Andrenid bees at the FWG

by Christine Hanrahan

Originally posted in May 2011

About 5 years ago, I discovered an aggregation of Andrenid bees nesting on the north slope of the Amphibian Pond. At that time they were in one location only. The next year I went back to the pond in early spring, hoping to find them. It wasn’t until late April that they appeared, in the same location, at the time a nearby willow was in flower. Eventually, I discovered that they were Andrena dunningi, a species known to time its emergence to coincide with the flowering of willow trees.

Andrenid bee. These bees were very active in early afternoon under a warm, sunny sky. I would guesstimate about 30-40 were seen, fewer than the number of nest holes.

Over the next few years, I found them mostly in the initial location, but in 2007, I also found some nesting in another section of the north slope, where an abundance of non-native plants, mostly mustards and Chenopodium species, were growing (for that one year). The nesting, of course, took place before these plants had grown to full height.

This year, 2011, the bees were first noticed in late April, and, interestingly, I saw they had spread from their original site to the upper section of the track around the pond (not the Bill Holland Trail, but the “informal” track that was created when the bridge was closed last year), and to the west side of this track. I counted about 30 entrance holes at that point.

Constant foot traffic on the track meant that the burrows were continually being closed over, although new holes appeared regularly.

Andrenids prefer areas of bare soil with scattered vegetation, such as sparsely growing grass, and show a distinct preference for the tops of slopes. Their burrows are about 4-6 inches in length, as best as I can determine, so we don’t want to plant species with deep spreading roots that might prevent them from burrowing. Reading I have done since last week indicates that they will nest under exposed tree roots, but they are much happier with bare soil.

Some of the plants we have considered for this location (and we are not restricting the list to native only) include clover, grasses and sedges that form clumps (such as poverty oat grass and peduncled sedge), and possibly vines that will grow down the slope such as wild grape or virginia creeper.

Freshly dug nest site: you can see the mound of soil around the hole.

Andrenid nest entrance. Freshly dug holes often have a mound of soil around them (see photo above), but rain washes this away. Many of the nest holes are not apparent at first, especially if not surrounded by a mound of soil. They are also very small, approx. 1/4 inch or less.

NOTE: As of May 2017, we have found at least 7 species of Andrenid bees at the FWG: Andrena cressonii, A. dunningi, A. miserabilis, A. nasonii, A rufosignata, A. vicina, and A. wilkella (the last one is the only non-native). In addition to this location next to the pond, we’ve also seen them in the Old Woodlot.


FWG: “One of nine top garden destinations in Canada”

by John Davidson

Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum)

The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is included in one of the nine best gardens in Canada to visit, according to travel writer Katharine Fletcher.

The article features several highlights in and around the Central Experimental Farm. About FWG, she writes, “Immediately adjacent to the Arboretum find the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, a public education project managed by the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club.

“Their Backyard garden features rock, woods, pond and other gardens where species have identification signs.

“There’s no better place to go for gardeners to discover what grows where, than to visit The Farm.”

Ms. Fletcher’s article appears in Travel2Next, an Australian-based travel web site, using independent travel writers, photographers and bloggers to deliver travel experiences, ideas and opportunities to its readers worldwide.

Read the full article

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The regeneration begins

by John Davidson

Michelle and other volunteers planted 1100 native plants on the south side of our pond today.

One of the highlights of Fletcher Wildlife Garden—the Amphibian Pond—has undergone a major, and necessary reconstruction since last fall.

Over the years, the pond had become a victim of invasive plant species which had overrun the area, had choked native plant life, and was seriously affecting the viability of the habitat, and the many birds, animals, amphibians and insects that called it home.

As early as 2006, it was clear that the pond was in trouble. An FWG post that year said that “Flowering rush grew exponentially until it covered all open water. frog-bit also became a problem. It and duckweed covered the surface by July, preventing sunlight from getting to the underwater plants that keep the water oxygenated.”

Elizabeth, starting at the west end of the pond. The seedlings were grown for us by Budd Gardens from seed we collected last fall.

