Thursday, June 19, 2014

Northern Leopard Frog - Lithobates pipiens - Grenouille léopard

Lithobates pipiens (family Ranidae, formerly Rana pipiens) is a species of least concern native to Canada and the United States. Frogs are quite a cool group of amphibians, and beautiful, too. This species is a member of the same family as Lithobates sylvatica (wood frog, also formerly Rana), like the one I posted a photo of last summer.

There were a large number of frogs at the marsh where I studied Caltha palustris while visiting QUBS. I managed to snatch this rather good shot of L. pipiens while there.

L. pipiens
Ranidae is a family also called "true frogs" and refers to those amphibians with the morphology and behaviour of characteristic of frogs (as distinguished from toads and salamanders). This is an evolutionarily ancient family, members of which can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

Yesterday evening E. and I went for a walk and ended up at a small park with a pond near the southern edge of the Glebe, where we saw a heron hunting in the reeds. It appeared to be quite efficient at catching minnows.

Just outside the park I caught a Bufo americanus (American toad, family Bufonidae) which was jumping in the road and returned it to the park. Of course, it peed on me for my trouble, which they tend to do when they're picked up. They also release some fairly noxious things from special glands when handled which can be harmful if you get it in your eyes or ingest it, so wash your hands after handling toads. (Note: they don't give you warts, that's a myth).

Both families (Ranidae, Bufonidae), among others, lay their eggs in water, where they hatch and live for a portion of the life cycle as tailed, limbless tadpoles. They then gradually develop their limbs and lose the tail and become mature adults.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Peonies - Peonia spp - Pivoines

So we also visited the ornamental gardens on our jaunt over the weekend. I took some photos of the peonies, which were putting on a gorgeous display. This is the only genus in the family Peoniaceae. These flowers are an extremely popular symbol in artworks (especially east asian) and in ornamental gardens. Many peonies are extremely fragrant.

The peonies in the front yard have started to bloom and they smell wonderful.

One can easily see that there are a number of different varieties here (and I did not photograph anywhere near the whole range of species at the gardens). One notable difference is in the number of petals. Many ornamental species have been bred to have more petals; this leads to a reduction of the androecium (fewer anthers), which reduces the sexual reproductive fitness of the plant. The peonies at the ornamental gardens would mostly have been propagated through root division (vegetative, ie asexual, reproduction). This is common for ornamental plants.

Peonies are very long-lived perennials which require little care and so make a very good ornamental plant. I do love their fragrance and would recommend them as a garden flower for those who can stand to wait a few years (peonies take several years to establish themselves before they will really bloom).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fletcher Wildlife Garden

So yesterday E. and I went for a long walk to the Experimental Farm and visited the arboretum, the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, and the Ornamental Gardens. Today I would like to share some of the photos I took at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden and talk a bit about the plants there.

In the butterfly meadow the Lupinus spp. (lupines, family Fabaceae) especially were making a remarkable and highly appealing display. Lupines have a number of interesting uses and characteristics which can be easily read about on the wikipedia page.

Lupinus sp.
Lupines are of course being planted in the butterfly meadow because of their appeal to a number of butterfly species both as habitat and as a source of food. We saw only one butterfly while visiting, a Papilio canadensis (Canadian tiger swallow-tail).

We did see a number of other pollinators foraging at the meadow, including a large number of Bombus spp. workers diligently collecting from the lupines.

Bombus sp. on Lupinus sp.

One thing that I noticed was that the Fletcher Wildlife Garden was absolutely overflowing with Cynanchum rossicum (dog-strangling vine, family Apocynaceae), which is a pretty competitive invasive species native to southern Europe.

C. rossicum
C. rossicum is a well-known problematic invasive species and is particularly worrisome at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden because I saw quite a lot of it near the butterfly meadow and it is known to choke out flowers which house and feed butterflies. It is also exceedingly difficult to control.

I also saw a lot of Symphytum officinale (common comfrey, family Boraginaceae) - no pictures unfortunately. It, like C. rossicum, is an introduced species in North America which now spans most of the continent and is native originally to Europe.

