Photo taken by Peter Thoem
We’re inviting our neighbours and nearby landowners to a hands-on workshop!
RBG's natural lands provide habitat for dozens of Species at Risk - plants and animals whose population is ‘at risk’ of disappearing either provincially or nationally. Species at Risk are safeguarded by strict provincial and federal legislation that protects them and reduces threats to their habitat. RBG is helping local Species at Risk through conservation, habitat restoration, education, and research. We’re inviting you to participate in a hands-on workshop where you will learn about what you can do as an RBG neighbour and/or nearby landowner to help rare and endangered species.
On Saturday, November 2nd join us from 9:30 am to 2:00 pm at the RBG Arboretum in front of the Nature Interpretive Centre (NIC) and help our ecologists protect important interior forest habitat for at-risk birds by removing and destroying invasive shrubs. Learn how to identify non-native invasive species that pose a threat to local habitats, and gain experience with the tools used to remove them. After working up an appetite in the field, we’ll provide you with lunch and a series of short presentations on what you can do at home or in your community to help at-risk turtles, snakes, salamanders, trees and birds. There will be time during the presentations for discussion, questions and answers.
You must register for this event; please sign up with Lindsay Barr, Terrestrial Ecologist at or 905-527-1158 ext. 257. Gloves and equipment will be provided, but please wear closed-toed shoes and bring a water bottle. Dress for the weather as we will run light rain or shine. If in doubt, check for a weather cancellation notice on RBG’s Facebook page and Twitter (@RBGCanada), and our weather update line at 905-527-1158 ext.404.
Can’t make it on November 2nd? There are other volunteer opportunities where you can help battle invasive species at RBG. Every Saturday from October 19th to November 16th we will be hosting invasive species pulls. Visit our event’s calendar (www.rbg.ca/events) on our website for more details.
This project is undertaken with the financial support of:
Carolinian Canada and Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) are partnering to bring you the 2013 Ecosystem Recovery Forum, with the theme of monitoring ecological change across the Carolinian life zone. The forum brings together conservation practitioners from across the Carolinian zone and beyond to share monitoring successes and challenges, and gain knowledge and inspiration from each other's accomplishments. The Forum will explore the rapid advances in remote sensing tools, the flowering of citizen science initiatives, the monitoring of rare species populations and habitats, and many other related topics, in a concurrent session format. We will ask where do all the data go, and how are they best used to rebuild healthy ecosystems? The Forum will be followed by a public event on the evening of November 5th with forum keynote speaker John Riley (Senior Science Advisor, the Nature Conservancy of Canada) who will present on his new book, "The Once and Future Great Lakes Country: An Ecological History" in the RBG auditorium. To register for the Forum go the Carolinian Canada website, to register for the evening speaker event visit the RBG registration webpage. Plan to join us for this great event.
Royal Botanical Gardens’ meadow marsh habitat is under attack by a very aggressive subspecies of the perennial grass Phragmites australis. If you’re hiking along our trails in Hendrie Valley, you may come across our Natural Lands staff, hard at work removing it.
Also known as Common Reed, Phragmites (pronounced frag-mightees) is hard to miss, growing in dense stands of plants that can reach four to six metres in height, with conspicuous large, feathery seedheads. One of the most widespread plant species on our planet, it is found in temperate wetlands right around the world. Genetic research has revealed two subspecies of Phragmites, nearly identical in appearance but different in their behaviour - one is native to North America and the other to Europe. The native subspecies is a stable part of the habitats where it grows, but at some point in the last two centuries, the European subspecies, found its way to the New World and its numbers are exploding. Initial assessment of Phragmites stands on RBG property indicated they have doubled in size over the last five years. These stands now cover nearly 3 hectares and have continued to spread in 2013, invading some of the more high quality areas in our wetlands.
The European subspecies can quickly overtake wetlands, initially invading areas that are open or disturbed particularly at urban storm drain outlets, then sending out underground rhizomes that can spread up to five metres per year and produce plants 4m tall. This helps it to form extensive stands and crowd out native plants but chemical warfare is also part of its success: the rhizomes emit a toxin that kills the roots of nearby plant species.
Control has been initiated by numerous organizations all around the Great Lakes including the City of Hamilton. RBG has been awarded funds by the US National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to assist in the management of this aggressive invasive plant. Initial work includes mapping and experimental trials to determine the best and safest approach to control the spread of the grass on our property. Management options for Phragmites in other areas on the Great Lakes have included cutting, smashing, raking, herbicide applications, flooding, and prescribed burns. Management trials on RBG property will test which of these methods will best help us to reduce the degree of infestation to a more manageable level.
A new native plant species has been found in the forests around Cootes Paradise! The discovery of Monotropa hypopitys, Pinesap, by Catherine Shimmel, is truly an exciting find. Shimmel, a volunteer Trail Watcher for RBG, discovered a cluster of plants along the Captain Cootes Trail in July, 2013.
Pinesap belongs to the family Ericaceae which includes plants like Vaccinium (blueberry) and Calluna (heather). At first sight people might misidentify Pinesap as a mushroom due to its color and growth form, when in fact it is a vascular plant which lacks chlorophyll and, therefore, does not photosynthesize. But how can a plant survive without making food from the sun? It parasitizes. Pinesap roots latch onto the mycelium of a certain fungi that forms mycorrhizal associations with trees like Pinus strobus, White Pine. Whereas mycorrhizal fungi and trees form mutually beneficial relationships in gathering nutrients, Pinesap simply feeds on the tree through the fungi, making it a specific type of parasite called a myco-heterotroph.
Although never before seen at RBG, Pinesap does occur locally. It is uncommon in Hamilton and rare in the Halton regions compared to its look alike relative Monotropa uniflora, Indian-pipe. Pinesap can be identified by its uniformly pale yellow, orange, or red color and its multiple flower heads. Indian-pipe will have a uniformly white or pale pink color but as its species epithet suggests, will only have one flowering head on each stalk.
Be sure to look out for Pinesap and Indian-pipe on your wildflower walks and fungal forays this summer!
Goldenrod is a common name applied to species in the genera Solidago and Euthamia belonging to the Asteraceae family. Goldenrods are late-blooming wildflowers and difficult to identify, with 33 species native to Ontario and 16 species found on Royal Botanical Gardens property. Rare goldenrods on RBG property include Solidago arguta (Rough-leaved Goldenrod), and Solidago rigida (Stiff-leaved Goldenrod). The most common species we observe in southern Ontario is Solidago Canadensis (Canada Goldenrod). The colonization of European settlers and deforestation associated with this has led to this species’ spread and proliferation in fields, roadsides and meadows. Goldenrod plays an important role in ecosystems by providing a valuable food source for native pollinators such as bees and butterflies and shelter for spiders and the praying mantis.
Canada Goldenrod is deemed as a pest due to the mistaken belief that it causes severe allergic reactions. This is a myth as goldenrod pollen is transported by insects, not the wind. Ambrosia artemisifolia (Common Ragweed), is a wind-pollinated plant that blooms at the same time and is the cause of late-summer “hayfever”. Goldenrod’s importance as a pollen and nectar source for insects is evident in the many kinds of bugs you’ll find visiting the flowers, including the Monarch butterfly.
Canada Goldenrod is a helpful herb, as opposed to a nuisance one. Historically the flowers have been used for the treatment of a variety of medical conditions. The flowers have been chewed to help in the relief of sore throats and fevers, and taken in a tea to relieve urinary system issues as well as muscle pain. Goldenrod also has astringent (constriction) properties that have assisted in healing wounds and reducing bleeding.
There are goldenrods that are blooming now including Solidago juncea (Early Goldenrod) and many more will be blooming later in the month. Take a walk on our trails over the coming weeks and you’ll find a variety of species of these beautiful wildflowers!
Each year RBG conducts breeding bird monitoring programs to help assess the ecological status of our natural lands. Different bird species are highly variable in terms of habitat and diet and having a wide variety of birds is likely an indication of a diverse ecosystem. On top of this, birds are noisy and/or readily visible, allowing them to be recorded relatively easily during monitoring surveys and making them ideal as ecosystem indicator species.
The end of June signals the end of breeding bird monitoring and with it the exciting results of another year of bird surveys! This year we recorded 74 separate bird species (up from the 69 recorded in 2012) including four new species not previously recorded. The most abundant species overall was Red-wing Blackbird followed by Yellow Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, American Goldfinch and Song Sparrow. These results are very similar to monitoring results from 2012 where Red-winged Blackbird was most abundant followed by American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwing, and Yellow Warbler.
Some of the many highlights of this year’s survey included recording the provincially and nationally endangered Acadian Flycatcher, a Black-billed Cuckoo overheard at Princess Point, an American Woodcock and a Mourning Warbler calling near Hopkins Loop, and a Green Heron spotted in Hendrie Valley. If you are planning to get out and spot any birds during what is left of this breeding season, the best time to do so is early in the morning. Some birds, like American Goldfinch, are just nesting now, while others, like American Robin, are fledging their second brood. Shorebirds are already done with breeding and some are into their migration southwards: watch for them feeding on mudflats near the Marsh Boardwalk in Cootes Paradise.
Burlington ON, June 20, 2013 — In keeping with the ongoing commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, Burlington Heights is the first location within the Cootes to Escarpment Ecopark System to undergo a joint management planning process. This long strip of land separates Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour, connects Hamilton and Burlington, and is both a National Historic Site and part of an Environmentally Sensitive Area. The goal for the Burlington Heights Management Plan process is a plan for the area that articulates sustainable use, captures the cultural significance of the site, and is approved by all affected parties and supported by community members and stakeholders. Visit the Ecopark website to learn more. The first public consultation meeting will be held on June 25th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Old Coach House at Dundurn Castle and all are invited to learn more and share their thoughts on the future management of the area.
To mark the two-hundred year anniversary of the Battle of Stoney Creek, Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) has once again planted a Peace Garden filled with red geraniums on its lands on Burlington Heights, part of the area used as a military post by British troops from 1813 until the end of the war. One of many gardens along the Binational Heritage Peace Garden Trail, the display consists of 1,812 red geraniums in front of the T.B. McQuesten Lookout on York Boulevard. Along with interpretive signage, the site includes two benches and a spotting scope for viewing the City of Hamilton, Hamilton Harbour, Carroll’s Bay and, on clear days, the Stoney Creek Battlefield Tower. On either side of the monument, turf has been allowed to naturalize, returning the area to the prairie habitat which likely prevailed on this sand and gravel ridge in the early 1800s.
After 11 weeks in the nest, the two eaglets hatched in March on the shores of Cootes Paradise Marsh have taken to the air. Eaglets can fledge as early as nine weeks after hatching, or as late as 12 weeks. Early in the morning of Wednesday, June 5, no eaglets were seen in the nest, indicating that they had taken to the air. After a number of hours of monitoring both eaglets were observed in flight for a short time, one returning from the south side of the marsh and the other circling from near the nest area. Each was accompanied by a parent, and both landed in a tree hidden from view behind the nest tree. The birds are now adult size, but easily differentiated from the parents by their brown plumage and mottled underwings. They will not develop the trademark white head and tail feathers until they reach maturity at four to five years of age.
If you haven’t had a chance to see them yet, don’t worry: these young birds are expected to remain around the marsh and Hamilton Harbour for much of the remainder of 2013, and will continue to look to their parents for food for much of the summer. The eaglets are expected to spend most of the next month perched in large trees and taking flights where they work to build up their strength for soaring, and by early fall they will be wandering further afield. If they reach breeding age (mortality is high for young predators like these), eaglets often return to their original home to breed. The RBG Arboretum remains the best access from which to view the birds, open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Good views of the marsh can be found along Captain Cootes Trail and Marshwalk Trail, as well as from Princess Point and Chegwin Trail on the south shore.
Photo on left: Iris in their holding beds on May 27 beginning to bloom…
Photo on right: Laking Iris and Paeonia collection preparation
We’re usually pretty good at keeping our dirty work from public view. Garden improvements seem to crop up from nowhere, despite the fact that our crack gardening staff are working hard behind the scenes to make things better for you. Large projects usually happen in areas that have been closed. This makes it safer for guests and creates a more productive atmosphere for employees.
As luck would have it, visible comets are not the only celestial event occurring this year. The stars have aligned to create an exceptional opportunity, as this summer you will be able to visit the Laking Garden and enjoy a rare chance to see a large project as it is being put together!
Nature has conspired to create a confluence of final garden preparation and Iris bloom. Our late winter and wet spring means that staff are now working feverishly to grade and sod pathways, top off planting beds, move memorials stones and benches into place and, ultimately, move plants into their collections. The plants are so excited that they can’t contain themselves and are bursting into bloom in their holding beds on the middle terrace and near the gazebo.
Come see the men and women behind the curtain as the Laking Garden takes shape. We’re excited about the improved access to the displays and hope you will continue to visit long after the project is complete to enjoy the spectacular displays that are sure to come.
After a seemingly never ending winter, the Arboretum is bursting into life. Early flowering Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia) are in full flower filling the pure azure blue spring sky with the most incredible fragrance. If you plan a trip to the auxiliary plant sale this weekend, then a trip to the Magnolia Collection west in the arboretum is an absolute must. The straight species is originally native to Japan and bears large white or pink star shaped fragrant flowers. It is a great addition to any garden as it requires little maintenance or water and will thrive in average, medium, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. It’s also versatile too! It can be grown as a specimen plant for a lawn or shrub border, is effectively used in foundation planting, can be utilised in woodland gardens or can even be grown as a hedge. Look out for the spectacular cultivar M. stellata ‘Pink Star’ which as the name suggests stands out in the crowd with its eye catching pink flowers. A trip to the Magnolia Collection west is a spectacularly perfect way to finally shake off those winter blues.
White-tailed fawn/yearling. Photo Credit: Kathryn Harrison
On Tuesday, February 5th, a mix of volunteers and staff members conducted our first winter deer count on the north and south shores of Cootes Paradise Marsh. The event was a huge success with 15 enthusiastic counters traversing the property from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In total, 162 deer were tallied comprising 55 does, 51 fawns/yearlings, 7 bucks, and 54 of unknown gender and age. The number of bucks might appear to be significantly lower than that of females but this because some males had already shed their antlers and were harder to distinguish. The south shore yielded 52 deer, while the larger north shore resulted in 110 sightings. Also, three deer carcasses were found; one near the Arboretum, one in Spencer Creek floodplain, and one around Bull’s Point.
It is important to note that this number of deer is only an estimate; it is not absolute as there are seasonal variations and movements in and out of our lands that result in changes in numbers from year to year. The main goal of the count was to estimate the number of White-tailed Deer, and get an idea of the size and structure of the population; we can build on this knowledge in future counts.
We would like to thank all of those who participated and volunteered their time during the deer count; without your help and support, the count would not have been possible. We hope to see everyone again, and anyone else who would be interested, at future deer counts for another exciting and memorable experience!
Photo by David Galbraith
After several years of nesting attempts, the Bald Eagles of Cootes Paradise Nature Sanctuary have finally managed to hatch young. The first eaglet was noted during monitoring of the nest site on March 22, 2013, with a second observed on March 23.
The nest has been monitored weekly from the nearby trail since the eagles were first spotted on the nest in mid-February. Given the egg incubation time of about 35 days, it is entirely possible the eggs were laid on Valentine’s Day. At present, it is unknown if there are more eggs in the nest.
Located in the Hopkins Woods Special Protection Area on the north shore of Cootes Paradise Marsh, the nest can be viewed at a safe distance from the Marshwalk Boardwalk, accessed on trails from the RBG Arboretum. These are the first Bald Eagles to be hatched on the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario since Bald Eagle populations throughout North America collapsed decades ago.
The hatching of the eaglets not only coincides with spring but also a fresh supply of migrating fish to eat in Cootes Paradise Marsh. And, fish migration means it’s time to open the Cootes Paradise Fishway. The Fishway allows native fish into Cootes Paradise Marsh while preventing invasive carp from entering. It is open to the public during scheduled operating times. Come see our ecologists at work during a fish lift; just follow the Waterfront Trail 700m from RBG’s Princess Point parking lot.
To help RBG continue its efforts in restoring and protecting these natural areas, please consider a gift to our Growing Up Green Campaign by donating today.
More about Bald Eagles at RBG.
Take a hike on our trails in spring and summer, and you’re likely to hear the raspy “fee-bee” call of one of our more common flycatchers, the Eastern Phoebe. Come fall, however, they migrate south to overwinter in the southeastern United States. So, why has one taken up winter residence in Hendrie Valley this year?
Warmer temperatures are likely the answer. A study by the Audubon Society has found that more than half of the migratory bird species in North America are spending winters at least 55 kilometres farther north than they did 40 years ago. While there were some intense cold spells this winter, we have also had several warm periods which may have prompted this bird to stay. Although they are insectivores, Eastern Phoebes can subsist on berries in cold weather. Insects also emerge earlier than you may think: our phoebe was seen “flycatching” over Grindstone Creek in late February.
Phoebes are among the first flycatchers to arrive in spring, so keep an eye out for more of these inconspicuous songbirds in late-April and May. They are most easily recognized when perched as they bob their tail up and down (and don’t forget that their call advertises their name). Come June, they’ll be nesting on the rock ledges of the Niagara Escarpment, so visit RBG’s Rock Chapel Nature Sanctuary and you’re guaranteed to find one.
A note on Aerial Insectivores:
Flycatchers are part of the Aerial Insectivore bird group – birds that catch insects in flight. The State of Canada’s Birds (2012) indicates that populations of Aerial Insectivores are declining more steeply than any other group of birds. These declines are likely cause by a combination of factors both in Canada in in their wintering areas, including reductions in insect numbers, habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. At RBG, we monitor our breeding bird populations every year and we are keeping a close watch on the local trends for this group.
