Forests in Fall

Forests in Fall are amazing places and recently, I found myself them observing one up close and personal when walking through one of many local conservation areas near my cottage. The air was crisp, the sun quite warm, and there were countless birds chirping and flitting from tree to tree. While most of the forest floor was carpeted with thousands of dry, deciduous tree leaves  the air was frequently filled with the scent of pine from the tall white and red pine overhead.

 

 

Beneath the towering trees, while shuffling my feet through the leaves, I began to notice native plants still thriving despite the mid-November weather. In this area, zoned climate region 5A, with nights recently below -4 ? Celsius and current daytime temperatures this weekend up to 11?, it seems native plants are definitely heartier  than I realized.

Carolinian Forest Native Plants

There are many locations of Carolinian Forests in South Western Ontario. Previously I have written in detail of Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island (Pelee Island blog August 2012) as l provided information on other locations as well as plants that are native to this eco vegetation area. However, I had no idea of exactly how hardy these plants could be until I witnessed their vigorous state just today.

In fact forests in fall can contain a wide variety of plants still splendid in green. On my recent walk I noticed, a few Golden Rod plants in bloom, dandelions and even a milkweed pod just beginning to burst.

 

 

 

 

Most of the black, pin and giant oak trees as well as the poplar had shed their now brown leaves. The white, red, and scotch pines waved their deep green needles back and forth in the wind, while sending a small cascade of dry needles and pinecones to the ground below.

fallen pine needles

fallen pine needles

 

Also helping these needles and their cones fall to the ground also were a wide variety of aviary creatures…birds of all sizes and colours. In fact, there were many tiny sparrows and chickadees flying from branch to branch with such speed that glances were a treat and photos were almost an impossibility!

Thankfully the native plants below were just waving in the wind, waiting to be noticed. Throughout the mounds of brown crunchy leaves in this primarily oak forest, there were native ferns with deep, rich, healthy green frons. Occasionally there were the tiny, green lobbed leaves of the Hepatica Americana plant, sticking out from the sloped banks above the walking trails that extended many kilometres through this county park.

Native Americana Hepatica

native fern in November

 

 

Nature in Harmony

Nature works in harmony with itself, when man does not interfere, which is evident as see by trees, helping everything for purifying the air to providing homes and food for living things of all sizes.

Hearty plants are aided by natural windbreaks and mulch. Full evergreens change the flow of cool winds that blow through all forests in fall by diverting it around the trunks directly and through the branches and needles as well.  Deciduous tree also diver the strong breezes as some of them in this conservation area where I walked, are up to three meters around.

On the ground, below these trees, the thick leave layer provides insulation to plants there like a multilayered blanket. This layer also provides a moisture barrier for worms and other insects as well, as countless bacteria and fungi that do most of the work in breaking down the organic matter of forests in fall.

Soil microorganisms mineralize or chemically convert organic compounds in to simpler forms, once the fungus family have begun the process of what is known as mineralization. Mineralisation is the biological process in which organic compounds are chemically converted to other simpler organic compounds or inorganic forms, such as carbon, ammonium or phosphate,  which are basic elements required for plant growth.

Mushrooms and toadstools

Regardless of the time of year, woodlands have trees and plant life in various stages of decomposition.  In fact, my walk through the Backus Conservation Area forests in the fall, revealed logs rotting away everywhere. These natural sources of compost eventually break down completely and add to the soil levels of the forest floor.

Before that happens, the breakdown delivers nutrients to local plants through the surrounding soil as well as to the parasitic plant forms that grown on the decaying wood. Many varieties of mushroom and other fungi were thriving well in the in the grown in the damp, shady areas on the forest floor, despite the colder November temperatures. On my walk I found many such life forms whose colour and variety were amazing.

 

 

 

After further investigation, I discovered that toadstools are not an official plant genus or species, but are part of the Kingdom of Fungi. As with all Kingdoms, this one has many Family, Genus and Species, which include mushrooms, mold, yeast, lichen, rust and truffles.

Fungi Kingdom

Forests in the fall contain many fine examples of this Kingdom as I witnessed firsthand on my walk. There were mushrooms that grew directly out of the rotting wood while others had stems. In addition to the interesting shapes the colour range was amazing as I noticed green scaly mushrooms and large almost flowery looking orange ones that looked like some alien flower species.

 

 

These wildly coloured and unusually shaped living things where but the tip of a huge subject that now intrigues me. In fact, off I go to research the fascinating subject of Fungi. After all, Mother nature’s gardens are certainly inspiring…especially forests in fall!