Another invasive species we noticed was Cynoglossum officinale (hound's tongue, family Boraginaceae), which is native to eastern Europe/Asia. It has spread across most of the North American continent now (range maps can be viewed at the USDA species profile).

C. officinale
One might, at this point, wonder why so many introduced species at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. This is a complicated question that has been asked (and continues to be investigated) by many ecologists. A well-accepted view is that these species fare particularly well in areas which have experienced some form of disturbance (human or otherwise); the Fletcher Wildlife Garden is located at the Experimental Farm, which is of course in the middle of Ottawa, so we can be fairly well-assured in assuming that the principal source of disturbance in this case is human activity. Roads, of course, constitute a major corridor for the movement of invasive species.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Eagle Rock - Montagne de l'aigle

Near Cayamant, QC, there is an old lookout called la montagne de l'aigle (literally 'eagle mountain', usually called Eagle Rock in English).

The views from up there are quite pleasing, affording a fairly high vantage point to view the winding path of la rivière de l'aigle ('eagle river').

Here it is in early spring.

La rivière de l'aigle - vue du belvédère de la montagne de l'aigle

This picture shows very nicely that in this area, the river actually is more like a wetland with a passable section; it's all marshy scrub down there.

I may have gone off the path and up to the cliff a bit
These pictures are taken mid-May, just as the canopy is starting to close. The folliage wasn't yet full out but it wasn't more than a few days before it was. You can see that the choke cherries (bottom right) are blooming.

Le belvédère de la montagne de l'aigle offre une vue spectaculaire sur la rivière de l'aigle près de Cayamant. Le sentier ni le belvédère ne sont plus maintenus (la compangie qui faisait l'amménagement ne semble plus être en opération), donc je conseille que ceux qui y vont tiennent cette information en tête; ce n'est pas un endroit sans ses dangers (les fallaises sont les plus visibles des dangers dans une forêt non-aménagée, mais pas les seuls danger).

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bridal Veil Falls - La Chute du voile de mariée

The spring melt always has a rather dramatic effect on waterways in Gatineau. We get a lot of snow, which becomes a lot of water in the springtime. Here's Bridal Veil Falls (on the MacKenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park), first a photo I took and posted in August 2013.

August 2013
And this is the same Bridal Veil Falls (from a bit further down) in May 2014.

May 2014
There were, in fact, quite a lot of falls in the area which appear to be temporary (don't look like a stream bed).

Temporary waterfall joining the stream on Bridal Veil Falls
I would highly recommend visiting Gatineau Park to anybody who gets the opportunity. There are lots of trails available for hikers of a wide range of skill and a great many beautiful sights to see.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Bloodroot - Sanguinaria canadensis - Sanguinaire du Canada

Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot, fr: sanguinaire du Canada) is an herbaceous perennial from the family Papaveraceae. It, like many of the others I've talked about in the last week, has ant-dispersed seeds (myrmecochory), so its seeds have elaisomes. S. canadensis is bee-pollinated. The flowers senesce very quickly after pollination so the floral display is quite short-lived in this plant.

S. canadensis
Leaves are broad, rounded, highly variable in toothedness, and basal only. There is one flower on a single stalk on each plant. Petals are white, androecium is yellow. A readily identifiable plant in the early spring.

S. canadensis is called bloodroot because of the red juice found in its roots. This juice is composed mostly of sanguinarine, which is a pretty powerful toxin. Sanguinarine kills animal cells and has been known to result in serious scarring when applied to the skin and in death from ingestion. Please, do not mess about with the juice of this plant.

There are a few extremely preliminary studies which suggest the possibility that sanguinarine might be helpful in the treatment of cancer. However, these results are very preliminary indeed and DO NOT justify sanguinarine being touted as a cancer remedy; considerably more research is needed to determine if and how it could be used as a treatment for cancer. We simply do not know enough about it right now and people are more likely to do themselves harm than good trying to use sanguinarine to treat cancer. Note that S. canadensis is on the FDA list of false cancer 'cures' to be avoided.