Although the majority of plants outdoors are still inactive, one of the many species that is just beginning to bloom in the Mediterranean Garden is the Weeping Bottlebrush, Callistemon viminalis. This small tree is a native of Western Australia where it grows along creeks and waterways in sheltered valleys with deep rich soils. C. viminalis is a member of the Myrtaceae, a plant family that also includes Eucalyptus trees; another Australian speciality. The foliage is narrow and sharp-tipped, hanging gracefully from drooping branches on mature trees.
The blooms of C. viminalis are small, but are produced abundantly in congested cylindrical clusters along the slender twigs and may be produced more than once in a growing season if conditions are favorable. The striking, bright red colored stamens (male portions of the flower which produce pollen) burst from the blooms and dangle freely, just like the bristles of a bottlebrush.
Due to the extraordinary color and frequent production of these glorious blooms, C. viminalis is grown as an ornamental species outdoors in warm climates throughout the world, as well as cultivated indoors in cooler regions. In southern Florida, the species is listed as locally invasive and this same story is repeated in other regions which are free of hard frosts the whole year round.
Interestingly, a medical study published early this year has confirmed that the leaves of this species have potent antioxidant properties, therefore having the potential to be used therapeutically as a natural remedy for a wide range of medicinal conditions. Come drop by the Mediterranean Garden this week or the next to ensure you don’t miss the brilliant and colorful display of this exceptional exotic species!
Dropping by to see the dinosaurs? If you’re here in the next few days, you might detect a not-so-pleasant odour on your way into the exhibit. Follow your nose and you’ll be led to a very exotic-looking plant that is currently blooming in Stedman Hall.
Amorphophallus konjac is a perennial species in the Arum family (Araceae). A native of warm temperate and tropical regions of east Asia from southern China and Japan to Indonesia, its common names, Devil’s Tongue and Voodoo Lily, pay tribute to the unique appearance of its flowers. The fragrance which wafts from this magnificent bloom has been affectionately described as resembling carrion or rotting fish - certainly not the stuff of great perfumes!
The intent behind the production of this powerful odour is not to offend us, but instead to facilitate reproduction. Carrion flies are irresistibly attracted to such a potent smell and as they investigate the inside of the flowering structure, they become covered in pollen produced by the plant’s tiny flowers, which are hidden deep inside the inflorescence. The wrinkled, dark-coloured interior and mottled exterior of the bloom physically resembles a rotting corpse, accentuating the effectiveness of the stench produced.
This species is just one of the many examples of how intimately plants have crafted relationships with animals; even if that means disguising yourself as carrion and smelling like it too. See it soon though as the flower won’t last long!
Royal Botanical Garden’s Mediterranean Garden is almost always boasting spectacular floral displays of one kind or another; even when garden plants outdoors are dormant. The Jade Plant, Crassula ovata, also known as the Friendship Tree or Lucky Plant, is a very common houseplant and many specimens are currently in full bloom throughout the Mediterranean Garden.
The species is native to South Africa, where it grows on exposed rocky foothills surrounding the Cape Town region. Conditions there during the summer are very hot and dry and modest rainfall does not accumulate except during the mild winters. It is at this time that C. ovata flowers, producing stubby clusters of white 5-petaled flowers which have a fragrance likened by many to scented soap.
It is often rare for this species to bloom when cultivated because it requires certain environmental stimuli in order to bring about flower production. By watering your plant less often and placing it outside for a few weeks during autumn to expose it to single digit temperatures (but never freezing) followed by increased watering and moving your plant back indoors, one can encourage blooms sometime around the winter solstice. Make sure to come by the Mediterranean Garden this week to see our impressive C. ovata specimens in flower accompanied by many other species also flaunting their beauty!
From left to right: Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum; with 5 lobed leaves and blunt teeth), Norway Maple (Acer platanoides; an introduced species from Europe featuring leaves with 7 lobes and sharp teeth), Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo; with leaves composed of 3 or more smaller leaflets arranged on a stalk) and Big-leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum; with massive leaves measuring 9 ½ inches long and 11 ¼ inches broad).
The attention of the media has been focused recently on the identity of a holographic maple leaf design on Canada’s newest currency. Although Canada has long had a stylized emblem of a maple leaf on its flag, and now more recently on its new 20, 50 and 100 dollar bills, this does not mean that maples are exclusively a Canadian group of trees. There are in fact more maple species (woody plants which belong to the genus Acer) indigenous to Yunnan province in China (95 species) then there are in the entirety of Canada (12 native species, 6 introduced).
According to the IUCN Red List of Maples, there are a grand total of 191 known maple species distributed around the globe, with the bulk of this biodiversity centered in southeastern China. Out of this total, 83 are classified as critically endangered. This means that 43% of all the world’s maples are dependent on conservation initiatives to prevent various factors which could drive these rare species to extinction.
There is a considerable amount of morphological variation that exists within Maples either native or introduced to Canada (see image) and this is exemplified even further with species indigenous to Europe and Asia; some of which many of us would find very difficult to recognize as a Maple. For example, the Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) has bark which is an impressive rusty red/orange color and shreds and peals into thin papery strips well into maturity. Alternatively, the Hornbeam Maple (Acer carpinifolium) has leaves that are oval shaped, taper to a sharp point and are lined with serrations along the edges.
The Royal Botanical Gardens has a collection of nearly 100 different varieties of maples from North America and elsewhere in the world. Be sure to drop by and see the incredible work that the RBG is doing as one out of many institutions that is preserving the biological diversity of plants for the future.
Every year, Royal Botanical Gardens’ staff puts forth much effort to remove the invasive common carp. Although the Cootes Paradise Fishway has been extremely successful in keeping carp out of the marsh, a resident population still remains. Many of these fish accessed the marsh during flood events over the last few years. Most of these remaining carp do not follow the normal migration pattern of entering the marsh in the spring for spawning and returning to the harbour in the fall once the water temperature and levels have dropped. Instead, these fish reside in the marsh all year long.
Throughout 2012, water levels remained below average, at times making it difficult to remove the stubborn fish, but ultimately providing ideal removal conditions. This past fall, much of the 320 hectares of Cootes Paradise was drained, consolidating the remaining common carp population into manageable areas. RBG staff utilized electrofishing - a technique that discharges electricity into the water, stunning the fish momentarily, but allowing full recovery without harm - to catch over 8,000 common carp and 300 goldfish. These fish were released into the harbour, as permitted. The removal of these invasive fish will decrease suspended sediment levels, or “muddiness” in the marsh, improving water quality and growing conditions for aquatic plants. Ultimately, this success will improve the overall quality of Cootes Paradise Marsh.
Ontario’s Back to Nature Network has released an exciting new teaching tool, and RBG is excited to have played a key role in its creation.
Into Nature: A Guide to Teaching in Nearby Nature is a manual that helps teachers create an outdoor learning space for their students and use it on a regular basis to teach all subjects. Over a year in the making, the guide is the result of the contributions of a wide group of partners including RBG Education staff and local teachers from the Halton District School Board, and was piloted with Halton teachers.
Into Nature is packed with valuable tools for teachers new to teaching outdoors in nature, but is also useful for those practiced in facilitating outdoor learning experiences.
Section One offers excellent information on why and how to teach in nature, including sample letters to communicate with Administrators and Parents, a materials list, and a readiness checklist that has room for post-lesson reflections and can be kept as a record of each experience.
Section Two, which forms most of the guide, contains a large variety of learning experiences. To start, “Nature 101” is a series of five phases that begins with a class-created nature contract, gradually moves the class outdoors, and culminates with an activity to create a designated outdoor learning space. A group of 50 “Nature2Go” activities are short, curriculum-connected “hits” of nature that can be completed in under 30 minutes, or extended further if desired. Finally, the “Lessons” component offers five lessons for each division, primary, junior and intermediate.
Into Nature can be downloaded as a free pdf file on the Back to Nature Network website at http://www.back2nature.ca/resources-research/education. A French-language version will be available for download at the same location in January 2013.
RBG is very pleased to have contributed significantly to Into Nature, and continues to play an important leadership role in the Back to Nature Network in supporting its goal of connecting children and families with nature. Please share the link to this resource with teachers that you know!
Imagine that you are walking through one of our forested nature sanctuaries during the summer, when suddenly, out of the blue, you hear it – Peet-seet! Peet-sah! A small greyish bird flits around nearby. For many of us, this would simply be “just another bird,” but for a seasoned bird enthusiast it is a song that just might convince them to stop, pull out the binoculars, and take a closer look.
That is because this song belongs to the Provincially- and Federally-endangered Acadian Flycatcher, a very rare species of bird that has been found on RBG property in recent years. This species, along with one designated of Special Concern by the Province, the Hooded Warbler, are the focus of a habitat improvement project being undertaken in Long Valley on the North Shore of Cootes Paradise (just west of the RBG Arboretum).
As you may know, our natural lands contain a diverse range of habitats that are home to many rare species such as these, but there’s a problem: non-native invasive plants have moved in. Rare species like the Acadian Flycatcher tend to be old fashioned; they like their habitats the way they were in the past, before European and Asian plants began to creep in.
Enter RBG’s Natural Lands team. With the help of generous funding from Environment Canada’s Habitat Stewardship Program, as well as the muscle power of local volunteers and organizations like Burlington Green, RBG is taking up the fight on behalf of these rare birds, and driving back the invasive plants in Long Valley before they can gain any more of a foothold. You may see some of the tell-tale signs of their efforts the next time you walk down Gray Doe trail, where thousands of Common Buckthorn and Honeysuckle plants hang propped up in the air, having been wrenched from the ground over the past month and suspended above the ground to dry out and prevent re-rooting. With time (and luck), RBG hopes to keep invasive species such as these at bay, and provide exceptional quality habitat for all of its native species, now and into the future.
Winter’s snow can’t be too far away once Tundra Swans make their biannual stopover in Cootes Paradise and Hamilton Harbour. This week, we’ve been seeing flocks of these majestic white birds moving through our area, and this morning (November 29) at least 100 birds could be seen in the centre of Cootes Paradise. For best views, try the Bull’s Point Lookout, though the east winds forecast for tomorrow may mean that any swans still in the area by morning will be sheltering in the lee of Burlington Heights. Try the Fishway and Thomas McQuesten High Level Bridge for vantage points; Carroll’s Bay may also end up sheltering flocks tonight and tomorrow.
Tundra Swans breed from northern Hudson’s Bay to Alaska, but winter along the mid-Atlantic coast as well as the Pacific coast. Cootes Paradise is one of a number of Great Lakes wetlands these birds use to rest on their long journey and if you miss them on the way south, don’t worry – they’ll be back again in March. In the meantime, watch the skies through this weekend for flocks of “big, long-necked geese that look white” as one person put it, and listen for their musical call.
Surprise, it really is wetland depth out there. The wetlands of Royal Botanical Gardens, including the 60 hectare Grindstone Marsh and 320 hectare Cootes Paradise Marsh, are experiencing the below average water levels of Lake Ontario this fall. The result is the exposure of much of the bottom, reminding us that the vast water areas we see in the summer are indeed shallow wetlands. With water levels currently about 20cm below the seasonal average, 2/3 of these wetlands are above water. Lake Ontario is part of the largest freshwater system in the world and as a result is subject to substantial water level fluctuations. Average annual water level fluctuations are about 60cm, while over the last 100 years, water levels have varied about 2.1m (7ft). To mitigate extreme water levels on Lake Ontario and facilitate the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway, levels have been regulated since the 1950s. Review of the current regulation scenario is an active topic with information available through the International Joint Commission. Water levels would still need to decline an additional 60 cm before we approach the low levels experienced in the 1930’s, however it will only take another 30cm decline to completely drain RBG wetlands. This is not expected to occur as only an additional 10cm is expected to occur before water levels start to increase again. However, total drainage likely will occur for an hour or two at some point this fall, a result of powerful west wind blowing the water down the lake. Water levels have been this low a number of times in recent years with similar levels experienced in 1998, 2007, and 2010. A number of wetland benefits are derived from lower water levels, including consolidation of loose bottom sediments, exposure of debris that can be cleaned up (tires etc.), germination of wetland seedlings, and perhaps most importantly, total elimination of carp from the restoration areas.
Gaining practical experience in the environmental field is a challenging undertaking for any new graduate. Through internship programs, Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) provides such an opportunity, allowing young professionals to hone their skills while making it possible for RBG to complete important environmental projects. This year, with the support of the ArcelorMittal Corporate Community Investment Fund, two 1-year internships are allowing RBG’s Natural Lands department to conduct valuable environmental work through a variety of projects in the Gardens’ vast nature sanctuaries.
“Royal Botanical Gardens with its extensive mandate and 1,000 hectares of property is an ideal training ground for recent graduates,” said Tys Theysmeyer, RBG’s Head of Natural Lands. “In their travels, the interns will be involved in a broad cross-section of duties ranging from monitoring and reporting, to environmental restoration and management projects.”
The Terrestrial intern will assist RBG ecologists in forest management and restoration, volunteer coordination and projects, nesting bird and forest monitoring and invasive plant species removal. The Aquatic intern will be immersed in the issues associated with the Hamilton Harbour Remedial Action Plan and be front and centre in the marsh restoration activities in Cootes Paradise and Grindstone Marsh.
Both interns will also be challenged to complete a project that will contribute to the future management of the property. Projects chosen this year include summarizing the effects of deer exclusion from an area of forest surrounding an endangered plant species, and working with a recovering plant community in the Grindstone Marsh restoration project through a combination of field monitoring and aerial photo interpretation.
“For the interns, these projects provide something tangible,” said Theysmeyer. “These are products that they can provide to prospective employers as an example of their skills and abilities.”
It’s National Tree Day – time to get out and hug a tree at RBG!
The last week of September (23 to 29) is National Forest Week, with Wednesday, September 23rd designated as National Tree Day. We all know that good things come in trees: stop and look around your office, classroom or home for things made from trees and tree products. Wood furnishings and building materials are pretty obvious, as are paper products, from printer paper to toilet tissue. But trees can be hidden in many other things we use each day.
Here’s a quiz to test your Tree-Q: which of the following 15 items contain tree products?
- Maple syrup
- Artificial vanilla extract
- Rayon fabric
- Shoe polish
- Dollar-store kitchen sponges
- Musical instruments
- Cold lozenges
- Floor tiles
- Soap and shampoo
- Wine corks
- Hair gel
Trees also provide enormous ecosystem benefits, from storing atmospheric carbon, to cooling and humidifying air, preventing erosion and filtering pollutants. Trees can even make you feel better. In Japan, Shinrin-yoku (“forest bathing”) is used therapeutically for relaxation and stress management, and walks in the woods have been shown to enhance immune function.
National Tree Day and Royal Botanical Gardens are a natural match. The RBG Arboretum on the north shore of Cootes Paradise is our living tree library, with spectacular, open-grown specimens of dozens of species including majestic Pin Oak (Quercus palustis), American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus). Our nature sanctuaries are home to 90 tree species, and we’ve been working on identifying trees with heritage value. Dozens have been mapped that are well over 100 years old and approaching 30m (100’) in height. Take a walk on the north shore trails from the Arboretum and you can see Canada’s biggest Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), and a White Oak (Quercus alba) thought to be almost 200 years in age. Our Heritage Trees webpage will help you plan your visit; why not make it a goal to visit these amazing plants this fall?
And the answers to the quiz?? Ingredients in all of those everyday products (and many more) are derived from trees.
Long-tailed Skipper, Urbanus proteus
Photo credit: Paul Tavares
The last long weekend of the summer delivered an unusual flighty visitor to Princess Point - a Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus). Spotted by Paul Tavares, this is only the third Canadian record for this butterfly. The first two reports were recorded in 1994 - one at Point Pelee and the other at Ojibway Prairie in Windsor.
Like the Monarch (and the Red Admirals we mentioned in Botanical News back in the spring), the Long-tailed Skipper is a migratory butterfly. Their range is typically Central America through to Florida and Texas , but they can occasionally stray and colonize in more northern states and even more infrequently in Canada – which has given us the opportunity to experience such a rarity that this dry and hot summer has had to offer. The caterpillars of the Long-tailed Skipper feed on legumes such as Tick-trefoil (Desmodium) and Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata) which can be found at Princess Point. The adults feed on the flower nectar from a variety of plants. The wildflower diversity at Princess Point has been on the rise since RBG has put effort into restoring it to tallgrass prairie habitat in 2008 and plant diversity is expected to increase even more after a prescribed burn that is expected to take place next spring.
Another rare sighting at Princess Point occurred during this year’s Butterfly Count in July when a Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) was identified (this species has a similar range to the Long-tailed Skipper). Other notable Lepidoptera species spotted at Princes Point during our counts include an American Snout (Libytheana carinenta) in 2011 and this year we had Spicebush Swallowtails (Papilio troilus) and a Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton). This has only been the second year that Princess Point has been included in our annual Butterfly Count and we are excited about future Lepidopteran surprises that this site may have in store.
For more information or to report your own unusual sighting visit http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/
The heat is not the only thing putting a dent in the health of local trees these days. An introduced beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer, is starting to take its toll in the region as well. This beetle arrived in southwestern Ontario from the US in the early 1990s and has been gradually spreading ever since.
The larva of the Emerald Ash Borer feed on the cambium (the living layer found under the bark) of ash trees (Fraxinus sp.). If enough beetles are present, they will sever the tree’s nutrient and water transport systems, eventually killing it. Substantial loss of ash trees has already occurred in southern Ontario, and they were first confirmed in Hamilton/Burlington in 2010. Our most obvious losses at RBG were seen last summer in the parking lot at RBG Centre; our final ash specimen was removed from the lot this spring.
White Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) is abundant in our nature sanctuaries and other ash species have been planted in our gardens, totalling over 10,000 trees. To manage the beetle invasion across RBG, a multipoint strategy is in place. This is highlighted by the replacement of ash trees with other native speciess in areas where extensive tree loss is expected, and preserving larger individual trees of special character found within the gardens and along our trails. To preserve trees, nineteen trees of special character were injected with an Emerald Ash Borer treatment to ensure their continued survival. These large and distinctive trees are located throughout the property, including the Arboretum, Hendrie Park and the north and south shores of Cootes Paradise, with the largest measuring 113 cm diameter. The Canada Food Inspection Agency is the designated agency responsible for managing this issue, and you can learn more about the beetle on their website. Individuals can help contain the spread by not moving wood from one area to another.
