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.
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.
THE SILVER MAPLE OF CRIEFF HILLS
Why the fuss about ancient trees? For me the answer lies in their genetics and their gifts to their offspring. In long lived trees such as maple, oaks, beech and hickory, longevity is a desirable genetic trait. Longevity of these trees shows an adaptability to a changing world. An ability to adapt to changing weather and climate, degrading air quality (air pollution) and soil pollutants such as road side salts.
This particular silver maple was on a 300 acre farm purchased by Colonel J B McLean of the present day McLean publications. Even by 1930, Colonel McLean could see that most of this area had been clear cut and , ‘the land was devoid of most songbirds.’ Somehow the silver maple was spared the ax and grew to its massive size beside the historic stone barn.
It was a thrill to see, this spring, the silver maple loaded with monstrous amounts of maple keys. Today, we are germinating approximately 200 seedlings from this ancient tree. And her genetics will live on.
At the end of April, we were very busy unloading part of the greenhouse in order to attend the annual native plant sale at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. There were many larval (caterpillar) plants in crates to be carried out to the back of the trailer and truck.
Floating through all this chaos were 2 painted lady butterflies. How on earth they came out of hibernation and found our greenhouse through the cold and rainy weather of April was a mystery to me. They immediately found their larval plant, pearly everlasting, to lay eggs all over.
In May, we saw the familiar webbing of caterpillars all over the pearly everlasting and knew we were in luck. Today, all 50 plants are spent and we had to transplant 20 + caterpillars to new plants. This will be their last big feeding and then they will crawl off into the garden and hang. Later they will emerge as our beautiful painted ladies.
How wonderful we were able to share a life’s moment with them. And so the cycle of life continues.