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park are amazing.Recently I  observed these pond plants, up close and personal as I was travelling throughout   South Western Ontario. In addition , I had the pleasure of seeing a wide variety of  garden, both traditional garden, an natural ones along and under waterways and many lovely pond plant. While to home gardeners, their own private space is treasured as a source of joy, peace and sometimes inspiration, to the adventurous the world of nature contains this and more.

Several weeks ago I saw native cone-flowers and other Carolinian woodland plants including poison ivy, wild grape vines and Queen Anne’s lace on Pelee Island. While marsh areas or wetlands both are part of  Canada’s Carolinian Eco system, on the island the marshlands have been dramatically reduced to a small section near the north east shoreline.

Pond plants of Point Pelee National park, on the other hand,have lots of room to grow  as, according to their literature, the park is approximately 80% marsh. This southern most point of mainland Canada also has a spit that juts in to Lake Erie similar to that of the island but is shorter in length. Composed of glacial sand, silt and gravel, the point here is approximately 4.5 Km wide at the north and approximately 7 km in length.

 

Point Pelee National Park

The point was named Point Pelee or Bare Point by the French explorers who discovered it, as the east side was rock and had no trees. After researching the history of the area, I realized my collected data would make up a book and that there are already many on it. However, from this information and a sign in the park itself, I learned that the park is designated as a protected area Category 2 by the international body IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).

After further reading about the IUCN’s mandate of conserving biodiversity, and information on the park’s wetlands,  I really began to think about the significance of the diversity there. Point Pelee National Park is not only a significant Carolinian forest tract, but the ponds and pond plants there are home to a valuable aquatic ecosystem.

 

Unfortunately as civilization progresses, all too often the wetlands of Ontario are being filled in . A number of animals and birds can adapt by moving their habitat and following other food sources, but the toads, frogs, fish and minnows just to name a few, cannot live without the water!  Even the pond bottoms are important as the muck there provides food and shelter for many tiny creatures and nutrition for the many pond plants.

Plants wherever they may be, provide interest for the observer, but they also provide food for the insects that feed on them. While  garden pests  at  home are annoying and I wish they would just vanish, I never wanted them to become extinct…victims of a disappearing habitat. Little did I know how my recent kayak trip in this national park would connect me with this reality.

 

Entrance to Point Pelee National Park

A friend and I drove past countless cottages that lined the shore of the point as we headed in to Pelee National Park with kayaks and gear, ready for a day of adventure. Under a glorious blue sky we watched birds soar and nest at a three storey bird observation tower while we prepared to launch. With hats, suntan lotion and life vest on, we seated ourselves comfortably and headed in to a narrow channel as we headed out to see pond plants of Pelee National Park.

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

 

 

Following the channel, which ran alongside a raised boardwalk at first, it wasn’t long before we spotted nature’s water gardens…pond plants galore! At the start there were a few white water lilies but as the water passage widened their number grew until white blooms were as far as the eye could see. In fact more flowering plants were seen than I had dared imagine

 

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park

Pond plants of Point Pelee National Park are amazing!Between the big lily pads of the white flowers whose many petals stuck out like little spikes, there were smaller bright yellow ones with curled up petals. Of course I got my handy, tiny camera out of my life vest pocket and began to snap away!Pond plants at Point Pelee National park are everywhere! Not to be outdone were the smaller but lovely blue/purple blooms of what I later identified as Pickerelweed. Before long the channel tightened and as we rounded the bend, large pink flowers appeared that looked like the mallow in my garden back home.

Pickerelweed flower

Wild Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

These tall blooms grew high among the tall cattails as part of a lovely marshland bouquet. The sounds of these plants swishing in the warm wind blowing and the call of overhead birds combined in  nature’s  symphony! While this day had been amazing so far, little did I know there were  more surprises in store, as  I floated along with the pond plants of  Point Pelee National Park.

Before leaving this view behind and turning back past the windsock  that flew high overhead by the main channel back, I decided to risk the small lake ahead. The wind had picked up as had the waves ,but with a little extra energy on the paddles it wasn’t long until I reached Nirvana! There in front of me were pale yellow flowers that rose over a foot out of the water and towered over the biggest floating leaves I had ever seen!

In fact, the leaves were so huge I needed a paddle blade in the picture for scale. Then there were the blossoms themselves, that blew in the breeze so I had to hold one tightly to admire and shoot up close. There were buds waiting to bloom, fully open flowers and an occasional seed head waiting to dry and drop its seeds to the bottom. What these pond plants were was a mystery to me, I hoped to solve later.

 

 

 

 

 

As the clouds rolled in and the waves picked up, my friend and I headed back to the safety of the shallow waters and so our aquatic garden tour had come to a close. Back at the hotel that night, I did some online research and found  all the information I had hoped for and more! The large yellow lily was in fact Nelumbo Lutea and is very rare in Canada!

