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.