby.

Luke dug and pulled DSV, uncovering many oak seedlings (see inset) – offspring of the 50+ year old Red Oak nearby.

Jesse worked farther into the "jungle" and ended up with a huge pile of DSV as well a lot of untangled trees.

Jesse worked farther into the “jungle” and ended up with a huge pile of DSV as well a lot of untangled trees.

Triumphant Kate waving a huge DSV root.

Triumphant Kate waving a huge DSV root.

Kate prefers to dig up DSV rather than pulling it. This is much harder work, but I think she likes the idea that when you get the root out the job is done – that one won’t grow back. The area where we were working has been a neglected tangle for many years, so the DSV plants were quite large. We all cheered when Kate held up this huge mass of roots!

We also uncovered a great “nurse log” – a fallen tree trunk, mossy and decaying, feeding an ecosystem of insects and other creatures that break down dead material, and fostering new growth.

Next to a chip pile, I found a dozen small current plants – no doubt the chip pile is covering their parent shrub.

By the end of the afternoon, we had two huge piles of DSV. Time for clean up, but what to do with all that DSV? Because the plants have not produced any seeds yet, they didn’t have to be bagged, but would a pile of DSV bleed chemicals into the soil?

We decided that many “good” plants had been growing alongside DSV for many years, so it was unlikely that DSV would suddenly kill them. So, we put the DSV plants to good use as “mulch” around a large Red Osier Dogwood shrub, to prevent DSV seedlings from growing back. Meanwhile, Kate is going to consult a research scientist – just to be sure this isn’t causing damage.

Disposal is always an issue and we like to reuse or recycle as much as possible. As much as we hate DSV, the plants DO contain nutrients they extracted from the soil; might as well put them back!

Disposal is always an issue and we like to reuse or recycle as much as possible. As much as we hate DSV, the plants DO contain nutrients they extracted from the soil; might as well put them back!

Note to self: Next week, let’s mulch around the “good” plants and cover all the tiny DSV seedlings with newspaper and wood chips. This technique doesn’t really work for mature plants (unless the mulch is over a foot deep and packed), but it’s an effective way to kill tiny ones.

Mid-sized American Toad

Mid-sized American Toad

We didn’t see much wildlife today or maybe we were too busy to notice. Lots of toads of all sizes can be found – I almost stepped on this little guy (left) who was sitting at the edge of a trail.

I haven’t seen a Red Admiral for a while, but I’m hoping all those caterpillars we saw on nettle plants are pupating and will soon emerge. Cabbage White butterflies are evident and we are seeing skippers now. During the Nature Walk on Sunday (21 June), we saw a Banded Hairstreak, several Eastern Commas, and a White Admiral. Our June photo blog contains many photos of interesting insects: a White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar, beetle eggs, a lacewing cocoon, a Fourteen-spotted Ladybeetle, a Long-horned beetle, and a Four-lined Plant Bug, just to name a few.

We saw our first Monarch of the year, a female, last week and are now hoping for eggs.

Finally, I’ve put up some signs around the Old Woodlot explaining some of the things we’re doing to try to control DSV. If you see them during your walk, please let me know what you think. Are these useful? Interesting? Annoying? If you find them useful, what other subjects would you like to know more about? Contact us at fletcher@ofnc.ca

More hands, but still heavy work

by Sandy Garland

Tuesday afternoon and time to work in the woods again. With all the rain, things have changed considerably since the last blog post 2 weeks ago. Jewelweed is still dominating the whole area, but the trees planted this year and last are doing well and lots of wildflowers are popping up.

Despite the threatened thunderstorms, we sharpened the scythes, gathered other tools, loaded up the wagon and wheelbarrow, and Mirko, Ted, Catrina, Evelyn, Jesse, Kate, and I headed off to the woods by 1:30.

Ted has been digging out dog-strangling vine (DSV) on the east side of the centre path, around maple saplings and was pleased to see that it hadn’t magically grown back as feared. Today, he tackled an area where we planted 10 balsam firs this year and 10 last year. The little trees were heavily shaded by DSV and jewelweed, but Ted opened up the area to give them more light.

Ted looking for foot-high balsam firs under a thick layer of jewelweed. The much larger balsam fir at the left was planted several years ago.

Ted looking for foot-high balsam firs under a thick layer of jewelweed. The much larger balsam fir at the left was planted several years ago.

Mirko, Jesse, and Kate offered to continue scything DSV along the farm road and between some of the shrubs. Keeping an ear out for birds, they set out to cut DSV that is now blooming. Our goal is to keep these plants from releasing seeds this year; no seeds, no new plants next year!