After much debate and analysis, it was decided that the best solution to the problem was to dredge the pond, clearing out the invasive species, and replanting the area with more benign native plants. The dredging was done last fall, and for a while, the pond looked more like a construction zone than a wildlife oasis.

Now, however, the regeneration has begun. And already new, native growth has begun to take hold.

On May 27, an army of Fletcher Wildlife Garden staff and volunteers began planting 1100 native seedlings on the banks surrounding the water. Species included pollinator favourites, like milkweed, sneezeweed, asters, and goldenrods, as well as butterfly hosts, like Pearly Everlasting. Staff also put up a fence to protect the tender plants until they establish themselves. Loose-running dogs and young seedlings don’t mix.

The pond is already once again becoming a magnet for wetland wildlife: frogs, turtles, toads, red-winged blackbirds, and bats have all returned, and even a sandpiper was spotted the other day — a first for the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

It will take a season for Mother Nature to work her magic. To see it happen, make a point of walking by the pond every couple of weeks or so, watching the new seedlings grow, develop and mature. By the fall—certainly by this time next year—the native plants should have taken hold, and the pond will once again look as if it’s been there, undisturbed, for years.

We are very grateful that a generous bequest from OFNC member, Violetta Czasak, allowed us to take on this complex and long-term project. Thanks also to Diane Lepage, who spent many many hours embroiled in paperwork and negotiations to get the work started.

Melanie, hard at work planting Heart-leaved Asters

How I got my Zen on

by Michelle St-Germaine

As I had a milestone birthday last year (I turned 50), I treated myself to a week in Paris alone and spent many hours in beautiful parks, contemplating life. In addition to this trip, I took a retirement course (yes, they exist!) and was pleased that I am on the right track financially.

However, I found out that successful retirement planning also includes planning how I want to spend my time. What do I want to DO when I grow up? The life coach at the seminar had an interesting approach. “Ask yourself: What did I enjoy most when I was a child?”

  • I spent all my time in nature, most of the time alone.
  • I dreamed about being a zoo keeper.
  • I spent a lot of time building tree forts, which was a segué to my career.
  • I later developed a love of gardening and bird watching and continue to be fascinated by all animals.

I am blessed in many ways: health, family, and a stimulating career (sometimes TOO stimulating as with many careers) and, as I plan to retire in 4 years, I have started my search for my new calling (or at least a hobby I enjoy), which led me to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden.

Prior to my first guided walk with Sandy, I had only visited the garden once. Offering my help, I was first assigned to removing Burdock, but quickly got addicted to removing Dog Strangling Vine (DSV)! Ha!

As I am not available weekdays for now and enjoy spending time by myself, I particularly liked the idea of “owning” a node of my own: an area I could take care of on my own schedule.


Although this is not Michelle’s area, it is very similar in that DSV had taken over and was twining up into sumac trees – so a good “before” picture of what she was facing.

After “cleaning up” an area of sumac that DSV had choked out and killed, I had only intended on controlling the spread of its seeds this year by pulling down the vines before they flowered. However, I was fortunate to recruit some helpers: two regular volunteers plus one time help from four others. This summer, we managed to remove all the DSV by the roots in a large area and fill in the bare areas with 2 Serviceberries, 5 Shagbark Hickories, 1 Red Osier Dogwood, 1 Hackberry, 1 pine, 1 White Spruce, 1 birch, 1 Weeping Willow, 3 Wild Raisins, 1 rose bush, 16 Ostrich Ferns, 7 White Snakeroots, 3 native white clematis, and 15 Zigzag Goldenrods.


After pulling out DSV, Michelle discovered many “good” plants and shrubs that will now be able to thrive.

I’m looking forward to watching this area grow and taking on another project next year.

With this new hobby, I have discovered a highly effective stress reliever, a kind of meditation, in which I lose track of time. And depending on my mood, I can either aggressively hoe at the roots of DSV or delicately clear the path for a new oak sapling while watching the Eastern Cottontails, groundhogs, American Red Squirrels, Eastern Gray Squirrels, American Toads, Eastern Gartersnakes, and numerous bird species enjoy my patch as I do. I also practise my audio bird identification and discover new frog calls while I work away.

