Jun 092016

With our daughter home for a few days last week, we decided to take advantage of the great weather to do some hiking. Sophie has always had a special fondness for the Canadian Shield, so Petroglyph Provincial Park was the perfect destination. We also wanted to reacquaint ourselves with the special beauty of the area. Located on the north shore of Stony Lake, Petroglyphs Provincial Park is home to Canada’s largest known concentration of First Nation rock carvings. More than 900 figures, including turtles, snakes, birds and people, were carved into exposed marble, as far back as 1100 years ago.

Nanabush Trail

After purchasing our day pass at the visitor centre, we decided to walk the 5.5 kilometre Nanabush Trail, which starts near the main parking lot. The trail crosses a variety of habitats from wetlands and mixed forests to granite outcrops. The sunny weather, light breeze and near-total absence of biting insects made for especially pleasant walking. As we traversed the open, meadow-like area at the trailhead, we were entertained by large numbers of chalk-fronted skimmers, a black-and-white dragonfly, which often emerges in large numbers in late spring. Big yellow, white and black Canada tiger swallowtail butterflies flitted among the dogwoods, cherries, New Jersey tea and balsam ragwort. Along with species like Canada plum and woodland sunflower, these latter two plants make the Park an especially interesting destination for anyone interested in botany.

Passing through mixed forest of mostly pine, spruce, maple, and basswood, our attention was immediately drawn to the many wildflowers in bloom. Just like hardwood forests come alive with trilliums and trout lilies in May, coniferous and mixed forests offer up their own wildflower display in June. The stars of the show are the red blossoms of wild columbine; the pink, bird-like flowers of fringed polygala (gaywings); and the white flowers of species like Canada mayflower, starflower and wild sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla is especially abundant on the Nanabush Trail. It has three compound leaves, each with five leaflets. Ball-like clusters of greenish-white flowers grow on leafless stems, which are sometimes hidden by the leaves. The roots of sarsaparilla were once used to make root beer.

Wild Columbine on Nanabush Trail (Drew Monkman)

Wild Columbine on Nanabush Trail (Drew Monkman)

Leaving the forest, the trail enters a large wetland with great views of the marsh from the boardwalk. Typical marsh birds like common yellowthroat warblers, alder flycatchers and red-winged blackbirds sang repeatedly, often competing with the banjo-like “boing” calls of green frogs. At one point, we were startled by the splash of a large beaver, only metres away. For anyone interested in wetland plants like speckled alder, nannyberry, sedges and a wide variety of ferns, the boardwalk provides wonderful close-up views.

Re-entering the woods on the west side of the marsh, I stopped to watch a mourning warbler that was pouring its heart out in song. At my feet, I noticed several large patches of bunchberry, which is a species of dogwood and a signature plant of the Canadian Shield. Some bunchberries have four leaves while others have six, even in the same patch. Strangely enough, only those plants with six leaves produce flowers, which form a greenish cluster in the centre of four white bracts.

As we walked further into the forest, a number of different warblers advertized their presence. The most common was the ovenbird. Its loud “teaCHER, teaCHER” rang out at regular intervals along the path. Another sound that caught our attention was the slow, irregular drumming of the yellow-bellied sapsucker. The pattern has a stuttering quality and often sounds like Morse code. The sapsucker is well known for the parallel rows of tiny shallow holes that it makes in tree bark. The birds lap up the sap that leaks from the holes, using the fibrous, brush-like projections on their tongue. At the same time, they will also grab small insects that may have been attracted to the sap wells. It is not uncommon to see hummingbirds and butterflies partaking of the sap, as well.

A little further down the trail, my wife motioned me to stop. A ruffed grouse was standing statue-like right in front of us, its head feathers erect. We could hear a faint, peeping sound coming from the surrounding vegetation, which meant that young were present. With careful searching, we were finally able to catch glimpses of the sand-coloured, ping-pong ball-sized chicks. The chicks can walk and feed themselves within 24 hours of hatching.

Minnow Lake

Before long, the trail opens onto a granite ridge with scattered white pines, red oaks and blueberries. Sun-warmed pine needles scented the air as we enjoyed the view of the small lake below. This is a great spot to stop for a picnic lunch. I kept an eye out for any five-lined skinks that might be sunning themselves on the rocks. The glossy black juveniles are especially beautiful with their bright blue tails and five cream-coloured stripes down the back. The skink is Ontario’s only native lizard and is common in the Park. I was told that they are often seen around the glass-walled building at the Petroglyph site itself.

