Elegant Deceiver

Two days ago I saw an flash of orange and black flutter through my garden. It was the first viceroy of the year. There is nothing that says ‘summer’ more than watching butterflies take advantage of the breeze and blooms in the summer sun.

Whether you have just a small flower bed or a whole area designated as a ‘pollinator space‘, it’s justifiably satisfying to see butterflies arrive. Do you watch for cabbage whites? Swallowtails? Monarchs? Viceroys?

The viceroy is a beautiful orange and black butterfly with a lace-like wing edge – a very similiar appearance to the monarch. It is elegant and also a savvy deceiver. Most people learn of viceroys in relation to monarchs: the wing pattern is slightly different, the size is a little smaller, they are Ontario natives who don’t migrate, and they are not milkweed-dependent like monarchs.

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It has long been known that these species benefit from the frequent mistaken identity. Since monarchs eat milkweed as caterpillars, they ingest the toxins of the plant and while they are impervious to it, they incorporate it’s off-putting taste and toxicity. A symbiotic relationship between monarchs and milkweed makes the monarch unappetizing to predators. Their bright colours may draw attention, but predators know that the butterfly is unappetizing. The viceroy exploits mimicry that offers some additional protection.

The viceroy is somewhat distasteful itself – so this is not a case of a tasty butterfly being protected from predation by visual confusion with the vile-tasting monarch. Instead, they are both distasteful, and have a mutual benefit from looking alike.

But how about for us… those of us looking at the fields and flowers… and spotting an orange and black beauty? How can we tell?

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Viceroys:

  1. Have a ‘horizontal band’ of black on their wings that intersects the vertical black lines that both species have. This is the easiest way to tell them apart
  2. Have a less wide wing span – you have to learn to judge this in relation to their bodies
  3. The ‘lace’ detail at the wing edges of the monarch are more detailed and smaller than those on the viceroy. Additionally on the top wing (fore-wing) the pattern is more white in the orange on a viceroy as opposed to the black and darker orange on a monarch.

If you are close enough, also look at the bodies from above – the viceroy is fully black while the monarch has white spots on both the head and lower abdomen.

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Comparison via journeynorth.org

If you are casually watching one, look at how they fly. Monarchs have a distinctive flight that I’ve seen described as a ‘flap, flap, glide’ but I’d describe as a lazy non-directed movement. Viceroys are more flapping and direct – they seem faster and straighter. In some cases the monarch is a deeper orange – but don’t go by colour since there are wide variations between individuals.

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Both monarchs and viceroys feed and breed in our warm Ontario summers – and both visit native blooms such as bee balm (monarda), coneflowers (like black-eyed susans and echinacea) and blanket flower (gaillardia).

Watch for the flashes of black and orange … and try to distinguish which of these elegant butterflies you are seeing.

 

Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

Butterflies of Ontario

Butterfly and Moth Guide (Ontario Nature)

Butterflies of Toronto (e-book from ROM/City of Toronto)

Caterpillars ID

Viceroy or Monarch? ( spotting the differences – Journey North/ Lerner.org)

Viceroy and Monarch Mimicry

Mimicry – a discussion

Elegant Deceiver ~ © 2018 Natasha G

*Please note that while viceroys frequently fly around Altona Forest’s edges, they refused to pose for me. I took these viceroy photos in Rosetta McClain Gardens in Scarborough (late Aug ’17 – hence the tattered condition of the wings). I only sign ‘My Altona Forest’ to photos I’ve taken in Altona Forest.

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Amphibians Beyond The Ponds

Feeling like ‘a frog is a frog’?

Just a little curiosity is all you need to take the leap and discover their amazing song, life cycle, and contribution to our woods. So I’m going to challenge you to go to the ponds, watch, listen and discover a frog.

I really know nothing about frogs or toads. So why am I writing an article about them? Because they are cooler than you think – than I thought. Because just a few bits of knowledge are the starting point – whether you begin your own research or head out to observe.

