Tackling the hardest jobs

by Sandy Garland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flora, fauna, and ?

Virginia Creeper Clearwing moth photographed by Kate Davis

Virginia Creeper Clearwing moth photographed by Kate Davis

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


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

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

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The nightshades – deadly and otherwise

by Sandy Garland

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

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

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

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

Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum)

Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum)

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

Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. Canadensis)

Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. canadensis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More tree planting

by Sandy Garland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundhog hole previously hidden by a mass of DSV.

Groundhog hole previously hidden by a mass of DSV.

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

A Bitternut Hickory successfully planted, watered, and mulched.

A Bitternut Hickory successfully planted, watered, and mulched.

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

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

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

Bumble bee on Grass-leaved Goldenrod at the FWG

Bumble bee on Grass-leaved Goldenrod at the FWG

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

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