Minnow Lake on the Nanabush Trail - Drew Monkman

Minnow Lake on the Nanabush Trail – Drew Monkman

At the end of the lake, the trail climbs steeply and enters a deeply shaded stand of eastern hemlock and white cedar. The two warblers most closely associated with hemlocks – the blackburnian and black-throated green – sang repeatedly from the crowns of the trees. As in many areas along the Nanabush Trail, barren strawberries proliferated on the forest floor. They are easy to identify with their yellow flowers and three roundish, toothed leaflets. We also took some time here to scan the dead trees and floating logs in the flooded valley further to the west.

Looping back along the south side of Minnow Lake, we stumbled upon one of my favourite plants – the pink lady’s slipper or moccasin flower. A member of the orchid family, the lower petal of the flower forms an inflated pink pouch with reddish veins. The pouch tells an amazing story of how far evolution will go to assure pollination. On the hunt for nectar and pollen, bumblebees pry their way into the large, slipper-like pouch through an incurved slit down the front. Once inside, however, the slit closes and traps the bee. But, it’s not all bad news. The upper part of the pouch is lined with sticky hairs coated in nectar, and there are translucent areas where light shines through. Attracted by the light and sugar reward, the bee climbs upwards to feed and then make its escape. However, a narrowing at the top of the pouch forces the bee to crawl under a flattened structure where it rubs up against the stigma – the sticky female part of the flower. Unbeknownst to the bee, some of the pollen on its body hairs will adhere to the stigma and pollinate the plant. But one last bit of trickery still remains. As the bee finally exits, it is forced to rub up against the anthers – the male part of the flower – and inadvertently pick up more pollen. When it flies off to another lady’s-slipper, the bee will follow the same path and unwittingly leave pollen behind once again.

Pink Lady's-slipper tells an amazing story of evolution - Drew Monkman

Pink Lady’s-slipper tells an amazing story of evolution – Drew Monkman

Arriving at the east end of the lake, we crossed another long boardwalk where more dragonflies and both bluet and jewelwing damselflies abounded. Painted turtles, too, were basking in the warm June sun. We then followed the path back to the trail entrance and headed back up to the Learning Place visitor centre. The Learning Place offers a number of excellent displays on First Nation culture such as ceremonies, the medicine wheel, medicinal plants and beliefs associated with the four cardinal directions. You can also watch the award winning film “The Teaching Rocks”. The Learning Centre prepares the visitor for a more meaningful visit of the nearby Petroglyph site itself. Local First Nation’s people call the site “Kinoomaagewaapkong” which translates to “the rocks that teach”. The Curve Lake First Nation acts as the steward community of the rock carvings, providing Ontario Parks with guidance in this culturally significant and ceremonial place.

I often meet people from Peterborough who have never been to Petroglyph Provincial Park. If you enjoy nature, hiking and First Nation history and culture, I strongly recommend a visit. Like most everywhere in the Kawarthas, however, there is poison ivy. Learn to identify the plant and don’t forget to wear shoes, socks and preferably long pants when walking the trails.

Apr 292016

The Bloodroot has been blooming for a few days now on the rail-trail near Cumberland Drive in the north end of Peterborough. It has grown in size! Very beautiful!

Margo Hughes

Bloodroot 2 - Apr. 28 - Margo Hughes

Bloodroot - Apr. 28 - Margo Hughes

Bloodroot – Apr. 28 – Margo Hughes

Apr 262016

I went out for a walk on April 20 at Beavermead and Roger’s Cove in the beautiful sunshine. In Roger’s Cove, I found a patch of violets in bloom, on the right side of the trail near the locks.
Carrying on towards Beavermead, I saw a Common Loon fishing in the bay. I also spotted some Coltsfoot blooming nearby. Finally, I walked over towards the creek on the left and saw two painted turtles basking together on a log in the creek. But my favourite sighting has to be the one that I look forward to seeing every year, which is a large patch of blooming Bloodroot, which is in the wooded area creekside behind “The Cabin” chip truck.