Amphibians have been called ‘indicator species’ – their decline is tied to and illuminates wider problems of environmental toxins, changes in climate, fragmentation of habitat, and invasive species or disease transfer. Everywhere, amphibians are in steep, frightening decline. They are both predators and prey – and they affect many food cycles in their native ranges.

Altona Forest has a number of wetlands, but they were amended, drained, segmented, and changed for human purposes. This drastically affected the distribution of frogs and the viability of the area for the life-cycle from egg to tadpole to frog.

I have seen 4 of Altona Forest’s frog species. I believe that those who monitor and know local amphibians agree that there are 6 currently present in the forest. You can observe frogs in a number of places – Lacey’s Pond (an area in transition because there was not enough open water in the pond for frogs until last summer), the Amphibian Pond on the north boardwalk, the edges of Petticoat Creek as it passes by Altona Forest’s main entrance, and the rainwater collection ponds in the south ‘panhandle’.

Since I am no expert, each title below is a link to more information about the species – including their calls so you can listen for them. I’ll begin with the species I haven’t seen:

Spring Peeper:

For a frog to be named for the sound it makes is a sure sign that it has a distinctive call. The spring peeper is a tiny brown frog often found on trees. It is one of the earliest frogs to emerge after winter and can call while there is still snow on the ground. I can only say I’ve heard it – since you can hear them from a distance.

Grey Tree Frog:

The name is perfect – yes this very small frog can be found climbing trees. But look very carefully since it has the ability to change colour to blend into its surroundings. Last year on a guided forest walk, a grey tree frog was spotted in a tree beside the amphibian pond in Altona Forest north. Though I stare at trees a lot, I haven’t seen one. Meanwhile, forest-adjacent residents say that they’ve found them in their gardens. I’m not so lucky – but I’m still looking!

Leopard Frog:

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The leopard frog is named for it’s spots. It has a pointier nose, ridges running along its sides, and a brighter green colour (though they can also be brown). This mid-size frog was in the shallow edge of Petticoat Creek – but I have spotted them at the rainwater ponds in the south as well.

Wood Frog:

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Wood frogs are found (big shock) in the woods. You can find them in damp areas and I’ve spotted them in the muddy areas beside vernal streams. While they are shy, small frogs, once a year they gather at the ponds to mate and then seem oblivious to people and the click of the camera. This pair was at the north amphibian pond.

Green Frog:

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Green frogs are not always green – they can be any number of deeper shades of green and tan brown. They also are found in every size but have large discs (ears) beside their eyes that make them easier to distinguish. Their call sounds like rubber bands. They are reliably spotted at the amphibian pond – where I photographed this one last week.

American Toad:

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American toads are the only toads in this area. Unlike frogs, they are able to wander farther from ponds and into forest or neighbourhoods. While I’ve seen toads in Altona Forest (around the amphibian pond and in the forest adjacent to it), this one hopped from the forest into my garden – where he’s welcome to stay and rid me of all sorts of garden pests!

Wetlands are forests, ponds, marshes and many other spaces – places that invite biodiversity.  Amphibians play a central role in these ecosystems… and now you know to look not only in the water, but in the trees and in the shaded forest for these adaptable but shy inhabitants.

 

Amphibians Beyond the Ponds ~ © 2018 Natasha G

 

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Our Woodland Spring Ephemerals

It seems like we wait forever for spring to arrive. And when it does, it’s fleeting and disappears before we can fully embrace it. That feeling of a short-lived, ephemeral season is echoed in our local Ontario forests by beautiful blossoms that rush to seize the mild warmth and dappled sunlight of spring.

A spring ephemeral is defined as a woodland plant that grows, blooms, seeds, and dies back in a few weeks to a couple of months. They are often very short plants (under a foot tall), have minimal leaves, and bloom in the leaf litter of a deciduous forest. Ephemerals usually bloom in April/May depending on the severity or warmth of our spring weather. They use spring’s open forest canopy to gain all the dappled sun they need to bloom and then, when the trees put out their leaves and summer sets in, the ephemerals die back and lie dormant until next spring.

