DISCOVERING ANCIENT OAK TREES IN TORONTO

This weekend we went on a historic walk.  We went to the historic village of Swansea which is more than 300 years old.  This village was completely surrounded by the city of Toronto, and by 1967, had been amalgamated.

As far back as 1615, indigenous peoples and settlers have been using this area for travel.  Etienne Brule, walked the Toronto Carrying Trail and stayed at the native encampments at the Humber River.  By 1793, this area was declared a mill reserve so that the forests could remain intact for the use of the King’s sawmills.  This area was unused and eventually was turned into parks and house lots.

It was this rich historic area that we explored in hopes of finding some of the ancient white, red and black oaks.  It took a bit of sleuthing since it is old residential area with many of these ancient trees residing in backyards and private property.

So much fun – we will be back to investigate again!

THE BEST TREES AND SHRUBS FOR ONTARIO POLLINATORS

So many people ask what is the best to plant for pollinators to feast upon.  I base my recommendations on published bee appeal values posted by universities.  I only selected plants that rated very good or excellent for bee appeal.  Also, we only selected native species since these species have developed special bonds with our pollinators.

Here is the listing.

 

Serviceberry

 

 

 

 

Canada and American Plum

Cherry

Ohio Buckeye

Eastern Redbud

Northern Catalpa

 

 

Indigo bush

 

 

 

 

Eastern flowering dogwood

Hawthorn

Basswood

Eldeberry

Honey locust

Sumac

Meadowsweet

OUR ASSISTED MIGRATION PROGRAM

We have done a great deal of research to try and get the principles of assisted migration correct. Luckily, we were able to contact some of the authors of the research papers we used. Generally, they all agreed we had the right data. Some were glad to see their research being implemented and some were much more cautious.

We wanted input from the MNRF about our program. In a nut shell, the MNRF is focusing on updating the seed zones and in the future they may be able to deal more directly with assisted migration.

For us, Phase 1, has been to get articles and information available and getting a conversation going. We need to have all industry and government talking. And we need to keep talking. This is not an easily resolved issue nor is it a static program. As climate changes we must reevaluate our targets and watch how our transplanted forests respond.

We will be starting Phase II, this spring, where we will vastly expand our seed collection sites. We need to start growing more southerly originated stock in order to start blending provenances.

We have also created genetic maps for our clients to keep track of seed sources used. In every planting we want to create the broadest genetic base possible. Irregardless of assisted migration, the key to any resilient forest or small planting is genetic diversity.

We will gladly dialogue with all interested parties and government and update our program accordingly.

This is just the beginning…we are going to have so much fun!

ASSISTED MIGRATION OF TREES – PART 2

 

In Ontario, there are 35 static seed zones. These were established to ensure that planting stock was climatically adapted to the region of planting. This supported the approach of ‘ local is best ‘ where locally adapted seeds would be more acclimatized to the site. Recommended distances were no more than 50 kilometers from the parent stand and, if possible, less than 30 kilometers.

What is strikingly clear is that static provenances are no longer valid with a changing climate. Climatic envelopes, areas of suitable climatic habitat for tree species, are shifting north. This change will be ongoing and unrelenting. It is this unrelenting change that has us paralyzed.

So what are some issues concerning assisted migration? It is the intent of assisted migration to push seed provenances north or even introduce new species north and accomplish climatic adaptation in 1 generation in what would have taken nature several generations to achieve. One of the biggest risks of planting stock north of its current zone, is freezing damage. Natural selection has resulted in species aligning their growing cycles to avoid damage from late spring and early fall frosts. Events such as breaking dormancy, bud burst and flowering are carefully timed for tree species adapted to a local environment.

On an even larger scale, we could be mismatching tree species to photo period. By moving seed sources north, species are no longer matched to local day length. Longer photo periods experienced at more northerly latitudes may cause trees to be more susceptible to all frosts. By mid century, it is estimated that most of Ontario’s tree species will have to move 400 to 600 kilometers north to keep withing their climatic envelopes. This will, indeed, cause mismatching of tree species to photo period.

We have decided, at Puslinch Naturally Native Trees nursery, to take the plunge. We will be launching an assisted migration program. A huge undertaking but we have always been committed to a sustainable environment and forests. Now the hard work begins where we build the program and try to introduce it to our clients and general public.