Happy Trails,
Catherine Paradisis

Bloodroot - Drew Monkman

Bloodroot – Drew Monkman

Coltsfoot - Drew Monkman

Coltsfoot – Drew Monkman

May 042015

The spring wildflower parade is well underway. I was to Burnham Woods this morning (May 4) and counted 12 species in bloom. Spring Beauty, Round & Sharp-leaved Hepatica, White and Red Trilliums, Blue Cohosh, Early Meadow Rue, Trout lily, Round-leaved Violet, Uvularia, Bloodroot and Coltsfoot. False Solomon’s Seal will be open any day now.
Sue Paradisis

Red Trillium – Drew Monkman

Hepatica - Drew Monkman

Hepatica – Drew Monkman

Jun 192014

For anyone with an interest in wildflowers, June is synonymous with orchids. At least a dozen species of this fascinating plant family bloom this month in the Kawarthas, and the spectacle is not to be missed. In addition to their exquisite colours and designs, orchids are a wonderful testament to the power and wonder of evolution.
The Kawarthas has long enjoyed a special status among orchid lovers. The first book on Ontario’s orchids was researched and written here by a Peterborough resident, Frank Morris, in 1929. Some of the most interesting passages are his vivid descriptions of orchid searching trips to the Cavan Swamp and Stony Lake. Unfortunately, one becomes immediately aware that orchids were much more plentiful at that time. Because of habitat loss, indiscriminate picking and digging up for transplanting into gardens, most orchid species have declined greatly in number. In fact, I recall that well-known naturalist Doug Sadler once told me that in the 1950s people used to sell bouquets of Showy Lady’s slippers at the Peterborough Farmers’ Market!

Showy Lady's-slipper - Drew Monkman

Showy Lady’s-slipper – Drew Monkman

Peterborough County is home to about 36 orchid species including one, Helleborine, which is an alien species from Eurasia. Of the 36, 14 are considered rare or their presence is based on very old records. Species belonging to the genus Cypripedium, commonly known as lady’s slippers, are the most renowned of our orchids. The Kawarthas boast four species. Probably the best-known member of this genus is the Pink Lady’s slipper, also known as the Moccasin flower. It is usually found in dry, upland sites, quite often in association with pines. Petroglyphs Provincial Park and the north shore of Stony Lake provide good habitat for this species. The largest of our native orchids is the Showy Lady’s slipper which measures up to 80 cm in height and occurs in open to semi shaded wetland edges. This species requires 10 years of growth from germination to the time it flowers. Dry to moist calcium rich sites are the preferred habitat of the Yellow Lady’s slipper, possibly our most common member of the genus. This species is widespread in the Warsaw area. The Kawarthas also has good numbers of Ram’s head Lady’s slipper. They prefer cold, undisturbed wetland edges and are often found in association with White Cedars.
One reason I love orchids is that they have so much to tell us about evolution. They show amazing adaptations – or contrivances, as Charles Darwin described them – to attracting and exploiting their insect pollinators. In his book “Fertilization of Orchids”, Darwin explained in detail the complex relationships between these flowers and their pollinators and how this led to the co-evolution of both. He realized that as the insects changed, so did the orchids that were dependent upon them. And vice-versa. Darwin’s work provided the first detailed demonstration of the power of natural selection. Co-evolution between orchids and insects has led to an incredible amount of diversity. In fact, with close to 30,000 different species, orchids represent the world’s largest family of plants. They are also a very old family. The first orchids are believed to have appeared some 80 million years ago. This means that they may have co-existed with dinosaurs! Despite the huge number of species, most orchids tend to be uncommon and almost never dominate a given landscape. Paradoxically, they produce seeds in astronomical quantity well over a million in some species.
The Pink Lady’s-slipper, one of the more common local species, provides a great example of the complicated dance between orchid and pollinator. Its sweet odour and enticing pink pouch – a modified petal – attract bumblebees. On the hunt for nectar and pollen, these large, hairy insects pry their way into the large, slipper-like pouch through the incurved slit down the front. Once inside, the slit closes and traps the hapless bee. Exiting by where it entered therefore becomes impossible. But, it’s not all bad news. The upper part of the pouch is lined with sticky hairs coated in nectar, and there are translucent areas where light shines through. Attracted by the light and sugar reward, the bee climbs upwards to gather nectar and to make its escape. The pouch constricts, however, below two small exits to the outside. In order to regain its freedom, the bee must crawl under a large flattened structure. As it does so, the insect’s back rubs up against the stigma, the female part of the flower. Any pollen sticking to its body – presumably from another orchid it visited earlier – is scraped off. Bingo! The orchid is pollinated. But one last bit of trickery still remains. As the bee finally makes its way out of one of the strategically-located exit holes, it inadvertently rubs up against a sticky mass of pollen grains, which adheres to its back and sides. If it enters yet another Pink Lady’s-slipper, the bee will follow the same path and unwittingly leave behind pollen once again. In this manner, cross pollination between plants is assured.
Despite this elaborate pollination mechanism, Pink Lady’s slippers seem to spread mostly through their rhizomes. Rhizomes are underground, creeping stems that are capable of forming new plants. This explains why, unlike most other native orchids, Pink Lady’s-slippers are sometimes found in large masses.

Pink Lady's-slipper - Thomas Barnes

Pink Lady’s-slipper – Thomas Barnes

Three other species are of considerable interest this month, both because of the unique design of their flowers and the special habitats in which they grow. They are the Arethusa (Dragon’s mouth), Calopogon (Grass pink) and Rose Pogonia (Snake mouth). All three are pink in colour and grow in the acid soil of bogs and wet meadows. All can be found in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. Pollination for these species, too, depends on some very clever adaptations. In the case of Calopogon, downright deception comes into play. Bees are immediately attracted to the top petal of the flower because of a mass of stamen like objects, which appear to be loaded with pollen. However, upon landing on these hairs, the insect quickly realizes there is no pollen to be found. But, before it can fly away, the bee’s weight causes the petal to collapse downward. The hapless bee ends up on its back, pinned against a trough like appendage that contains the true sexual parts of the flower. The bee’s hairy back may pick up sticky pollen located here or transfer pollen from a previous visit to another Calopogon to the stigma, thereby assuring pollination. Evolution rarely takes the easy route to solving the challenges of reproduction!
Orchids, like all plants, follow a definite blooming schedule. Most of the lady’s slippers bloom in late May through mid June. Showy lady’s slipper, however, along with Arethusa, Calopogon and Rose Pogonia, usually bloom in late June. Rose Pogonia can sometimes still be found in flower as late as mid July. Later in the summer, watch for Spotted Coral root (July), Dwarf Rattlesnake plantain (late July and August) and Nodding ladies’ tresses (late August and September). Once again, Petroglyphs Provincial Park is a good place to try for all three of these summer blooming species. Ladies’-tresses also grow in damp areas along the edge of the Trans-Canada Trail, just east of Highway 7.
It’s important to resist the temptation to dig orchids up and transplant them into your garden. Not only does this put the species further at risk, but it is rarely successful. Orchids depend on a special relationship with fungi, which provide the plants with minerals and other nutrients that they cannot attain by themselves. Without the presence of the right fungi in the soil, most orchids will not survive.

Calopogon - Drew Monkman

Calopogon – Drew Monkman

May 012014
Serviceberry (Drew Monkman)

Serviceberry (Drew Monkman)

Although the flamboyant reds, yellows and oranges of fall always receive the most attention, there is an equally beautiful showing of colour in May. From the radiant white blossoms of serviceberries and trilliums to the fresh, lime‑green leaves of sugar maples, May paints the landscape with a gentle warmth all its own. And, unlike many phenomena in nature, the transformation of the landscape from grays and browns to greens, whites, yellows, purples and pinks, is easily observed by all.

The order in which the various species of plants bloom and come into leaf is the same each year. Although variations in weather conditions may accelerate or slow down the process, the general sequence does not change. The first herbaceous plant to flower in spring in the Kawarthas is Coltsfoot, a yellow‑blossomed, dandelion-like denizen of roadsides. Usually by mid‑April – but only just starting this year -, the first true woodland flowers appear, beginning with Hepatica and followed shortly after by Bloodroot, Blue Cohosh, Trailing Arbutus and Marsh Marigold. As we move into early May, dozens of other species join the blossom parade including Common Dandelion, Spring Beauty, Trout Lily, Large-flowered Bellwort and various species of serviceberry (Juneberry). By the middle of the month, we can expect to find Common Lilac, White Trillium, Red Trillium and Pin Cherry all in bloom. And, by late May, Mayapple, Jack‑in‑the‑Pulpit, Wild Columbine, Choke Cherry, Red‑osier Dogwood, the various hawthorns and the first orchids will be flowering.

All of our trees produce flowers, too, even though they often go unnoticed and unappreciated. Red and Silver maples, which have been in flower for several weeks now, have been joined in recent days by White Birch and American Elm. Take a moment to look closely at the flowers on low-hanging branches and you will see dainty floral parts tinged with pastel reds, yellows, browns and greens. In the next couple of weeks, Sugar Maple will be flowering, as well. This is a spectacle not to missed. These trees literally glow in a garb of pale yellow as tens of thousands of tassel-like flowers hang from the twigs. Within a week or so, the male flowers fall to the ground, leaving a yellow confetti on sidewalks and roads. Norway Maples, which bloom at about the same time, look like giant, lime-green pompoms. Their leaves and flowers emerge simultaneously. Soon after the maples, the oaks, too, will be in flower. The caterpillar-like male flowers (catkins) are as long as the emerging leaves. Mid-May also sees the appearance of flowers cones on pines, spruces and larches. The purple-pink female cones of the American Larch (Tamarack) are especially beautiful.