Japanese beetle damage to a Porcelain Vine leaf
As we continue to combat the hot dry weather of summer, gardeners may be beginning to see signs of another potential threat to their gardens. The end of July and the start of August mark the emergence of a major garden pest, the Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica).
A non-native species, the Japanese beetle was first discovered on the east coast of the United States near the start of the 20th century. Almost 100 years later, the beetle has spread throughout many parts of the eastern U.S., as well as, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritime provinces. While still in the larval stage, P. japonica prefers to feed on the roots of grasses, potentially killing large patches of turf. Once mature they are known to feed on a wide variety of plant material, including roses, maples, corn, soy, apple, cherry and ash. Adults feed on foliage and/or fruit with heavy infestations skeletonizing many leaves or reducing a fruit crop.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to effectively eliminate the Japanese Beetle from returning to your garden. Pheromone traps can be purchased, but will likely do more harm than good by attracting more beetles to your yard. Managing the beetles in your backyard is best done by quickly identifying any beetles and killing them by knocking them in to a jar of soapy water. Vigilance is key as the beetles will attract more to the area once established in your yard. The beetle is about 1 cm in length, has five white tufts of hair running along the abdomen with copper wing covers and a metallic green head. Larva may also be managed through the use of nematodes (Steinernema or Heterorhabditis spp.) or simply exposing the grubs to the surface can encourage predators to get an easy meal. Larval Japanese Beetles are roughly 2.5 cm-long white grubs that can be found near the soil surface in the spring and summer.
-T. Skuse, Student Gardener
|Red Saddlebags (Tramea onusta).
Photo: David d’Entremont
|Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta).
Photo: David d’Entremont
While motorcyclists travelled to Port Dover for Friday the 13th of July, odonate experts and enthusiasts flocked to RBG for our annual dragonfly and damselfly count. This group of volunteers and staff counted and identified a total of 895 individual odonates (dragonflies and damselflies are in the family Odonata), representing 27 different species.
Highlights included three Unicorn Clubtails (a provincially rare species), two Spot-winged Gliders, three Tule Bluets, nine Sweetflag Spreadwings, and one Dot-tailed Whiteface. This was also the first count where we found five Red Saddlebags. Overall, a total of 333 dragonflies and 552 damselflies were seen and recorded during the count.
We would like to thank those who braved the heat and volunteered! Your help during the count was greatly appreciated. We hope to see everyone, as well as those who were interested but couldn’t make it out this year, at next year’s count!
Royal Botanical Gardens has contributed to many different scholarly efforts over the years. Between 1985 and 1995, RBG produced an interdisciplinary scholarly journal entitled Canadian Horticultural History, in collaboration with a program called the Centre for Canadian Historical Horticultural Studies. Edited by RBG’s Librarian Ina Vrugtman, for a decade the journal published a wide variety of scholarly treatments of the history of garden design, biographies of prominent horticulturists and landscape architects, articles on the floristic exploration of Canada, and many other related subjects.
The eight bound issues of Canadian Horticultural History are now available on-line, free of charge, through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The Biodiversity Heritage Library is an international consortium of natural history and botanical libraries, including among others the American Museum of Natural History, The Field Museum, Harvard University Botany Libraries, Missouri Botanical Garden, The New York Botanical Garden, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This consortium is scanning and making available biodiversity and botanical literature from around the world. In June 2012 the library at Missouri Botanical Garden completed scanning Canadian Horticultural History.
You can access Canadian Horticultural History free of charge at the Biodiversity Heritage Library web site, including having access to the journal either as images of each page or as “OCR” text, at: http://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/bibliography/60850
Having recently rearranged RBG’s Cacti and Succulent Collection the opportunity has arisen to highlight an interesting but overlooked plant in that collection. Echinocactus grusonii known as Golden Barrel Cactus (or more interestingly Mother-in-Law’s Cushion) is native to the volcanic slopes of Mesa de Léon in Mexico. It’s a plant that is commonly seen in garden centres and used in the horticultural trade but whose interesting story, when revealed, is far more complex.
E. grusonii is a highly charismatic plant not just for its good looks and spiny temperament but because of the compelling story it tells us about our planet’s biodiversity. The conservation status of E. grusonii was published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List in 2002 where it was found to be Critically Endangered. Any organism assigned this category faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild and in the immediate future. So what makes this common plant in the horticultural trade so very rare in its wild habitat?
The problem in this case is a result of the activity of our own species and the consequences these activities cause. E. grusonii is a highly desirable plant due to its magnificent growth habit. This is typically a large, low and cylindrical ribbed green stem with numerous areoles producing ferocious radial yellow spines, topped off by bright yellow flowers one to two inches wide on mature plants. In other words it looks cool and, as we know, human beings display a tendency to collect and covet things that are cool. E. grusonii has, as a result, suffered seriously from over collection drastically reducing plant numbers in its wild population. This has further been compounded by the destruction of its natural habitat due to the construction of the Zimpán dam and reservoir in the 1990’s. It is estimated by the IUCN that the total number of plants that remain is less than 250 in an area of occupancy less than 10 km⊃;. As if this isn’t all bad enough the remaining plants are still under continued threat from illegal collection or poaching. So much for looking cool then! It is thought that within the next thirty years E. grusonii will become extinct in the wild, with the only genetically viable plants remaining in the plant collections of botanical gardens. Those plants in the horticulture trade although numerous provide very little hope as the genetic variability required to sustain a species is absent due to methods of clonal propagation leading to unsustainable genetic variation.
This story thus reveals a completely different side to a plant that we normally regard as being common place but that in reality has a complex and challenging future. Revealing these meaningful stories reduces the ignorance we have of our planet. It also shows the value of plant collections and botanic gardens and the critical role they play in plant conservation. The role botanic gardens play in interpretation and storytelling is critical to the hope of reducing our global ignorance of biodiversity. This allows us to better understand the world around us, make informed decisions and plan for the future. The interesting case of E. grusonii is an insightful lesson that provides us with a moment of reflection. Not everything we take for granted as being common is in fact plentiful. All organisms including our own species have a point of no return. In this particularly case, ignorance is not bliss.
Two hundred years ago, the area known as Burlington Heights was a critical staging area and defensive position for the British army. RBG is commemorating the war and celebrating two centuries of peace with the United States by establishing a Peace Garden at the memorial site—a joint effort of our Horticulture, Natural Lands and Education Departments.
Volunteers helped us plant thousands of plants on what seemed like the only rainy days this spring. The centerpiece of the garden consists of two triangles of 906 red geraniums (a total of: 1812 red geraniums, the unofficial flower for 1812 commemorations) in front of the T.B. McQuesten Lookout, planted by volunteers from the Bank of Montreal. Along with interpretive signage, the site will be enhanced with two benches and a scope for viewing the city, Hamilton Harbour, Carroll’s Bay and, on clear days, the Stoney Creek Battlefield Tower.
On either side of the monument, turf has been allowed to naturalize, returning the area to the prairie feel it might have had in the early 1800’s. Prairie species that were planted by a volunteer team from Union Gas include Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense), Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans), which would have been common on the Heights at the time of the War of 1812. Seeds to grow these plants were all collected from our nature sanctuaries. In addition to planting the islands, two striking Ontario native prairie species, Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) were interspersed throughout the remainder of meadow by the volunteers.
A mown path through the turf allows visitors to escape the sidewalk and York Boulevard for a stroll through the meadow, and an opportunity to learn more about this cultural landscape through interpretive audio and signage that will be installed soon. In the initial stage of the project a significant number of trees were removed; some of these were weedy species and others were in poor condition. The remaining stage will be more tree work, involving cooperation between CN Rail and RBG so that views can be opened up by selected pruning and removal of woody plants on the harbour side of the fence.
The project was made possible with the financial assistance of Shell Environmental Fund and the Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sport.
Veggie Village is a display garden that shows visitors how to create a veggie garden in any space, for any lifestyle. Veggie Village is home to nine small gardens, each of which is personified by different characters. Each garden is an example of how anyone can reduce their carbon footprint by growing, buying, and eating locally grown produce. Each characters lifestyle is depicted through their garden. Characters vary from “Grandmother Judy” who has a traditional garden with heritage vegetables and heirloom flowers, to student “Emma” who keeps an eclectic apartment balcony and uses odds and ends as containers. Growing a garden does not need to be hard work and it can be very satisfying to go from planting the seed to eating the fruits of your labour. Growing your own produce is not only good for your health, it is also economical and environmentally friendly.
This week Veggie Village was kick started. Anne, our fellow student gardener, and one of the people on the original Veggie Village planning team, is the lead hand on the planting . The beds have been weeded, soil has been cultivated and this year’s crop is ready to be planted. These gardens will be home to many varieties of vegetables, fruits, and herbs such as broccoli (Brassica oleracea (Italica Group)), strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa), and basil (Ocimum basilicum).
Visit Veggie Village and take the pledge to use locally grown produce in at least one meal a week for a year and help reduce your carbon footprint. Student Gardener – Rachel Boyce
This week, the Hendrie Park crew has started planting annuals in the scented garden. The soil has been turned and the flowers are starting to bloom. The scents vary from chocolate mint to licorice. As you walk through the garden you will also notice the large fountain in the center as well as the Hendrie Gates. These gates have great historical value, which is explained on the plaque nearby. It’s going to be beautiful this weekend, make sure to come and visit the Royal Botanical Gardens! Student Gardener – Evan James
American Painted Lady, Vanessa virginiensis Photo: Patrick Coin
Do you have Pussy-toes (Antennaria spp.) or Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) in your garden? While these native species are valued for their soft silvery foliage and drought tolerance, they have another great feature – they are butterfly host plants.
If, in the last week or two you’ve noticed these plants looking a little rough, with their leaves pulled together by thread-like webbing, please know that they are going to look worse in the next two weeks, and that they will bounce back soon. Inside these woven shelters are the caterpillars of American Painted Lady (Vanessa virginiensis). They are in their initial instars munching away on the leaves and stems and growing rapidly. At first they are black with small spines, but eventually you will notice white or yellow cross-bands and a row of wide spots on the sides. The American Painted Lady butterfly overwinters in southern United States through to northern South America and migrates in the spring arriving in southern Ontario in May. Like many other butterflies, they benefitted from a mild winter and are numerous this spring. The caterpillars will continue to eat the plants for about 12 to 18 days and then pupate into a mottled chrysalis. In about 10 days this second generation adult will emerge as adults and repeat the cycle. A third generation may be seen early in the fall as well.
Please enjoy your new backyard residents, and watch for them on the wing in the summer!
This week was very productive. After emptying the reflecting pond at Hendrie Park, staff and students filled the ponds with aquatic plants such as Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.) and Canna (Canna) and others. The tropical water lilies were held back as the water temperature must be above 24°C in order for the plants to survive and prosper in the reflecting pond. That job will have to wait until a later date! — Marco Fable, Student Gardener
Though the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hipposcastanum) may be a mess-maker in the fall with its large and inedible chestnuts, it has a beautiful display of flowers in mid to late spring. Right now we have several trees just coming into bloom. Some can be seen while driving along Plains Road. This tree has large inflorescences of showy white to pink blooms from the bottom of the tree all the way to the top. A related tree known as the Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava) has yellow blooms. Most common are the white flowers: look closely and you see more detail - in the centre of the white petals is a pretty pink and yellow patch inside the throat.
Horse Chestnuts are generally easy to care for, but can grow rather large. A climate zone between 3-7 is needed and lots of generous watering, something essential with these trees when there is a drought. Horse Chestnuts are the first to show signs of drought stress by wilting their leaves and browning at the edges, which can be an eyesore. Keep in mind that though they have very beautiful flowers, they may not always smell nice! Be prepared with a rake and bucket come fall when all the chestnuts fall and clutter your yard. — Darcy Wienk, Student Gardener
Recent visitors may have noticed construction activity in the rafters of the Mediterranean Garden. The people on ladders are not firemen in training--they are skilled contractors replacing the shade curtain system that helps us control temperature and light levels in this unique display area.
Growing plants under glass is a complicated affair. A myriad of variables interact with one another creating a habitat that may or may not be suitable for plants. Controlling the environment is the key to achieving success.
The emphasis is on providing enough light, since the plants are growing indoors. While not often easy in a home environment, a greenhouse allows maximum exposure to sunlight year round. As days lengthen and light intensity increases in the spring, the sun’s rays (pouring into an enclosed “glass box”) cause the temperatures in greenhouses to spiral out of control. Readings of 55°C are not out of the question; temperatures not fit for man, beast, or plants.
Shading helps moderate the effect of solar gain. In addition to reducing light levels to prevent scorching of leaves, shading lessens the amount of the sun’s energy that enters the greenhouse, keeping it from becoming a sweat box. In addition, a properly constructed shade system saves energy by keeping warmth IN the house at night. An added benefit is that shading diffuses light, making dark areas lighter in addition to shading overly bright spots.
RBG’s new system is a retractable one, allowing the curtains to be open on cloudy days and closed only when they need to be to achieve the precise control that helps our collection thrive. Motors pull the shades across at the flip of a switch and someday photo sensors will eliminate the need to toggle them open or closed. If they operate as they should, you won’t even notice them. But the plants can tell!
In most years Muscari (Grape Hyacinth) would bloom before Rhododendron (Azeala), but in 2012 they’re flowering together in the Rock Garden.
By Alex Henderson, Curator of Collections
It is one of those crazy years. You know, the ones that occur once in a blue moon and completely throw you for a loop? This spring, everything seems to be flowering at once. It’s not often that mid-April blooms hold on as long as they have (as a result of our recent cool weather), while paradoxically, May’s blooms have accumulated enough heat from the warmer days back in March, to produce blooms two weeks earlier than usual. As a result, the living collections and gardens are a riot of colour, with everything in bloom at once. Come for a visit and you’ll find that along with the customary Tulips (Tulipa) we expect in early May, you’ll have Magnolias (Magnolia), Cherries (Prunus), Crabapples (Malus) and Lilacs (Syringa) all vying for your undivided attention.
The climate is always a popular talking point at botanical gardens as so much of the year’s promise is dependent on climate patterns. After consulting with some of my colleagues, it appears that 1998 was the last time this part of Ontario experienced this magnitude of bloom collision and floral anarchy. Talking to other colleagues, some feel a level of disorientation that’s akin to a floristic version of jet lag. In my own case, I feel a little out of sorts too. In March, I was in the UK where the blooms were equally early. As a result, for the first time in my life I have experienced a temperate spring twice in a single year. Most disconcerting!
While this might seem like a cool (no pun intended) experience, one has to hope that an anarchic spring such as this won’t seriously disrupt migrations, phenology or pollination cycles upon which the rhythms of the natural world depend. If I feel confused sitting in my nice safe, comfortable, climate-controlled office, imagine what it takes for the flora and fauna to adapt and react to these crazy climate patterns!
Each year hundreds of school students put on their thinking caps, roll up their sleeves and work hard on innovative, exciting projects for school science fairs. The best projects from Hamilton and Halton schools make it to the Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair (BASEF), a prestigious annual event that sends winners on to the Canada-wide Science Fair. For many years Royal Botanical Gardens has sponsored a special award for the best project in botanical or environmental sciences. The prize is a $100 gift certificate from the Shop @ the Gardens and a one-year family membership.
Our 2012 Royal Botanical Gardens Award winner is Heather McBrien of Westmount Secondary School in Hamilton, level 9/10 in the Earth & Environmental Science Division, for her project entitled "Seed Sprouts." Heather applied sound experimental design to test whether nickel in water would inhibit the sprouting or growth of bean plants. She found that, compared to the control group, seeds which experienced nickel in the water sprouted and grew poorly. In her well-documented display, Heather discussed the potential for nickel pollution to become serious in the food chain, or bioaccumulate. In addition to the RBG award, Heather's project earned a BASEF Bronze Merit Award and two additional special awards: the IISEF- Association for Women GeoScientists Award and the Hillfield Strathallan College Award of Excellence for Biological Sciences.
With wings folded, the Red Admiral is well-camouflaged, but once the wings open, vibrant red-orange bands make this species easy to identify. Photos: Bill Kilburn
If you were outside on the weekend and early this week (April 14-16), you may have noticed some admirals engaged in aerial manoeuvres in your yard, street or park. No, we’re not talking about members of the Navy. The small, fast-flying butterflies that you see swirling about right now are part of a tidal wave of Red Admiral butterflies that is currently sweeping across southern Ontario. Some have estimated the numbers arriving to be in the millions each day.
Carried along on currents of strong south and southwest winds (part of the same system that spawned deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma on the weekend), these butterflies are arriving from the US in enormous numbers, called an “irruption”. Higher than normal numbers are seen from time to time, and this winter the record warm temperatures across eastern North America may have contributed to a higher than normal rate of survival of the adults during overwintering, resulting in the tremendous wave we’re experiencing now.
Readily identified by the vibrant red bands that cross the topside of all four wings (but only the underside of its forewings), the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is found all around the northern hemisphere. It is one of a handful of butterfly species that must recolonize Ontario from the US each spring, in the same way that the Monarch butterfly returns from Mexico. The “grand-butterflies” of the adults arriving now will try to overwinter in Canada, though usually without success as they can’t cope with our cold temperatures.
The adult males that we are seeing this week will set up and patrol a territory, waiting for females while chasing away any other males that come near. After mating, the female lays eggs on the leaves of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), their main host plant. Other members of the nettle family (Urticaceae), and hops (Humulus) may also be used. Over the spring and summer, two generations of eggs will hatch into spiny caterpillars that spend their larval days grazing on nettle leaves (after first folding the leaves into a protective shelter stuck together with silk). These caterpillars pupate and emerge as butterflies; the first flight emerges in late June, goes through its life cycle and produces a second generation that will be seen on the wing in September. These are the unfortunate butterflies that will enter hibernation here and never awaken as they usually succumb to winter’s cold. Next spring, Red Admirals will move north to reinvade Ontario again.
