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.
Yesterday, while hurricane winds were blowing, I was out collecting seeds. No one told me of the dangers of this job. The high force winds were literally ripping the female catkins from the trembling aspen trees. There were severe thunderstorms watches issued, but I had to collect the catkins. Aspens, poplars and cottonwoods are unique in that the seeds will immediately germinate if they land on the right surface – warm and wet soil.
Of course, the winds were carrying the seeds across the road and depositing them all over the road shoulders. I really did have to remind myself that there was traffic to pay attention to and that the dog, my assistant nursery manager, was utterly unaware of any cars.
With our newly collected prizes in hand, we immediately laid the seeds on fresh, wet soil and left them to steam in the greenhouse. If all goes well, within days there should be little trembling aspen sprouting.
I have sadly overlooked this species considering them a weed and junk tree. In my ignorance I did not realize their contribution to the environment, especially along eroding rivers. I think this tree will become highly prized in the future as we see more heavy rain events like we saw this spring.
So listen up to this incredible story. Last year, just as the orioles were fledging, we had 3 days where the weather got super cold and we had torrential rain. One baby oriole had just fledged from her nest and had been taught by her parents to come to our oriole feeder for grape jelly. We gave her the unimaginative name of Baby. Through those 3 days we kept her alive, though she was soaked and chilled to the bone, by always having one well in the feeder filled with jelly though the rain washed it away, almost immediately. Baby got into the habit of landing on the cement window sill and peer inside. Sometimes she would have to tap the window with her beak to get our attention. She would wait miserably for us to come out with the grape jelly and fill the feeder.
Baby made it and matured into a beautiful female oriole with a tell tale brown smudge between her eyes. She migrated in the fall with all our blessings. We were sad to see her go but ever so glad our lives had intertwined with her’s.
Well, today I was having coffee and Baby came to the window sill and peered in. Yes, there was that tell tale brown smudge between her eyes. Rick brought the grape jelly out and filled the feeder. She gobbled up the grape jelly and flew off.
It is going to be a great birding year! If you, too, want to attract and feed orioles check out the orioles article. Good luck.
Wow, what a day! We were very proud to be at the 3rd annual RBG Native plant sale. This year was the biggest – well attended. We sold out of all the larval butterfly plants. It is wonderful to see the growing enthusiasm of the public towards protecting our pollinators. An added new feature to the sale this year was the free lectures being offered at the Rock Gardens center. We were very happy to present a slide show on local butterflies and their larval plants. I know not everyone fell asleep, some people actually took notes!
1,000 American Elms still remain in our Ontario landscape, over 100 years old, standing resistant to Dutch Elm disease (DED). We, at Puslinch Naturally Native Trees Nursery, have progeny from these parent trees and are now offering them for reintroduction into the environment.
In 10 years, super resistant DED elm progeny will be available from the University of Guelph elm recovery program. It is our hope that both natural and super DED elms will be planted together. Why? Even though emphasis is on DED we must also consider climate change. The naturals have a vast genetic base that may offer adaptive abilities to our changing weather.
Even though there was a nip in the air, I was still amazed to see a Red Admiral butterfly float by as we were planting bitternut hickory acorns. It is hard to believe that these migratory butterflies are on the same migration wave as birds. Though everyone flocks to see the birds at Point Peele in the spring, no one seems to see these bright butterflies. Next to the Mourning Cloak, these are one of our earliest butterflies. If you want these beauties in your garden you will have to plant stinging nettle. Yes, this is their larval plant. And please, do not spray – be pollinator friendly.
We wrote this article in response to the launch of the Ontario Bee Health plan. Hopefully, everyone gets on board and tries to garden, farm and keep bees in a pollinator friendly manner. Please be sure to check out all our suggestions and enjoy your pollinator visitors.