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.

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.

Walnuts and dog-strangling vine: a relationship in photos

by Sandy Garland

Once upon a time, 4-5 years ago, I pulled out the DSV that was growing under this walnut tree. I put down some newspapers to keep it from growing back (this doesn't really work) and forgot about it. This year, I noticed there is almost no DSV under this tree. The few DSV plants there are small and wilted.

Once upon a time, 4-5 years ago, I pulled out the DSV that was growing under this walnut tree. I put down some newspapers to keep it from growing back (we’ve learned subsequently that this doesn’t really work) and forgot about it. This year, I noticed there is almost no DSV under this tree. The few DSV plants there are small and wilted.

Another walnut tree, about the same age as the previous one, but this one has been ignored and is surrounded by DSV. A new volunteer has undertaken the job of pulling out this DSV in hopes of duplicating the experience just described, i.e., hoping the tree will inhibit regrowth of DSV.

Another walnut tree, about the same age as the previous one, but this one has been ignored and is surrounded by DSV. A new volunteer has undertaken the job of pulling out this DSV in hopes of duplicating the experience just described, i.e., hoping the tree will inhibit regrowth of DSV.

This walnut tree is probably about 20 years old, certainly old enough to be producing nuts.

Another walnut tree, this one is about 20 years old, certainly old enough to be producing nuts.

Under it, inside the "drip line," there is no DSV and, in fact some bare spots where nothing is growing.

Under it, inside the “drip line,” there is no DSV and, in fact some bare spots where nothing is growing.

Outside the drip line, there are patches of grass with no DSV, but the pattern is irregular.

Outside the drip line, there are patches of grass with no DSV, but the pattern is irregular.

A closer look at a DSV-free area next to the large walnut tree.

A closer look at a DSV-free area next to the large walnut tree. In this one, you can see that the green taller vegetation is DSV.

An area that was sprayed with Roundup last summer and again this spring. DSV is yellow and wilted, but most other vegetation has also been killed.

An area that was sprayed with Roundup last summer and again this spring. DSV is yellow and wilted, but most other vegetation has also been killed.

Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo, this large walnut tree has successfully defeated DSV and grass is growing under the tree.

Looking in the opposite direction from the previous photo, this large walnut tree has successfully defeated DSV (except for that patch at the right of the trunk) and grass is growing under the tree.

Is this a relationship or just a lot of coincidences? Time to investigate it with some controlled experiments. Anyone interested?

Double header – two volunteer groups in one day

by Sandy Garland

Yes, despite the threatened thunderstorms, both the Tuesday group and a crew of people involved in the Learning Garden at Ottawa U came to work in our Old Woodlot the same day.

In the afternoon, Derek and Mirko tackled the milkweed field with scythes. Despite the hot, humid weather, they succeeded in clearing the west side of the field. However, Mirko hinted that we might think about hiring someone with a gas-powered (rather than human-powered) cutter.

Derek and Mirko cut dog-strangling vine in this part of the milkweed field. Although cutting does not stop growth of DSV, it does keep it from “strangling” trees and from producing seeds. Another cut in August should prevent new seeds in this field.

And our Common Milkweeds are growing in that field, despite being surrounded by DSV.

And our Common Milkweeds are growing in that field, despite being surrounded by DSV.

Balsam Fir saplings still growing under all those taller plants.

Balsam Fir saplings still growing under all those taller plants, including dog-strangling vine.

Meanwhile, new volunteer, Melanie, and I decided to tackle our burdock “trees,” continuing Jesse’s work from last week. We worked along the east edge of the woods, cutting the large first-year rosettes as well as the massive second-year plants. Some motherwort had to come out as well, but we uncovered a number of Balsam Fir trees that seem to be doing well.

Eastern Comma, another butterfly whose larval host is Stinging Nettle.

Eastern Comma, another butterfly whose larval host is Stinging Nettle.

We stopped to watch an Eastern Comma and noticed a couple of new-looking Red Admirals – apparently not all the caterpillars on the nettles were eaten.