It’s likely that this spectacular show won’t appear again for a number of years so make sure to get outdoors and salute the admirals while you can!
With the warm weather pushing everything two to three weeks forward, the Japanese flowering cherry trees in the Arboretum and Rock Garden are in peak bloom this week (the second week of April). That means it is hanami and sakura time, an ephemeral rite of spring in Japan.
Hanami (meaning flower viewing) is the traditional Japanese custom of viewing cherry blossoms (sakura). Hanami can be as simple as a stroll to observe sakura trees, or if you feel more adventurous, a full-fledged hanami party consisting of a picnic and celebration under the trees. In Japan, these often last well into the evening. The aim of hanami is to experience the intensity of the sakura blooms by looking at a single tree or a group of trees, which resemble pinks clouds against the pure azure skies of spring.
Cherry blossom season is ephemeral as the delicate blooms don’t last long in wind or rain. Full bloom (mankai) is usually reached about one week after the opening of the first blooms (kakai). Another week later the sakura peak is over in a shower of petals falling from the trees.
In 2010 and 2011, RBG expanded its cherry tree collection with the help of the Consulate General of Japan in Toronto. Their Sakura Project is designed to spread cherry trees throughout Ontario as a sign of continued good relations and friendship shared by the people of Canada and Japan.
Why not pick up some sushi, and picnic amongst our sakura at the Arboretum or Rock Garden this week? What better way to banish the winter blues and welcome in the spring!
The weather, most notably our minimalist winter and extraordinarily warm start to spring, has infiltrated almost every conversation around here for many weeks. Now that April is arrived, we are receiving our annual influx of, “When will the _____ bloom this spring?” inquiries (you can fill in the blank with the name of the collection of your choice). Unfortunately we aren’t equipped with crystal balls to help us figure out what the future will hold, however, we can use science to help us look back over the last month and get a measure of just how far ahead our plants are this year. That science is a calculation of heat accumulation that is expressed in units called growing degree days.
Temperature drives the development of plants (and invertebrates as well), and a particular amount of heat is needed to move a species from one point in its life cycle to another. The amount of heat required to move a species from one threshold to another is consistent, but cooler than normal temperatures will slow down growth and lengthen the time it takes to reach a threshold, just as warmer temperatures will send growth in to overdrive (as is the case this spring).
Calculating degree days involves measuring the daily maximum and minimum temperatures, dividing their sum by two, and subtracting a base temperature (in our case, 5°C). As part of our plant phenology program, we have tracked degree days for years and so we are able to compare this year’s chart to the average for the last 20 years. As of the end of March, we had accumulated 112 degree days! On average, over the past 20 years, only 107 degree days have been accumulated by the end of April. In essence, the cycles of most species are a full month or more ahead. That explains the phenomena we’ve seen, like Forsythia and some Magnolia in bloom in March, and Cherry (Prunus) starting bloom in the first week of April. Our trails are dry already and Trout Lily (Erythronium) and Trillium flowers are ready to open any day, while Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and Hepatica (Anemone) are wrapping up their spring frenzy already.
Animals are feeling the heat too, with the Cootes Paradise Fishway seeing fish runs of species like Bass (normally a mid-April run) in March. Tree Swallows arrived early, being seen here in mid-March as well, something that can be disastrous when a cold spell hits and sends the insects that these aerial insectivores hunt, into hiding. Frogs have already been heard in full spring chorus, and turtles were out basking in our wetlands as early as St. Patrick’s Day (even though for the last two years, people were still skating at Sunfish Pond and Princess Point at that time!).
The sunshine and balmy Easter weekend forecast means that this will be an excellent weekend for nature sightings at RBG and we urge you to join in the Hamilton tradition of a Good Friday hike on our 27 kilometres of trails. Our gardens are open for the season beginning on Friday, April 6, and we also have special Easter activities planned at RBG Centre and our Chocolate exhibition.
The warm winter and early arrival of spring are having an impact on all sorts of RBG activities. Each year we ask for donations of used Christmas trees for ongoing work on the Grindstone Marshes berms but this winter’s lack of ice prevented our staff from moving these trees over the ice. Moving them by boat proved to be a double challenge as an extra large pile of trees (+3000) had been acquired to assist in repairing damage due to flooding and high water in 2011. The massive pile of trees buried the Spring Garden Road access for two months while staff waited frustratedly for ice to form.
The tree dispersal turned into a race against time. They had to be floated out to the berm by boat, twenty at a time, then hand-placed prior to the arrival of the carp (which were expected to be early due to the incredibly warm temperatures we have had: in a typical year, carp arrive at the site about the third week of April). The reconstruction of one kilometre of Christmas tree berm was completed in time and staff are optimistic that the carp will remain excluded from the marsh areas in 2012. Water levels overtopped the restoration berms in 2011, and while lake levels are continuing to be above average, they are no longer rising this spring. Thanks to our berm repairs, water levels would have to rise a further 50 cm (20”) to overtop the project this year. With the early spring and extra long growing season ahead, we are looking forward to a very successful year of marsh restoration!
This spring’s above average temperatures has advanced the flowering times of some trees and shrubs by at least 2-3 weeks compared to previous years. This advancement in phenology followed by erratic cold snaps and freezing temperatures has caused the tender flower tissues, particularly of Magnolias to be browned off or killed.
Frost damage in plants results from the water content within cells freezing and forming ice crystals. When the water in the cells freezes it expands and as the ice crystals expand they rupture the cell walls. This leads to the characteristic dead brown flowers or mushy brown flower buds which are clearly visible in the aftermath of a snap freeze. This year the situation has been further compounded by relatively warm temperatures all winter long meaning the flowers were not subject to the normal colder weather which would usually harden flower buds leaving them more cold hardy.
Despite the fact that the dead blooms will not recover this year, this is a temporary aesthetic problem and thankfully the magnolias themselves are not permanently damaged in the longer term and will flower again from next season given normal climatic conditions.
Given some additional luck, a number of flower buds which have not opened and so far avoided the frosts may yet flower and be unaffected by the cooler temperatures, so fingers crossed, we may get some magnolia flower colour this year albeit in greatly reduced volume and quality of bloom.
Hamilton’s unseasonable (RECORD!) warm weather this March, and the mild winter that preceded it, has pushed the season for early spring flowers ahead by at least two weeks—and in some cases more. Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’ normally wouldn’t make an appearance much before the middle of April, but was the first daffodil in the new Narcissus Collection to bloom at RBG, awakening from his winter nap on March 22nd!
We don’t expect the early warmth to have any lasting damaging impacts at RBG. While fruit growers and vignerons have more cause for concern, gardeners and growers of ornamental plants merely have an advanced season—and one likely to settle into more usual rhythms after the exertions of spring have passed.
Pollinators are the ecological partners of many of the world's plants, but we don't know nearly enough about them. For University of Guelph Professor Emeritus Peter Kevan, understanding and conserving pollinators has been a life’s work, and a passion. Professor Kevan is member of the Royal Society of Canada and has been an RBG Research Associate since 2006. A new species of bee that has been recently discovered in the Brazilian state of Bahia has been named Chilicola kevani in his honour. A press release from the University of Guelph conveyed his excitement about the honour: “I am chuffed about it. It’s always an honour to receive kudos from my colleagues, but I am particularly pleased about this.” Professor Kevan’s interest in insect ecology has long brought him into contact with the botanical gardens community. Royal Botanical Gardens is pleased to be part of the Canadian Pollinator Initiative, or CANPOLIN, which was founded by Professor Kevan. CANPOLIN is a network of research and educational institutions across Canada “examining the complex problem of pollination decline in agricultural and natural ecosystems” and supported by NSERC, the National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Photograph of Professor Kevan by Martin Schwalbe. Provided courtesy of University of Guelph
The Cootes Paradise Nature Sanctuary is expected to rear Lake Ontario’s first eagles in more than 50 years. A young pair has called the marsh home for the last two to three years, and the now fully mature eagles are again active at the nest site. They have relocated this year, taking up residence in the nesting platform constructed in a White Pine in 2009. As of March 7, the eagles are sitting on the nest with mating activity observed two weeks previous. This nest site/platform tree is much more \ sheltered than the 2011 nest site, with the platform tree located on the east side of a large ridge (which undoubtedly served them well during recent 90+km/hr west wind gusts. This location is about 300m from the Marsh Walk boardwalk, and is clearly observable from both the Marsh Walk platform as well as from a position about halfway along the boardwalk. If all goes well, the estimated hatching date for the eaglets is the second week of April. RBG staff will continue to monitor activity on an ongoing basis from a distance, and hikers are asked to approach no closer than the Marsh Walk Trail. Visitor access to the Marsh Walk boardwalk and platform is available through the RBG Arboretum, following the Captain Cootes Trail to Bull’s Point Trail, and then to Marsh Walk Trail. Trail maps are available online or at RBG Centre, with the Arboretum is open 10 a.m. to dusk daily. Click here for more information about the eagles and Royal Botanical Gardens.
The lands and waters of Royal Botanical Gardens are designated a National Important Bird Area and are well known for great bird watching. An early start to spring migration has followed a mild winter, and we’ve seen significant activity during the first week of March. Flocks of ducks numbering in the hundreds are staging at Cootes Paradise Marsh on their route north. These include species such as Goldeneye, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck, as well as Hooded, Common and Red-breasted Merganser. Raptor species observed so far include Turkey Vulture and Red-tailed, Cooper’s, and Rough-legged Hawk. In addition Tundra Swans, migrating from as far away as Alaska, have been regularly passing over in large numbers (with over 500 birds observed on March 2). Primary locations to observe raptors and waterfowl at Cootes Paradise include Princess Point and Sassafras Point on the south shore or Captain Cootes Trail (accessed through the Arboretum) on the north shore.
Want to learn more? Register for our introductory birdwatching course
coming up on Saturday mornings in May, as well as our annual Spring Bird Walks
on Sunday mornings, May 6 and 13.
No, that was not Paul Bunyan at work on Burlington Heights (a/k/a the High Level or the Broman Lands)! RBG’s arboretum crew has been hard at it, removing trees as part of the Gardens’ gentle remaking of the space for the 2012 season. This long narrow parcel of land on York Boulevard will be featuring prominently in a multi-part initiative commemorating the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Peace Garden Trail, and the Gardens’ “1812-2012: Reversing 200 Years of Disturbance” project.
Partially funded with the generous help of Shell Canada Limited’s “Shell Environmental Fund,” RBG is reshaping the vegetation of the site, cleaning up dead and dying material and selectively removing other trees to restore lookout sight lines of Hamilton Harbour, restore a meadow feel to return the area to a semblance of what it might have looked like 200 years ago, allow for the creation of a walking path through that meadow so that visitors can amble on a natural path instead of concrete, and bring renewed prominence and attention to the T.B. McQuesten Memorial and the historic importance of the site.
Finishing touches will include plantings of natural and drought-tolerant material in spots along the path and the featuring of Ontario’s official flower for the 1812 bicentennial commemoration: red geraniums. Two beds at the foot of the memorial will contain a total of 1812 of these plants creating an eye-catching display for those who stop to visit—and those driving by.
Would you notice if plants were missing from Valentine’s Day? Think about it: you’re enjoying a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, and a dozen roses with your sweetheart on February 14th. Now picture what the day might look like without plants. Any ideas? Less one bottle of wine, a box of chocolates, and a dozen roses, in short!
Take chocolate for example. Derived from the bean of the Cacao Tree (Theobroma cacao), chocolate was a revered food in the times of the Maya people – long before modern-day lovers got hold of it. The story of the Cacao Tree is woven from many stories: discovery, ancient trade, religion, Spanish conquistadors, politics, the European elite and tiny pollinating midges. It was first given as a gift in Belgium in 1635 and has found a place in the hearts of many, and the heart of Valentine’s Day, since then. Chocolate contains small amounts of a chemical called PEA (phenethylamine), which stimulates the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain – both associated with pleasure and love. It’s no mistake that chocolate is the gift of lovers.
Roses aren’t without their own histories. These flowers and their immortalizing stories were cultivated by early civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese, at least 3000 BCE. In one such story, the Greeks claim the Earth created the rose when Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born. Myths and legends aside, the symbolism of the rose is universally understood: it signifies love, desire, and eternal beauty.
Grapes = wine. Need we say more?
This year when you indulge in your Valentine’s traditions, make a toast to the plants that made it possible. After all, what would the day be without alcohol, endorphins, and references to one’s eternal beauty?
Closing unofficial trails is part of our strategy to restore habitat; when you abide by our Trail Closed signs, you help local plants and wildlife.
If you’re a regular on the trails around here, you probably know that whatever the season, Royal Botanical Gardens’ nature trails attract huge numbers of people. After all, when you park a nature sanctuary between two cities with a combined population of over 800 000, you are bound to get a bit of foot traffic.
However, with big populations comes big responsibility. Since so many people walk on our trails, even the most remote trails on the property will feel the impact of thousands of feet (and paws!). And as if the formal trails weren’t enough, unofficial paths spring up all the time as hikers attempt to find more interesting locations to go to. Unfortunately this has a huge impact on the real locals – the plants, animals and fungi that call the nature sanctuaries home. They are the reason we have only a controlled number of official trails, and their protection is often the reason we’ve closed old trails. People may come here to “get away from it all,” but where can nature go to get away from us?
Disturbance happens no matter how careful you are – with one careless step off trail you can easily crush common, rare or even endangered plants, destroy nests of ground-nesting species, and scare away timid animals. Walking off of official trails spreads foreign invasive plants further into the forest by carrying in their tiny seeds, and it disturbs the leaf litter and soils, thereby changing growing conditions for young plants and seedlings that have barely even rooted. Heavy foot traffic compacts soil to near- concrete hardness, making it difficult for roots to grow and for the ground to absorb water, and it speeds up erosion on hillsides. Walking off trail may even be dangerous – RBG only manages hazards, like unstable dying trees, that occur on official trails. Trees that can’t reach official trails are left to fall naturally, and represent a danger that should be avoided!
Now, we don’t want you to feel guilty for loving nature too much. After all, one of RBG’s main goals is to connect people to the natural world. But we all have to remind ourselves that we are not the only ones out there – each of us is one of tens of thousands of hikers – and when you use an unofficial trail, you clear the way for thousands of hikers to use it too. So think before you step. You, your family and nature will be thankful when RBG’s sanctuaries are still vibrant and flourishing in the decades and (hopefully) centuries to come!
(Left Photo)Bryoria kockiana (in ed.) growing with other horsehair lichen species in BC. Photo: Jason Hollinger
(Right Photo)Photo: Anne Hansen
The late Henry Kock, a much-loved University of Guelph Arboretum colleague and good friend of RBG, has been memorialized in the naming of a new lichen species.
Henry was a gentle giant with a bushy black beard that made him recognizable from any distance. A passionate plantsman who believed that biodiversity conservation begins in your own back yard, he promoted environmental gardening techniques long before the green gardening movement gained momentum. As interpretive horticulturist at the Arboretum, Henry’s legacy includes founding the Ontario Elm Recovery Project. His book, Growing Trees from Seed, was published posthumously by co-authors Paul Aird, John Ambrose, and Gerald Waldron, three years after his untimely death from brain cancer in late 2005.
Bryoria kockiana is a black horsehair lichen that drapes the branches of conifers in British Columbia’s old growth rainforests. It was discovered by Trevor Goward, curator of lichens at University of British Columbia’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum. Goward “donated” his naming rights to two new species to the Ancient Forest Alliance and The Land Conservancy as a fundraiser in 2011, with the auction closing just before Christmas. Henry’s wife, wildlife artist Anne Hansen, purchased the rights to the Bryoria and named the lichen in his memory. The species is so reminiscent of Henry that the naming will no doubt also generate the common name of Henry’s Beard!
Scientific protocol reserves species naming rights for the taxonomist who discovers and describes a new species, however, Goward promotes the idea that new species can earn funds that will ultimately protect them if taxonomists consider a voluntary tithe on naming. This “taxonomic tithing” can raise not only funds for conservation efforts, but also awareness among a public who may otherwise have no knowledge of the vast number of new species that are still being discovered, described and named each year.
It began with a case of mistaken identity. The earliest account of Eastern Spiny Softshell (Apalone spinifera ssp. spinifera) at Royal Botanical Gardens dates back to 1948. At that time the species was said to be common in the west end of Lake Ontario. In more recent years, softshell turtles have been usually seen alone, with several years between observations. Last spring, signs were installed around the bay asking visitors to call in any sightings, and a response was received. Disappointingly, according to the Eastern Spiny Softshell Recovery Team, the turtle observed was not an Eastern Spiny Softshell, but rather the non-native Texas Spiny Softshell Apalone spinifera ssp. emoryi.
You can guess by its name where the Texas Spiny Softshell is found. The turtle probably got here through pet trade and was subsequently discarded into the marsh by an inconsiderate owner. It is unlikely that this species is able to over-winter here. Another reason people illegally transport turtle is for food. It wouldn’t be smart to eat turtles from our area though, as they accumulate toxins and as a result their meat and eggs are contaminated.
As a follow up, biologists at RBG delved into recent photographic records of the last two occasions when a softshell was trapped at RBG, in 2003 and 1997. Members of the Recovery Team for the species were again consulted and it was determined that these records were also Texas Spiny Softshell. As a result, the most recent records of the native softshell species from RBG now date back to 1984, nearly two decades ago.