S. canadensis
S. canadensis is secure in most of Canada but may be at risk in Manitoba. Be advised, therefore, that particularly if you are in Manitoba you should take care not to damage this plant unnecessarily.  S. canadensis, in the more southern part of its range in the US, is mostly unranked but listed as exploitatively vulnerable or special concern in two states.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Trout Lily - Erythronium americanum - Érythrone d'Amérique

Erythronium americanum (trout lily, fr: Érythrone d'Amérique) is a very long-lived forest understory perennial from the family Lilaceae. It is a spring ephemeral (meaning that the plant emerges and senesces before the forest canopy has closed). This plant is most easily identified by its mottled grey and green leaves; each plant produces either one or two of these leaves, which are arranged basally. The flower is yellow, sometimes with red or purple spots toward the inside; there are six tepals, which can be heavily recurved. The flower is slightly nodding, pointing the ground.

E. americanum - all major points of anatomy visible
The above photograph was taken without damaging the plant; I gently bent the flower stalk down and righted it when I was done. These plants rely on a very narrow window of sunlight in the early spring to store energy in the rhizome for growth and blooming the following year, so it is best to damage them as little as possible.

Note that the anthers are of varying lengths and sizes. They look red here because they have not yet opened to expose the pollen (this flower had opened the same morning that I took the photo).

This flower blooms extremely rarely; some estimate that only about 1/60 plants will bloom in a given year. My observation suggests that this number could be lower in some places, such as where I took these photographs at QUBS. The plants take several years to achieve reproductive maturity, and once achieving it will bloom only occasionally.

E. americanum  - note the heavily recurved sepals

This plant is particularly suitable for certain types of pollination studies where one wants to know which individuals are successfully pollinating other individuals. This is because there is a naturally occurring difference in pollen colour in some of these individuals; the general population has yellow pollen, while occasionally an individual has brown pollen. This allows researchers to take an individual with brown pollen, plant it in amongst individuals with brown pollen, and actually track exactly where the brown individual's pollen ends up going. There are techniques to do this with plants which don't have different flower morphs, but they generally entail putting a fluorescent dye on the pollen and this does somewhat alter its characteristics, eg weight (and is therefore a potential confound).

E. americanum
E. americanum is listed as secure in Canada and secure in most of its US range, except in Iowa where it is threatened.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Trilliums - Trillium spp. - Trilles

Trillium erectum (red trillium, fr: trille rouge) and Trillium grandiflorum (white trillium, fr: trille blanc) are common sights in Quebec and Ontario in the early spring. The Trillium genus is in the Lilaceae family based on genetic evidence, though it used to be listed in a separate family and in spite of the fact that it displays a few characteristics which are slightly odd for the Lilaceae family (eg distinct sepals).

All Trillium spp. are myrmecochorous (see yesterday's post for discussion of myrmecochory), spring ephemeral, herbaceous perennials with thick rhizomes, and also display the distinctive sets of three in their morphology which make the trilliums so recognizable. There is a popular theory that Trillium spp. seeds have been dispersed wide distances (post-glacial expansion) by deer herbivory; I would comment only that deer herbivory and myrmecochory shouldn't generally go hand-in-hand as dispersal mechanisms, as myrmecochory is metabolically expensive and we would expect an advantage to the loss of this dispersal system if an alternative were available to the plant.

T. grandiflorum is the provincial flower of Ontario. It is primarily bee-pollinated and its seeds ant-dispersed.

T. grandiflorum in Gatineau Park
In Quebec at least, T. grandiflorum appears to form these vast colonies of thousands upon thousands of individuals. This photo shows a carpet of the flowers extending as far as one can see. In spite of a certain amount of concern over habitat losses and commercial collection for gardening, this species is listed as secure in Canada. Note, however, that it is listed as endangered or vulnerable in the US.

