CAN TREES TALK?

Trees and plants communicate to each other, and their community, above and below the ground. Above soil level, when trees are being attacked (stressed) they release volatile organic chemicals (VOC). These VOC are picked up by neighboring plants and forewarn them to defend themselves. These same chemicals can also attract help in the form of predators to feed on the attacking pests. Each chemical is a ‘word’ and these words are combined to make a specific sentence – this allows plants to chatter. A well known VOC is the aroma generated by freshly cut grass.

Below the ground, when trees are attacked they increase their defense against the invaders by revving up their defensive genes and increase their production of defense enzymes. They send these chemical signals down their roots to the mycorrhiza network, where neighboring trees detect these signals and trigger their own defense mechanisms. This can happen in as little as 6 hours.

Turns out, trees can’t live without their mycorrhiza. Under a simple footstep there are 300 miles of fungal highway. This connectivity is not just between same species but between all species and works like our internet. This forest connectivity is vast and is world wide. But why have this co operative between tree and fungus? It is quite simple; the fungus can’t photosynthesize but can pick up nutrients, especially Nitrogen and Phosphorus, and exchange these nutrients with the plants for their photosynthetic product of sugar.

The biggest users of the fungal network are the Hub trees. These are the mother trees which are nurturing the young in the understory. The hub trees send extra Carbon to the shaded understory young trees. In this way, the survival rate of the saplings increases 4X. It has been discovered that hub trees have kin identification capability where they can distinguish the difference between strange and kin trees. Mother trees have bigger mycorrhiza nodes and networks with related trees vs. strange trees. When a mother tree is injured or dying it will pour out excess Carbon into the fungal network but also defense signals.

So the next time you take a walk out into the woods – see the trees for the interwoven community that they are.

 

FIREFLY WATCH

One of my anticipated events in June is the nightly, blinking light show of the fireflies. This year did not seem as spectacular as other years and it lead me to wonder.   Had the wet and cold spring adversely affected the firefly? It turns out to be a more complicated issue than just adverse weather conditions. As far back as 2010, scientists from around the world knew our beloved firefly was in trouble. During the International Firefly Symposium, 13 nations documented noticeable population declines and declared an urgent need for conservation of their habitats. Just conserving habitat is not enough.

So how can we help this amazing beetle? Here are some recommendations you can implement in your own backyard.

1) TURN OUT THE LIGHTS

Fireflies communicate through their flashing lights and especially to attract mates. Human light pollution disrupts their flashes making it harder to find mates and breed. Even drawing blinds at night for inside lights will help dim your surrounding outside yard.

2) HABITAT, HABITAT AND HABITAT

Have logs and leaf litter handy. Some species of fireflies grow in rotten logs and leaf litter. Create water features. Most species of fireflies thrive around standing water and marshy areas. Ponds, streams and rivers can also provide good habitat. Even a small ground depression full of water can cause them to congregate. Fireflies eat the smaller insects, grubs and snail that live near these water landscapes.

3) NO PESTICIDES, NOT EVEN LAWN CHEMICALS

Fireflies and their larva may come into contact with other pests that have been poisoned, or they may ingest poisons from plants that have been sprayed. Remember – firefly larva eat other undesirable insects, so they are nature’s natural pest control.

4) USE NATURAL FERTILIZERS

5) DON’T OVERMOW

Fireflies mainly stay on the ground during the day, and frequently mowing may disturb populations. Consider incorporating some areas of long grasses in your landscape. Fireflies prefer to live in long grasses.

Some very simple changes to your gardening and landscape can be of great importance to this beetle. I’m hoping we will all try these recommendations so that we can continue to witness the amazing firefly display on a summer’s night.

 

 

IN SEARCH OF THE ANCIENTS

THE HILLBORN WHITE OAK OF CAMBRIDGE

Today was the day we found the beautiful Hillborn White Oak of Cambridge.  Seed collecting has been ongoing with it being a, ‘ bust or boom ‘ year for trees and shrubs.  Unfortunately, it is more of a bust year for oaks, in general.  The odd oak is producing acorns, but at minimal amounts.

COLLECTING THE AMERICAN BEECH

Last year, in May 2016, we talked about a very special tree on site. Our American Beech tree had been recognized and protected by Trees Ontario as a Heritage Tree. It stands by the House of Dove as it has stood for the last 100 years. Trees of this age have unique genetics in that their longevity shows a resistance to disease, climate change, pollution and have grit to survive whatever Mother Nature dishes out.

 

We have waited 7 years for this tree to produce fruit and, finally, this is the year. After every wind or rain event I visit the tree and collect the seeds laying about on the ground and fight off the squirrels and chipmunks trying to collect seed for their winter stashes. We want to collect as many seeds as possible since, it seems, that we can only harvest every 7 years. Soon the seeds will be processed and next year a new wave of American Beech will germinate carrying the genetics of this beautiful heritage tree forward. Something worth celebrating.

THE ART OF GAPING

This is the best year, so far, for having orioles come to the feeders. We estimate we have 30 – 40 northern orioles coming to feed on the grape jelly, daily, at the five feeders. We wanted to share some photos of the orioles gaping our trumpet vine.