Based on this new information, we must sadly acknowledge that Eastern Spiny Softshell can no longer be found in RBG waters, and update its status on our properties to Extirpated. Nearly 20% of Species at Risk that have been recorded at RBG are currently thought to be locally extirpated. While this is another sign of the loss of biodiversity that has occurred and continues to occur at RBG, in Ontario, in Canada, and across the world, it also shows the importance of our work to restore the quality of habitat for native species.
Photo taken at noon, January 12, 2012.
Walking through the Morrison Woodland Garden, one cannot fail to notice that the Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.
) are already producing flower buds, perhaps a result of unseasonal warm temperatures. We will be keeping a close eye on when the flowers finally open and be recording this for our phenology records. Phenology is the study of annual plant and animal life cycle events in relation to variations in climate. Examples include bird or fish migration times, egg laying of birds and amphibians or in this case, recording when the flowers of our Snowdrops finally open. We monitor a number of plants across the property as phenology is a useful tool in the study of climate change. As we build up these records over coming years it will reveal if plants are flowering earlier indicating that our climate is changing.
Phenology is just one of the many research projects that goes on behind the scenes at RBG contributing to a better understanding of our relationship with the natural world that sustains us. Phenology is also a great way to become a citizen scientist and contribute to Canada’s national understanding of climate change. To find out more check out PlantWatch at:http://www.naturewatch.ca/english/plantwatch/
Check back soon when we will post more news on the progress of the Snowdrops and reveal how the flowering times compare to recent years.
This coming season the Royal Botanical Gardens will again be accepting trees at the Valley Inn Rd location at the mouth of Grindstone Creek in Burlington. Recycling Christmas Trees for use in projects at the Royal Botanical Gardens is a long standing tradition. For years trees were used to cover various plant collections as an insulation technique preventing collection species from desiccation in the cold winters and others from sprouting during mid winter thaws. Aside from the direct benefits gained by RBG from recycling Christmas trees, it has been determined that real trees have less of a negative environmental footprint when compared to artificial trees. This was summarized in a recent National Geographic article
. These benefits are tied to water protection and usage, and in recent years RBG has put a new twist on the water protection theme. Recycle trees have also contributed to a marsh restoration project at the mouth of Grindstone Creek. Since 1999, over 150,000 trees have been used to reconstruct the creek channel through the river mouthmarsh. The trees are formed into riverbanks along the edge of the channel. Each January, they are exported across the frozen marsh, maintaining any weak areas in the 1.5km length Christmas tree river banks. The trees themselves are light and as a result, can sit on top of the soft marsh bottom even once things have thawed again in the spring. The trees then trap sediment, shield the adjacent marshlands from any inflowing creek water quality issues, as well as form a barrier to keep out the non native carp of Lake Ontario. The end result is conditions in these marsh areas that allow them to regenerate on their own. Click here
to learn more about the marsh restoration projects.
Many people know Butternut trees for the tasty flavor of their nuts, and the use of their wood in furniture-making and wood carving. However, its days may be numbered even though it is widespread in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada. Unfortunately, Butternut (Juglans cinerea) has been designated as an Endangered Species both nationally and provincially.
Throughout its range Butternut is under attack from a canker-causing fungus with the tongue-twisting name of Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum. The first North American record of the butternut canker fungus was in Wisconsin in 1967. It can spread through rain, insects, birds, and infected nuts. As it spreads it causes damage under the bark’s surface and girdles the tree (cuts the connection between its leaves and its roots). A Butternut tree with canker has black sooty spots where the fungus has caused damage. In later stages the fungus cracks through the bark leaving open wounds. In some U.S. states, 80% of Butternuts have died due to the canker.
Don’t despair; there is hope for Butternut. Researchers are looking for trees that can survive the fungus, and some show promise. RBG conducted health assessments on over 260 Butternut on our property. Of these trees, 46 are dead, and 25 have hybrid traits. This means that they are not true Butternuts but mixes of Butternut with non-native relatives such as English, Japanese, or Persian Walnut. RBG tried to collect seed this year from healthy pure Butternut trees, but the squirrels beat us to it. We will continue to monitor health of Butternut, confirm their genetic identity through DNA analysis, and pursue propagation through other means.
Fall is a great time at RBG, especially if you are a leaf peeper and you’re crazy about fall colour. Right now, right across the gardens, leaves are changing from various shades of greens to brilliant hues of scarlet, red, orange, gold and bronze. It’s an amazing spectacle each year but what is actually happening to the leaves as these spectacular changes unfold?
Leaves are green due to a pigment molecule called chlorophyll which is abundant during the growing season and so dominates other pigment molecules present in the leaf. The chlorophyll, via a process known as photosynthesis, captures the energy of sunlight creating carbohydrates which nourish the plant and promote growth and development.
During fall, as day length shortens and temperatures get cooler, carbohydrate production slows. Water and mineral intake within the leaves decreases s reducing chlorophyll production. As chlorophyll breaks down other pigments are revealed such as carotenoids which are orange, brown and yellow and anthocyanins which are red and purple. You will be familiar with carotenoids giving colour to bananas, corn and daffodils and with anthocyanins giving colour to cranberries, cherries and strawberries.
If you fancy a spot of leaf peeping then RBG is a great place to be as southern mainland Canada and the New England region of the United States are the global, definitive geographic locations to view this phenomenon. If you wish to compare and contrast then other notable areas include Scandinavia, Northern, and Western Europe north of the Alps; the Caucasus region near the Black Sea, Russia and Eastern Asia,
So there you have it, fall colour explained! As chlorophyll breaks down, carotenoids and anthocyanins predominate resulting in our much beloved fall colours and natures changing canvas.
“In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row….” Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, 1915.
As November’s cool weather settles in, lapels the world over sprout a floral tribute to the fallen soldiers of the world’s wars. While it is known internationally as a symbol of remembrance, the Corn Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is most readily recognized throughout Europe as an agricultural weed. Its association with the war came not from its blood-red colour, but from the fact that the battle-torn landscape formed the perfect habitat for a plant that, like most of the species humans label as “weeds”, quickly lays claim to disturbed soil. Despite the devastation of the First World War, these plants bloomed each spring on battlefields and new graves from Belgium to Gallipoli.
Corn Poppy is an annual that grows 30 to 45 cm in height. Originating from the eastern Mediterranean, it is widespread across all of Europe. In ditches and roadside medians, along the edges of farm fields, highways and hedgerows, poppies paint the European agricultural countryside bright red each spring, just as dandelions colour our disturbed habitats yellow. It was an American woman, Moina Belle Michael, who, inspired by McCrae’s poem in 1918, began the work of bringing this humble red-flowered weed into the international spotlight as a symbol of eternal remembrance.
From an ornamental standpoint, Papaver rhoeas has been grown around the Mediterranean for over 3,000 years. In the UK it is a well-loved flower that adds a splash of red to gardens and wildflower meadows. It is also the parent of the Shirley poppies. Originally selected and bred in the late 1800s from a variant form of Corn Poppy found growing near the English town of Shirley, these popular poppies come in shades of yellow, orange and pink as well as red, and in single, semi-double and double forms. Corn Poppy is also the source of rhoeadine, an alkaloid with a long history of use as a mild sedative.
Please wear this floral symbol this week, and remember.
By Jodi Healy, Plant Documentation Coordinator
I am often asked what we are up to here at the Gardens when the fall/winter weather starts to set in. The answer is that we are just as busy as we were in the spring/summer months!
Indoors, we are planning for next year. The 2012 seed and plant catalogues start to fill the mailbox. We are busy designing annual plantings for next season, deciding on additions to our plant collections and planning any garden renovations scheduled for spring.
Outside we are putting our gardens to bed and doing as much as we can to make things easier in spring. This includes, as you would expect, raking leaves and general cleanup. The Arboretum and Hendrie Park are open year round (weather permitting) and we need to keep pathways and turf areas tidy for our visitors. In some areas, such as the Woodland Garden or the Helen M. Kippax Wild Plant Garden, we let the leaves lie in the garden beds and decompose to enrich the soil. Other general clean up includes cutting back our perennial plantings and adding compost and mulch to our garden beds. Most of our perennials are cut down in preparation for the new spring growth; however some ornamental grasses and perennials with showy seed heads are left for winter interest. In our Rose Garden we heal up our hybrid tea roses with extra soil to protect them from our Canadian winter. Throughout the gardens we wrap evergreens in burlap (new plantings or those directly exposed to wind) to help get them through the season without tip burn. Our ponds and pools are prepared for winter too. In some of our ponds the water is lowered and hardy plants are kept alive in the bottom, while others are completely drained and covered. We are also busy pulling apart and composting our vegetable and bedding plant displays. The tender material is pulled out once we start to see the effects of frost, while other, hardier annuals are left until later. Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo
) and Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas
)are among the first to go, while Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus
) and Kale (Brassica oleracea
Acephala Group)can be kept going until the holiday season. The most significant undertaking in fall is bulb planting. Once the annual displays have been removed the beds are re-planted with bulbs in preparation for our spring show. Narcissus, Allium
and other small bulbs are generally in the ground by mid-October while Tulips are being planted well into December. On those really rainy days we can take time to clean and sharpen our tools and flip through plant catalogues and drool over the new plant varieties. Spring will be back before we know it!
This October RBG staff had the opportunity to attend the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC) Annual General Meeting and the 35th Annual Forest Health Review.
The meeting included updates on the current research and control of various invasive plants as well as updates on the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan and Canada’s Invasive Alien Species Program. Held in Picton, Ontario, it offered the opportunity to attend tours of Sandbanks Provincial Park and Massasauga Point Conservation Area where they were shown the effects of invasive species on sand dune ecosystems, bur oak savannah and eastern red cedar forest. A notable presentation was one that came from the University of Minnesota where the biological control of Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is being studied using four different species of weevils.
The annual forest health review presented the latest information on forest health conditions in Ontario, forest invasive species, pest management programs, and research results. The day focused mainly on the status of the Emerald Ash Borer and the threat of the Mountain Pine Beetle to Ontario. Other topics covered included Beech Bark Disease the European Oak Borer (a cousin of the Emerald Ash Borer), and Thousand Canker Disease which affects Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), but is not currently present in Ontario.
While topics like invasive species and forest pests and disease can leave one feeling depressed, both meetings left the audience with a sense of optimism. It is inspirational to see professionals from organizations all over Ontario working together to share ideas and find solutions to our conservation and resource challenges.
After a season of Lake Ontario water levels that pushed the limits of operations within the RBG wetlands water levels are returning to more normal fall levels. As of the beginning of October levels have declined 68cm (27in.) from the high point in June thanks to a hot dry summer, with levels now only 7 cm above average for this time of the year. For Lake Ontario a typical water cycle rises and falls an average of 70cm each year, reaching its lowest point in December. With all the water this season wetland fish and wildlife populations had tremendous success, although flooding in various areas during the highest water in June allowed carp into a number of wetland areas haulting the wetland recover efforts there. Some of the successful fish and wildlife were highlighted by white perch, gizzard shad, northern pike, leopard frog, American toad and wood ducks. Two keystone plant species of the wetland restoration Nymphaea odorata
(white water lilies) and Zizania aquatic
(wild rice) also continued to naturally regenerate their populations despite the deeper water. Some wetland replanting was also undertaken around the mouth of Spencer Creek in Cootes Paradise as water levels had also declined enough by mid July to be able to reach the bottom, with 5000 Typha sp.
(cattails) planted in the last two weeks of that month. Water levels will need to fall another 15cm before winter to allow access for a full clean up and recovery going into the 2012 season. Click here
to learn more about the wetland restoration.
Kristen Janke, Interpretation Officer at RBG
“Interpretation is a mission-based communication process that forges emotional and intellectual connections between the interests of the audience and the meanings inherent in the resource.”
- National Association for Interpretation
Two weeks ago, I spent 5 days at the Toronto Zoo with interpreters from all over Ontario and a few from the U.S.
It wasn’t surprising that my time at the zoo was educational. I was there on behalf of RBG to complete a course that would certify me as an Interpretive Trainer; a program offered through the National Association for Interpretation (NAI), the professional body for interpretation in the U.S. What was surprising was just how inspirational the workshop was. I have been an interpreter in a variety of capacities, and this course further shaped my thoughts on the profession into an even more holistic – and results-driven – approach.
Here’s the best part: my newest task will be to deliver the 4-day Certified Interpretive Guide curriculum to the interpreters, both staff and volunteer, who are eager to share the intrigue of RBG with our visitors. Our interpreters are talented people, who already deliver quality programs. This course, however, will no doubt inspire and challenge them to bring new perspectives to the work they do each day. Hands-on experiential learning backed by the history and learning theories that have made interpretation what it is today will make this training course a valuable tool for RBG interpreters. I genuinely look forward to working with our programmers to bring this new training program to RBG and in doing so set a new standard for the experiences we can offer!
In his book Last Child in the Woods (2005), author Richard Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” to describe the growing body of evidence that documents the negative impacts on our children of less time spent in nature. In a nutshell, children who spend regular time in nature are more physically healthy, construct more positive self-images, and perform better on assessments of learning.
In his follow-up book, The Nature Principle (2011), Louv turned his attention to adults, making the case that we all benefit dramatically from regular experience in nature.
Conclusion: we all need nature!
When teaching is viewed in this light, the indoor school classroom restricts the abilities and enjoyment of dedicated teachers, while denying students the best learning opportunities. Both teacher and student experience dramatic gains when classes head outdoors to learn in nature. What is needed is a resource designed specifically to help them get there!
In response to this need, the Back to Nature Network has been working hard to develop and produce a Teacher’s Guide to assist teachers in teaching their students outdoors in nature. This past summer, a writing team consisting of RBG Education Staff, teachers from the Halton District School Board (HDSB), and representatives from a number of other organizations, was brought together to write the content for the guide. This effort produced both advice on how to gradually move a classroom from the indoors to the outdoors, as well as a variety of learning experiences, including short activities and more involved lessons, based on Ontario’s education curriculum that teachers can use to teach their students in nature. This fall, workshops will be presented to HDSB teachers to introduce the learning activities and seek feedback.
When complete, the Back to Nature Network Teacher’s Guide will be made freely available province-wide, including in French, so that all Ontario children can regularly experience nature in becoming healthier, happier, and smarter!
In August 2011, Dr. Jim Pringle reached 48 years of service as the Plant Taxonomist at RBG, becoming the longest-serving employee at the Gardens. But it is not simply his long tenure at RBG that makes him an important figure in the field of botany in Ontario. During his career, not only has he made (and very importantly, still making) fundamental discoveries in science, he has been sharing his knowledge with both the scientific community and with amateur botanists alike. On September 10, 2011, the Ontario Field Botanists presented the 2011 John Goldie Award to Jim Pringle in recognition of his combined contributions at all levels of botanical expertise, locally and internationally.
Extensive efforts to recover turtles are paying off. September is the month when turtle eggs laid back in June hatch, and we are finding new turtles. Protection of turtle nests by covering them with wire mesh has been undertaken throughout the property in recent years. This program was initiated when we realized that, due to the high number of raccoons found near urban areas, virtually every nest was eaten within days of the eggs being laid. In 2011, a total of 76 potential nests were protected from predators, principally raccoons. This compliments the wetland habitat restoration program. RBG is also midway through a two year study to assess how many turtles remain in Cootes Paradise Marsh. Please keep an eye out and watch your step while visiting RBG, as the turtles will be migrating from the upland nest sites, often in our formal garden areas, back to the water. RBG property is home to six native species of turtles. All but one turtle species are faced with threats to there future existence, not just at RBG but throughout the country. As a result, five of our species are protected by Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
This summer, the interpretation team has reached beyond the garden areas to dabble in something a little more ‘fishy’ – Cootes Paradise and the Fishway, to be exact.
We have stationed a Discovery Cart at the Fishway every Monday for the summer. Here we open up the gates to trail walkers and trolley riders, and encourage them to explore the Fishway up close with an interpreter available to answer questions. Our interactive display takes visitors through the history of Cootes with a collection of historical photos; provides a look into the seasonal cycles of the ‘regulars’ (of the fishy kind) that cross the gates; has visitors aging carp using real scales; and offers a close-up peek at the real thing (thanks to Natural Lands staff who catch and tank a few species for the day).
One of the greatest successes of this project is the creation of a wonderful partnership between volunteer and staff interpreters, who team up each week to deliver the program. Shared among the 13 or so people involved is a wealth of experience and knowledge that adds to the whole experience.
Every week we’ve seen more and more curious visitors. Based on our success this year we are looking forward to expanding next year to multiple days per week, including weekends.
Next time you’re taking a walk along Cootes on a Monday, come and discover with us! The last program of the year is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 5th.
If you are planning a trip to RBG make sure you visit Hendrie Park and enter via the Oak Allée. You will be rewarded by a most spectacular sight! The striking plants growing down the centre of the allée are Ricinus communis (Castor Bean Plant) which originates from the Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India. Botanically speaking this is an interesting plant as it is a monotypic genus, meaning there is only a single species (communis) within the genus (Ricinus) which is great if you are botany student looking for an easy taxonomy project! More immediate however, is how striking these plants look being 3-4 meters tall with an average leaf span of 80 centimeters and which make a strong visual design statement when entering the garden. If that’s not enough the plants are grown as annuals meaning they complete their entire lifecycle in the short space of one single growing season.
On Monday August 7th RBG’s curatorial staff, students and interns set of on their annual study tour. This years destination was the University of Guelph and the University of Guelph Arboretum. The day provides RBG’s curatorial staff the opportunity to observe and examine curatorial procedures and policies adopted by sister institutions and to explore opportunities, challenges and promote networking and benefit sharing within the botanical garden and museological community. The group were given tours of the Controlled Environment Systems Research facility by Dr. Youbin Zheng, the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario / International Barcode of Life Database by Dr. Bob Hanner and the University of Guelph Arboretum by Sean Fox and Aron Fazekas. Topics for discussion included curatorial procedures, geographic information systems, mapping living collections, managing information related to living and digital collections, record keeping and new developments in collections curation. The day was very productive and it is hoped that further collaboration between Royal Botanical Gardens and the University of Guelph will result from the study tour.
