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

Monday, May 26, 2014

Orchidaceae - Cypripedium spp. - Orchids - Orchidées

I photographed two species of orchid at the lake this weekend. Both are native to the area; one is rather common and the other exceedingly rare.

The more common species is Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (large yellow lady's slipper, fr: Sabot de la vierge). It is an extremely distinctive flower of the family Orchidaceae; its conservation status is not listed in Canada (species profile at Plants of Canada database) as far as I can tell, but it is listed in the US as threatened or endangered in several states (USDA species profile). Other sources, bafflingly enough, list this flower as abundant in Canada. As it stands I'll stick with the information provided by official sources and assume that C. parviflorum var pubescens is either not at risk in Canada or unresearched here.

My (purely anecdotal, entirely biased, completely unreliable) personal observational sense would suggest that this species is not particularly rare at least in Gatineau, as it appears to be relatively abundant. Mind you, I'm talking about a relatively small plot of land which is unusually well-protected, so perhaps my perception is skewed by their relative commonness in the area where I usually spend my outdoors time. In any case, I counted 61 individuals in a 15"x10" plot just by the driveway of the house this weekend, including one clearly mutated individual which had two flowers on the same stalk (this species is supposed to have a single stalk with a single flower at the top). There are a number of populations scattered around the property, most of them as large or larger than the one we surveyed.

It is quite a charming flower and remarkably fragrant, a characteristic quite common in the Orchidaceae. It also displays the Orchidaceae apomorphies of bilateral symmetry and heavily modified petals.

Stand of C. parviflorum var. pubescens

C. parviflorum var. pubescens flower in front view
This front view of the C. parviflorum var. pubescens flower shows nicely the bilateral symmetry characteristic of the family. I've always been quite charmed by the way the sepals curl in this flower.

C. parviflorum var. pubescens lateral view
This image shows a bit more clearly the heavy modification of the three petals. The large, bulbous portion of the flower is one petal; the other two are curled together at the centre of the flower over the opening in the first.

The other species I photographed at the lake is a bit more unusual. Cypripedium arietinum (ram's head orchid, fr: cypripède tête de bélier) is rare and listed as a species at risk in Quebec. It is also listed as threatened or endangered in the US. The colony on the property seems to be relatively prosperous for the moment; last year we counted about 200 individuals along about 500"x30" (they are distributed roughly in a strip near the shore of the lake); this year we counted 132 individuals and saw evidence of deer predation on the orchids (clipped/bitten plants). We are considering putting protective cages around some of the more accessible plants to see if we can't cut down on deer predation for this vulnerable population.

This species also displays the interesting apomophies of the family listed above.

C. arietinum
I think this is a fairly nice specimen photo of this flower. I'm pleased with the way it came out. I've also always loved the spiderweb-like patterns on this orchid. It is much smaller than the Large Yellow Lady's Slipper and considerably harder to spot in the woods. It takes a fair bit of effort to locate individuals among the brush; they are shorter, the flowers are smaller, and the flower profile is much more subtle from above (the upper sepal overhangs the flower, hiding it from view and having a tendency to make the plant look a whole lot like just another Streptopus amplexifolius or Maienthemum racemosum.

C. arietinum