Other wildlife: we saw a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers (possibly the ones that nested in the box near the bridge), several toads, mason wasps using the insect hotel, Summer Azures, a Cabbage White, and a couple of snails.

Despite the shade along that east path, White Snakeroot is already starting to bloom. It has spread throughout the woods and can usually be counted on to shine in late summer, early fall, when other plants are starting to fade.

White Snakeroot, blooming early?

White Snakeroot, blooming early?

Blue Vervain is spectacular this year – there’s a huge bunch of it along the southern edge of the FWG just south of the woods.

Blue Vervain - attracts both bees and butterflies with its striking blue colour.

Blue Vervain – attracts both bees and butterflies with its striking blue colour.

It was a pretty hot day, so we packed it in early and sat in the cool of our Resource Centre drinking water and comparing notes on what we saw and did.

Home for dinner, and for me a return trip to the garden to meet Renate, a long-time FWG volunteer, and her colleagues from Ottawa U’s Learning Garden. The FWG donates plants to this garden every year in exchange for an evening’s work in our garden.

After introductions, Alan, Amanda, Afnan, and Nicholas loaded up the wheelbarrows with maple trees and tools and set off for the woods. After an afternoon in the jungle the woods has become, I had serious doubts about finding a place to plant these trees.

Afnan and Amanda started by removing Canada thistles (an alien invader despite its deceiving name), from around the fruit trees on the south side of the woods. Meanwhile, Nicholas, Alan, and I found a path into an area just south of where I had planted maples last year. Once I explained which plants were “good” and which needed to go, we set to work.

Nicholas

Allan-Amanda-Afnan

In no time at all, the intrepid crew had cleared some space and we could see bare ground. We could also see a big patch of trilliums that I rescued many years ago from the middle of a soon-to-be highway 416 off-ramp. Nice to see these old friends – and doing so well!

White Trilliums rescued many years ago, now spreading nicely in their new home.

White Trilliums rescued many years ago, now spreading nicely in their new home.

Renate brought the 10 trees and buckets of water and they were soon in the ground – not a moment too soon as the rain finally arrived, capping off the evening with a good soaking – of plants and people.

Thanks so much for all the hard work – Tuesday group AND Learning Garden guys!

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!

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.

When You are Given Lemons, Make Lemonade

by Ted Farnworth

Since my arrival as a volunteer at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, not a day has gone by when someone doesn’t make mention of dog-strangling vine or DSV. I must admit it took me a day or so to realize that dog strangling vine = DSV = swallowwort. Why, I am not sure.

Usually, the reference to DSV is in a sentence such as “We’ve got to do something about that @$@#%% DSV. Well actually, I never have heard any of the very polite volunteers use the word @$@#%%, but you know what I mean.

In spite of many past efforts, by the end of the season, many parts of the garden are buried in DSV. Literally buried. As a way of giving the appearance of doing something, many volunteers including me have cut back the thick vines in an attempt to let other things grow. This approach may have some merit. What it does do is generate a tonne – that’s the metric unit for a whole bunch – of hacked up DSV vines, some with mature seed pods. The standard operating procedure has been to pile the cut vines up. This avoids moving them any great distance, which would spread the seed.  But there has always been the question of whether we should be composting the cut vines. If the composting is done at a high enough temperature and under the right conditions, the vegetation and the seeds should be decomposed to harmless yet useful compost.

It was Tony D who suggested that we try an extreme composting experiment using a black sealed composter – a separate barrel for DSV so that we don’t cross-contaminate other compost. Black to help keep the interior hot using sunlight and sealed to accelerate the decomposition. So that is what we are going to try.

We have purchased a black plastic barrel that we will fill only with cut DSV, let it cook in the sun, agitate it as required, and, if we are lucky, in the end we will have turned our dreaded enemy into growth promoting compost. The skull and cross bones painted on the side is a signal to all DSV that we are taking no prisoners. Cross our path and into the barrel you go!

Perhaps we can find a use for this unwanted intruder.

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