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.

Nest boxes for mason bees

This very small bee was exploring the various nest holes in this bee box. This tiny bee is in the Tribe Osmiini, and in the genus Heriades (thanks to Bug Guide for identifying the genus).

This very small bee was exploring the various nest holes in this bee box. This tiny bee is in the Tribe Osmiini, and in the genus Heriades (thanks to Bug Guide for identifying the genus).

by Sandy Garland

Mason bees are named for their use of mud or clay in their nests. They belong in the genus Osmia in the family Megachilidae.

At the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, we have found Blue Orchard Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) as well as the Heriades pictured below. This and other species in the family are very good at pollinating fruit trees. They are closely related to leaf-cutter bees, which will also use bee boxes.

Some sources of information about mason bees
Blue Orchard Mason Bee
Wikipedia
BugGuide

Life cycle of mason bees

May: Adults emerge in spring around the time apple trees bloom. They mate and lay eggs, provisioning their tunnels with lumps of pollen mixed with nectar and saliva. They seal the
chambers and the whole tunnel with mud, so need a source nearby. Adults live 4‐8 weeks.

Early summer: Eggs hatch, larvae eat their pollen

Late summer: 5th instar larvae pupate

September: Pupae open and adults emerge, but hibernate in their coccoons until the following spring, when the cycle starts again.

Why do they need bee houses

Mason bees do not dig their own tunnels; instead they look for “natural” tunnels, such as hollow plant stems or twigs or the abandoned nests of other insects. Many of these potential mason bee nests are cleared away from our urban properties in an effort to keep our yard “tidy.”

Bees are also susceptible to parasites and disease. Providing a nest box that can be cleaned or replaced every year may help minimize these and produce healthier bees.

Mason bees are readily attracted to paper tubes. Drilled holes in wood are also an option, but both types of tunnels should be replaced every year.

How to make a mason bee box

Our instructions come from Richard Scarth, who has been helping mason bees for many years. Jenny Sheppard demonstrated the construction of this type of bee box at a workshop in May and donated two boxes to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Step by step instructions

Please note: this easy-to-make bee box is intended for summer use only. The idea is to open the tunnels in the fall and store cocoons in the refrigerator over the winter. This provides a chance to clean away parasites and increases the chances of bee survival.

Jenny has kindly offered to do a follow-up workshop in the fall to show us how to retrieve cocoons properly and the best way to store them.

Alternatively, you may wish to build a protective structure for your bee boxes and leave them out all year round. In either case, the whole box should be replaced in spring just before the previous year’s adults emerge.

Does it work?

We installed our two boxes in our insect hotel on 7 May 2015. Within a week, bees were busily filling the tunnels with nectar and pollen, laying eggs, and closing up the compartments with mud.

In this photo, taken on 15 May 2015, two tunnels in our bee box are already full of eggs and are sealed with mud. A mason bee in the upper left tunnel is still at work bringing pollen and laying eggs.

In this photo, taken on 15 May 2015, two tunnels in our bee box are already full of eggs and are sealed with mud. A mason bee in the upper left tunnel is still at work bringing pollen and laying eggs.

On Raising Monarchs

by Julia Cipriani

Monarch egg. Photo by Julia Cipriani

Monarch egg. Photo by Julia Cipriani

I have been a number one admirer of the Monarch butterfly for a very, very long time. I find their mid-June arrival in Canada and their September journey to return to their over-wintering grounds in the mountains where the Oyamel fir trees grow in Mexico awesome in the truest sense of that overused and misused word. Many people are infatuated with the monarch. Organizations use the symbol of the monarch quite freely to demonstrate their “celebration” of nature.

In the late 1980s I started collecting the eggs and young larvae which I found on the roadside milkweed in late June. I used window screens salvaged from a flea market to create a shelter on the deck of the cottage where I spent part of my summer. I stuffed the host milkweed plants into bottles and replaced the food as the plants dried out or as the larvae munched through them. Sometimes this involved moving the rapidly growing larvae from the plant which was drying to the new plant.

This is easy to do if you can gently persuade the caterpillar to move over to the new plant. If that does not work, you can break the leaf off the plant the larva is on and lay the leaf on the new plant.

Often the mature caterpillars escaped the shelter. The chrysalis formed in sight and out of sight. If the adult butterfly hatched in the shelter, I opened the screen to allow it to fly when it was ready to take its leave. I introduced the monarch’s life cycle to anyone who showed any interest. A couple of neighbours started raising the eggs and larvae.