This may be my new calling. If not, I will enjoy the journey.


In late summer, Michelle was able to plant some new wildflowers, White Snakeroot and Zigzag Goldenrod, in an area where she and her colleagues had spent time digging DSV out – roots and all.

The plight of the bumble bee

by John Davidson


Tricoloured Bumblebee at work in the FWG’s Butterfly Meadow

Punch “bees” into your search engine and, within seconds, you’ll get a screenful of headlines, something like this:

Why are bees dying?
Plant flowers to help declining bee populations
Could pesticides be limiting the ability of bees to reproduce?

We are all aware of the crucial role bees and other pollinators play in the plant world. And we are growing aware of the perils these species face. As alarm bells ring over declining bee populations worldwide, scientists and environmentalists are attempting to answer the question, why?

Bumble Bee Watch

This summer (2016), the Fletcher Wildlife Garden became one of the focal points for Bumble Bee Watch (, a continent-wide effort to gather data on and better understand the health of bumble bee populations. During July and August, representatives from Friends of Earth Canada, a partner in the program, held several presentations at FWG. Each included a talk, a documentary film, a question and answer session, and finally an on-the-land hunt for bumble bees.

The program encouraged “citizen scientists” to look for bumble bees and upload data on their findings to their website, including date and time of the sighting, location, species identification, and a photograph.

Why Fletcher Wildlife Garden? Because, “it’s a gem!”


Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive officer, Friends of the Earth, Canada.

Beatrice Olivastri, CEO of Friends of the Earth, Canada, said that when her organization was trying to sort out how to involve people in Ottawa, “It was very obvious that we wanted to work with the people from Fletcher Wildlife Garden, the volunteers and the people who do interpretation.

“I think this garden is an amazing gem in Ottawa. I don’t know if everyone in Ottawa is aware of it: if they aren’t they should be! Friends of the Earth is so happy to have been able to work with the Fletcher Wildlife Garden folks. I hope we’ll be able to do some good things together and hope we can attract more volunteers to help out with all of the good things Fletcher Wildlife Garden is doing for Ottawa and for nature.”

I tried out the Bumble Bee Watch ID program on the web several times and found it quite easy to use, although, even with tips and graphic aids on the site, it was tricky for this unpracticed eye to identify the precise species among the 48 that inhabit North America. Luckily, the uploaded photo was there to allow scientists with Bumble Bee Watch to confirm the IDs.

Although the Friends of the Earth count ended on August 15, Bumble Bee Watch is ongoing and you can submit your photos and data any time.

We know more about honey bees that the wild native species

Ms Olivastri visited Fletcher Wildlife Garden on June 26 to explain the program.

“Many people have become concerned about bees, typically honey bees, and their exposure to a particular kind of pesticides, called neonicotinoids. And while honey bees have a voice —the beekeepers, and their associations — we don’t know nearly enough about how wild bees are doing.


David van Olst (grey tee shirt) of Friends of the Earth, leading a Bumble Bee Watch bee identification field trip at the FWG.

“We do know that they are stressed out by climate change. We do know that they are negatively impacted by habitat loss through urban development or land converted to commodity crops, such as corn and soy and canola. And we know they are affected by diseases, sometimes shared from honey bees or even from domestic bumble bees which are used in greenhouse operations and which sometimes escape.

“We know that there is a decline.

“We know that there are specific wild bees, like the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee that was remarkably common the 70s in Southern Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec, and is completely gone now in Canada. It is listed as endangered, and was last seen in Canada in 2009, around Grand Bend, Ontario.

“Six other species in 2016 have been listed for protection under the federal Species at Risk Act.

“So, something is happening.”

Let it bee

Ms Olivastri said, “What we are trying to do at Friends of Earth is, first of all, inform people about how remarkable and important wild native bees are.

