First time at the Huron Fringe Birding Festival

Maianthemum stellatum, or Starry False Solomon's Seal. Very pretty.
Maianthemum stellatum, or Starry False Solomon’s Seal. Very pretty.

I just got home from the Huron Fringe Birding Festival. The “Fringe” part had me thinking it was some kind of arty alternative birdwatching event; however the “Huron Fringe” is actually a boardwalk trail along Lake Huron at MacGregor Point Provincial Park. I wasn’t disappointed though. Birders and naturalists are “alternative” by default, and arty… well, there WAS a lot of camera paraphernalia around. I’m certain the humans struggling under the weight of massive zoom lenses and tripods took some fantastic photos.

The festival is an 8-day extravaganza that celebrates a lot more than birding. Hundreds of people attend up to a dozen different events each day. Yesterday I joined a guided tour of The Ark Farm B&B and learned about the owner’s efforts to incorporate wildlife habitat into their property and farming methods. They are doing something right; Meadowlarks and Bobolinks, both threatened grassland species, happily nest there and were a pleasure to watch and hear.

Last night I attended the banquet, sat with some new friends, drank some wine, and listened to a talk on Loons by Doug Tozer of Bird Studies Canada, who is a wonderfully entertaining speaker. I also won a great little camera at the silent auction. Many thanks to Kerry for persuading me to up my bid. I accused him of ulterior motives (more funds for Friends of MacGregor Point Park!) but it was good advice nonetheless, and a good cause. I love my new camera.

Today I was lucky enough to participate in the “Bird and Botany” tour of Inverhuron Provincial Park. The leader was a young fellow by the name of Scott Taylor, who is doing postdoctoral work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and grew up exploring Inverhuron. It was a day of birding, plant identification, and reptile/amphibian sightings. I learned a lot, found out what a small world it is, had some laughs, and met some great people. I hope I run into them again next year, because I’m definitely going back.

UPDATE: My thanks to naturalist Bill MacIlveen for satisfying my curiosity. He tells me that the unknown mystery plant is Daphne mezereum, and that the sedum matches Sedum caeruleum. Both are garden escapees and not native to North America. The bright red fruit of Daphne mezereum are dispersed in bird droppings but are very poisonous to humans. 

A curious ambivalence toward beauty

P1010127I was just admiring some pink tulips that are brightening up my kitchen table on this extremely cold (-16C) and blustery winter day. I like them well enough, in fact tulips are one of the few cut flowers that I do enjoy. But as I was looking at them it occurred to me that I am curiously ambivalent about cut flowers. What’s that about? I am a passionate, if not obsessed, gardener. My perennials beds have so many different colours in them that it looks like a colour wheel exploded in my backyard. With the exception of Sweet Peas (which beg to be cut and deserve to be capitalized) and the occasional delphinium bloom that falls over from its own weight, I very rarely cut flowers from the garden to bring into the house.

Then I realized why. To me, flowers cease being “plants” when they are stuck in a vase. They are beautiful, of course, but they are not alive. I guess I regard them in the same way I would a fur pelt – gorgeous, but no longer an animal and not nearly as interesting.

That’s just my own quirk, of course – I’m not being judgemental. And fair warning – the wise man who comes to court me will bring the entire plant with him.


The Wood Wide Web

It’s not often that I come across an article that blows my little gardener’s mind. This one made made my head explode:

Plants talk to each other using an internet of fungus

“…fungal networks make communication between plants, including those of different species, faster, and more effective,” says Morris. “We don’t think about it because we can usually only see what is above ground. But most of the plants you can see are connected below ground, not directly through their roots but via their mycelial connections.”

The fungal internet exemplifies one of the great lessons of ecology: seemingly separate organisms are often connected, and may depend on each other. “Ecologists have known for some time that organisms are more interconnected and interdependent,” says Boddy. The wood wide web seems to be a crucial part of how these connections form.

I love this stuff. Just when I think I’ve got this gardening thing down pat, a whole new world opens up literally under my feet.

Never mind orchids… asparagus?

Cool. Now there is evidence that orchids have been in existence since dinosaurs were running around the earth.

A 15-20 million year old bee has been discovered preserved in amber, with orchid pollen on its back. Apparently this helps end a certain amount of debate over how long orchids have been around:

Proponents of an older age for orchids had cited their ubiquity around the world, their close evolutionary kinship with the ancient asparagus family, and their bewildering diversity: Some 20,000 to 30,000 species strong, the showy plants comprise some 8 percent of all flowering species worldwide.

By applying the so-called molecular clock method, the scientists also estimated the age of the major branches of the orchid family. To their surprise, they found that certain groups of modern orchids, including the highly prized genus Vanilla, evolved very early during the rise of the plant family.

A plant that won’t stay potted

527pxmonstera_deliciosa2While we’re on the subject of "plant intelligence", here is a great story.

Mark Moffett is an award-winning biologist and photographer who has spent a lot time at the tops of trees studying ecosystems in forest canopies. He talks about his work in a "Best of National Geographic" podcast, and relates a wonderful story about his favourite jungle beast. Surprisingly, it’s not a cute furry animal, but a plant. Not even an exotic plant, but the common monsteras and philodendrons that we’ve seen time and time again in dentist offices, the ones we grow in our own living rooms. These seemingly innocuous houseplants have amazing lives.

Photo credit:

Continue reading “A plant that won’t stay potted”

Smart, they are…

Once in a while I come across an article and it makes me think, "Damn! I should be blogging that."

Well, this is a good one. A serious article on plant intelligence, one that doesn’t involve 60’s flower power and fairies in the garden:

"…extraordinary new findings on how plants investigate and respond to
their environments are part of a sprouting debate over the nature of
intelligence itself."

and more,

"…the late Nobel Prize-winning plant geneticist Barbara McClintock called
plant cells "thoughtful." Darwin wrote about root-tip "brains." Not
only can plants communicate with each other and with insects by coded
gas exhalations, scientists say now, they can perform Euclidean
geometry calculations through cellular computations and, like a peeved
boss, remember the tiniest transgression for months."

Anyone who is an orchid enthusiast will nod along with the article and say, "yes, I knew that. I’m aware that those clever little buggers have me wrapped around their inflorescence." Kind of like a dog owner who knows, just knows, that their pooches have emotions. It doesn’t require a scientist to state the obvious, but it’s nice to have it validated anyway.

Full story:

New research opens a window on the minds of plants
– CSM March 3rd edition

How do plants know when it’s time to flower?

Many plants have a genetic alarm clock that tells them when to wake from their winter slumber and bloom in spring, scientists said on Wednesday.

Exactly how plants know when it is time to flower is a  subject that has perplexed botanists for thousands of years.

But two teams of scientists have uncovered clues that may  help explain why certain plants need a cold spell to stimulate  flowering.