Not only are the plants rare themselves, but they only flower in July and August with the flowers open from mid-morning to early afternoon. Wow I certainly timed it right! These gems, along with the more common white lily’s ( family Nymphaea ),and the tinier bright yellow Bullhead lily (Nuphar family) are just a few of the spectacular pond plants of Pelee National Park !

Bullhead Lily flower

 

White Water Lily

 

Certainly the need to protect the Carolinian ecosystem as a whole is important, and leaving the marshlands as unique sites of biodiversity is a must! Tempting as it was to take a dry seed head and try and grow in in water at home, I resisted.

Instead I donated extra funds to the park and hope to keep in touch with programmes and support they made need … and I might just be visiting an aquatic garden centre this coming spring, to stock up on my own pond plants!

 

Pelee Island Trip

Pelee Island trips can  be wonderful and defiinately an adventure as mentioned previously, when I  found poison ivy there. This noxious weed is only one among countless found on this quaint island. Certainly the entire island cannot be appreciated in one day, but I did see lovely woodlands, stunning beaches and heard many songbirds. In addition to being a calm, natural spot, I found it oddly exhilarating being at the southernmost tip of Canada.

 

Wikipedia Pelee Island Aerial

 

Pelee Island Trip

My Pelee Island trip began from Leamington Ontario, home of the Big Tomato Information booth and the largest number of greenhouses in Canada. Despite how much I enjoy Ketchup on fries, I spent no time viewing the area or its tomatoes before heading to the docks. There I boarded the Jimaan Ferry for a 1 hr. and 45 minute trip to the main dock on the island’s west side.

 

Pelee Island Ferry

The ferry sold a variety of items in their gift shop including several interesting books on Pelee as well as the standard nautical souvenirs. On the wall there was a topographical map of the surrounding area, so I got a better idea of how close we were to the U.S. and the number of islands that make up what is known as The West Lake Erie Islands.

 

These islands, regardless of their country of ownership, form what is called an Archipelago. This is the term for a chain or cluster of islands, which in this case support a Carolinian forest eco system. While I was familiar with Carolinian forests, as my cottage is in one such area, until I visited Pelee I had no idea of the range of these environs.

In fact, “Carolinian” itself is a term used to describe a life or vegetative zone in Eastern North America characterized by a predominance of deciduous trees. Over the years since the origin of this designation came in to use in 1859 by J.G. Cooper of the United States, its usage has changed. Now the term is primarily used in Canada, and referred to as Eastern Deciduous or Eastern Woodlands, in the U.S.

Carolinian Forest

The northern edge of the area encompassed is below an approximate line drawn between Toronto on Lake Ontario to Grand Bend on Lake Huron, with the southern extension in to the Carolinas. In this area are pockets of the fertile mixed wood plains, as seen on Pelee Island. The Great lakes modify the surrounding area allowing animals, birds and plant life to survive, that are seldom found in other areas of Canada.

Typical Carolinian forest; trees are a mix of Hickory, Black Walnut,Sycamore, Chestnuts, Oaks and the rarer Red Mulberry, Dwarf Hackberry, Tulip tree and Kentucky Coffee trees. Not surprisingly, Poison Ivy is one of the native vines for this area, while wildflowers, Swamp Rose Mallow, Tall Coreopsis,Wild Bergamot,wild Lupine and Yellow Lotus can also be found blowing in the meadows and wetlands.

 

Yellow Lotus

 

Pink Mallow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique animals and reptiles are there as well. In fact the Island is home to the Gray Fox found only in one other location in Manitoba and a Blue Racer snake which is only found on Pelee. There are many more examples of wildlife unique to this area and island, many of which are now endangered species!

Unfortunately Carolinian forests are frequently near large populated areas of Ontario and then are at risk due to loss of wetlands, as cities grow. Even farmland expansion has a downside as it can destroy natural nesting and living areas. Certainly the balance of economy vs preservation of a natural eco system is quite delicate.

On Pelee Island, the farming has declined from 33 farms to less than 10 over the last twenty years as farmers’ retired and new machinery allowed larger tracts to be managed by individual farms. The population has declined as well. Around 1900 had almost 800 residents with 4 schools, 4 churches and 3 general stores. Certainly current transportation and recession issues have had an impact on the islands economy as there are only approximately 275 year round residents with one store, a post office, LCBO, bike rentals a few B&Bs and several restaurants.