T. grandiflorum - with distinctive sets of 3 (leaves, sepals, petals)
T. grandiflorum flower
T. erectum, unlike T. grandiflorum, is not bee-pollinated. Instead, it is fly-pollinated. This is why it has a distinctly unpleasant odour (usually likened to wet dog); this odour attracts the flies which pollinate the species.

T. erectum flower with distinctive sets of 3
T. erectum is listed as secure in Canada, but, like T. grandiflorum, is listed as endangered, vulnerable, or threatened in the US.

T. erectum flower
I've always had a particular fondness for the red trillium, which is the only one of these two which grows at the lake (the property doesn't have any suitable places for T. grandiflorum)

T. erectum

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Squirrel Corn - Dicentra canadensis - Dicentre du Canada

This post is a companion to yesterday's post about D. cucullaria. Dicentra canadensis (squirrel corn, fr: dicentre du Canada), like D. cucullaria, is toxic. Both, interestingly, exhibit an unusual seed dispersal method called myrmecochory, which is seed dispersal by ants. The seeds of both plants have a fatty & proteinaceous deposit (an elaiosome), which attracts the ants as food. The ants collect the seeds, bring them to their colonies, consume the elaiosomes, and deposit the rest in the colony trash heap, where the seeds are comparatively protected and free to germinate.

D. canadensis inflorescence
D. canadensis, like D. cucullaria, is pollinated by Bombus spp. queens, the only insect pollinators strong enough to separate the outer petals of the corolla and access the nectar.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dutchman's Breeches - Dicentra cucullaria - Dicentre à capuchon

(English below)

Cette fleur fait parti de la famille Papaveraceae (pavots). La plante entière est toxique et grâce à cela elle évite de se faire consommé par les chevreuils. La prédation des chevreuils a des effets nuisibles aux fleurs du printemps.

D. cucullaria
La toxicité de Dicentra cucullaria est grâce aux alcaloïdes qui s'y retrouvent.

D. cucullaria est pollinée par une espèce unique d'abeille: Bombus bimaculatus. La reine de B. bimaculatus sort de la terre le printemps en même temps que D. cucullaria commence à fleurir et elle est la seule insecte capable d'obtenir le nectar. Le nectar se retrouve dans les éperons de la fleur, qui sont en haut; pour y accéder, il faut séparer les deux pétales extérieures de la corolla. Ceci exige plus de force que la majorité de pollinateurs sont capable d'atteindre. Seule la reine de B. bimaculatus est capable. Les deux espèces, par conséquence, ont des impactes l'un sur l'autre sur le trajet évolutionaire. Ceci agit de coévolution.

D. cucullaria inflorescence; inflorescence de D. cucullaria

Comme le nectar est très attirant et vaut la peine d'obtenir, il y a d'autres insectes qui on une autre stratégie. Il y a des insectes qui percent le corolla pour y voller le nectar, en ce faisant évitant l'exigance de force pour le prendre.

D. cucullaria with evidence of nectar robbing (note the holes in the corolla); évidence du vol de nectar sur D. cucullaria (noter les trous dans le corolla)
This flower is part of the Papaveraceae (poppy) family. The whole plant is toxic and because of this it has avoided deer predation. Deer predation has had serious negative impacts on spring ephemerals in many places.

D. cucullaria's toxicity comes from a number of harmful alkaloids found in its tissues.

This species is pollinated by Bombus spp. queens, primarily a single species: Bombus bimaculatus. The B. bimaculatus queen emerge from underground in the spring at the same time that D. cucullaria starts to flower and she is the only insect able to get the plant's nectar. The nectar is stored in the nectar spurs of the flower, which are pointing upward in this flower. In order to get the nectar, it is necessary to separate the two outer petals of the corolla; this requires considerable strength, which the majority of pollinators simply do not have. Only the B. bimaculatus queen does (of the pollinators out during the blooming season of D. cucullaria). The two species have thus impacted each others' evolutionary processes. This is called coevolution.

