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).




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.

Early September at the Garden

by Christine Hanrahan

How time flies. Here it is, early September, with all the signs of approaching autumn now firmly in place. The old field is full of asters and goldenrods, the latter already losing their bloom. Fruit is heavy on the vine and tree, some of the sumacs are turning vivid red, and of course, birds are migrating through the area, as they have been and will be, for some time.

I made it my mission to look for the very neat little green tortoise beetle. This pretty creature feeds on thistles and so I checked dozens of thistles for the characteristic signs of feeding tortoise beetles. I saw only a few such signs, but they could have been made by other insects too, and sadly, no beetles. I did, however, find a striped garden caterpillar, a member of the huge Noctuidae family.

On the black maple north of the ash woods, a cicada exuviae was about seven feet up on a twig. These shed nymphal skins look almost alive at first. Watching a cicada emerge from them is quite amazing. They come out backwards and hang suspended in a horizontal position for some little while before finally climbing out and clinging either to the skin or the tree. Their wings are little nubs at first, and their bodies look terribly soft and vulnerable. But quicker than seems possible, their wings elongate and soon they are full size, but pale green. Before much longer, the wings dry, turn translucent, the body hardens, and voila, the cicada is ready to fly. Its sole purpose now is to mate. Diane photographed a beautiful adult perched on an obedient plant and this can be seen in the September Blog.

Two hummingbirds were nectaring on the monarda fistulosa in the butterfly meadow and when not doing that, were zipping around all over the place. They have to be THE most enchanting little birds to watch, and feisty for their size! Small flocks of robins, big flocks of american goldfinches (now that nesting is over, they are congregating, adults and young) feeding on thistle and other seeds, and smaller numbers of cardinals, chickadees, song and chipping sparrows were also seen.

One of the impressively large giant swallowtail butterflies floated out of the open area north of the ash woods and into the ravine. Other butterflies included an eastern tailed blue, a couple of ringlets, and about 4 each of cabbage whites and clouded sulphurs.

Bumble bees are out in force now, gathering great quantities of pollen from goldenrods. The plants are alive with their wonderful buzzing, redolent of summer days, even as fall approaches. With the first frost, all these worker bumble bees will be killed, only the mated queens surviving to hibernate over the winter, ready to begin a fresh colony in spring.

It is intriguing how the landscape of the garden changes from year to year. Not usually in dramatic ways, unless trees have been removed either by nature or by us, but in small ways, probably not perceptible to those who don’t focus on the place the way we volunteers do. I mentioned changes in other notes, and yesterday I was struck by the huge patch of jewelweed or impatiens, growing up through the flowering raspberry on the edge of the old field. First time that has happened there.

Speaking of plants, those later summer-early autumn reliables, the goldenrods and asters, and the white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), as well as obedient plant (Physostegia) and sneezeweed (Helenium) are absolutely gorgeous right now. In the ash woods, white snakeroot and zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) are lighting up the dark places, and it always surprises me that these plants, both of which do well in garden settings, are not more widely planted for late summer colour in shady spots.

More photos on the September Blog, including a beautiful set by Diane, as well as the impressive ‘bee condo’ created by Sandy south side of the ash woods.

Discovering Plant Galls Formed by Insects

by Christine Hanrahan

Gall: “An abnormal growth of plant tissue produced by a stimulus external to the plant itself.”  – S.W. Frost in Insect Life

Galls are common formations on plants, usually caused by insects (but sometimes by a fungus or some other non-insect life form). Galls can form on roots, stems and twigs, leaves, flowerheads and buds. They can be smooth, rough, hairy, spongy, hard, soft, spiked. They can be round, oval, spindle-shaped, and even look like flowers. They may not look like any of these. They may, instead, look like a black spot, a leaf blister, or may be mistaken for clusters of insect eggs. Their colour often changes. Goldenrod galls are green when the plant is living, but when the plant dies back, the galls take on the brown hue of the stem, although before they do so, they may also appear burgundy or bronzed. Some galls are vividly red, others may be two-toned, or patterned, but most are, not surprisingly, green or brown. Some appear singly, others in clusters. And one plant may have several different types of galls, made by insects of different families. Some galls are strikingly noticeable, while others are found only by dint of looking. Just to confuse things, not all swellings on plants are galls, as some are caused by leaf miners and stem borers.

If you want to identify the gall-makers, you need to know your plants, because many of the insects are very host-specific. And not only that, but most insects will only form galls on certain parts of the plants. Thus, you may find a plant with galls on the leaves and on the stem or twigs, but different species will be responsible! Furthermore, the location is an important aid to sorting out who might have made the gall. So take your notebook and make notes when you want to identify possible gall-makers. Some plants seem to attract a variety of gall-making insects. Chief among these are willows (Salix), oaks (Quercus), and goldenrod (Solidago).

Gall-making insects may be flies (e.g., midges, other Cecidomyiids, and fruit flies), bugs (e.g., aphids, Phylloxera), sawflies, wasps (mostly Cynipidae), moths (mostly Tortricidae), nematodes, and even beetles. Members of the Arachnidae also get into the act, with gall mites (Eriophyidae) responsible for many galls. However, the gall midges in the family Cecidomyiidae, sub-family Cecidomyiinae, and Cynipid wasps, are probably the most common gall-makers. The photos below show some of the different types of galls, made by various insects.

One way to determine who has made a gall is to bring the galls home and rear them, which means putting them in an enclosed container (a jar with a mesh cover, for example) and see what emerges. However, be warned, that many parasites attack gall larvae and so what comes out may not be the original gall inhabitant. This just makes it all the more fascinating. Because most gall-making insects are tiny and rarely seen, rearing them may be your only chance to see them. In nature, the galls are far more obvious than the insects.

Why do galls form, and for what purpose? The short answer is that galls are protective coverings for the egg and later the larva, inside. They also provide food for the developing larva. Larvae either spend the winter in their galls or, in a number of cases, emerge, drop to the ground and pupate in the soil.

Galls are formed when still-growing plant tissue is invaded by an insect (or fungus). The plant grows around the foreign object to form the shapes we know as galls.

When galls are very noticeable, as with the grape leaf galls that distort the leaves, it is thought that the plants themselves are diseased or damaged, but they are not. In most cases, galls do no major damage to the plants.

They do, however, in some cases, provide food for other wildlife. The goldenrod galls are best known in this regard, for many of us have observed woodpeckers or chickadees pecking away at the galls to extract the juicy larva inside. Squirrels are also fans of goldenrod galls. If you look at a stand of goldenrod and examine the abundant galls, you’ll see that many have been preyed on. Sometimes it can be difficult to find an unopened goldenrod gall.

And finally, galls are not just fascinating formations there to intrigue us. Over the centuries they have been used by humans as medicine, food, and for the production of dyes and inks.

Summer is when galls are most abundant and diverse. Because so many galls are formed on leaves, once winter comes, they disappear. However, winter is the best time to look for the bigger galls on twigs and stems. Just check out shrub willows, goldenrods, ash trees and oak trees and see what you find.

This is just a brief introduction to galls, which I have been fascinated with for years. I hope you will also find them interesting and begin your own study of them.

For dozens more photos of a variety of galls, you might want to check out my Insect Galls photo gallery: