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Toothwort & West Virginia White

Written by: Rachel Pigden

 

In Ontario and beyond, the beloved monarch butterfly is known as a flagship species for pollinator conservation. Perhaps one of the biggest successes of the monarch conservation movement is its emphasis on the importance of native plants in protecting pollinators (and other wildlife). Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), once villainized as a noxious weed, is now recognized for its critical role as the sole food source for monarch larvae.  But monarchs and milkweed are only part of the story—Ontario is home to several other butterflies-at-risk that rely on specific native plants to survive. Follow along as we profile some of these special butterfly-plant pairings.

Walk through a temperate forest in the early spring and you will be greeted by nature’s early risers: the spring ephemerals. These perennial plants are specialists that emerge and grow quickly early in the year, then die back and remain underground as warm weather approaches. While the spring ephemerals are known as harbingers of hope for those anxious for gardening season to begin, they also fill an important ecological niche by providing early food and habitat for wildlife.

 

One group of spring ephemerals, the Toothworts, is particularly important for the West Virginia White, a small-to-medium white butterfly classified as species of special concern in Ontario. Toothworts are small perennials in the mustard (Brassicaceae) family; the favorite species of West Virginia Whites in Ontario is Two-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla). The West Virginia White is adapted to the fleeting nature of Toothwort: these butterflies hatch only one brood per year, from solitary eggs laid on the plants in early spring. Larvae feed for 10-20 days after hatching, then pupate and hibernate until the following spring, when adults once again emerge alongside their host plant and the cycle repeats.

 

West Virginia Whites are found throughout the Great Lakes states and southern Ontario (some reports suggest they may be found in Quebec as well). Across their range, they face the same habitat loss and fragmentation, pressure common to many species adapted to interior forest habitats. These butterflies are strict forest specialists: they require continuous tree cover and are unable to adapt to common forest interruptions such as hydro corridors. Another significant threat to the species is invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)—and the problem is two-fold. Garlic Mustard not only outcompetes Toothwort in forest floors but is also toxic to West Virginia White larvae that hatch on the plants because adults are attracted to them.

 

What can be done?

 

Sources/Additional Reading

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New Jersey Tea, Prairie Redroot, & the Mottled Duskywing

Written by: Rachel Pigden

 

In Ontario and beyond, the beloved monarch butterfly is known as a flagship species for pollinator conservation. Perhaps one of the biggest successes of the monarch conservation movement is its emphasis on the importance of native plants in protecting pollinators (and other wildlife). Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), once villainized as a noxious weed, is now recognized for its critical role as the sole food source for monarch larvae.  But monarchs and milkweed are only part of the story—Ontario is home to several other butterflies-at-risk that rely on specific native plants to survive. Follow along as we profile some of these special butterfly-plant pairings.

 

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) and the closely related but less common Prairie Redroot (C. herbaceus) are specialist shrubs adapted to some of Ontario’s most at-risk habitats: prairies, alvars, open woodlands and savannas. Belonging to the Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn) family, these two species and their associated habitats evolved alongside fire: periodic low-grade burning prevents later successional species from overtaking the habitat and at the same time stimulates fire-adapted species to grow.

Where New Jersey Tea and Prairie Redroot thrive, there is another beneficiary: the Mottled Duskywing Butterfly (Erynnis martialis). A small and unassuming moth-like butterfly in the Skipper family, the Mottled Duskywing is a federally and provincially (in Ontario) endangered species. Like the Karner Blue butterfly, this species is non-migratory. Adults lay eggs on New Jersey Tea or Prairie Redroot, which are the only known food source species for the larvae.

                       Map from NCC, Source COSEWIC, 2012 

 

Threats to the Mottled Duskywing and its host plants often go hand in hand: fire suppression resulting in habitat succession (although the relationship of this butterfly to fire is not fully understood), habitat loss or replacement, invasive species (in particular Dog-Strangling Vine) and deer over-browsing all play a role in the species’ decline. While New Jersey Tea and Prairie Redroot are not considered species-at-risk, the loss of large patches of these plants, their associated ecosystems, and other landscape features preferred by the Mottled Duskywing (such as puddles and hills) mean that quality Mottled Duskywing habitat is scarce. Remaining butterflies are thought to exist in small, isolated populations which leaves them more susceptible to disturbances.

 

What can be done?

 

Sources & Additional Reading

Fire Effects on New Jersey Tea 

Government of Ontario - Mottled Duskywing Recovery Strategy

WPC - Mottled Duskywing

NCC - Mottled Duskywing 

 

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Wild Lupine & Karner Blue 

Written by: Rachel Pigden 

 

In Ontario and beyond, the beloved monarch butterfly is known as a flagship species for pollinator conservation. Perhaps one of the biggest successes of the monarch conservation movement is its emphasis on the importance of native plants in protecting pollinators (and other wildlife). Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), once villainized as a noxious weed, is now recognized for its critical role as the sole food source for monarch larvae.  But monarchs and milkweed are only part of the story—Ontario is home to several other butterflies-at-risk that rely on specific native plants to survive. Follow along as we profile some of these special butterfly-plant pairings.

 

In Ontario, the name lupine calls to mind profuse and colourful (white, pink, or purple) spiked blooms in early summer and unmistakable whorled leaves. Found along roadsides and in gardens across Ontario, this species is Garden Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)—a heavily cultivated species native to western Canada and the United States, but non-native to central and southern Ontario.  

Take a trip to the Karner Blue Sanctuary near Pinery Provincial Park, and you will find another lupine species—Wild Lupine (L. perennis), which is native to Ontario and is the sole larval food source for the Karner Blue butterfly. Smaller and more pubescent—though equally as endearing—as its cultivated cousin, Wild Lupine is found in some of Ontario’s most at-risk ecosystems: savannas, dunes, and barrens. The loss of such habitats and of wild lupine is a major factor in the decline of Karner Blues in Ontario.

Map from "Conserving Karner Blue Butterflies in Wisconsin A Development of Management Techniques" (Hess & Hess, 2015) 

 

The Karner Blue is a small, deep blue to brown-blue butterfly historically found in a band stretching across the Great Lakes states and southern Ontario. This attractive butterfly is non-migratory and has two adult generations per year, with the first generation hatching in the spring from eggs laid on L. perennis leaves the previous year. In their caterpillar stage, Karner Blues have a mutualistic relationship with mound-building ants: the ants protect them from predators, while the caterpillars in turn secrete a sweet substance for the ants to feed on.

 

Since 2008, the Karner Blue Butterfly has been listed as extirpated in Ontario, meaning no wild populations are known to exist. Efforts to reestablish populations in the United States are ongoing, but attempts to do so in Ontario will depend on habitat preservation and restoration efforts aimed at the rare ecosystems that host Lupinus perennis.

 

What can be done?

 

Sources & Additional Reading

 

Nature Canada - The Rare Karner Blue Butterfly

Government of Ontario - Karner Blue

Department of Environmental Conservation - Karner Blue Butterfly 

WPC - Karner Blue Butterfly 

Who we are - Karner Blue Sanctuary 

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Summer Graham

 

When we see a field of flowers, the thought of pollinators is often not far behind. Why can’t the same be said when we look at a field of vegetables, or our dinner plates? 

 

The fact is that pollinators (like bees, moths, butterflies, and birds) are responsible for about 1 in every 3 bites of food we eat every day! Without pollinators, we would be unable to produce crops at the rate we currently do, and the resulting food insecurity would be devastating.

 

What is pollination?

 

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma of another flower. This transfer is required to produce seeds, which develop when pollen goes to another flower of the same species.                                                                                                                       

 

Seeds are one method that plants use to reproduce and pass on their genetic diversity.  

Cross-pollinating species require a separate individual of the same species nearby and a vector, such as wind or a pollinator, to transfer pollen. Pollination doesn’t always require pollinators; in fact, some plant species are self-pollinating, meaning their flowers can fertilize themselves. 

 

 
Pollinator Diversity

Maintaining pollinator diversity is just as important as supporting and protecting pollinators. If we rely on only a handful of species to pollinate all our crops, we risk large-scale food shortages if a disease or other disaster was to impact certain pollinator populations. 

 

Some pollinator species are specialists (pollinating only one or two specific types of plants) instead of generalists (able to pollinate many species). For example, bees and flies visit and pollinate over 90% of the world’s major plant types, while other species, like birds, bats, butterflies, moths, ants, and beetles visit fewer than 6%.

 

Other species that might pollinate specific plants include cockroaches, mice, squirrels, monkeys, lizards, and even snails! Just because these species are not significant pollinators within our agricultural system, does not make them any less important to protect. The species pollinated by these specialists may rely almost solely on them to be able to reproduce, and so protecting pollinator diversity maintains diversity on other levels in our ecosystem as well.

 

How do we help pollinators?

 

Some key threats to pollinator populations include habitat loss and disturbance, habitat fragmentation, pesticide poisoning, and competition with exotic/introduced pollinator species. Here are some easy things you can do at home to help support your local pollinators!

 

  • Provide habitat by planting local, native species that support pollinators in all seasons
  • Practice “lazy gardening” by leaving leaf litter and debris (good for overwintering habitat) and avoiding lawn and garden chemicals
  • Reduce nighttime lighting outdoors to avoid impeding birds and insects as they navigate and find food

 

Protecting pollinators is about more than just saving the bees. We need to shift to more sustainable and efficient methods of food production that help all species of pollinators, not ones that harm them. By promoting native biodiversity on the landscape, we can enhance habitat for more pollinator species, and ensure that sustainable food production is available for generations to come.

 

Additional reading:

Pollinator.org – Bigger than Bees 

Diversity, Importance, and Decline of Pollinating Insects in Present Era

Wikipedia – List of Crops Pollinated by Bees 

 

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Written by: Summer Graham 

 

There are many things to consider when planning a landscape planting or garden, and this is especially true when you plan on including native plants. Horticultural species are often so popular because they can tolerate a wide range of conditions, and while native species are hardy in their own way, you still need to provide the proper environment for them to truly thrive.

 

Planting Site and Species Considerations

When you are ready to start planning for the type of species you want to plant, you should first consider the type of conditions you have present in your yard. Sometimes you can add amendments to soils or create variable moisture conditions to try and suit the species you want to plant, but for the most part it is easier to plant species that will succeed in the conditions you already have.

 

Soil conditions

The foundation of any good garden is the soil (literally). Even if you are adjacent to a natural area, the types of species found there might not thrive in your yard where soils are likely drier and more disturbed. When looking at the soil present in your planting area, it’s important to look at a variety of things including, but not limited to:

     - Type of soil – sand, clay, silt, etc.

     - Moisture content – dry, moist, wet, etc.

     - Drainage – does pooling occur after rainfall? Does runoff from your driveway bring ice salt or debris into your planting area?

     - Compaction – was the area you are planting previously a high-traffic area of your yard?

Another thing to consider is if you require soil amendments prior to planting. These are materials you can add to your soil to increase organic matter, improve the structure of your soil, improve water retention, and even adjust the pH.

 

Sun conditions

Make sure you also pay attention to the amount of sunlight your yard gets throughout the day. Just like horticultural species, some native species do best in partial shade that mimics the forest understory where they are naturally found, while others, like prairie species, do better in open areas that get plenty of full sun. Be sure to look at your yard at different times throughout the day and note the hours of direct vs. indirect sunlight, the direction your yard faces, and any shading that might occur from your house, your neighbours house, or other trees in your yard.

Other species present

You’ll also want to think about the other species (both flora and fauna) that are present when you look at the conditions of your area.

 

If you find your yard has a canopy of Black Walnut, you’ll want to opt for some Walnut tolerant species that can grow even with the presence of juglone. Juglone can cause Black Walnut Toxicity in plants planted within the root zone of Black Walnut or areas where leaves, stems, and fruit may fall. Another species you may want your plants to be resistant to are White-tailed Deer, to reduce the likelihood that deer graze heavily and potentially harm or  kill your plants.

 

You’ll also want to consider which species grow well together, and look nice together if you are planting for aesthetics!  

 

 

Other considerations

When it comes to choosing native species, you’ll also want to consider:  

  • The wildlife species you want to attract:
    • Pollinators – make sure you plant both host and food plants for the specific species you want to have (e.g. Milkweed for Monarch Butterflies)
    • Birds and other wildlife – think about what species need for all their life cycles, like where they nest, live, and what they eat. If the species you want to attract stays local in the winter, consider plants that retain their berries in the cold months or provide shelter from snowstorms.
  • Other functions, wind break, privacy screen, etc.  – if you are looking for year-round privacy, opt for a dense, bushy evergreen like Eastern White Cedar.
  • If pets or children will access the area – you may want to avoid plants with thorns or prickles, or that may be toxic if consumed.

Whatever species you choose, try to purchase or sustainably source individuals from a local population that will be better suited for the local environment and conditions.

 

Ready to make a list? Make a free account and head to our species page today to use our filters and find the best species for you! 

 

Additional reading:

CanPlant – Getting Started 

Sound Native Plants – Species Selection guide 

The Spruce – Soil Amendments 

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Written by: Nicole White

 

There are many ways of understanding plants. Scientific study, home gardening, ecological restoration work, and traditional knowledge modalities all offer people significant ways to meaningfully connect with plants and gain an appreciation for the services and beauty they offer.

 

My interest started with growing up in a rural area and being intrigued by the wild edible plants, such as Lamb's Quarters and Mint, that could be found in my backyard. Later I worked at a botanical garden, which got me interested in more big-picture topics like forest succession and pollination. Now, as a GIS technician at Dougan and Associates and part of the CanPlant team, I often engage with plant knowledge using data, and databases.

 

A green icon representing a database, surrrounded by illustrated branches and leaves

 

The species pages you can explore on the CanPlant website are powered by an underlying database– that is, an organized collection stored and accessed on a computer. This database contains names, photographs, and various traits (such as native and introduced geographic ranges, bloom colour, and compaction tolerance) for about 5,000 plant species that occur in Canada, all stored in a way that is structured and easily retrieved, modified, or analyzed.

 

While there may be nuances of biology a typical database system cannot capture, and complex questions these technologies cannot answer in full, the beauty of storing information this way is that it allows us to analyze the collected data in ways that can give us useful (or at least interesting) insights, or raise new questions to inspire further investigation.

 

One question we recently considered is what a phylogenetic tree created from the CanPlant database would look like and what further research and exploration this could inspire.

 

A phylogenetic tree (or 'tree of life') is a branching diagram, visually tracing the evolutionary lineage of a set of organisms back to a common ancestor. All of life on Earth could be traced back to a single ancestor this way. Phylogenetic trees created from more specific datasets are increasingly being used in ecological and biogeographic studies that allow us to learn more about biology and evolution.

 

An early hand-drawn tree of life by Ernst Haeckel

A 19th-century phylogenetic tree.

 

Phylogenetic trees used to be hand-drafted by scientists, but can now be created quickly and easily using open source tools developed by unselfish computer programmers. I used the R programming language and an R package called V.Phylomaker to generate a phylogeny based on the CanPlant database, and a Neo4j graph to store and visualize the results.

 

A modern tree of life based on genome sequencing

A modern tree of life based on genome sequencing.

 

R is a programming language widely used by statisticians and data analysts. It incorporates machine learning, linear regression, statistical inference, and other techniques to perform data science work that has applications in many different fields.

 

The R Logo

 

The things R can do are extended by add-ons called packages. One of these packages is V.Phylomaker, which uses a 'mega-tree' containing data related to all extant flowering plant families to build phylogenetic trees from a simple spreadsheet of plant species information.

 

A list of species exported from CanPlant

A list of species exported from CanPlant.

 

Neo4j is a type of database that focuses on relationships between entities, rather than just storing rows of data. We thought this would work as an interesting tool to model the relationships between plant species.

 

To try this out with CanPlant, I installed the package and used an export of the CanPlant database as an input for a small R script using V.Phylomaker. The output of this was a phylogenetic tree in Newick format, a mathematical way of representing this kind of data.

 

Working with Plant Data in RStudio.

Working with plant data in RStudio.

 

Next, I used a Python script and the Biopython package to read this Newick data and use it to populate a Neo4j graph.

 

The result was a dataset of interconnected plant species that could easily be visualized, queried, and explored.

 

A CanPlant phylogenetic tree visualized using a graph.

A CanPlant phylogenetic tree visualized using a graph.

 

We’re excited to continue exploring the benefits of incorporating a phylogenetic approach into the CanPlant database. We anticipate that capturing evolutionary relationships among plants will help to deepen our collective understanding of the diversity of plant species found across Canada, and advance the tools and approaches that are used in conservation planning, ecological restoration, gardening, and a wide range of other biodiversity initiatives.

 

Feel free to reach out to our team if you’re interested to learn more about what we’re doing at CanPlant.

 

Further Reading

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Written by: Summer Graham

An often-overlooked aspect in the restoration of natural areas is one of the most important – the soil. Soil creates the foundation (literally) for plant establishment, so properly restoring soil before planting can make the difference between a successful project and a failed one.

 

Many people think of soil as “just dirt”, but it is much, much more than that. Healthy soils contain minerals, plant-derived organic matter, nutrients, gases, and an entire web of interacting species like bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms. The fungi, or microbes, present in soil are referred to as mycorrhizae (pronounced mai·kuh·rai·zee). These fungi form a symbiotic relationship with a plant’s root system; in exchange for food, they help the plant absorb nutrients from the soil and protect them from certain stressors. These microbes are diverse and abundant. In fact, a single teaspoon of soil can hold thousands of different species and billions of individuals!  

 

Historically, when agricultural soils became depleted of nutrients from constant farming, farmers turned to additives such as fertilizers. But these solutions are only a temporary fix, and do not address the issue that led to poor soil health in the first place. By harvesting crops from the land year after year, traditional farming breaks the natural process of nutrient cycling since carbon and other nutrients are not returned to the soil by naturally decomposing on the land.

 

More recent farming techniques have focused on partially restoring the nutrient cycle by planting cover crops on fields during the off-season, allowing them to remain and decompose before planting crops to harvest. When restoring an area that was previously agricultural field or is currently abandoned and degraded land, amending soil nutrients before planting is essential for healthy plant growth.

 

When it comes to protecting and restoring soils, there are some useful guidelines available. While many of these focus on the importance of soil from an agricultural standpoint, organizations like Credit Valley Conservation and Toronto and Region Conservation Authority have useful guides for soil management during development and restoration activities. These resources have helpful information on salvaging and replacing topsoil, testing soils, dealing with issues such as compaction, and creating soil management plans. They also provide general guidelines for integrating compost and other organic material into a site.

 

Keep in mind that each site will be different and methods for successful soil restoration may vary depending on your target or goal, and recommendations may also differ depending on where you live in Canada. Here are a few recommendations that are good place to start!

 

Additional Reading:

Soil Science Society of America - Why is Soil Important? 

 

Grow Organic - Blog 

 

The effect of common soil amendments on the germination and growth of native plants frequently used in restoration in coastal southern California

 

Restoring Damaged Land

 

The Plant Microbiome and Native Plant Restoration: The Example of Native Mycorrhizal Fungi 

 

To restore our soils, feed the microbes 

 

Using Beneficial Soil Microbes to Improve Plant Growth

 

How Do You Restore Degraded Soil? - The Permaculture Research Institute 

 

Additional Learning:

Soil Regen Summit 

 

 

 

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Written by: Summer Graham

 

 

With 2021-2030 being the UN decade on ecosystem restoration,

I think it is a good time to reflect on the importance of healthy, functioning ecosystems as well as take action in restoring them. Some organizations have spearheaded restoration efforts like the Bonn Challenge, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded ecosystems by 2030! While these large-scale targets are inspiring, you may be wondering if there is anything you can possibly do to help. Well there is - and it starts in your own backyard!

 

Some common garden species became popular and widespread before they were known to be invasive outside of their native range. By replacing these problem species with native ones, you can reduce the risk of contributing to the degradation of near-by native areas. You may think “This Common Buckthorn is just in my backyard, it doesn’t matter if it’s planted here” but Buckthorn berries are often eaten by birds, which then spread seeds all over! 

 

Many invasive, non-native garden species are unfortunately still sold in garden centres, so informing yourself (and your friends!) on which species to avoid buying is the first step. Then, you can determine which native species would be most ideal for your garden. By using the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC) Grow me instead guide, gardeners in Ontario can easily swap invasive species with native ones! See below for some recommended replacements to common Southern Ontario species:

 

                         Instead of Planting....                                                                                  ...Plant This! 

 

Periwinkle

(Vinca minor)

 

View Plant
 

    

Wild Geranium

(Geranium maculatum

 

View Plant

 

European Lily

of the Valley

(Convallaria majalis)

 

View Plant
 

 

 

Starry Flase Solomon's Seal

(Maianthemum steallatum)

 

View Plant

 

Goutweed

(Aegopodium podagraria)

 

View Plant
 

 

 

Large-leaved Aster

(Eurybia macrophylla)

 

View Plant

 

English Ivy

(Hedera helix

 

View Plant

 

 

Wild Strawberry 

(Fragaria virginiana

 

View Plant

 

 

Yellow Arch-angel

(Lamiastrum galeobdolon)

 

View Plant

 

 

Zig-zag Goldenrod

(Solidago flexicaulis)

 

View Plant

 

 

Similar resources are available for Alberta, Yukon, BC, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba (see below). Now that you are inspired to replace your garden with some native species, head to our native nursery locator to find some native plants near you!

 

Additional Resources:

Ontario OIPC Grow Me Instead Guides Southern 

OICP Grow Me Instead Northern

Alberta Grow Me Instead 

Yukon Grow Me Instead 

Be Plant Wise BC 

Saskatchewan Invasive Species Council

Manitoba Grow me Instead

 

 

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Written by: Manpreet Dhaliwal 

 
National Forest Week

 

Welcome to National Forest Week! Have you never heard of it? Well, let me tell you a little bit about it. For one week in September every year, the Canadian Institute of Forestry (CFI) takes the opportunity to raise awareness and educate about the Canadian forest sector, as well as the important social, 

environmental, and economic role that this resource plays in our daily lives.

 

This year, they are encouraging people of all ages to participate in activities such as photo and youth drawing contests, and "Treevia Tuesday" to celebrate our national forests. Interested in participating? Check out the CFI website for more information on campaigns and other resources. This year, I decided to participate by answering the question "What does the forest give you?"

 

 

 

What does the forest give you?

 

It's a difficult thing to put into words because it's as unique to me as the meaning of life; it is indescribable how much forests give to us, and I couldn't be more grateful for the forest's contribution to my survival every day. Especially when you learn how 6 million trees are planted on Ontario public land each year, and how at 10 acres of forest per person, we have more access to forests than any other country. The most exciting part of it all is knowing that as of 2017, Canadian forestry operations, planting enhancement, and planting initiatives removed 20 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from our own backyard. We have the potential to reduce carbon dioxide by 50 million tonnes by 2050 if we continue to use greater sustainable forest management like this during the coming years.

 

Every Tree Counts

 

After learning this, I took a step back and asked myself, "How can I contribute to future emission reductions while also giving the gift of trees to future generations?" I had no idea where to begin, but as I worked through my research and consulted my network, I became more familiar with the Canplant database and all the resources it offered. I was able to collaborate with local sustainability and environmental groups in the Kitchener Waterloo Region to raise awareness of the trees and plant species that local organizations and residents could plant on their properties.

 

IT’S YOUR TURN

 

Now I'd like to ask you to pay it forward by planting a tree and sharing your hopes for future generations. If you're not sure where to start, check out the CanPlant database to see what plants you might be able to grow in your area. Do you require funding for a project? The CanPlant team has compiled a list of grant opportunities to assist you in getting started with your project to plant trees and other native plants.

 

Source:

"Our Roots, Forest" -https://www.ccfm.org/releases/our-roots-our-future/

Carbon Visuals: carbonvisuals.com

 

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Written by: Summer Graham 

 

On September 9th I attended the online webinar “Gardening for the Birds” with Kevin Kavanagh and hosted by North American Native Plant Society (NANPS). The webinar was targeted at individuals interested in selecting native species for their gardens that would help support bird populations. Even as someone with over 5 years of experience in the field of ecology and with an interest in native plants, I found myself learning new information and gaining valuable lessons from the presentation.

 

The webinar was recorded, and you will be able to view it on the NANPS website in the coming weeks, but if you don’t have the time or prefer to read, I’ve provided a summary of some key take-aways below!

 

Benefits of Gardens

One of the first topics covered in the webinar was the benefits of gardens and what your garden can provide for local wildlife. Your garden, when planned correctly, can support breeding (species that come to an area during the breeding season to nest), resident birds (birds that remain in the area throughout most of their lifecycles), and non-resident or migratory birds travelling long distances (species that are just passing through in spring and fall). It is also important to remember that when we improve the landscape for birds, we also provide habitat for a variety of other wildlife as well.

 

For example, look at Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). You may plant this attractive species to help support birds who are attracted to the seeds like Wood Thrush, but you are also supporting other species, including many insects like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Spicebush Silkmoth, and Spicebush Swallowtail.   

 

In terms of overall benefits to birds, your yard can provide:

  • Easy access to a bounty of food without the need to expend excess energy searching,
  • Habitat for breeding and nesting,
  • Shelter from predators or weather events while migrating and,
  • Access to clean water

 

Selection of Species

Ideally, the species you select for your garden will:

  1. Be native to your region and occur naturally in your local area and,
  2. Occur naturally in habitat with conditions that mimic those present in your yard.

 

Note: Gardens and yards are often drier than adjacent natural areas. Just because a species is found in a ravine near your house doesn’t mean it wants to be in your yard!

 

Check out the CanPlant “Find my Ecozone” page to learn more about what grows in your region. Remember, just because a species is native to your province or territory doesn’t mean it belongs in your ecozone! Try and keep it as locally appropriate as possible.

 

Birds and other wildlife respond to habitat, not just species. For example, you may attract a few more birds to your yard by planting a single, native shrub, but you will attract far more if you introduce multiple species and habitat features to the area. This is important to remember when you plan your yard, as you have an opportunity to provide habitat that isn’t available in adjacent yards or natural areas around you.

 

For example, maybe you live next to a forest that has plenty of mature trees but lacks a shrubby understory. By planting shrubs and other bushes in your yard, you attract species that are looking for shelter or for nesting locations closer to the ground.

 

Or perhaps your neighbors have a wonderful prairie pollinator garden, but don’t have a water feature? By adding a pond to your garden, you will provide a water source for birds and other wildlife that are already in the area.

 

Another thing to consider is how you can provide food, shelter, and water year-round, not just in the warmer months. You can do this by planning and diversifying the species in your yard, so flowers, berries, and seeds are available during different seasons.

 

Food

Although the list of native species for wildlife is extensive, below is a summary of different plants you might consider based on your location (most of these species are suitable for southern Ontario) and the types of birds you are looking to attract. For more detail on what to plant for certain species, check out the Birds Canada site BirdGardens.ca!

 

Fruit

There are several species you can plant that produce fruit for birds including:

Small/medium sized seeds

Many of these native plants flower and attract native pollinators while also acting as egg hosts. Be sure not to deadhead (remove old flower heads to try and encourage a second bloom) or cut back the plants until birds have taken advantage of the many seeds!

Nuts

Larger trees like our native Oak (Quercus sp.) and Hickory (Carya sp.) species produce nuts and acorns perfect for larger species like woodpeckers. 

 

Nectar

Nectar feeders, like Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, benefit from spring to fall blooms. A combination of Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), and Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) would be a feast for them!

 

Cone seeds

White Pine (Pinus strobus) is probably the best native species for attracting birds that feed on cone seeds. Make sure you have enough room in your yard before planting though!

 

Insects

Native Willows (Salix sp.) are ideal for attracting warblers that feed on native insects. By flowering early, willows provide habitat for many native insects in the spring when warblers are migrating back from the south.

 

Habitat

When aiming to provide habitat, it was suggested earlier to look at surrounding areas (but not necessarily staking out your neighbours’ gardens!) for features that may be missing on the landscape scale that you can add to your yard.

 

You should also consider letting leaves stay on your yard rather than tidying them up, as this provides habitat for insects and will attract species such as Northern Flicker that like to forage on the ground for food. If you can, set out some decomposing logs or stumps to provide additional habitat, as well as a perching spot for ground foraging species to hop up on and check their surroundings for predators while they feed.

Water

A water feature can be a great addition to a wildlife garden but be sure it includes the right characteristics to maximize its benefit to local species!

  • Edges that slope down to the water to allow for drinking,
  • Sticks and logs across smaller features to provide perches and sharing of the feature,
  • Trickling sounds to attract wildlife and indicate that fresh water is present and,
  • Shallow end for bathing.  

Most importantly, keep your water feature clean! Wildlife won’t use it if they sense something is “off”, and diseases can be spread through features shared by many animals.

 

 

Make it Happen!

All this information might be overwhelming, and you might not know where to start. The best advice is to START SMALL! You don’t have to transform your backyard into a bird paradise overnight, and in terms of budget, time, and commitment, it’s probably best if you don’t. Look to plant a couple native shrubs, and introduce a few habitat features at a time.

 

Once those species are well established and require less care to thrive, move on to the next thing. By taking on too much at one time, you risk burnout and might become unmotivated to continue if plants start to die and your yard becomes more like a desert than an oasis.

 

Once you are ready to get started, head to our Native Plant Nursery Finder to discover local places to purchase your plants! 

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August 11, 2022
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