Given that the nectar is attractive and is worth some effort to collect, there are also insects who use a different strategy to get it. There are nectar robbers as well, who pierce the corolla to get the nectar, thus avoiding the strength requirement. Naturally, this provides no benefit to the flower (no pollination occurs).

Friday, May 30, 2014

Garden - Jardin

So I've finished all of the major planting and seeding for this season now in the garden. It's looking pretty good.

We have the deck, where I've planted: beets, carrots, herbs (basil, oregano, winter savoury, sorrel, coriander, parsley, thyme; last year's chives have come up with their usual vigour, so much that we're using them like a vegetable), mustard greens, lettuces, arugula, cantaloupe. I also have some flowers to attract pollinators and for decoration: browallia, calibrachoa, Thunbergia alata (black-eyed susan vine), begonias, morning glories.

This year we got blue/purple calibrachoa in order to attract more Bombus up to the deck; there's a fair bit of good scienctific evidence suggesting that they are more attracted to blue flowers.

On the lower deck, we have: basil (4 planters), grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spinach, corn, beans, fig.

Beans! (with a side of spinach!)

In the back garden, we have: corn, lettuces, leeks, kale, mustard greens, strawberries (the bed was established last year and promises to produce amply this year), basil (4 rows), fennel, dill, sage, garlic chives, catnip, carrots, shepherd's peppers. There is also the apple tree.

Back garden!
 The wire cage you see around the garden in this photo is to keep the squirrels and raccoons out. For several years running, they killed every single apple on the tree and ravaged my tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. No more, with the aid of this trusty cage! The cage also covers the garden and tree from above, with the only entrance through a door which I keep closed unless I'm in the garden. Bonus: keeps the cats from using the garden as a litter box.

Fertilized apple!
The pollinators seem to have done their job this year with the apples; unless I miss my guess we should have somewhere between 150-250 apples this year.

You may be wondering what the heck we're going to do with so much basil (equivalent of about 40ft of row). The answer is pesto. All of the pesto. If we eat pesto twice a week to keep up, nobody's going to complain. I'm plotting also to make a lasagne which substitutes basil for the spinach, and to make basil-stuffed ravioli this summer. We'll certainly be able to use it all. It also freezes excellently so I'll just collect it all at the end of the season and freeze it for later.

The front garden is considerably less comestible but also all set up. The lilacs are in profuse bloom and the peonies promise to give a great show. I deadheaded all of the tulips today, as they've reached the end of their blooming season now. They don't look super-pretty now but I want them to get as much energy into the bulbs for next year's blooms as possible, so I won't remove them for another week or two. After that I'll plant something in that bed, perhaps some browallia or begonias.

Front garden

Also, I'm making cinnamon rolls today. Om nom nom.

Cinnamon rolls rising. Om nom nom.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Marsh Marigold - Caltha palustris - Populage des marais

During my time at QUBS, I did some (undergraduate, short-term, for a field course) research on Caltha palustris (marsh marigold, fr: populage des marais), family Ranunculaceae. It was a remarkably profuse bloomer and appears to be a pollinator generalist - it was pollinated by just about any insect which pollinates flowers, including bees (mostly Apis mellifera), bumble bees (Bombus spp.), solitary bees (diverse groups from Hymenoptera), syrphid flies (Syrphidae), true flies (Diptera), beetles (Coleoptera), and ants* (Formicidae). There were also some moths & butterflies around (Lepidoptera) but following our observation paradigm, my colleague and I witnessed no instances of these pollinators visiting the flowers - most likely just because they were so rare that it would have taken considerably more observer effort to see the Lepidopterans visiting C. palustris. There was no indication that birds pollinate C. palustris and I have no idea if bats visit the flowers (unlikely, as flowers which are specialized to attract insects tend not to have the various specializations which would attract birds or bats).