“By helping us count them, by helping us take pictures and recording them on Bumble Bee Watch, it will help scientists learn more about these threats, and what we can do differently to help us protect these bees,” she said.

How you can help in your own backyard


Even if you missed the four Friends of Earth presentations at the FWG this summer, you’re still in luck. Neil Losin and Morgan Heim’s award winning documentary film A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, that was part of the presentations, has been posted on line. You can watch it here.

Ms Olivastri stressed that there are many things you can do, if you have a back yard or garden, to make a habitat that helps support wild bumble bees.

“The best thing you can do to help save the bees,” she said, “is in your own back yard. Let it be: leave your yard more natural to support the wild bee populations.”

To learn more about how to create a “Bee and Bee” accommodation in your own backyard, see the helpful guide Friends of the Earth have provided online.

More about the plight of the bumble bee

Editor’s note: John Davidson had a chance to talk further with some of our Friends of the Earth colleagues during fieldwork at the FWG and made this excellent video.

The Plight of the Bumble Bee from John Davidson on Vimeo.

Communing with bats at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden

Alex MacDonald, of Nature Canada, demonstrated how to find bats using a small hand-held detector.

Alex MacDonald, of Nature Canada, demonstrated how to find bats using a small hand-held detector.

by John Davidson

“I can hear one, I can hear one!”

The excited cry cut through the night at the same time as the device in the young boy’s hands burst into a cacophony of staccato crackles.

This was the first time he, or any of the other 20 or so people around him, had ever “heard” a bat.

“But you can’t hear bats,” we can hear you, remembering your high school biology, starting to protest.

Oh, but indeed you can, thanks to a handheld device, about the size of a smartphone, which translates the ultrasonic (and hence inaudible to human ears) echolocation signals that flying bats constantly emit into audible sounds. Loud, crackling, audible sounds.

And not only can we now “hear” bats, we can even identify the particular species of bat by the frequencies the device registers.

It was the night of June 29. About 20 people, many of them young, were out to participate in a bat detector workshop put on by Nature Canada under its Naturehood program. And for some, children in tow, it was obviously a family outing.

Both adults and kids huddle together over the detectors waiting for the staccato sounds that indicate a bat is flying overhead.

Both adults and kids huddle together over the detectors waiting for the staccato sounds that indicate a bat is flying overhead.

After a short briefing at the FWG Resource Centre on how to operate the bat detectors, devices were handed out to participants, and off we went over toward the wetland pond.

The magic of the night

The short walk over to the pond was magical. The darkness of night sky — moonless — obliterated all the familiar trails and landmarks of the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, leaving all us a little disoriented, as if we were in a strange and new territory, relying on the stabs of flashlights to guide the way. But it was the sounds of the night that captivated us most of all. Our hearing suddenly became more acute. The deep, regular bass of frogs, the soprano whirring of insects, an occasional bird: the nighttime symphony was present and compelling. And along the way, fireflies hovering in the underbrush flickered greetings as we passed.

Workshop leader Alex MacDonald wasn’t sure how much bat activity there would be, or if there would be any at all. But on the wooden bridge crossing the pond, barely five minutes in, the first detector erupted with a crackle. The closer the bat, the louder the sound, and it was soon obvious that bats were making the most of the early evening. Most of the action overhead could only be heard on the detectors. But every once in a while, as the bats crisscrossed the pond in their search for flying insects, we could see their ethereal silhouettes flitting against the dwindling light of the night sky.

Alex says, “The Fletcher Wildlife Garden is ideal for this sort of exercise since it’s one of the most diverse wildlife habitats in the urban centre here in Ottawa.”

The workshop was not only a valuable experience for urban nature lovers, it fulfills an important scientific purpose as well.

Endangered bat species: you can help!