DO TREES MIGRATE? – PART 1

 

People usually do not think of trees being able to migrate. But this is untrue. If you just think back 12,000 years ago, trees migrated just ahead of the crushing forces of advancing glaciers in Canada. Trees would sexually mature, send out seed and pollen ahead of the glaciers and create an advancing line of trees, moving southward. As a matter of fact, DNA testing found that some white pine tested in the Mississippi valley had come from the Algonquin park area. Of course, migrating birds and wildlife help move seeds of trees by ingesting seeds and later fertilizing another area with droppings. The native people of various regions would plant favored shrubs and trees, such as yellow wood, on their travels. In this way, they were always assured of having this plant material available.

So what I have just described is the process of migration for plants and trees. You can imagine my level of confusion when I happened upon the new term, ‘ assisted migration ‘. So were they just renaming an old term? Turns out, No. To truly understand this terminology you must believe in climate change and its consequences.

Through industrial activity and tropical deforestation, we have set the planet on a course to warm to temperatures not seen in the past 100,000 years. Earth has seen similar warmings in the distant past but the RATE of these warmings were at a substantially slower rate. For Ontario, warming is projected to be greater in the North than the South.  Precipitation wise, Northwestern Ontario and most of Southern Ontario will see a 10% decline along with an accompanying increase in temperatures. By 2100, we should see our annual temperatures rise by 6C. Overall, at a forest level, soils are going to be drier.

So what has been the immediate impact on our forests and tree species? Basically, as the climate changes, some individual trees or even whole local populations of a species may not prove adaptable to the new conditions, nor have the capacity or time to become adapted. These trees may not be able to migrate to more favorable conditions, given that climate is changing faster than natural migration via wind, water and animals, has occurred in the past. Another negative effect, a barrier to migration, is temperature and other weather extremes affecting flowering and seed production.

When you hard boil all the scientific evidence down, the real problem is the tree migration rate needed. Historically, trees can migrate at less than 10 kilometers per 100 years. With climate change and warming happening even faster than predicted, trees will have to move 150 – 200 kilometers in the next 100 years to ensure continuation of tree species within favorable climatic conditions. Obviously, the evolutionary migration rate of trees cannot keep pace with the anticipated rates.

What to do? The choice seems to be assisted migration. It is the intentional migration or relocation of southern trees species north, by man. It is a planned relocation of species, still within its natural growth range, but at the northern extent of its current habitat. In my next article, we will look at the mechanics and controversy of assisted migration of trees.

FUNGAL RELATIONSHIPS WITH TREES

We are always researching science literature to discover new methods and ideas to help produce superior adapted trees and plants to survive climate change. I ran across the topic of mycorrhiza and, it turns out, the fungal/root inter relationships are quite intriguing.

Fungi are common throughout the forest ecosystems. Some fungi are common forest mushrooms, puffballs and truffles. Colonization of the area is from wind dispersion of their spores. Other fungi are not wind dispersed, but only found in the soil. Once fungus and plant root meet, a wonderful thing happens – a fungus root. These feet are known as mycorrhiza. These mycorrhiza create a symbiotic relationship between fungus and root.

Benefits to the plant are huge. The mycorrhiza produce growth hormones that stimulate feeder root elongation and branching. By creating more arbuscules in the roots, these growth hormones are, indirectly, protecting roots against pathogens. First, the pathogens have no direct entry to the roots of the plants. The pathogens must pass through these arbuscules, a direct barrier, in order to gain root entry. Next, the arbuscules can produce antibiotics to some root pathogens to discourage entry. Lastly, arbuscules encourage increased plant health and, therefore, more resistance to disease. How?

Mycorrhiza enhance uptake of water and mineral nutrients, especially Phosphorus and Nitrogen. These uptakes from the soil are made possible due to the soil exploration of the hyphae sent out from the colonized root tips. It is estimated that these fungal hyphae can explore hundreds to thousands more volumes of soil than just root tips themselves. The fungi even interact and change the soil environment of the plant by improving the soil structure and quality. The filaments from the fungal hyphae create polysaccharides and protein that bind soils, increase soil porosity and promote aeration and water movement.

Surprisingly, in North America, few nurseries utilize mycorrhiza inoculation for their growing plant stock. It seems the natural thing to do, especially for the forestry industry. With climate change and changing ecosystems, mycorrhizal inoculating trees would produce more hardiness and increase tree survival rates. This year, is our test year at, Puslinch Naturally Native Trees, for mycorrhizal inoculation. We will keep you informed of our results.