As well Pelee Island Winery adds to the islands economy and provides another attraction for visitors. Fishing, boating, scenery and the annual Pheasant Hunt draw many tourists here and countless birders come each spring as migration patterns peak.

But  no Pelee Island Trip would be complete for me until I witnessed the peak …the  sandy one at the end of the island! As a gardener and lover of nature I certainly appreciated the lovely trees blowing in the wind and the birds heard high overhead but getting away was my main goal. In fact I was lookiing forward to leaving the city behind for some beach combing and a calmer atmosphere.

 

 

Beachcomber

Part of the calm I found was in the natural landscape, feeling the sand through my toes and hearing countless birds call from the shore. With the sun high overhead, beach combing was amazing as I headed to the end of Fish Point Park…to wave at the United States and the thousands of seagulls resting on the sandy finger that ends this lovely island.

 

 

Pelee Island was a joy to visit and I look forward to enjoying the Carolinian forest, friendliness of the residents and the lovely blooms of their gardens, in the near future…and of course walk the sandy shores and breath the fresh Lake Erie air!

 

Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee island came as quite a shock to me! Poison ivy is not new to rural gardeners  and has been the subject of many an information search. This noxious weed has even been  mentioned in a few of my past blogs and  found intermittently in my cottage garden,so it certainly should come as no surprise that I have witnessed first hand that it can indeed spread widely! Still, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that even on vacation I would find it… on an island!

Yes, I have currently visited Pelee Island and there the, rash inducing vine was  just waiting for me!  I was walking along enjoying the beautiful island scenery on a lovely sunny day, unaware of what lay below! Walking between the stones in the older section of the island’s cemetery, I saw one particular head stone had fallen over and a weed sticking out between the pieces. Thinking of respectfully clearing it away, I reached down only to catch myself in time to avoid touching the three leaves!

Point Ivy rest in Peace

 

After recovering from that surprise, I scanned other areas of the cemetery and noticed the Poison Ivy spreading to the point of taking over a family plot. Then of course there was more! Several trees had it climbing up their bark, it was growing in the sand and on the path at Fish Point Park…Canada’s most southerly point and it was on almost every walking trail! 

Poison Ivy spreading on Pelee Island

Now I was careful to walk, as the Buddhists would say, with mindfulness! My eyes were peeled to the ground around me as I walked in sandal-ed feet. Despite this green plaque, I did have a lovely time and would recommend visiting Pelee. On the horticulture front, there was an unusual site…that of some strange disease that left red bumps on the leaves of the poison Ivy. Could this be our salvation?

 

Poison Ivy with disease

 Poison Ivy Spreading on Pelee Island

I have decided that while there are many things that kill the toxic weeds in small patches, killing in large scale requires a great deal of work. What is not apparent with all sprays, blocking and cutting controls methods is the HUGE amount of patience and dedication required by the murderer ( alias the gardener)!

Surely if birds or contaminated soil brought the seeds to this island, how do we stand a chance against Poison Ivy spreading ? In fact, whether here in Ontario or our neighbours to the South, it seems the berries from poison ivy are an attractive food to a wide variety of birds .According  other sites I have read, over 50 species of birds are known to eat the small white round berries.

After further reading, I have come to realize that despite my personal run-ins with poison ivy, the rash, blisters and swelling, it is just another weed that can be controlled with lots of work. The biggest surprise was how interesting the information was on this particular plant is.

Many sites provide good information on how the birds transport the seeds. Stating that the non-digestible seeds are, passed out in to the soil and fertilized by the very birds that ate them, certainly explains the plants spread. I assume then, as Pelee Island and the surrounding area is on a major migratory route and home to vast varieties of birds, finding this Poison Ivy spreaad to an island shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Poison Ivy Friend

 

In fact the extent of this particular poisonous plant is from parts of Mexico in the south, in to the northern parts of Canada. Details provided in my searching say the plants can grow in most types of soil, from pH 6.0 to 7.9 (slightly acidic to slightly basic) and can tolerate moderate shade to full sun. Wow, it certainly is resilient!

One natural factor against the plant is high altitude as provided by the Rocky Mountains. The thinner air above 4000 feet seems to stifle these plants and to provide a physical barrier in both Canada and the U.S.A, with Poison Ivy on the east and poison Sumac in the west. Certainly nature does what it wants and like all perennial weeds, poison Ivy is determined to spread unless we work on controlling it.

Control and elimination are something that plaques many of us, especially if we have suffered with the rash, blisters and pain left by the urushiol from all parts of this plant .Yet, to the Japanese this oily compound is highly valued  as a finish  used  since the 16th century as the finish on their Lacquerware. The process they use is quite fascinating, but the source there is an urushi tree (Rhus vernicifera) which is becoming rare. At least with a tree, other trees would be safe from the clinging vine that eventually can strangle them and walking trails would be safer.