The most famous of the spring ephemerals is Ontario’s provincial flower – the trillium. They are bright, cheery, bloom for about 2-3 weeks, and fade into shades of pink as they age. Trilliums crisp white petals mirror the 3 bracts and leaves below them. And it is true that it’s illegal to pick them – in any park, conservation area, or public space – for good reasons. Picking a trillium kills the plant in nearly all cases, and even if it survives, it would be years before it could bloom again.

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Trilliums along the loop trail in Altona Forest

Trilliums are hardy and yet delicate and very susceptible to human ‘interference’ – a trait they share will other spring ephemerals. Some take years to grow from seed to mature plant. Their short growing season means that a lost leaf or flower is unrecoverable and can destroy the plant. Many of these plants die in transplanting or even handling – so carry your camera and take only photos and memories with you.

If you love these spring beauties and want to add natives to your garden to support pollinators, there are ethical nurseries that don’t wild-harvest (aka steal them from their native homes) – I will list a couple below in ‘resources’.

Don’t miss the subtle and hidden beauty spring holds in the forest. You need to be out walking at the right time to be able to appreciate these natives during their best (but short) show.

Here are 5 other woodland ephemerals you might see annually along Altona Forest’s trails:

Bloodroot

Bloodroot is a cheerful plant that has one flower and one emerald green, intricately lobed leaf. It’s usually one of the earliest to bloom in spring and can be found in little colonies of many plants growing in a clump about 10″ tall.

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2. Trout Lily

Trout lilies face downwards so it’s easy to miss their delicate beauty in spring. Their name is derived from the mottled colour of their leaves – resembling the fish. You will often find a single leaf  with no flower (that’s the whole single plant) – because (like trillium) it takes seven years for a plant to get from seed to flower.

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Identify the trout lily by the speckled leaves

3. Jack-in-the-Pulpit

It’s easy to miss this spectacularly striped beauty. Stoop low and take your camera to chipmunk-height to take a closer look. The bloom looks like a champagne flute with the tip of its one ‘petal’ dramatically bent over the opening. This unique characteristic protects it but makes it hard to spot. The tube is really a bract – the ‘flower’ is the stalk inside the tube.

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Lit by the sun, the stripes on this ‘jack’ are dramatic

4. Marsh Marigold

Can you resist the sunny cheerfulness of the marsh marigold? This plant loves damp soils and even standing water and is often seen along vernal streams and ponds edges. It grows in a clump with neat rounded shaped leaves and stems with multiple flowers.

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5. Lady Slipper Orchid

Before these neighbourhoods were built, there were many delicate and whimsical lady slippers in this area due to the damp wooded conditions and the right sustaining soil bacteria. Lady slipper orchids die if they are moved or disturbed: they have very complex and narrowly-defined growing conditions. The rare remaining lady slippers in Altona Forest are extremely fragile and unfortunately prone to tampering and theft. Keep your eyes open for them in damp areas along the trails – and enjoy their beauty in the late spring.

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Bonus Round

And now a challenge… Have you seen the blossom called ‘spring beauty’ in Altona Forest? I haven’t – but I know it grows in the woods of Rouge National Urban Park just a walk away. It’s a tiny early-blooming little pink and white flower. (If you see them in Altona, please let me know where so I can photograph them!)

 

Resources ~ Begin Your Reading Here

Our Woodland Spring Ephemerals ~ © 2018 Natasha G

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Among the Leaf Litter

Spring is the most incredible time in the deciduous forests of Ontario. Long before the trees get leaves, the forest is coming to life from the ground up. Frogs begin to sing before the ice is fully melted in Altona’s ponds, salamanders become active, and protected by the leaf litter, the earliest of woodland flowers bloom.

Be watchful as you walk – and be especially careful where you step. Many spring wildflowers begin as a simple, small, unremarkable single leaf… that takes a number of springs before it yields a blossom. Stay on-trail to protect future years’ blooms.

Two years ago on a guided Rouge Park hike I saw a flower and I was instantly smitten. It was so lovely –  starry little blossoms. It’s hairy stems and curly leaf stems were barely visible. The whole plant is only a few inches tall, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty – in fact it makes a trail-walk even more interesting as you look for them.