I have not had access to that cottage for many years. It is only in the past few years that I have again found and provided shelter for the larvae, using a small cage I created to contain the larvae and to provide a place for the mature larvae to anchor the chrysalis on the roof of the shelter.

This summer I found 10 young larvae on the re-grown milkweed along the mowed side of a road near the same cottage where I used to spend summers. I assume they were the newborns of the first arrivals. I brought them back to Ottawa on the collected plants where I found them. Then I found a few more larvae at another site. Not all of the larvae made it. One died during one of the caterpillar’s instars. One chrysalis fell during the transformation from larva to chrysalis. I released 10 adults in 2014 – 3 females and 7 males.

Until this spring, the host plant of the monarch – Common Milkweed – was on the noxious weed list in Ontario as it is poisonous to some grazing farm animals. Gardeners ripped the milkweed plants out of their gardens and lawns. Herbicide spraying by farmers using Roundup in order to get rid of the milkweed growing on the edges of their fields and along the roadsides of their property also reduces food sources for monarchs. Secondary roads in Quebec and Ontario are mowed regularly during the summer months to control weeds. This practice also removes the Common Milkweed plants upon which the butterflies lay their eggs or kills the feeding larvae.

I see myself as positively interfering with nature. I can easily rationalize my gathering of eggs and larvae as a very small attempt to mitigate some of the damage done on a much larger scale. Raising monarchs from egg or from young larvae is a five to six week long commitment. Please do not even consider collecting the eggs and larvae if you are not willing to tend to them. You need to provide fresh milkweed daily during the 2 week larval stage. I do not collect all the larvae I find, leaving some to mature in their natural habitat. After 10 days in the chrysalis, the adult emerges, pumps fluid into it wings, rests for about a day and then needs to be released to forage, mate and, if a female, to lay eggs.

For a few summers I volunteered in the Fletcher Monarch Way Station. I was delighted to participate in creating a butterfly-friendly environment full of leaves to munch or nectar to sip. It is vital to have chemical-free habitats for monarchs and all of the other creatures who occupy the meadow.

Diane Lepage has done an amazing job of organizing and overseeing the transformation of the area. She welcomes volunteers for the Wednesday evening Butterfly Meadow group. Fighting the Dog-strangling Vine is a hard but essential task. Not only does the plant choke out native sources of food for pollinators, sometimes Monarch larvae hatch upon DSV when the female adult monarch mistakes the plant for milkweed. The larva die because they cannot digest DSV.

Please check the Fletcher website if you are interested in supporting the Butterfly Meadow team.

Immature larva by J Cipriani

Immature larva by J Cipriani

Mature larva on Common Milkweed by J Cipriani

Mature larva on Common Milkweed by J Cipriani

Preparing to hang by J Cipriani

Preparing to hang by J Cipriani

Fresh chrysalis by J Cipriani

Fresh chrysalis by J Cipriani

On the verge of hatching by J Cipriani

On the verge of hatching by J Cipriani

Pumping fluid into wings by J Cipriani

Pumping fluid into wings by J Cipriani

Mature male Monarch enjoying life! by J Cipriani

Mature male Monarch resting before taking wing by J Cipriani

 

 

Art in the FWG

29 July – 
 
Volunteer Barbara writes:
 
As you happen to walk past the birch trees behind the Butterfly Garden or over towards the unusual grafted tree near the Ash Woods, you will notice some changes in these two little areas, as created by installation artist Karl Ciesluk. 
 
Karl, an established artist with many installations and sculptures to his credit in Canada and internationally, most recently created a labyrinth for the “Beyond the Edge: Artists’ Gardens installations”, organized by Canadensis Botanical Garden Society in the neighbouring field just south of FWG. A couple of Fridays ago he approached some Fletcher volunteers about using a natural feature at FWG as the basis for a temporary work of art.  After considering the proposal and placing some limitations as to what could be done, the Management Committee agreed that he could create something at FWG.
 
Karl has chosen two concepts: using the birch trees to create ladders to heaven, a homage to volunteers who have died, and wrapping the grafted tree (a Camperdown elm) to highlight the beauty of its limbs. No chemicals or cutting tools will be used and the treatments can be easily removed. FWG will add small signs at these two locations to acknowledge the installations.
 
There has been controversy about this decision to permit artistic expression at FWG. Karl’s purpose is to show people other ways of looking at nature and our relationship to it, in his own way somewhat similar to what the Fletcher Wildlife Garden is trying to do. 
 
***
 
A question to ponder is how do we balance natural spaces, the desire to have spaces be quiet for wildlife and the art, which will attract people to then come and observe?