August and September are delectable months in the garden! Edible plants are everywhere at RBG this year, and their fruits, seeds, roots, pods, and leaves are putting on a show. Not only are they gracing Veggie Village, Turner Pavilion, the Rock Garden and other locales with their beauty – they’re also introducing RBG visitors to the flavours of locally grown produce.
Every weekend in August we are celebrating the relationship between tasty plants and hungry stomachs by featuring a food that we are growing right here in Veggie Village, the 100-mile Produce Garden. Last weekend anyone lucky enough to have visited the garden was delighted with the scents and flavours of the Herb and Pesto Weekend. Chef demonstrations at 1pm and 3pm drew people to the event, where they tasted 5 kinds of pesto on artisan breads and fresh herbed corn as they explored a diverse variety of herbs on display at the Discovery Cart. Drying and preserving demonstrations and take-home herbal potpourri activities rounded off the experience.
People left with recipes, preservation suggestions, and a taste for what’s to come…
So what’s coming, you ask? Chili peppers are next! This weekend (August 6-7) the chefs and interpreters will delve into the spicier world of chilies and the piquante creations we make from them. Come ready for some kick!
For the remainder of the summer, look forward to these Edible Weekend features yet to come:August 13th & 14th
- Chili Pepper WeekendAugust 21st & 22nd
- Tomato and Salsa WeekendAugust 27th & 28th
- Garlic WeekendSeptember 3rd to 5th
- Gourd Weekend
For the first time, the RBG field botany and herbarium team have put together a display in the large glass case outside the auditorium at RBG Centre.
Have you ever wondered… What is a herbarium and what are its uses? Why do botanists collect plants? What do RBG botanists carry in their field bags? What does a herbarium digitization station look like? Come check out the display for answers to all these questions and many more. You can also learn some interesting facts and get tips for collecting your own plants and starting your own herbarium!
The exhibit details the process our botanists and curators take when collecting, identifying, pressing, mounting, labeling, and digitizing a plant specimen before it is archived and stored in the herbarium. It showcases the journey of a single Solidago juncea (Early Goldenrod) plant collected recently at Princess Point.
The display contains all the tools and reference books used to add new specimens to our botanically and taxonomically important collection.
Royal Botanical Gardens continues to make progress on its propagation experiment for the endangered Morus rubra, (Red Mulberry) which is at a high risk of hybridizing with Morus alba (White Mulberry).
This past week we revisited female trees that were hand pollinated with pure Morus rubra pollen and covered with polyester bags earlier in the spring. It appears the pollination process was a success –fertilized fruit was found in almost all the bags! In our control treatment, where flowers were bagged but not pollinated, flowers remained unfertilized and no fruit developed. This means that our bags did a good job of keeping out other wind distributed pollen.
The bagged Morus rubra fruits were collected, and the seeds were cleaned and planted in trays in RBG propagation facilities. We are now anxiously waiting for the seeds to germinate!
Soft wood cuttings were also taken from six different Rock Chapel Morus rubra trees the week of July 11th and sent the University of Guelph Arboretum for vegetative propagation. Additional cuttings will be also be taken later on in the season and sent to Fanshawe College where students from the Horticulture Technician Programme will have the opportunity to experiment with propagating this endangered tree.
The 2011 Butterfly and Odonate counts at Royal Botanical Gardens were a terrific success! The heat may have been sweltering, but in spite of it our enthusiastic groups pulled through. This mix of experts and novices, which included both RBG staff and enthusiasts from the general public, managed to spy, net, and identify about 794 butterflies and 705 dragonflies and damselflies.
The Butterfly Count yielded great results, finding at least 26 different species of butterflies. This year’s survey found 20 Tiger Swallowtails - more than have been counted in over a decade - as well as the first Question Mark, Crossline Skipper, Delaware Skipper, Long Dash Skipper and Hobomok Skipper to be recorded in at least 9 years. There were a few firsts for the count – an American Snout and a Tawny-edged Skipper, which had not been previously recorded – as well as the highest numbers of Banded Hairstreaks (21) and Silver-spotted Skippers (20) ever recorded. A viceroy was also found this year, making it the second year in a row that they have been present at the count.
The Odonate count, which focuses on both dragonflies and damselflies (which are in the insect order “Odonata”), found 31 species, making it one of the most diverse counts on record. This year’s survey found two new species of damselfly to add to our growing list – a Tule Bluet, as well as the provincially rare River Bluet! It was also the first count to find the “Violet Dancer” variety of the Variable Dancer species. We observed the highest numbers of Skimming Bluets (10), Common Whitetails (49), Twelve-spotted Skimmers (44) and Unicorn Clubtails (12 – another provincially rare species!) ever recorded, and once again found an American Rubyspot, a species which was absent from the count last year.
A few of our much anticipated species did not show up, like the Eastern Red Damsel, the Common Sooty Wing, or any of the Fritillaies, Azures, Clouded Sulphurs or Dusky Wings. We will be sure to keep a sharp eye out for them in next year’s count!
A big thank-you goes out to all of you who came out to help us with the count. We hope you enjoyed this year’s hunt, and we hope to see you, as well as all of you who couldn’t make it, in the 2012 Butterfly counts!
The engraving room at Royal Botanical Gardens was busy this month! In addition to our regular labeling activities, our engraving machine was used by Anne Abram (former RBG student gardener) who generously donated her time to engrave 200 botanical labels for Jardín Botánico las Orquídeas, in Puyo Ecuador. As a volunteer in Ecuador, Anne learned of Jardín Botánico las Orquídeas efforts to label the most common plants of the Ecuadorian Amazon within their garden. Anne immediately thought of a way to make this happen. Having worked at Royal Botanical Gardens, Anne was familiar with our facilities and knew she could make their labeling efforts a reality. Jardín Botánico las Orquídeas has been working for 30 years restoring a degraded pasture land into one of the finest small botanical gardens in the tropics. These labels will provide a vital starting point for visiting students in the biological sciences who come to the garden to gain a field experience, facilitating a greater transmission of knowledge to the visitors, and especially the youth, of this region, identified as one of WWF’s global biodiversity hotspots.
To learn more about Jardín Botánico las Orquídeas please visit their website at http://www.jardinbotanicolasorquideas.com/
Thanks to Anne for making this connection!
The Royal Botanical Gardens is always conscious of the effects of climate extremes on our gardens and as a result hold a diverse array of plants that will thrive in these conditions. The Gardens top ten plant drought friendly plants include plants from both Mediterranean and native prairie habitats. Our top ten list includes a sampling of plants that can be used in the kitchen, as well as classic ornamentals, and locally native species. Each of these species can be found in Hendrie Park Garden across from the RBG main centre along with many more.RBG’s top ten list of drought friendly plants:
|Scientific Name||Common Name||Class|
||New Jersey Tea
Drought friendly plants often have origins in sandy environments with interesting adaptations to help them retain water. When shopping for drought friendly plants look for characteristics such as leaves that are small (e.g. Rosmarinus
), grayish colour (e.g. Lavandula
), or hairy (e.g. Salvia
) and in many cases have a waxy cuticle assisting in leaf moisture retention. Plants with thorns are also generally heat and drought resistant and include species such as Eryngium sp.
(Sea Holly), Gleditsia triacanthos
(Honey Locust) and Crataegus sp.
Royal Botanical Gardens staff invest considerable time and resources mowing extensive areas of grass in order to present a “manicured” and cared for appearance to you, our gardens and natural lands visitor. We are responsible for turf which stretches from the roadsides along York Road at the high level bridge, to each of the gardens areas, the Arboretum and the RBG Centre. Upon review, we have reached the conclusion that the current areas our staff mow do not reflect visitor needs, usage patterns or sustainable lands management practices.
This summer we will be reducing grass cutting in areas which do not focus visitor interest, host a significant plant collection or act as a gateway to a gardens or trails experience. Specific areas where you should watch for changes over the summer months include the Arboretum and on York Road. Our goal is a varied, less resource intensive approach to turf maintenance, with manicured lawns, mid-length grasses and developing meadows. We will continue to provide visitors access to our garden collections through a system of trails and pathways to guide you through our sites.
RBG staff will ensure display garden areas and the RBG centre continue to be maintained at the highest standard and that there are manicured buffer strips and suitable lawns in high activity areas. Our gardens will continue to be an active, world class destination, albeit one with a smaller carbon footprint! This change will also result in an increase in habitat for old field bird species, such as Meadowlarks and Bobolinks and we look forward to the positive impact it will have on our local Biodiversity. We are also drafting our plans to deal with invasive species to ensure the areas to return to a suitable natural state.Grass Cutting Changes at RBG - Q&A
Dr. Jeremy Lundholm, Associate Professor in Biology/Environmental Studies at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is leading an exciting project to develop green roof techniques that will help the environmental performance of buildings in Atlantic Canada. Dr. Lundholm (pictured above in July 2011 with his experimental area on the roof of the Atrium Building at Saint Mary's) was RBG's Field Botanist in the late 1990s. Jeremy left RBG to pursue his doctorate on plant ecology with Dr. Doug Larson at University of Guelph. He's been on the faculty at SMU since 2004. In his research at Saint Mary's he's testing various combinations of native Nova Scotia plants for their performance in the challenging green roof setting. This special kind of roof-top garden has been used in many countries to "green up" buildings. Not intended for ornamental purposes, a green roof helps keep buildings cool in summer, warmer in winter and slow down rain water so that storm sewers are not overloaded. Some roof top gardens in Europe are also proving to be valuable habitat for rare plants! The interior of the multi-use Atrium Building at Saint Mary's includes a three story Living Wall, very similar to those in RBG's Camilla and Peter Dalglish Atrium, that helps keep air quality high.
Searching for Spiny Softshells
The eastern spiny softshell turtle Apalone spinifera spinifera
is a Threatened Species at Risk historically found at Royal Botanical Gardens. For decades the RBG population has been reduced to one or two individuals seen every few years. The last confirmed sighting was in 2003.
This summer RBG made signs asking visitors to submit photographs and information if they have seen this turtle. Only a few days later we got a response! It was quickly sent to the Spiny Softshell Recovery Team, only to find that it was not our native spiny softshell.
The submitted photo was of an exotic softshell that likely made its way here through the pet trade. This turtle, narrowed down to one of two types of softshells native to the Texas area, has low chances of making it through the winter. Releasing exotic pets into the wild can also introduce diseases to naturally occurring populations and competition for food and space.
It was a false alarm, but there is still hope.
If you see a softshell turtle at RBG please submit photos and information to:
Kathryn Harrison, Species at Risk Biologist
Royal Botanical Gardens and The Ontario Regional Lily Society will be co-hosting The North American Lily Society’s, sixty-fourth annual international lily show “From Enchantment to Star Gazing
” here at the gardens, July 15th, 16th & 17th.Come take part in our lily extravaganza:
- At RBG Centre, stroll through the atrium, where thousands of lilies will be on display for cut-stem competitions.
- Head upstairs to the lily art show in the mezzanine, showcasing local artists.
- In Hendrie Park, discover our newly renovated lily collection.
- At RBG Centre, attend a free lecture about lilies:
Friday, July 15th
- 10:30 am - 1:15 am – “Using Lilies in the Garden” with RBGs Head of Horticulture, Carlo Balistrieri
- 11:30 am - 12:15 pm – “Designing with Lilies” with Wendy Downing
Since 2007, Royal Botanical Gardens has been delivering programs all across North America and Europe via interactive videoconference. Taking place in real time, with live interaction between the presenter and the audience, videoconferencing is, as we like to say, “the next best thing to being here.”
For the best level of interactivity during a videoconference, we prefer to have one class connect to us at a time in what is called a “point to point” videoconference. This type of connection enables the presenter to interact with individual students, increasing the students’ engagement and motivation. There are occasions however, when a school district or education network wants to give the same learning opportunity to multiple classes simultaneously. This is called a “multi-point presentation” and allows students at different locations to interact with each other as well as the presenter.
Multipoints make sense in remote communities where there may be only a couple of students in a particular grade. Small enrolment makes it financially impossible for these schools to participate in point to point videoconferences and so sharing this opportunity among schools in these very far-flung districts is a great alternative. If the presentation is about a particular ecosystem, multipoints encourage greater understanding of environments in different geographic areas, as the students exchange information and observations. It also promotes cultural exchange, especially if the students are from different parts of the country or continent. In one memorable connection, students in Nunavut even demonstrated throat singing for their counterparts in central Ontario! The biggest challenge for the presenter is ensuring equal opportunity of engagement not only with the presenter, but also amongst the students from the different schools. Most recently, we delivered our insect program to six classes of Grade 3, 4, and 5 students scattered across northern Alberta, thanks to 2Learn Alberta, an education network that enables equitable participation.
The restoration is a three part project involving the natural areas of RBG, and the road sections of the City of Hamilton (Valley Inn Rd) and Burlington (Spring Garden Rd.). The now closed roads are being restored to a visitor hub and parking area, providing access to the bay and trails of the RBG. The City of Burlington will be completing their portion over the course of July 2011. This includes
a parking area, shoreline observation points and shoreline habitat restoration. The city of Hamilton has recently completed similar works on the Hamilton side. Royal Botanical Gardens continues with the wetland restoration
, and will be complimenting this with two restored viewing areas along Old Snake Rd (Grindstone Marsh Trail), and restoration of a section of Burlington Heights hillside along Valley Inn Rd. The restoration will recover both native vegetation (prairie species), as well as reestablish long lost nesting habitat for the various turtle species still persisting in the wetlands.
Valley Inn area is the historical cross roads of the area, dating back to the native trails and canoe routes. Two of these routes evolved into Old Guelph Rd and Snake Rd, while the third became the Desjardins Shipping Canal until 1852. In 1952 the canal was recut in the middle of Burlington Heights moving it out of the area, while in more recent times reconstruction of Plains Rd and the Hwy 403 have shifted vehicle traffic out of the area. The current restoration will bring the area full circle, back to healthy habitat, trails and a canoe launch.
“It is absurd to spray roses. I give them manure, plenty of water, and what I think is reasonable attention. If they succumb to black spot, they can die and good riddance.”
The words of the late garden writer, Henry Mitchell, should give heart to all Canadian growers required to deal with the province’s cosmetic pesticide ban. It is not, after all, the end of the world to lose a rose. But the inability to use time-honoured measures to care for precious plants has created no little angst amongst aficionados of the genus.
Unfortunately, many cannot share Mitchell’s sanguine observation. Let them die? Instead we spiral into the gardener’s version of the Hippocratic Oath, swearing to all the gods and goddesses that we’ll apply any measures required to cure the ill.
And so, we soldier on. Gardens, it would appear, must have roses.
Instead, it should be: “Physician, heal thyself.” Come see the Royal Botanical Garden’s work in progress this weekend, the last of the 2011 Rose Festival. Read the special interpretive panels to learn about the efforts we’re making to keep the roses doing their thing.
Soon the roses will be pruned to encourage flowers for the rest of the season. A smattering of blooms will appear throughout the summer, followed by a second flush in September that is a fitting encore to June’s display. While you’re enjoying the show, we’re preparing to plant new beds of disease resistant cultivars this fall, and planning the campaign for 2012.
Brian Holley, CEO of Naples Botanical Garden in Florida, received the Award of Merit from the American Public Gardens Association at its annual meeting in June in Philadelphia. Mr. Holley was a member of Royal Botanical Gardens’ staff for seventeen years, during which he served at different times as conservation foreman, horticulturist and Director of Marketing and Communications. In 1990 he was honoured by Landscape Ontario as Communicator of the Year. He was also the Founding President of the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association. Following his time at RBG, Mr. Holley joined the staff of Cleveland Botanical Garden in Cleveland, Ohio as Director in 1994. He led the garden through a major expansion project, including the addition of two very large conservatories. Mr. Holley became CEO of Naples Botanical Garden in 2005. He is the fourth present or former RBG staff member to be honoured by the APGA, the premier association of botanical gardens and their professional staff in North America. Mr. Mark Runciman, RBG’s CEO, presented Mr. Holley with his award last week. In his acceptance speech Mr. Holley paid tribute to the late Dr. Lesley Laking, RBG’s inspiring Director, who received the Award of Merit in 1979. Mr. Freek Vrugtman, RBG’s retired Curator Emeritus, was also honoured with this award in 1993. Dr. David Galbraith, RBG’s Head of Science in the Biodiversity Programs Division, was honoured for his work in public horticulture in 2002 with the association’s Professional Citation. According to the APGA web site, “The Award of Merit recognizes an individual APGA member who has performed with distinction in the field of public horticulture and has excelled as a public garden professional at one or more institutions.” The Professional Citation “recognizes the significant achievements in public horticulture of an individual member who has excelled in one of the disciplines generally associated with public gardens.”
Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson, Chairman of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation and President of Missouri Botanical Garden, paid a visit to Royal Botanical Gardens on Monday June 20, touring the Hendrie Park gardens and our facilities at RBG Centre. Dr. Wyse Jackson is a plant taxonomist and expert on the flora of Ireland, his home country. After training at Trinity College, Dublin and serving as Director of the university's botanical garden, he became Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the global plant conservation network. Over the next decade and a half, botanical gardens around the world benefited from his experience and enthusiasm. He helped to plan and develop programs for many botanical gardens in emerging countries as well as advancing the cause of plant conservation and botanical gardens on the global stage. In 2005 he was appointed Director of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. Under his guidance this national institution grew considerably and includes the National Garden in Glasnevin, Dublin and the historic estate gardens at Kilmacurragh Co. Wicklow, and hosted a global botanical gardens congress in 2010. Last year Dr. Wyse Jackson joined Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, one of North America's premier botanical gardens and research institutions, succeeding Dr. Peter Raven as President. Although this was just his second visit to RBG, Dr. Wyse Jackson has been a strong supporter of our national and international plant conservation and networking efforts since 1996. Royal Botanical Gardens has been part of several major global programs developed under his leadership, including the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, and Investing in Nature: A Partnership for Plants.