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Spring blush in Rouge Park

Last year in mid-April I was wandering Altona Forest’s deciduous forest trails and was so surprised to see a little clump of them! I walked these trails for years and had never seen one. They are not prolific, easily destroyed, and delicate – the small group I saw might be the only one in Altona Forest. Please let me know if you spot them anywhere along the trails.

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You have to get down to chipmunk-height to do these beauties justice

Hepatica is commonly known as liverwort or liverleaf– and because I dislike it’s common name I’ve been sticking with its formal one. Why such a name? Because the shape and colour of the rounded three-lobed leaves resemble a human liver. These leaves are both delicate and hardy – they overwinter under the snows of winter and their damaged or curled edges are the battle scars of frost-damage. Dry frost is much tougher to endure than protective snows.

If the two photos seem dissimilar and hardly the same plant to you, you are astute. Damp conditions and early mornings have the blossoms facing down and partially-closed. Sunny and dry afternoons will have them looking upwards. Hepatica comes in 3 main blossom-colours with shades in-between and also two main types. Hepatica blossoms can be bluish-purple, pink, or white; a photographic challenge to find and photograph ones of each colour in the wild.

There are two types based on their leaf shape: round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana) and sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba). I can’t tell them apart yet – but see if you can by photographing all you see. They are from the same wide ‘buttercup’ family as the marsh marigold and like it, varieties can be found in the same latitude across continents – North America, Europe and Asia

While I’d love these in the sun-dappled corners of my garden, they are not easy plants to acquire or grow. They don’t do well being divided, take years to mature from seed, and garden centers don’t have them. This is good in one way – it makes them even more lovely and special in their woodland homes. It would be awful and irreparably destructive if unethical garden centers would steal them from nature just to sell them.

And since their seeds are spread by ants (myrmecochery – if you wanted to geek-out with the official term – frankly I have to look up the spelling every time and butcher the pronunciation!) you never know where a little plant will pop up but it won’t be where you put it. This is the same way bloodroot seeds are propagated in spring. (Bloodroot blooms and seeds in tandem with hepatica.)

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I’m not going to list too many details on this lovely little woodland native – but I do suggest an excellent blog post I saw last year.

 

Ontario Wildflowers List

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Winter Fun on the Trails

Hey Winter! We’re ready for you! (No really!)

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One emerging ‘tradition’ is the First Day Hike. Have you done one? As the holidays wind down, and the gatherings, gifts and gourmet trappings are a thing of the past, many people hit the post-holiday slump. To stave it off and start the new year out on the right foot, people are choosing to head to a park or conservation area for a hike on New Year’s Day.  What a great way to launch into the new year on a high note

What about those days after Jan 1? How do you embrace winter, enjoy nature, and keep your spirits up? Winter settles in and many people are visited by the winter blues, the blahs, or SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Others go a little squirrely being indoors too much. So… dress for the weather in warm layers and get outside!

Conservation areas like Altona Forest have easy access and that means we can visit many times. And ours is free! Here are a few ideas for what you can do to embrace and enjoy winter along Altona’s trails:

  1. Extend the First Day hike to the ‘First Month Hikes’ and get together once a week with friends or family to walk some trails – it’s a great chance to connect with each other and nature.
  2. Make a snow angel. If you are 5 or 55… there is a small part of you that feels amazing just lying there and creating that snow impression. As a bonus – it’s virtually impossible to walk by a snow angel without smiling – so you’re sharing the joy. I watched someone make one in the forest the other day and couldn’t suppress the grin.
  3. Try a scavenger hunt. This is conservation land, and we don’t want to harm a forest already under so much stress – don’t collect and remove anything. So… do a scavenger hunt using a phone, camera or other device to capture images of the items sought.
  4. Try snowshoeing in the forest. Borrow some snowshoes – ask friends if they have some you can use for a few days and get out there and try it. It’s fun – and if you can walk, you can snowshoe! (PS it burns extra calories too!)
  5. Take your dog for a walk – exercise and companionship are the main reasons for having a dog so get out there. Just remember that Altona Forest is a leash-only area  and you need to carry out all waste. Not a suggestion – it’s the law. Respect the safety, security and comfort of others walking the trails.
  6. Channel your inner photographer and take a photo expedition along a trail and capture the beauty of the winter landscape. Try to see things through fresh eyes and new angles. Challenge yourself to look more closely at light and shadow, texture, and nuance.
  7. Have a winter picnic. Take blankets, hot soup & sandwiches OR hot chocolate & dessert and pick a spot to sit and take in winter’s serene beauty. Yes; a picnic happens on the ground but the forest also offers some great spots to sit on logs (post 17) or benches (amphibian pond deck or post 35 or 15) or the picnic tables at the Altona Rd entrance.
  8. Go birdwatching. Birding is fun for all ages and with long sight-lines you can see through the forest. Take your binoculars and watch along the forest edges or near ponds to see the most activity. Or simply listen carefully and follow the tapping sounds of the woodpeckers.
  9. Throw snowballs! Yes at each other! Or if you are alone… throw them at a tree. I’m sure it wouldn’t mind.  This takes that special packing snow… the one that compresses beautifully and just begs creativity. If you are even more inspired, make a snowman along the trail… using only forest floor items to give him features. I love to scoop out a little of his head and add some birdseed.
  10. Create a temporary ‘art installation’ worthy of forest magic; one that doesn’t harm the forest or leave waste behind. Freeze some fallen twigs, cedar fronds, or seed pods in a shallow bowl or lid. Add a drop of food colouring if you like. Add a small loop of garden twine (so it will decompose easily) into the water so you can hang it. When this ‘nature mandala’ is frozen, take it to the forest and hang it from a sturdy branch where it can sparkle in the light. You’ve created a nature sun-catcher that will last until a thaw. This is a great kids-project but also for anyone who loves nature, art or creativity!

Inspired yet? Just picture enjoying fresh cold air and sunshine before returning home to a fire, a seat by a window, warm socks, and/or hot chocolate … it’s what the Danes call ‘hygge’ and I’ll call ’embracing the cozy’ after winter fun on the trails!

**** Avoid the boardwalks or be extremely careful in using them – there are a number of broken boards and hazards

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pileated woodpecker near Lacey’s Pond

 

Winter Fun on the Trails ~ © 2018 Natasha G

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Adventures in Blazing Trails

There is no better feeling than walking along a trail and enjoying the beauty and serenity of nature. Conversely, there is no worse feeling than getting lost. Unless you can clearly see a trail or a marker, it’s easy to get muddled and confused.

Even when you know the trails well, you can easily get sidetracked. The other day I was walking in Altona Forest on a trail I know very well and was caught up in my thoughts. I suddenly stopped, realizing I was off-trail… somehow I was walking off into the woods and had strayed from the trail.

Altona’s trails are harder to follow now. When this trail system was created, painted trail blazes clearly marked these footpaths. Over the years, some have faded and some marker trees have been lost to age, illness, or storms.

There are 3 trails in Altona Forest – the short trail beginning at Autumn Crescent, the main trail (marked in white), and the north-east trail (marked in blue). The blue trail is an open loop that starts and ends at the white trail. It leads through mixed forest and deciduous wetlands, past spring trillium, bloodroot and jack-in-the-pulpit blooms, through EAB ravaged forest that showcases the forest’s woodpeckers, and past vernal streams.

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This is ‘my trail’ – the one I walk most frequently. So, when the Altona Forest Stewardship Committee asked for volunteers to repaint the trail blazes, I volunteered my spouse and myself for the whole of the blue loop. I never stopped to think about the logistics. Or that maybe I should have asked my spouse before volunteering him. (I did that with the 2015 website revamp as well; resulting in his literally dozens of hours of work writing old html code)

More than a year later, trail blazing hadn’t been undertaken anywhere in the forest. I didn’t want yet another winter of trail-confusion to happen on my watch. Since the AFSC is not funded I concluded I’d be buying all the supplies myself. The TRCA signs and the current markings were available as a guide. And since we were doing the whole blue trail, consistency would be a given.