Potential milkweed field. The centre was cleared and planted with milkweeds 3 years ago. Earlier this year, we cleared another area to the north and seeded it with Common Milkweed seeds. To the south, we spread a tarpaulin, which will suppress all growth in that small area. Today we scythed around the edges, carefully leaving goldenrods, milkweeds, and avoiding the many shrubs here.

Potential milkweed field. The centre was cleared and planted with milkweeds 3 years ago. Earlier this year, we cleared another area to the north and seeded it with Common Milkweed seeds. To the south, we spread a tarpaulin, which will suppress all growth there. Today we scythed around the edges, carefully leaving goldenrods, milkweeds, and avoiding the many shrubs here.

Meanwhile, Evelyn and Catrina planted a bunch of large Rough Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) plants that were declared surplus to Backyard Garden requirements last week. Unlike the more common Canada Goldenrod, this species is welcome in the model native plant garden behind our Resource Centre as it doesn’t spread very quickly, it grows in a nice dense clump, and its regularly spaced leaves keep it looking “tidy” even as it goes to seed in fall. Like other goldenrods, it’s a favourite of many insects including butterflies.

After a water break, Jesse and I decided to work in the shade for a while. We tackled DSV growing around Tamarack trees, a Black Maple, and some Trembling Aspens. As DSV forms seeds, it usually falls over and the plants twine together. However, DSV near trees often twine around their branches instead and can grow up to 10 feet tall – all the better to cast their seeds into the wind and spread them further. An obvious goal is to keep this from happening.

Jesse pulling out dog-strangling vine to prevent it from climbing these Trembling Aspens.

Jesse pulling out dog-strangling vine to prevent it from climbing these Trembling Aspens.

Note to self: remember to put down leaf mulch around trees and in any other areas where we can see tiny DSV seedlings. Mulch often doesn’t stop mature DSV plants from growing, but it can kill the much more vulnerable seedlings.

Wildlife we saw

A Cepaea species - hortensis or nemoralis.

A Cepaea species – hortensis or nemoralis.

Jesse found this striped snail (and many others of the same species) on a tree trunk. These land snails are common at the FWG; unfortunately, they are not native, but the introduced Cepaea genus. He also found a small American Toad, although we didn’t get a photo.

Canada Anemone is still blooming, but most “spring ephemerals” have now almost disappeared. We found trillium leaves buried under DSV in a couple of places and Catrina and Evelyn uncovered a number of wildflowers in the south part of the woods. A Tiger Swallowtail butterfly flew by as we worked.

Unknown sedges at the edge of the trail through the Old Woodlot.

Unknown sedges at the edge of the trail through the Old Woodlot.

A number of sedges grow in the woods, not all planted. This one (at left) is particularly attractive, but we have no idea which of the hundreds of native sedges it could be.

We looked at and discussed the differences between American Mountain-ash (Sorbus americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). The latter two are closely related and very similar, but Butternut has a larger terminal leaflet.

Mirko found and photographed these mushrooms growing near our Resource Centre.

Mirko found and photographed these newly emerged mushrooms growing near our Resource Centre.

Finally, back at the Resource Centre after we put away all the tools and everyone else had left, a hawk flew across the access road right in front of me as I dragged a bag of garbage to the bin. Perfect ending to a great afternoon!

Scythes vs. dog-strangling vine

by Sandy Garland

Tuesday-in-the-woods day and my trusty crew of Catrina, Mirko, and Kate arrived right on time. Unfortunately, it looked like rain, so we stayed around the centre for a while watering (the plants that don’t get rained on) and potting up more seedlings: Gray Goldenrod and Upland White Goldenrod.

As the sky cleared a bit, we sharpened the scythes and set off for the field north of the woods to do battle with dog-strangling vine (DSV). This week, DSV was over two feet tall and mostly blooming. (Remember, the goal is not to let it set seed.)

Mirko and Catrina cutting DSV along the road north of the Old Woodlot

Mirko and Catrina cutting DSV along the road north of the Old Woodlot

We worked around the damp Red Osier Dogwood/Tamarack field, cutting around large clumps of goldenrod and along the narrow grassy area between the shrubs and the road (photo above). We’ve found that goldenrod competes with DSV somewhat, so we try to give this native species an advantage by damaging its competition (photo below).

Catrina scythed DSV around these clumps of goldenrods, while I pulled any DSV plants left at the edges and the few plants in the middle.

Catrina scythed DSV around these clumps of goldenrods, while I pulled any DSV plants left at the edges and the few plants in the middle.

Tiny Common Milkweed sprouts; hopefully we'll have a field full by the time Monarch butterflies arrive later this month.

Tiny milkweed sprouts; hopefully we’ll have a field full by the time Monarch butterflies arrive later this month.

