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).