Altona Forest trails follow the same markings system as the Bruce Trail (which is based on the Appalachian Trail). My spouse is a member and has hiked half of the distance from Niagara to Tobermory so he is familiar with the typical blazing methods/standards.

The blazes are simple and universally understood; if the top mark is to the right – turn right, and if the top mark is to the left – turn left. If there is a single mark then continue straight.

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The process is perfectly simple – and then came the reality of doing it:

  • What paint colour? There is a blue suggested by the Bruce Trail association to mark side trails. Using that colour made sense – except the store couldn’t match that particular (discontinued?) Pantone shade. I needed to come up with a shade of blue that nearly matched the original paint (I didn’t have a sample) and would be clearly visible in the bright light of winter and the deep shade of summer. It was a somewhat blind choice – hope you like it!
  • The size of the blazes should be standard – and this was great because the Bruce guide was clear that it was 2×6″. I created 2 templates to use… this is great and logical … until the paint gets a bit messy and gets on the back of your templates. Or worse (you can see an example along the trail) where the paint runs down a non-porous bark after you’ve walked away.
  • You take along a spray bottle of water, paper towels, a scraper, your brush, the paint… etc. And then realize that you reach a point where every single thing is smeared with paint and can smear each other. You wish for a tap. You stop, laugh, and continue.
  • You realize that this is a very simple job – but it simply needs 2 people. One to hold the template and one to paint. You hope that this does not end up like a kindergarten finger painting.
  • About 1/5 of the way in, you realize that while Bruce markers should be on the left side of the trail as you are walking it, Altona’s original markers were on the right. What do you do? You panic for a moment and then decide that the old markers will be repainted and remain on the right… and all new markers will continue on the left.
  • From a few feet past one marker you should be able to see the next one. Another reason this is a job for two people: you need to pace this out. But then you realize that mother nature doesn’t always grow a tree where it needs to be. Or that the tree won’t be wide enough to manage two blazes to indicate the turn.
  • You realize that this trail is winding so ‘straight’ is a relative concept.  You accept this or decide to paint every second meter… which would then qualify as vandalism.
  • Blazes should be at eye level. Who’s eyes? All ages use this trail and an average person is 5’6″: that is Bruce ideal. Sometimes the tree dictated a slightly higher or lower placement… who am I to argue with Mother Nature?
  • Did you know that the blue trail does not actually link to the boardwalk in the north, but stops at the north gate of the forest – the entrance to the hydro corridor? I have walked this trail for years and never knew this.
  • Just when you get that triumphant feeling of getting to the end, you realize that the trail must be painted in the other direction as well… and treated like a new trail since the sight-lines change. I have great appreciation for those who blazed these trails originally – and perfectly.

I hope you are a little amused – and learned from our adventure. These were a few of the little things we encountered while trail blazing. It was fun and funny, cold and frustrating, challenging and rewarding. It’s done. As of November, the blue trail is easier to follow… so wander in!

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TrailMap2M

Using a Footpath – Bruce Trail Conservancy

Guide For Trail Workers – Bruce Trail blaze processes (start on pg 26)- we’re very grateful

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Adventures in Planting

A week ago, I was surprised by an e-mail. It was serendipity – the kind of serendipity that has kindness, dedication, and vigilance behind it.

The e-mail was from TRCA (Toronto and Region Conservation) who manage Altona Forest. During the ‘planting event’ time I’d asked if they had any leftover plants from other projects, if they could please think of Altona Forest. There were no plans to do any maintenance or improvements in Altona Forest this year – there was just no budget for it from our municipality.

There were a few plants that they could get for the forest – and they would be delivered to my home in the next two days. I’d requested a few key species that are ‘perfect’ for Altona Forest. Plants that naturally remediate the areas they are in and have the capability to make a lasting difference to forest health and biodiversity long years from now. The next morning TRCA delivered the plants: 3 healthy tamarack trees, 3 beautiful elderberry shrub/trees, and 10 blue flag iris.