The leaf‑out of trees and shrubs follows a predictable sequence, too. Red‑berried Elder is the first species to come into leaf, usually in late April. Early May brings us the leaves of Manitoba Maple, Norway Maple, Trembling Aspen, Common Lilac, willows and both Pin and Choke Cherry. Sugar Maple, Bigtooth aspen and Tamarack leaf out in mid‑May, while Red Maple, American Basswood, oaks, elms and ashes wait until later in the month to produce their leaves. As the trees leaf out, take time to appreciate all of the different shades of green that grace the landscape. Among my favourites are the shiny, light greens of aspens and the gentle, pastel tones of new Tamarack needles.

Coltsfoot - Drew Monkman

Coltsfoot – Drew Monkman

In addition to the spectrum of greens, white is another signature colour of May. Early in the month, serviceberries stand out like white beacons against the slowly greening landscape. These small trees grow in clumps and are common along roadsides and field edges. We tend to notice them only in the spring, however, when their beautiful masses of white, five‑petal flowers burst forth. Belonging to the genus Amelanchier, they also go by the name of Juneberry, because their fruits ripen in June. Later in the month, Pin Cherries and Choke Cherries add their own splashes of white. They tend to grow in the same habitat as serviceberries. Cherry leaves are unique in that they are tinged with bronze‑orange when they emerge. Hawthorns, a species of old fields, and Red‑osier Dogwoods, a shrub of wetland edges, complete the white blossom parade. Many of our wildflowers also have white blossoms. The White Trillium is certainly the best known. Standing nearly a foot tall and flaunting flowers three or four inches across, trilliums form a carpet of white over the forest floor, that is hard not to notice. This species is well‑named with its three leaves, three petals and three sepals.

Yellow is another common colour this month. And, any discussion of yellow leads directly to the Common Dandelion. Introduced from Europe, dandelions provide copious amounts of pollen and nectar to insect visitors. Insects see the flowers as shining points of ultraviolet light set against a green background, which they perceive as grey. Dandelions are largely responsible for the first honey of the season, thanks to their attractiveness to honey bees.

Yellow flowers also turn up in wet habitats in early spring, thanks mostly to Marsh Marigolds, also known as cowslips. In the unblocked sunlight, they grow up to 18 inches tall and have huge, heart‑shaped leaves. The flowers usually have five petals. The swampy woods along University Road, just south of Nassau Mills Road, is a great place to see them.

It is believed that white and yellow are particularly efficient colours at reflecting sunlight from a plant’s petals onto the central reproductive parts of the flower. This helps to accelerate the development of pollen and seed in the cool spring weather. The heat that accumulates in this manner may actually raise the temperature inside a trillium or marigold several degrees above the surrounding air. Insect pollinators probably find the slightly warmer temperatures of the flowers very much to their liking, as well.

For many of us, May is also synonymous with the purple blossoms of lilacs. Lilac bloom times and leaf emergence have long been monitored in both Canada and the United States, since they are examples of natural events whose timing can be influenced by climate change. On average, lilac leaves now emerge in the northern hemisphere about five days earlier than they did 50 years ago.

In order to see the whole flower show, you will need to be out looking at least once a week. Woodland plants in particular have a very short blooming period. Their life cycle is attuned to the rhythms of the forest canopy. Once the leaves have fully emerged, most flowers quickly disappear. The light available on the forest floor for photosynthesis quickly falls to 1% of the level at the top of the canopy. In the deep shade of the inner forest, plants struggle to produce enough food even for their own needs, let alone having food left over for the purpose of flowering and seed maturation. Species like trilliums are therefore engaged in a veritable race against the clock to bloom, attract pollinators and build food reserves through photosynthesis before the canopy closes.

Young female flower cones of Tamarack - Drew Monkman

Young female flower cones of Tamarack – Drew Monkman

Two of the better places to see woodland plants include Mark S. Burnham Provincial Park on Highway 7, just east of Peterborough, and the Emily Tract forest, located in the City of Kawartha Lakes on Victoria County Road 14, west of County Road 10.