Carlo Balistrieri comes to the Royal Botanical Gardens from a stint as Executive Director of the Gardens at Turtle Point in Tuxedo Park, New York. There he presided over the development of a private botanical garden--an extensive set of gardens including several rock gardens; a hardy cactus and succulent bed; many perennial, woodland and display gardens, including a 1000 specimen hellebore walk; an alpine lawn; a cutting garden; a tree and woody plant collection; specialized perennial plant collections and an extensive under-lights collection of orchids, tropicals and indoor display plants.
Prior to that, he was Curator of the Rock Garden at The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, New York. There he shepherded the world famous garden formerly known as the “T. H. Everett Memorial Rock Garden.” NYBG’s rock garden is often considered its crown jewel, the heart of the garden. It is the most complex and diverse planting at the garden, and contained over 3000 taxa planted in distinctly created habitat areas that included scree beds, moraine, peat bed, alpine meadow, crevice garden, trough plantings, woodland areas, bog garden and small “jewel-box” gardens—created on faux outcrops to grow choice tiny specimens that might not survive the rigors of more open planting. Plants of all seven continents were present during his tenure, including the entire vascular flora of Antarctica (so it’s only two species!). An alpine house in the propagation range provided cool conditions for plants not suited to New York summers.
He has personally grown an astounding range of plants, from single-celled bioluminescent algae to Sequoia sempervirens, bulbs to epiphytes, orchids to cacti to African violets. For a time he owned and operated Nemorosa Orchids and Exotic Plants; and Nemorosa Horticulture, where he designed and installed gardens as far afield as the Azores Islands. He is a photographer, writer, speaker, and a lawyer—but don’t hold that against him.
June surveys for breeding birds are one of a number of sanctuary monitoring programs underway to keep an eye on their status of our natural lands. As of June 15, the 2011 surveys are at the half way point, and already have resulted in over 50 species identified. Some of the highlights include nesting Tree Swallows at Princess Point, Blue-winged Warblers at Berry Tract, a brilliant Scarlet Tanager protecting its territory at the top of Hickory Valley trail at the Arboretum, and Pine Warblers heard amongst the white pines along the Escarpment Trail at Rock Chapel. If you’re visiting
Hendrie Valley, listen for the Wood Thrush along Cherry Hill Gate or the Common Yellowthroat near South Pasture Swamp
. The best time to see and hear breeding birds is early in the morning and don’t forget your binoculars! You can learn more about RBG’s birds and nature sanctuaries by joining one of the many public programs
the Garden’s has to offer.
Making a whirl-wind tour through Southern Ontario, a group of 17 government officials from the Korean Province of Gyeonggi stopped in at RBG on June 9, 2011. The visitors are undertaking a fact-finding trip about protected natural, rural and green space in Ontario as part of planning being undertaken in Korea. Gyeonggi Province surrounds Seoul, the capital of Korea, and has a population of nearly 12 million people, a quarter of the country on just 10% of its land area. Economic activity in this province alone is greater than that in three-quarters of the countries on earth. Many programs around sustainability, including organic farming, are underway in Gyeonggi. RBG’s Dr. David Galbraith (centre), our Biodiversity Programs Division’s Head of Science, was pleased to greet our guests during their short visit. He provided an introduction to the history and development of both the region and RBG itself. The travelers were interested in RBG as both an important protected landscape and as a busy public amenity. After their visit to RBG they continued on to their next stop, Niagara Falls, where they were planning to visit both the falls and the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture.
The Cootes Paradise Marsh water level is directly connected to the lake and our water level has gone from mostly dry to filled to the brim in the span of 4 months. Since February water levels on the lake have risen about 100cm, which is 40cm more than the typical spring rise. Also of note water levels are about 60cm higher than the same time last year. The carp barrier (Fishway
) at Cootes Paradise had come within 5cm of overtopping last week! Now the water levels have started to decline and it looks as if carp
exclusion will not be compromised. The effect on the local ecosystem is anticipated to be and banner year for fish and wildlife reproduction given the vast amount of flooded wetland, however the marsh plant community recovery will stall as the water is too deep for new seedlings to establish. The Grindstone Marsh system associated with Hendrie Valley did not fair well as the carp exclusion was overtopped and the area overcome with Carp. Substantial effort will be required to rehabilitate the area once the waters have receded later this summer. Monitoring will continue throughout the summer to further measure the effects.
This year RBG is undertaking the first-ever propagation experiment for the endangered Morus rubra (Red Mulberry), in partnership with the Fanshawe College Horticulture Technician programme and University of Guelph Arboretum.
One of the largest threats to red mulberry is that it freely hybridizes with Morus alba (White Mulberry), an introduced tree common in the landscape trade, which readily escapes from cultivation. This means pure red mulberry seeds are very hard to come by and that controlled pollination is needed to create pure red mulberry seeds.
Flowers on female red mulberry trees were pollinated by-hand the week of May 30th 2011, using pure red mulberry pollen which was collected from male flowers and ripened indoors. Prior to pollination, the female flowers were covered with bags to prevent any undesirable pollen from coming into contact with the flowers. After hand pollination, the flowers were bagged again. Now we wait and hope that fertilization is a success! Pollination bags will remain on the trees until fruit is ripe. This will serve in keeping the fruit protected from the birds and will allow us to collect seed in late summer.
Many thanks to all of you who have contributed to this project so far! Stay tuned for further updates.
This project is being supported by the Jack Kimmel Grant of the Canadian Tree Fund.
While the Camilla and Peter Dalglish Atrium has been in use since the winter of 2009, it is only this spring that we received confirmation of it receiving Gold certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards program. LEED is an internationally recognized rating system for builders and architects that awards cutting-edge design, construction, energy efficiency and operation practices that protect the environment while creating healthy living and working spaces. Buildings are awarded certification at one of four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum and Gold certification for a building clad mostly in glass is no small feat!
We are introducing visitors to the many green features of this building through new interpretive materials produced this winter with the support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation. A video at the entrance to the Atrium provides an overview and interpretive signage highlights the features as you move through the building. Even a visit to the washrooms is an educational experience!
The Camilla and Peter Dalglish Atrium’s Gold status was awarded based on features that include the following:
- Special coatings on the low-e glass that reduce energy use year-round.
- Design that allows winter sun to enter the building; summer sun is shaded by an outside overhang and shade curtains.
- Radiant heating system in lower level floors.
- Special ventilation systems that reduce the amount of heating and cooling required, and recover waste heat.
- A living wall of plants that humidifies and filters return air.
- A system for rainwater harvesting; this is filtered and used for plants and low-flow toilets.
The Atrium’s environmentally friendly features add up to energy use that is only 64% of a comparable building while potable water use is reduced by almost 90%. And of course, this being RBG, water is also conserved outdoors through the use of drought-tolerant plants in the building’s landscaping. Come and explore the Atrium and learn about how we can all reduce our environmental footprint.
Sneak Peak – Check out the LEEDs video
A team of McMaster University archaeology students, led by course instructor and licensed archaeologist Meghan Burchell, are hard at work at RBG’s Old Nursery, looking for traces of Indigenous Peoples’ habitation of the area. The McMaster University Archaeology Field School is under the direction of the Department of Anthropology, McMaster University. The Nursery site, on the north shore of Cootes Paradise Marsh, is one of about a dozen known sites around the marsh where people camped, fished and conducted daily life over thousands of years prior to European contact. This site has been examined several times by McMaster archaeologists, each time expanding our understanding of the pre-European contact history of the area. Although upper layers have been changed by many decades of cultivation and use as a nursery, traces of the activities of people a thousand years ago can be found a foot below the surface. In 2010 the team lead by Ms. Burchell, a Ph.D. candidate, discovered evidence of an ancient stream bed in the area. This year the students will be seeking further evidence of structures, including possible dwellings, and other more common types of archaeological evidence such as pieces of ceramics, stone tools and animal remains. The McMaster Archaeology Field School will be conducting their dig until early June. Visitors are welcome; the site can be reached at the bottom of Captain Cootes Trail, beside the RBG Boathouse.
The Royal Botanical Garden’s Strelitzia nicolai (Giant White Bird of Paradise) are getting a long overdue pruning. At more than 20 feet tall, they are as large as they would get at home in eastern South Africa, and are pushing against the panes of the Mediterranean House roof.
Commonly planted as an ornamental in the Mediterranean, S. nicolai sports banana-like leaves up to six feet long, and huge, spiky looking flowers with white sepals and a blue “tongue” emerging from a purplish-blue bract. Their fanciful resemblance to a tropical bird-of-paradise is what gives the plant its common name. (Interestingly, not a single bird-of-paradise is native to Strelitzia’s South African home. There they call these plants “crane flower.”
RBG’s current display of S. nicolai has been in place for nearly 20 years and thrives in the conditions created for it under glass. It is the largest species in the genus. Periodic pruning is necessary to keep the plants vigorous, looking good, and to prevent them from damaging the home that sustains them.
You need plenty of headroom if you want to grow this one at home, but its smaller cousin, the more commonly seen Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise), is much more accommodating—just keep it sunny and warm!
By Karin Davidson-Taylor, Education Programs Officer
Imagine travelling to Shrub Oak, New York, then visiting Merritt Island, Florida, followed by a trip to Edson, Alberta and then finally ending the day in Gaspé, Quebec – all in one day, and teaching classes in each of those towns while you’re there! That kind of mileage – over 12,000 km - is part of a typical day of outreach education here at RBG, but thanks to videoconferencing technology, it comes without a big ecological footprint. Four years ago we started offering environmental education programs via interactive videoconference to school groups well beyond our local onsite attendance area. Since then we have connected to over 20,000 participants in seven of Canada’s provinces and territories as well as 75% of the states in the USA and all of Great Britain.
In April 2007, we started with four programs and now offer 19 different award-winning programs making connections to kindergarten to Grade 12 curricula throughout North America and Europe. Our themes range from investigating insects to exploring all parts of plants and their life cycle, wetlands, how we impact them and how we are restoring this valuable ecosystem. We also offer programs to support school garden projects and the national NatureWatch plant phenology program, PlantWatch.
Although large urban schools are typical recipients of these programs, less traditional facilities including remote schools in Quebec’s Lower North Shore, outdoor education centres, summer camps, correctional institutions, libraries and seniors’ homes are also taking advantage of this technology. Our programs encourage participants to get outside and explore their own local area regardless of their age or location.
Our campers and school groups have also interacted with a variety of sites including Biosphere in Montreal and Boreal Centre for Bird Conservation in northern Alberta enhancing their camp experience. During Wild Music, visitors learned African and Irish dancing, and explored the physics of music and how it is all around us with museums in the U.S. As our wrap-up to Biodiversity Year programming, we were even able to simultaneously connect an audience here at RBG to Dr. E.O. Wilson at Harvard University and an audience of participants at the Convention on Biodiversity meetings in Japan. We are investigating ways to bring your world a little closer via videoconference, so check out our future public program guides for guest speakers from afar.
Thursday, April 28th, 2011 is the 120th birthday of Aleksander Tamsalu, Royal Botanical Gardens’ first staff ecologist. Born in Estonia in 1891 as Aleksander Tomson, Tamsalu studied to be a botanist and became a respected scientist. However, his life and career were heavily affected by political and military upheavals in Europe. Following a very productive period in the 1930s when he made significant contributions to understanding wild plants and ecology in Estonia, Tamsalu and his family were caught up in the Second World War. Escaping Russian invasion and surviving labour camps in Germany, Tamsalu immigrated to North America in the 1950s. In 1954 Tamsalu was given the job of mapping the vegetation of RBG’s nature sanctuaries by Director Leslie Laking. For five years he tirelessly collected plant specimens and mapped vegetation areas on the north and south shores of Cootes Paradise and in Hendrie Valley. During that period he added more than 9,800 specimens to RBG’s herbarium, a record that no one has since matched. His ecological analyses of plant communities are still in use today. Suffering from poor health in the last years of his life, Tamsalu passed away in Hamilton on February 5th, 1960 at the age of 68.
In honour of Tamsalu’s 120th birthday, Royal Botanical Gardens has revised and reissued the 1980 book-length biography Aleksander Tamsalu 1891-1960: A Botanist in Exile
written by John B. Lord, as a free e-book:Click here to download our free e-book about Tamsalu (5 megabyte Adobe Reader file in PDF format).
Royal Botanical Gardens’ extensive collection of historic horticultural catalogues reached a significant milestone in April. The collection, believed to be the largest in the country, includes more than 9,200 individual catalogues from Canadian nurseries, some going back as far as 1827. For the past three years a dedicated group of volunteers from the RBG Auxiliary have been revising the condition of the collection. The volunteers have been removing the staples from every catalogue (the iron in the staples damages paper over time), storing each in acid-free materials and updating the electronic catalogue for the collection. On April 14 the volunteers completed the revision for the last of the Canadian nursery catalogues. This collection, which also includes many thousands of catalogues from nurseries from other countries, is in regular use by scholarly researchers and students, landscape designers, and even illustrators seeking older pictures of ornamental plants in use in different eras. For more information, please contact Dr. David Galbraith, RBG’s Head of Science.
After a long winter and a cool start to spring the gardens and natural areas at RBG are finally waking up and coming back to life. Slowly but surely early spring flowers such as hellebores, winter aconites, crocus, snowdrops and iris are beginning to emerge and put on a much needed show of colour to melt away the winter blues. This floral explosion also signals the start of great activity for our curators, horticulturists and botanists as each year we record the bloom times of certain plants. Recording periodic plant and animal lifecycle events such as flowering times, first leaf out, insect emergence or bird migrations and how they are influenced by seasonal and yearly variation in climate is a science known as phenology. If records are tracked over long time periods of time it is possible to use these records for studying trends in climate history but also play a role in predicting future climate changes such as global warming.
Recent research in Canada suggests that some species of plants are flowering up to a month earlier than a century ago in response to a changing climate. The same research predicts that in Western and Northern Canada temperatures are increasing while some parts of Eastern Canada may actually be cooling. The challenges our society faces in respect to climate change and the information we are given can all seem daunting and confusing, There are, however, ways to engage with environmental challenges in positive ways. Royal Botanical Gardens is the provincial focus for PlantWatch which is a volunteer based, citizen science programme designed to track flowering times all over Canada. PlantWatch encourages Canadians to get involved in helping scientists discover how and why the environment is changing. Citizen scientists are encouraged to record flowering times for selected plant species and report these dates to researchers through the internet or by mail. The observations are an invaluable tool in revealing environmental trends and building more data to our current climate change knowledge.
If you are interested in becoming a citizen scientist or want to actively engage with climate change in a positive way then visit the PlantWatch web pages at eitherhttp://www.naturewatch.ca/english/plantwatch/intro.htmlhttp://www.naturewatch.ca/francais/plantwatch/intro.html
So telling people you are a phenological citizen scientist is not just a great way to start a conversation at a cocktail party, it also helps to get us all outside, smell the flowers and throw off the winter blues. It also provides vital scientific information and allows us to become agents of environmental change for Canada and the world. Happy plant watching!
March 21, 2011 - This past weekend, Royal Botanical Gardens put their horticultural expertise on display and came out a winner at the 34th Annual London Orchid Society Show. RBGs Ansellia africana (Leopard Orchid) was awarded best in show, which is awarded to the most outstanding orchid bloom, or blooming plant, in show.
The Leopard Orchid, Africas largest epiphytic orchid, grows in trees in tropical and sub-tropical Africa Flowers are fragrant at night when they are pollinated by hawk moths traditionally used as a love charm to ward off bad dreams and to deter lightning.
If you are looking for a photograph (or a sniff of) this magnificent specimen, it is currently on display in the main colonnade at RBG Centre.
Its a sure sign of spring when the Tundra Swans stop in at Cootes Paradise Marsh on their northward migration. A flock of nearly 100 birds was seen landing on the marsh this past Sunday by visitors to the Marshwalk Observation Tower on the north shore of Cootes Paradise. They managed to find a patch of open water in the still frozen marsh, just off the mouth of a now thawed Spencer Creek. The creek is opening up the marsh ice following the previous weeks warmer weather, and has now carved an open a channel 2/3 of the way across. Tundra swans winter in the southern states, flying 1000s of kilometres to nesting grounds that can be as far away as Alaska. Cootes Paradise is one of a number of Great Lakes wetlands the birds stop over and rest on their long journey.
Project Paradise Highlights
Highlights of the 2010 were framed by water level extremes. The season started with a severe flood in February overtopping the Fishway, followed by below average water levels leaving large swaths of mudflat exposed. Water levels during the flood were 6ft above the summer levels and allowed upwards of 1,000 carp access to Cootes Paradise, most of which were returned to the adjacent harbour be seasons end. In the below average summer water levels, localized areas were damaged were carp concentrations. At the same time the below average water levels resulted in substantial new plant growth, and was complemented by the planting of 8,000 cattails. This resulted in several new hectares of wetland growth, despite the loss of an estimated 250,000 seedlings to grazing Canada geese. Water quality was similar to previous years, while fish and wildlife reproduction suffered with the lower water levels limiting access to habitat. At the Fishway overall fish numbers were less than half of 2008, although several species continued to increase. This reduction is a combination of ongoing overwintering mortality in the deeper waters of Hamilton Harbour, as well as undetermined disease affecting the catfish species. Overwinter mortality will continue until upgrades to the main Hamilton waste water treatment plant on Woodward Ave. are completed. Mortality is a result of impaired oxygen levels. Looking forward, substantial habitat improvements are expect in 2011, as below average water levels continue and on the inflowing water, new sewage improvements are implemented (Ancaster Creek CSO tank operational, Waterdown Wasterwater Treatment Plant closed).