C. palustris
Solitary bee on C. palustris
C. palustris' conservation status is unranked but considering that it grows in wetlands (an increasingly threatened ecosystem), one should presumably treat the plant with caution. It certainly appeared in remarkable profusion at our study site, so we did not take extraordinary measures to safeguard it against our movement through the marsh etc, but I cannot speak for other sites. A good rule of thumb is to damage as little as possible regardless of the conservation status of an organism.

C. plaustris came rapidly into bloom at the test site and the flowers began to senesce within a few days. It is unclear whether the floral senescence was triggered by pollination (pollinators were remarkably abundant) or if the plant only ever sustains them for a few days.

C. palustris at the marsh - day 0 (project planning)

C. palustris at the marsh - day 1 (data collection)

Our study looked at the impact of floral outline (highly variable in this species) on pollinator behaviour. Tentatively, our results suggest that  the introduction of A. mellifera may end up altering the phenotype distribution in this population, as the A. mellifera showed a statistically significant preference for floral morph where the native pollinators do not. This has widespread implications for plant populations in North America -- however, we should take these results with a huge grain of salt because the data was collected by two undergrads in three days and the stats were an overnight affair.

Research photo used to quantify floral outline variation
As above
As above

I actually enjoyed sloshing about in the marsh, even when I was wet and muddy and losing my rubber boots to the mucky depths.Somehow, the tedium of watching bees land on flowers all day in the muck was quite agreeable to me.

*it is possible that the ants were not pollinating but rather stealing nectar, ie taking the pollinator reward without providing any pollen transfer for the flower; ants do pollinate some flowers but are mostly nectar-robbers. My colleague and I did not have a chance to establish with any certainty whether the ants were antagonists or mutualists with C. palustris.

C. palustris

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Turtles - Testudines - Tortues

On Saturday, I went out with E in the kayaks and saw many turtles. We saw mostly Chrysemys picta (painted turtle); in a short jaunt outside in the kayaks we saw seven, of which most were sunning themselves on a log which appears to be particularly suitable for turtle sunning (it's at just the right angle for them to walk comfortably up the trunk from the water). I don't usually take my camera out when I go out on the water, so I only have one somewhat poor photo of C. picta for the weekend, taken from the shore. I've added a shot I took at QUBS in early may which shows the shell better.

C. picta - at the lake
C. picta has a conservation status of least concern both in Canada and the United States. This species is easy to spot because of its habit of coming out of the water to bask in the sun. On a Sunday kayak jaunt with my mother, we saw nine of them, of which six were sunning themselves together on the abovementioned good turtle sunning log.

C. picta - at QUBS
I also spotted one Chelydra serpentina (common snapping turtle). It also is a species of least concern in the US and Canada. However, they are much harder to spot because they don't come out of the water to bask in the sun. They're actually quite a rare sight at the lake even though they're Canada's largest freshwater turtle -  they are remarkably inconspicuous. The photo posted on this blog last year showed C. serpentina in a very characteristic posture; they like to bury themselves in silt with little but their noses exposed for breathing, which makes them very hard to see from above the surface (my mother has had better luck while snorkelling).

This weekend, I was wandering the shoreline in search of frogs when I noticed a small C. serpentina basking in the sun next to a log. I say 'small'; they can get very big indeed and this individual's carapace was only about 9' long (a respectable but by no means remarkable size for this species). I have encountered ones much larger than this at the lake. I remember a particularly incredible encounter with a huge one during an early morning kayak trip some years ago; I mistook its head for a log sticking out of the water but it was actually a gigantic snapper sunning itself in the shallows. It must have been at least 20' in the shell and I think that's a low estimate. It measured quite a bit longer than my kayak paddle from nose to tail, at any rate; maybe half of that was shell.

One never seems to have one's camera during such encounters, unfortunately, so we will have to content ourselves with photos of the smaller C. serpentina taken over the weekend.

It isn't uncommon for us to find tiny C. serpentina hatchlings in the bay, hiding amongst the accumulation of poplar leaves (Populus spp.).

C. serpentina - at the lake
A lovely creature, head retracted as it attempts to be inconspicuous.

C. serpentina