Despite any risk in my hiking on Pelee Island, the views and people there were lovely and I would recommend the ferry ride as well. From the most southern point of Canada, looking across the vast expanse of the sand point and the water beyond, the poison ivy spread  on Pelee Island was forgotten…and inspiration was supreme!

 

Pelee Island Fish Point Park

 

 

Other sources of information:

www.ontariotrees.com

 

www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/weedguide

 

Enhanced Species: Poison Ivy

 

www.stutler.cc/pens/wajima/urushi.html

 

Motivational Inspiration

Motivational inspiration

 

Motivational inspiration varies from person to person, as actions or changes we make in our lives that come from some form of inspiration. Motivational  is the term applied to any  change or new project we might take on as inspiration itself moves us.

Inspiration…now that is a tough thing to define for each person! Of course, as I claimed this is what started my blog, I have been giving this subject a great deal of thought. When the cottage garden flowers and all their colours got me out of the doldrums I had been in, having a green lawn was the furthest thing from my mind. 

 

In fact, my brain was pretty bogged down with a zillion and one worries, not unlike most other people, especially mothers! So what was I hoping for here was to provide help and inspiration.

It seems so far the part that has helped me most was writing the steps to a greener lawn , and although rather dull, it was a form of motivational inspiration!  To some, having a lovely lawn can be inspiring  and certainly it helped me feel better to drive up to my house in the city and see a green lawn where potholes once were. 

Motivational inspiration

Motivational inspiration is seldom an issue for enthusiastic gardeners! For all you gardeners that love your green blades of grass, enjoy! If the colours, sounds and movement of a newly refurbished garden , inspire you to try your hand at water painting, wood carving, scroll sawing, wooden garden art , writing a song, or dancing a jig then the inspiration of nature has helped bring you joy!

 

Joy however is not a word I would use to describe such natural things such as slugs, grubs and other squishy garden pests! Of course they are great snacks for birds, toads and even birds and beetles. 

 

 

Then of course, there is the matter of the Poison Ivy that is found growing along the ground and climbing to new heights through many a country meadow. Norfolk County, where my country cottage is located, is, as one local official stated, the Poison Ivy capital of Canada.

 

These leaves of three, along with those of Poison Oak and Poison Sumac contain an oil called Urushiol that causes an allergic reaction in approximately 85 % of the population. The oil can stay for months to years on articles of clothing etc and is even active in the smoke if you try and burn the poison Ivy. After several encounters with it myself I can tell you it will make deep potholes in your skin, make you swell up and  get very, very itchy.

What remains a mystery to me then is that birds, sheep and goats can eat poison ivy with no reaction…I guess they have strong stomachs! Personally a nice garden salad suits me better, with oil and vinegar dressing please. In fact there is nothing quite as yummy as fresh from your garden greens, tomatoes and other fresh veggies.

 

 

Unfortunately unlike Poison Ivy, garden veggies do not grow well without proper tending and with my time split between city and country (not to mention work), there is no vegetable garden at all this year. Despite motivational inspiration, last year I tried tomatoes in the city and onions in the country but both struggled  and withered with neglect…sob…I killed the poor things!

On a positive note, thanks to some hard work by myself and designated weeders who were corralled in to helping, both locations have something stimulating to see that brightens my days. Of course there are always worries galore that can bog us down and having a beautiful garden can’t take away painful things, but for brief moments a lovely landscape, art form or bloom can make me smile and sometimes gives me a brainwave or insight on a situation that hadn’t been considered…motivational inspiration!

 

Columbine Delight

Consider then that gardens are part of a meditation progress that can help us breath and clear the mind. There are a few techniques used in meditation including The “Conscious Breath” meditation that helps you to become aware of your breathing, without controlling it. I cannot begin to cover the subject of meditation breathing, conscious breathing, breathing for yoga, counted breath nor all the other defined relaxation and healing impacts from good, deep breathing.

 The two sites below are a fraction of those available on line that gives the reader some sense of the need to “take a deep breath” and relax.

 

http://helpguide.org/mental/stress_relief_meditation_yoga_relaxation.htm

 

http://healing.about.com/od/breathwork/a/consciousbreath.htm

  

By using these techniques or even that of mindful watching…of the wind blowing through the trees, bobbing flower heads, lifting birds high in to the sky can teach us many things. We can be reminded that so much is beyond our control and yet there is a newness and energy to life that we can harness if we choose! Let this inspiration motivate you to take a chance and try something new and remember the old saying…Rome wasn’t built in a day!