You have to realize, northern orioles are regular consumers of nectar. In this area, they love trumpet vine. They do not feed like the hummingbirds but, rather, by gaping. They pierce the bottom of the flower and pry open the gap and rob the nectar from the flower. Unfortunately, the flower does not get pollinated since the orioles bypass the sexual parts.

PINNING UP THE EGGS

Sometimes female butterflies find the ‘ perfect ‘ site on which to lay their precious eggs. She is quite capable of depositing 100 eggs. This can be quite overwhelming for the host plant and in order to avoid starvation of all the caterpillars, transplanting of the eggs is required.

We simply pin the leaves on which the eggs are on to a new area. Pinning causes little damage to the host plant and the eggs continue to develop, uninterrupted, on the underside of the plant away from the rain and eyes of predators.

These are spicebush swallowtail eggs and caterpillars being transferred to fresh spicebush host plants.

IN SEARCH OF UNIQUE HAWTHORNS

This is the year we are readjusting our mindset, at the nursery, in regards to what we thought were valuable additions to the landscape. Many trees and shrubs that we believed to be of little or no value are now getting a second chance. Turns out it is all in the eye of the beholder. What is no worth to someone is someone else s gold.

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We had blindly listened to opinions stating trees such as poplar and hawthorn were garbage trees and not worth planting. But, you know, these opinions were based 40 years ago and our southern Ontario landscape and environment has changed greatly. Now when I take a second look at the hawthorn I see a tree ready made for disturbed soil locations, abandoned hay fields and hot, open lots. They tolerate no shade and are perfectly suited to our present day environment. As a pioneer, and restoration species, it is at the top of the list.

In North America, we have a vast variety of hawthorn. Unfortunately, since this is not a sought after species, most of the varieties are not found at nurseries. That spurred us on to conduct a survey to find local, wild hawthorns. So far, we have tentatively identified 5 varieties and will have to wait till the Fall to verify our findings. The fruit will definitively determine the varieties.

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MEMORIAL TREES

Trees invoke feelings deep inside of us.  Have you ever felt how quiet a forest feels; almost like standing in an empty, quiet church.  Or sometimes we feel sad when we plant a tree for a deceased loved one in an arboretum.

We have memorial trees, here, but they make us smile and relive fun moments with loved ones.  Once such tree is our beautiful northern Catalpa.  Every summer when she blooms we remember Grandpa Bill and smile and recount the story as we have coffee admiring the blooms.

Twenty years ago, Grandpa Bill, had an oddly shaped Catalpa in the backyard.  Every year his wife would shout at him to chain saw down that misshapen tree but Bill would say, ‘ Look how beautiful it is blooming.  Let’s wait till it has finished flowering before we saw it down.’   Of course, it got too hot then and maybe we should wait till the fall to chop it down.

This went on for many years and the tree still remains in the backyard – misshapen.  Bill passed away and before the house and property were sold we dug up some baby Catalpa and transferred them to our house.  4 are placed all around the house and when they bloom his grandchildren remember Grandpa and his Catalpa.  There are no tears just smiles as we retell the story.  The story never seems to get old.

So you see, memorial trees need not be a sad affair.  I think they can remind us of loved ones; it is up to us what feelings the tree will invoke.

 

THE BLACK SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY

 

A funny thing happened to us on the way to grocery shopping. We were walking into the store when I spied a garden clearance center. Since I am a sucker for these places, in we went. Most of the plants had been neglected and had the burnt look for lack of watering. We were wandering up and down the aisles when I saw the fennel. It was the saddest fennel I had seen in my life. They were dry, wilted and had very little leaf left. When I looked closer, I found out the reason why. 7 full grown black swallowtail caterpillars! Jackpot. Greedily I gathered up all ten pots and tenderly placed them in the back seat of the car. Not exactly what I came to the grocery store for.

At home we dug the fennel into out flower pots with our precious visitors aboard. I can still see the look of the garden clearance attendant’s face thinking that she had pulled one over on me. Not every day you get a customer thrilled to death to buy wilted, half dead stock.

Most scientific sources state that the host plants for the black swallowtail are parsley, dill, carrot, Queen Anne’s Lace and fennel. We have tried all these larval sources and there is no doubt in my mind that fennel is their favorite. Since these butterflies are listed as common, you too, can have these beautiful butterflies visiting. Their preferred habitat is generally open areas, anything from roadsides to weedy areas and gardens. Male black swallowtails will perch and patrol open areas for females, often near patches of host plants – THINK FENNEL.

THE EASTERN FLOWERING DOGWOOD

We started growing this tree many years ago because its large, white, showy flowers was an obvious pollinator magnet.  Afterwards, the bright, red berries are eaten by over 50 species of birds and small animals.

Unfortunately, fate has not been kind to this small native tree of North America.  In Canada, it is only found in our part of southern Ontario and as of 2007 is listed as endangered.  It is estimated that less than 2,000 trees are left in the wild.  The main 2 reasons threatening this tree are loss of habitat and the introduction of a fungal infection, Dogwood Anthracnose.

As far as we know, there is no selection program being carried out to select resistant trees to the fungus and breed them as Anthracnose resistant stock.  We, at our nursery, have been experimenting with planting the dogwood trees in situations which in not conducive to the fungal disease, with success.

We love this pretty, little tree and will strive to keep up with scientific data and ideas to save it.  Only time will tell.