GETTING READY FOR THE RETURNING MONARCH BUTTERFLY

2017, was an interesting summer and fall. Initially, it seemed to be a great year for the Monarch butterfly. Numbers from 2016, seemed to indicate a slight upward trend in population. The wet spring and summer led to abundant crops of milkweed.  Approaching the fall of 2017, we all had high expectations for the Monarch. Surely with all this abundant milkweed we should have a large volume of butterflies migrating – – a record? But Mother Nature threw in a twist, the warmest fall in 123 years! Initially I wasn’t worried. Maybe a warm fall would reduce migration fatalities and more Monarchs would arrive in Mexico to roost. Unfortunately, according to Cornell university, ‘ warm falls delay migration and late Monarchs don’t get to Mexico as well as the early Monarchs do. ‘ In fact, the critical date for flying is September 15. Past this date and the butterflies usually do not make it to Mexico.

What was truly fascinating was not just a delay in migration behavior but a delay in diopause. Usually the Monarch switches from a breeding butterfly to a diopause state (non breeding) in order to prepare for fall flight. Muscle mass and fat stores increase with diopause. But what we actually witnessed was an extra generation.

This extra generation had scientists worried. Seeing butterflies so far north so late in the year suggested few of these latecomers would reach Mexican wintering grounds. The blame for the unusually warm fall can be placed squarely upon our shoulders. Climatologists say that climate change is likely behind what they are calling the latest Monarch migration ever recorded in eastern North America.

Scientists will be conducting the Mexico over wintering site counts soon. Some researchers are hoping population numbers will surpass 2015 – 2016 counts due to some of that extra generation actually arriving in Mexico.

So where do we go from here? I’ve rolled up all the suggestions from Cornell and Kansas universities plus the Monarch Joint Venture.

Recommendation : Tropical Milkweed

Though tropical milkweed is not a native milkweed in Ontario, it is part of the natural life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. In the southern states, Florida and California, tropical milkweed grows naturally and the Monarch actually prefers to lay eggs on this milkweed followed by butterfly weed. As you progress further north tropical milkweed vanishes from the landscape since it is not frost resistant. In Ontario, Monarchs prefer to lay eggs on swamp and common milkweed followed by butterfly weed.

So why am I suggesting a non native milkweed? To combat climate change. Springs are becoming more irregular and earlier. Migrating Monarchs will encounter more incidences of having no food available upon arrival in Ontario. With unsure food and variable flight times in a varying climate, this could spell disaster to this fragile population. Tropical milkweed can be overwintered with your houseplants and can be used as an early larval and food plant while our native milkweeds are still dormant.

Recommendation : Expand your milkweed menu

We need to use at least 3 to 4 different types of milkweed. Different milkweeds have different growth cycles and this will ensure that there is always milkweed leaves available for hungry caterpillars. A good trio would be tropical, swamp and common milkweeds.

B) Cause : Pesticides

All pollinators are susceptible to pesticides, not just the Monarch. We have to stop the rate of decline of all pollinators. This is vital for securing our food chain and maintaining our environment.

Recommendation : Be Organic

Become organic in your garden practices and be sure to ask your nursery where you buy your milkweed and garden plants if they are pesticide free. Support legislation to ban neonicitinoids. Support organic farmers and local farmers at your farmers markets.

C) Cause : Climate change

Everyone can reduce their Carbon footprint. Climate change is not just affecting the Monarch but all living things on this Earth. One of the biggest impacts on climate change is to sequester Carbon. Be sure to plant more trees and shrubs. There is lots of information out there on what you can do but, in the end, it is up to you to affect a change and act.

 

 

GROWING THE GREENBELT

This week we attended a meeting, ‘ Growing the Greenbelt’. The Ontario government has plans to greatly increase the Greenbelt boundaries and is going through the consultative process. The biggest driving force for the Greenbelt update is the protection of water. And you guessed it, our Puslinch area is the first study area under review.

I have summarized our talks with government reps and collected handouts. The government realizes that urbanization threatens the long term health of water systems. This urban impact can be through changing the landscape to hard and impermeable surfaces, such as roads, buildings and concrete which will not allow water to seep into the ground but runoff into drains and storm sewers. Of course, if water is not allowed to seep into the ground the aquifers are not recharged.