Royal Botanical Gardens is focused on connecting people, plants and the rest of nature. It is amazing that people have been coming to these lands for thousands of years to do just that! Traces have now been found of human activity on RBG property dating back approximately 10,000 years. Archaeological exploration around Cootes Paradise Marsh have located more than a dozen important sites, including indigenous peoples’ camps and other sites on both the north and south shores.
A great deal has been learned from excavations by University of Toronto, McMaster University and Trent University researchers about the period roughly 1,000 to 1,500 years ago. There are also many traces of more recent activity, and interest in the factors that have transformed the landscape in historic times. The Princess Point area in particular is an exciting site, as it has been identified as the type site of the Princess Point Complex, a characteristic set of artefacts and cultural traces left by people in the period 1,500 years ago to 900 years ago.
To help our community learn about these exciting discoveries, we will hold an open house event on Saturday 26 February, from 11 AM to 3:30 PM. From 11 AM to noon visitors to RBG can experience hands-on workshops. From 1 PM to about 3:30 PM researchers will give presentations for the public on their findings. Box lunches can be purchased at noon. Admission is included with regular RBG admission.
February 18th marked official first bloom day of 2011 in both RBG’s cultivated gardens and natural lands!
Strelitzia reginae is known to most in our area as a long-lasting cut flower. You can see it in its full glory in bloom right now in the Mediterranean Garden.
Galanthus and Helleborus have flowered in Spicer Court and Herbarium volunteer Dean Gugler noted Hamamelis in flower in the woodland garden.
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), the first of our local wildflowers to bloom each season, was recorded in full bloom. This is the earliest date yet that we’ve observed this plant in bloom – which I’m sure, comes as no surprise. Dean Gugler located the plants in Hendrie Valley.
Skunk cabbage has the unique ability to melt the snow around its flowers. The plants use metabolic processes to raise their temperatures several degrees higher than their surroundings. The heat emitted by the flowers also helps to attract early insect pollinators!
Skunk cabbage is in the Araceae Family (Arum Family). Its close relatives include Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphylla), Dieffenbachia and peace lily (Spathiphyllum sp.).
Sex and the Single Plant
Most humans view the plant world as a kind of green backdrop to life. With eyes dulled by the barrage of screens that dominate our world, and senses perpetually rushed to keep in step with society's hectic pace, we often miss those phenomena that work on nature’s time. Pollination and the many bizarre adaptive mechanisms that help plants to reproduce are the kind of phenomena that few people see. In honour of St. Valentine’s Day, let's take a quick peek under the leaves: you might be surprised at what some members of the green world are up to.
Of Flowers and Perfume
It just so happens that mid-February's lengthening days are nudging our Mediterranean Garden towards its peak bloom period – it's the perfect place to take your special Valentine. Open the doors to the greenhouse and you’ll find that love is in the air – literally! The first thing you’ll notice is the heady scent of flowers like hyacinth and jasmine, as they compete to woo pollinators. In reality these plants are simply trying to reproduce by getting their genetic material (packed up in a grain of pollen) moved to another member of their species (or having another plant's pollen moved to them). However, the precursor to reproductive success or animal-pollinated plants, is first scoring points with a pollinator.
For insects, the most abundant pollinators, perfume is pretty much a plant prerequisite. Floral scent isn't always what humans would call perfume though: some plants lure pollinators by smelling like rotten meat (luckily, those species aren't likely to make it into your Valentine's bouquet!). Floral scents are essential oils: complex mixtures of many chemical compounds, from terpene alcohols like geraniol, citronellol and nerol that give roses (and many of our soaps) their sweet scent, to phenols that spice up the scent of carnations. Floral scent is produced in various flower parts and it may vary in strength and chemical composition through the day, depending on which pollinators are most likely to be around. Our lilac dell, for example, is most potent towards dusk when the lilac flowers pump up their production of Terpineol to draw the attention of evening's moths.
Floral scent isn't part of the allure for all pollinators though, especially pollinators that can't smell. In those cases it's all about looks. Take the Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia
) flower for instance. These South African natives are blooming in the upper level of the Mediterranean Garden – both a ceiling-scratching specimen of Strelizia nicolai
and its prolific but smaller cousin (and common cut-flower) Strelitzia reginae
. These plants' striking flowers have three outer orange sepals that attract the attention of their pollinators - birds. While they produce plenty of nectar, these flowers are unscented: no need to waste energy producing fragrance if your pollinators lack the sense of smell. The Strelitzia
flower also produces three inner purple-blue petals. Two are lobed and together they form a hollow spear shape which forms a convenient landing platform for birds. These two petals also conceal the style and the anthers, while a smaller third petal covers the entrance to the nectary. To get to the nectar, the bird must land on the spear. This immediately bends and in doing so exposes copious amounts of pollen mixed in with sticky threads derived from the anthers. Chains of pollen end up stuck to the bird’s feet and belly, ready to be transferred to the next flower on the bird's endless quest for nectar.
This Valentine's Day, why not skip bottled perfume and roses and instead impress your Valentine with a bouquet that includes bird of paradise. Be a floral voyeur and check out its reproductive strategy yourselves, or better yet, bring your Valentine to the Mediterranean Garden and experience a lush green world where love is always
in the air.
RBG awarded Jack Kimmel Grant
RBG awarded Jack Kimmel Grant from the Canadian Tree Fund to undertake a propagation experiment for the endangered red mulberry tree (Morus rubra).
In partnership with the Fanshawe College Horticulture Technician programme and University of Guelph Arboretum, RBG’s will be undertaking the first known controlled pollination experiment for red mulberry and will be investigating techniques to propagate pure red mulberry trees.
The endangered red mulberry is limited to southern Ontario, and only 10 sites have five or more individual trees. The species range is contracting and its numbers are declining. One of the largest threats to red mulberry is that it freely hybridizes with white mulberry (Morus alba
), an introduced tree common in the landscape trade, which often escapes from cultivation and readily colonizes in natural areas. This means pure red mulberry seeds are very hard to come by and that controlled pollination is needed to create pure red mulberry seeds. The largest population of pure red mulberry in Canada occurs at RBG, where recently over 100 trees have been confirmed to be genetically pure (based on a study funded by RBG’s Auxiliary in 2010). These trees will be the focus for this propagation project.
The main objective of this partnership will be to identify successful means of propagating RBG’s pure red mulberry trees and to provide a unique training experience for students at Fanshawe College. This project will promote the relevance of arboricultural and horticultural research to plant conservation and the recovery of endangered species. It is hoped that in coming years, the propagation techniques learned through this study will be applied to other rare, uncommon, or endangered trees in Canada including butternut (Juglans cineria
), cucumber tree (Magnolia acuminata
), American chestnut (Castanea dentata
) and eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida
), particularly for overcoming hybridization threats.
RBG Launches Growing Up Green Initiative
Growing Up Green
is RBG’s new campaign that draws together several exciting on-the-ground programs. The theme of Growing Up Green
is that we must work together to ensure that our children and our children’s children have wonderful, green living spaces in which to play, explore and grow. Within this overall concept, RBG has grouped our efforts to communicate the importance to children of outdoor activities and contact with nature (our leadership in the Back to Nature Network
) and our program to better protect and steward the natural areas in our region, including our own properties and those of our neighbouring organizations (under the Cootes to Escarpment Park System
project). Growing up Green
is being launched on Friday 28 January 2011 in a celebration of the opening of our 2011 exhibit “Wild Music.” We are also extending our heartfelt appreciation to all of the partners and funders of these programs. In particular, our event on 28 January will extend our thanks to the Ontario Trillium Foundation, for providing major funding for both the Back to Nature Network and the Cootes to Escarpment Park System project, and to the Ontario Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation for their support of the Cootes to Escarpment Park System project also.
RBG Herbarium receives loan of 148 herbarium specimens from the New York Botanic Garden
One-hundred and forty-eight specimens from NYBG’s South American Gentianella
collection were sent here for RBG’s plant taxonomist and expert in New World Gentianaceae
, Dr. Jim Pringle, to identify. Previously, these specimens were only ever identified to the genus-level (Gentianella
sp.). Many of the specimens represent unique floristic records, and some may even represent previously un-described species. The specimens will be kept and cared for in the RBG Herbarium until Dr. Pringle has completed his determinations and research. Once his work is complete, specimens will be shipped back to NYBG with annotation labels and Dr. Pringle’s notes.
Celebrating 2011, International Year of Forests, with woody plant inventory!
During the 2010 growing season, the plant records office at Royal Botanical Gardens completed Year 1 of a 2 year project to update condition and location information for all woody plants in our plant records database (BG-BASE) and on our electronic maps (ArcMap). Inventory began in the Arboretum, where approx. 1300 plants were recorded. 1300 trees makes for a spectacular urban forest! The GPS location of each tree was verified, and condition information was updated in the plant records database. Missing display labels and accession tags were also noted, for creation and installation in 2011. Upon completion of the arboretum, woody plants inventory moved to the Laking Garden, where 100 plants were recorded and RBG Centre, where 450 plants we recorded. Woody plants in the Rock Garden and Hendrie Park are on the agenda for this coming season. Click here
to learn more about what we do in the plant records office. Arboretum highlights:
100 magnolia (Magnolia
32 cherry (Prunus
) trees, 18 of which were planted in 2010
728 lilacs (Syringa
)– 530 of which are unusual or rare
20 unusual boulevard trees
10 unusual conical shaped trees
8 unusual globed shaped trees
12 unusual oval headed trees
23 unusual fastigiate trees
11 unusual small flowering trees
25 unusual weeping treesClick here to view the map above in full size.
Photo courtesy of Bill Bright - RBG auxiliary
European Ducks Make Rare Stop at RBG
Sighted at RBG's Hendrie Valley
- The Common Teal
, the European cousin of the North American Green Winged Teal has stopped in at the RBG. Green Winged Teals are a common migratory species stopping in at the RBG wetlands each spring and fall, while the arrival of the European cousin is an interesting quirk as its thousands of kilometers from its normal home range. How it came to be here remains a mystery. The bird was photographed by a member of the RBG's volunteer auxiliary while monitoring the trail network. RBG believes this wanderer poses no threat to the native flora, and is more of curiosity and reminder of the immense distances birds travel and the importance of protected areas along these routes. RBG wetlands are key stepping stones in a number of bird migration routes that intersect here where Lake Ontario meets the Niagara Escarpment.
American Public Gardens Association 2010 Collections Management Symposium
In October some colleagues and I headed to Denver to take part in a three day conference about collections management practices in Botanical gardens. The symposium focused on key curatorial procedures and featured practical talks from experts from various North American public gardens. We were also provided with hands-on experiences, drawing from the collections and staff at Denver Botanic Gardens. Participants learned how to set up an integrated plant records system, explore label options including the latest bar-coding technologies, try out hand-held devices to streamline field inventories, and discuss how to best utilize volunteers while maintaining data integrity. We also looked at ways to back up collections, maintain genetically diverse germplasm, and develop new plant propagation protocols to maximize methods of plant conservation. During the final day we had several presentations on prioritizing collections and making tough decisions on which plants to acquire, keep, or deaccession. These were long days but in between our scheduled events we were able to mingle with other participants and build upon the network of people we met during the APGA Annual meeting in Atlanta.
We were also lucky enough to tour the garden which is only 23 acres in size, is characterized as being an arid climate with low humidity but displays more than 32,000 plants from such places as Australia, Africa and the Himalayas. Seven plant collections incorporate alpine plants, amenity plants, aquatics, cacti and succulents, native plants, tropicals and plants of the steppe regions of the world.
If you are an intrepid type or like to travel and see new places and gardens then I’d definitely recommend a visit to Denver as its strangely odd but enticing walking around a garden where they can grow cacti next to lilacs next to Alpine flora next to tropical plants!
The international team assembled in at the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, in Dunlin, in June 2009 to revise the UN’s Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. RBG’s Head of Science, Dr. David Galbraith, is 8th from the left.
UN Biodiversity Treaty Approves Global Strategy for Plant Conservation
In October 2010 the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the treaty on protecting life on earth, met in Nagoya, Japan, the tenth such meeting since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Among the decisions adopted by this international forum was a revised Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).
In an effort to halt the extinction of the world’s plants, the more than 190 nations that are Parties to the CBD approved the original global strategy in 2002. It consists of 16 specific targets for the world community to achieve to help protect and use plants sustainably. The original strategy called for progress on the targets to be achieved by 2010. The renewed strategy includes updated targets and a new date for assessment of progress of 2020.
Since 2001, Royal Botanical Gardens’ Head of Science, Dr. David Galbraith, has been part of the international effort to develop the global strategy and track its subsequent progress. In 2008 Dr. Galbraith helped to write a global report on plant conservation and progress on the GSPC, which was published by the United Nations Environment Program in 2009. That year Dr. Galbraith was also one of a small international team who met in Dublin, Ireland to revise the original strategy in advance of the Nagoya conference.
Royal Botanical Gardens is at present the only Canadian botanical garden participating in the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation, an informal network of botanical gardens, non-governmental organizations, government and UN agencies around the world that work together to support the global strategy.
Dr. Peter Wyse Jackson, then Director of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, in Dunlin, enjoys a copy of RBG’s Paradise Found in 2009. In September 2010 Dr. Wyse Jackson was apointed Director of Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, MO. He also is the Chair of the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation.
RBG has been invited to present our cutting-edge approach to bringing people and nature together at a prestigious symposium in Shanghai, China. In October representatives of botanical gardens from around the world will meet at the Plant Science Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, at Chenshan Botanical Garden in Shanghai. Dr. David Galbraith, our Head of Science, will present RBG’s efforts to interpret and protect plants in both our gardens and extensive nature sanctuaries. Botanical gardens are being recognized more and more for their important roles in protecting biodiversity and ensuring it’s used sustainably for human well-being.
||Want to help local Species at Risk?
||RBG: Monitoring Ecological Change Across the Carolinian Life Zone
||Phragmites Control Underway at RBG
||The Fungi Imposter: New Species Discovered at RBG
||A Closer Look at Goldenrod
||Bird surveys compiled for 2013
||Burlington Heights Management Plan
||Work in Progress – Take a Look!
||Adding up the Bucks (and Does) at RBG
||Spring Brings Two Baby Bald Eagles
||A Rare Winter Resident
||Australian Flare in the Mediterranean Garden
||Phew! What stinks?
||Winter Blooms in the Mediterranean Garden
||Maples: a Threatened International Emblem
||Carp Removal in Cootes Paradise
||Back to Nature Network
||Habitat improvement that’s “for the birds”
||Tundra Swans on the Move
||Wetlands Revitalized by Low Water Levels
||RBG Internships, cultivating a greener future
||Happy Tree Day!
||A Rare Sight(ing)!
||Injecting Ash Trees – Nineteen Trees Get the Needle
||Foreign Invaders: The Japanese Beetle
||Dragonfly/Damselfly Count 2012
||Canadian Horticultural History Goes On-Line
||Ignorance is Not Bliss
||New 1812 Bicentennial/International Peace Garden Trail Garden at Burlington Heights
||From The Field
||New Shade Curtains in the Mediterranean Garden
||Bloom Collisions and an Anarchic Spring
||Congratulations to 2012 Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair Winners
||An Abundance of Admirals
||Happy Hanami 2012
||Whither the Weather?
||The Christmas Tree Challenge
||Late Frost Damages and Magnolia Flowers
||New Brazilian Bee Species Named After RBG Research Associate
||Bald Eagles Nest at Cootes Paradise
||Rejuvenating Burlington Heights
||A Valentine’s Day Without Plants?
||Paths, paths everywhere, but not a trail in sight...
||New Lichen named for an Old Friend
||RBG declares Eastern Spiny Softshell extirpated on our properties
||Activity in the Morrison Woodland Garden
||Recycling Christmas Trees for Marsh Restoration
||Butternut: An Endangered Species at RBG
||Fall Foliage – Natures Changing Canvas
||In Flanders fields
||Good night, sleep tight Royal Botanical Gardens
||Invasive Plants and Forest Health in Ontario
||Wetland Recovery Success despite Spring Flooding
||License to Train
||Back to Nature Network Teacher’s Guide
||John Goldie Award!
||Mondays at the Fishway – Come Discover With Us!
||Striking Entrance to Hendrie Park
||Curatorial Study Tour
||Red Mulberry Pollination – A Success!
||2011 Butterfly and Odonate Count
||Botanical labels travel to Ecuador
||RBG’s Top Ten Plants That Beat the Heat
||Does the grass seem greener, and longer, at RBG?
||Former RBG Staff Member Researching Green Roofs in Halifax
||Searching for Spiny Softshells
||RBG co-hosts International Lily Show
||The More the Merrier
||Valley Inn Restoration Takes Another Step
||Former RBG Staff Member Honoured at Annual Public Gardens Conference
||Leading Global Plant Conservation Expert Visits RBG
||Introducing Carlo Balistrieri, Head of Horticulture
||Breeding Bird Monitoring
||RBG Hosts Korean Government Delegation
||Lake Ontario water levels pushes upper limit for the Fishway.
||Morus rubra gets pollinated!
||Green LEEDership at RBG
||Archaeologists are Excavating at RBG!
||Strelitzia nicolai receiving long overdue trim....
||A 12,000-kilometre Day
||Canadian Historic Horticultural Catalogues Collection Reaches Milestone
||Spring is Finally Arriving!
||RBG orchid wins best in show
||Tundra Swans arrive at Cootes Paradise
||Project Paradise Highlights
||10,000 Years In Paradise
||A Sure Sign of Spring
||Sex and the Single Plant
||RBG awarded Jack Kimmel Grant
||RBG Launches Growing Up Green Initiative
||RBG Herbarium receives loan of 148 herbarium specimens from the New York Botanic Garden
||Celebrating 2011, International Year of Forests, with woody plant inventory!
||European Ducks Make Rare Stop at RBG
||American Public Gardens Association 2010 Collections Management Symposium
||UN Biodiversity Treaty Approves Global Strategy for Plant Conservation
||David Galbraith, head of science, presents RBG's efforts on biodiversity at symposium in Shanghai, China