Endangered bat species found locally. Photos courtesy of Nature Canada

Endangered bat species found locally. Photos courtesy of Nature Canada

As Nature Canada explains on its web site, “We’re not doing this for just any reason. Here’s the scoop: Have you heard about White-nose Syndrome (WNS), an introduced fungal disease (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) that’s decimating many bat populations in North America? Estimates place the death toll from WNS at over 6 million bats since it was first detected in North America in 2006…. Sadly, populations of up to 7 bat species found in and around Ottawa have been impacted by WNS, and 3 of those species currently legally designated as ‘endangered’ by the government of Ontario: Little Brown Myotis (Myotis lucifugus), Northern Myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) and Eastern Small-footed Myotis (Myotis leibii). Given this situation we need to understand the habitats these bat species are using and how local populations are doing. That’s where the bat detectors — and YOU — come in.”

So, while part of the workshop was to create greater awareness of the issues facing bat populations, Nature Canada also wants to engage “citizen scientists” to help in data collection. Anyone can borrow one of these detectors through Nature Canada’s lending library, and use it to help feed data into the program on the local presence (or absence) of these endangered species. Complete information about the program is available at on its web site.

What’s in your “Naturehood”?

The way Nature Canada sees it, if you can get urban people — especially young urban people — out and about in nature, they will develop an early and lasting appreciation for the environment.

That’s the thinking behind Naturehood, a program to connect urban residents to nearby nature. And the Fletcher Wildlife Garden has all the necessary criteria for an ideal Naturehood: a diverse wildlife habitat and close to the city centre. That’s why Nature Canada chose it to launch its bat detector workshop program.


Bats have always remained enigmatic creatures — rarely seen and often misunderstood. But after an hour listening to them through our machines, and hearing from Alex about their lives and the challenges they face, we felt a certain — what’s the word I’m looking for? — a certain kinship with these champions of the night. We returned to the city, reluctantly, but content that we had been able to learn a little more about nature that night. And to connect with it.

More about bats and a glimpse of the workshop

The Bat Detectors from John Davidson on Vimeo.

FWG participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count

An American Robin getting a drink from still-open water in our creek

An American Robin getting a drink from still-open water in our creek

by Sandy Garland

This year, a group of FWG volunteers reported the smallest number of birds ever, although not the fewest species. The bitter cold over the weekend likely drove most birds into shelter.

David Hobden, who leads this activity for us, writes, “The FWG has participated for a number of years, with a group count on Friday morning and often counts done at other times over the 4 days and given to me to report. Over the years the project has evolved and now receives reports from all over the world. You can visit to get more details.

The group meets at the FWG, spends about an hour walking around the site, recording what they see. As David says, “How far we go and low long it will take will depend on the weather.”

Here’s this year’s modest list, along with lists from 2015 and 2013 for comparison.

Downy Woodpecker 2
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Pileated Woodpecker 1
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 6
White-breasted Nuthatch 1
American Robin 2
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Northern Cardinal 3
House Finch 3

Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 1
American Crow 2
Black-capped Chickadee 13
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 1
House Finch 3

Mourning Dove 7
Downy Woodpecker 5
American Crow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 8
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
White-breasted Nuthatch 3
Dark-eyed Junco 3
Northern Cardinal 5
House Finch 8
Common Redpoll 2
American Goldfinch 1

Tackling the hardest jobs

by Sandy Garland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flora, fauna, and ?

Virginia Creeper Clearwing moth photographed by Kate Davis

Virginia Creeper Clearwing moth photographed by Kate Davis

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

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

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

The nightshades – deadly and otherwise

by Sandy Garland

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

Bittersweet Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara)

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

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

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

Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum)

Black Nightshade (Solanum ptycanthum)

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

Enchanter's Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. Canadensis)

Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana ssp. canadensis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More tree planting

by Sandy Garland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Groundhog hole previously hidden by a mass of DSV.

Groundhog hole previously hidden by a mass of DSV.

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

A Bitternut Hickory successfully planted, watered, and mulched.

A Bitternut Hickory successfully planted, watered, and mulched.

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

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

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

Bumble bee on Grass-leaved Goldenrod at the FWG

Bumble bee on Grass-leaved Goldenrod at the FWG

Bumble Bee Watch – another way to help
We’re looking for ways to help pollinators, especially bees, and last week I started submitting sightings to 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.