In 2005, the Greenbelt was established with 810,000 ha of green space. With the growing of the Greenbelt, an additional 10,000 ha could be added along with 21 urban river valleys. Public comment is required prior to the deadline March 7, 2018. Greenbelt designations are basically divided into 2 categories. 1 – Protected Countryside – The aim is to protect against the loss and fragmentation of agricultural land base and support agriculture as the primary land use. This means that settlement areas outside of the Greenbelt are not allowed to expand into these protected countrysides. 2 – urban river valleys.

So why is our Puslinch so important? It’s all about the moraines and associated cold water streams. Moraines are the result of glacial activity where the glacier stood in one place for an extended period of time. These moraines are associated with sand and gravel features important to recharging ground water. Cold water streams are fed by ground water discharging from moraines. They often form headwaters for rivers and lakes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Focusing on Puslinch, we need to comment to politicians about such issues as agricultural practices, aggregate extraction, water taking and town growths. These are all valid concerns as the greenbelt expansion happens. There are various methods to have your voice heard. Go onto Ontario.ca/greenbelt for all the information.

This is your moment to shape Puslinch’s future. If we stay silent, in 25 years, the unchecked growth of the surrounding cities will swallow up Puslinch. And never forget, ‘Farms feed cities’.

 

 

SPRING IN A JAR

Every tree, shrub and wildflower has its own unique formula for germination.  It is up to us, as growers, to understand their uniqueness and simulate these requirements.  Some plants have very complex germination requirements while others are, relatively, simple.  Each germination inhibitor must be removed, in order, so that seeds may sprout.

Most seeds need a period of warm followed by a period of cold stratification.  These periods of warm and cold simulate nature’s winters and springs.  Some seeds may also need to get scarified.  This means we need to scar the dense seed coat so that water can get inside the seed and initiate germination.  Without water, no germination will ever occur.  In nature, the scarification would occur as the seed passes through the digestive tract of a bird or mammal and the gastric juices would pit the seed.

It always feels like spring is around the corner once we start moving stored seeds and nuts to their next phase of germination.  Right now, many seeds are being moved into refrigeration awaiting the beginning of spring.

 

THE AMERICAN HAZELNUT TREE

Back in 2006, Ferraro Rocher built a new confectionery plant in Brantford. This plant was to be the center of their North American operations. In order to run this facility at its limits 12 – 15,000 acres of hazelnuts had to be planted in Ontario. Though 80% of worldwide hazelnuts are grown in Turkey, shortages in hazelnuts brought Ferraro to Canada. Incentives through Growing Forward 2 (GF2) were made available to entrepreneurial farmers. Recently, in August 2017, the Ferraro plant had expanded, again. This is the only Ferraro plant in North America and the 8th largest plant, worldwide.

In North America, there are only 2 native species indigenous to Ontario. The American Hazelnut (Corylus americana) is our Carolinian species residing throughout much of the traditional Carolinian zone up to the Lake of Woods. The Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) is our hardy northern variety ranging throughout Ontario up to 50 degrees N.

Ferraro has very specific nut size and quality requirements which, unfortunately, our native hazelnut cannot fulfill. European hazelnuts do fulfill these specifications but cannot survive in North America. Why? The first difficulty is the Eastern Filbert Blight. The fungus Anisogramma anomola is native to North America and carries the blight. While our native Ontario hazelnuts are hosts to this fungus they are not harmed by this blight. The exact opposite is true for the European hazelnuts.  The second difficulty for European hazelnut, is cold temperatures where all plant parts are killed by cold. Of special concern, is catkin survival. If catkins freeze off, then no pollinated fruit will grow – the nuts.

The obvious solution was to create hybrids. Crossing European X North American hazelnuts. To date, many varieties have been developed and tried with success. In order to maintain genetic purity of these crosses and to increase propagation rates, new rapid cloning techniques have been developed. No perpetuation of the crosses through seed production and seedlings, just clones.  To see the full hazelnut story see our article under the trees tab.

My concerns lie in the promotion of these cloned varietals over native.  Every time we promote non native or hybrids over native species the native species populations show a negative effect. My concerns may be unjustified but only time will tell. Just to ease my conscience and to be on the safe side, we have added this lovely tree to our species listing at our nursery.