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I added the wraps to protect the elderberry from being grazed by deer or rabbits

I had volunteered myself and my husband as planning/labour for this project since the target area for these plants is the wet, problematic, and transitioning north-west corner of the forest. This would not be a volunteer-friendly planting experience. An added challenge was the time frame: November is late for planting based on ground-freezing cold snaps.

Luckily we’d had no freezing weather yet and the rain was going to hold off until Sunday – so that left Friday/Saturday for the planting.

10 Blue Flag Iris

Blue flag iris was high on my ‘wish list’ for the north-west corner because they are native to this area, beautiful, semi-aquatic and do well in wet saturated soil, and can proliferate in the sunny conditions offered in that area. Additionally, blue flag iris might be extirpated from Altona Forest due to development of the area – so reintroduction of this local species would be a boon for biodiversity. Finally and most importantly, blue flag iris excels at cleaning the water it grows beside. The north-west corner has over-abundant nutrients flowing into it from the nearby tree nursery and this hard-working plant will help filter this water. Over rich water affects the algae and weed growth in the wetland restoration pond every summer.

I planted 3 iris at a tiny pond where the water enters the forest – and the others along the wetland ‘stream’ that brings that same water to the restoration pond. For forest visitors, I made sure to plant one visible from the viewing deck at the pond edge where it can be spotted and talked about at hikes. Each plant has the capacity to not only seed and fill into the area, but to build large clumps using their spreading root system.

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3 Tamaracks

Tamaracks exist in Altona Forest – but not in large numbers. They are more abundant in the boreal forest further north – in wet boggy areas, thin rocky soil and short growing seasons. They are great to stabilize an area and hold the earth – later dropping cones to fill in an area. They are also so beautiful in fall with golden and orange needles that Algonquin Park advertises their ‘golden encore’ of fall colour.

In spring 2016 we planted 3 tamaracks in the very wet area by the fence that is littered with deadfall – on the west side of the boardwalk. Not only did they survive, but they tripled in height in their 2 summers. The new 3 tamaracks were planted just to the north of the existing 3 – with the hopes that they will have similiar success and create a small grove over time. This is very tricky for planting – it’s waterlogged, there are branches and dead trees everywhere, and you have to watch your footing as rotten wood suddenly gives way. I went in only a few feet from the boardwalk, but the spouse went much further to get these planted properly. Given the lateness of the season, I didn’t loosen the root ball as I usually do with potted plants – and I also asked the spouse to plant them so that one inch of crown was above the muddy earth to allow better oxygen uptake in the surface roots (a challenge in wet soils).

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The crown just above the muddy earth, this is a humble start among the wildflowers for this tamarack

3 Elderberry

Beside the north pond (aka amphibian pond) there is a wet meadow with dead trees – all ash that were decimated by the emerald ash borer. Without the shade of leaves, this area is now sunny and grasses, wildflowers and shrubs can thrive. A biologist report for Altona Forest suggested varied species should be added here to replace the dying ashes. One species mentioned was elderberry – and I was thrilled to get these three healthy shrubs to plant into the area.

Elderberry offers multiple stems, a wide branching pattern, white clusters of flowers for native pollinators in spring and ample berries for birds and wildlife in fall. They are not only beautiful, native to the area (I’ve seen some wild in Rouge Park), and able to grow in wet areas, but they sustain wildlife who have lost habitat and food sources through this area. The section east of the boardwalk at Post 30 was wetter than anticipated but will offer a good home for these young shrubs.

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View from the boardwalk – you’ll be able to see this one, but the other two are further back

And so ends my adventure in remediation planting. Scratched and scraped, cold, muddy, and a little sore from carrying the plants along the trails, we were that happy-satisfied-tired you get from doing something truly worthwhile.

 

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.

The second best time is now

 

 

Adventures in Planting ~ © 2017 Natasha G

 

 

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