In the milkweed field (still north of the woods but east of the centre trail), we again cut DSV along the road. In that field, a group of amazing high school students dug up a large area of DSV several weeks ago and planted Common Milkweed seeds, which are now sprouting. They turned the turf upside down on top of more DSV to double the damage and put down a tarpaulin south of the milkweed patch, in hopes of killing DSV there as well.

Questions we hope to answer

How many times do we have to cut DSV in various areas to keep it from setting seed? Will grass grow back faster than DSV, shading it and making it weaker? How effective is digging up the layer of sod that contains DSV roots? How effective is it to put down a thick layer of mulch after cutting DSV – a possible solution around shrubs?

Names of plants

False Solomon's Seal

False Solomon’s Seal


The woods are looking very lush this week as spring wildflowers take their turn adding splashes of colour to the shades of green. False Solomon’s Seal is still in bloom, as are wild Red Columbines and persistent pink ones that arrived many years ago in someone’s fall leaves.

Red Columbine

Red Columbine

Starry Solomon's Seal (right), just finished blooming and Canada Anemone just starting

Starry Solomon’s Seal (right), just finished blooming and Canada Anemone just starting

Interesting sightings
Dozens of Red Admiral caterpillars are eating their way through the nettles in the woods (below left). And Mirko found this tiny (2 cm diameter) mushroom growing in some mouldy wood chips (right).

Tuesday afternoons in the woods

by Sandy Garland

When our ash trees were taken down last spring, not only did they leave enormous “holes” in the Old Woodlot, but they also caused damage to other trees and plants when they fell and were dragged out of the area. Increased light means the ground vegetation is likely to change. All this prompted us to form a regular work group to restore this habitat and create a mixed woodlot full of a variety of native plants, shrubs, and trees.

A small group of us have been tackling this work, a bit at a time. Here are some successes and some things we’ve seen.

Over the last few weeks, a priority has been to remove Garlic Mustard, especially plants that are blooming as we want to prevent any more seeds from planting themselves. Garlic Mustard is an invasive species that is especially a problem in woods. See our fact sheet and photos.

Dog-strangling vine (DSV) is the most difficult invasive species to control. In fact, we don’t seem to be able to control it at all. Our goal is to at least keep the plants that are already in the woods from producing seeds. Mirko proved to be very adept with a scythe last Tuesday and cut a lot of DSV that was just starting to bloom. We’ll have to cut these same plants again in a month and probably once more in late summer as they grow back quickly. But if we can deplete the resources the plant stores in its roots, we might gain a few “points” in the battle. See our fact sheet and photos.

Newly scythed Dog-strangling Vine. Cutting gives grasses an advantage as they grow back faster than DSV.

Newly scythed Dog-strangling Vine. Cutting gives grasses an advantage as they grow back faster than DSV.

Glimpse of a gartersnake photographed by Kate Davis

Glimpse of a gartersnake photographed by Kate Davis

Kate chose to dig up DSV as that’s the only way to truly get rid of it. We dig it out around “good plants,” but it would take an army to do this all through the garden. In this area, goldenrods, blackberries, native clematis, and other wildflowers are competing with DSV. We’re on their side. While working, Kate found this gartersnake that seems to live on the south edge of the woods.

Another way to fight DSV is to cover thick patches of it with a tarpaulin. The tarp has to be left in place for more than a year to make sure the plant roots are killed. Last week, Catrina and I moved a tarp from this area to an adjacent one. I was very pleased to see that blackberries from nearby had grown runners under the tarp and were now sending up new shoots. You can just see blackberry flowers at the right of this photo. And you can just see the tarp in its new location in the background.

After killing DSV by covering it for more than a year, we were delighted to find blackberries growing into this now bare area

After killing DSV by covering it for more than a year, we were delighted to find blackberries spreading into this now bare area

Names of plants

A mass of Large-leaved Asters

A mass of Large-leaved Asters

In addition to invasive species, we’re all learning the names of the “good” plants. At the left are Large-leaved Asters (Eurybia macrophylla; see our database), a good ground cover in shady areas. They DO bloom, in late summer and early fall, usually just before Heart-leaved Asters.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the left growing right next to White Trilliums (right)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the left growing right next to White Trilliums (right)

At the left are two spring ephemerals, both of which have three-part leaves: Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum; database) and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum; database).

Interesting sightings

We learned that Kate’s the one with sharp eyes – and a great cell-phone camera. She spotted and photographed a huge spider (not sure what species), a morel mushroom growing in our plant nursery, and a colourful American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus).

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Help wanted

With Ted off in Europe and Gene visiting grandchildren, we are down two valuable people from our Old Woods team. If you’d like to help, please come along any Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 pm. Even helping for one afternoon is important.