Monday, January 24, 2011

Upcoming talks and events on Pollinator Gardens

Just a quick informational update - here are a few events/talks about pollinators or pollinator gardens that may interest you this winter.

name this Ontario orchid! Is it a "rare woodland plant"?
Tuesday February 1, 2011. "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent. TBG, for the Toronto Master Gardeners. Unfortunately, I think attendance at this event is restricted to Master Gardeners. However, I plan to drop in beforehand at the NANPS (North American Native Plant Society) meeting, also at TBG, 6:30 onward. Sean Fox is speaking on "Rare Native Woodland Plants of Ontario". Unfortunately this overlaps my Master Gardeners talk so I'll miss most of the NANPS meeting, but hope to touch base and meet those of you who are NANPS regulars there.

Also, I will be distributing a few pre-publication copies of my new booklet, "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent (what a coincidence - same name....wonder how that happened?) to those willing to be constructive critics, at NANPS and at the Master Gardeners. See below, Canada Blooms, for the publication launch of this booklet.

Thursday February 10, 2011. "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent for the Huronia Beekeepers Association, in Orillia at the Highwayman Inn, 7:30-9. Gosh, same title again? Well as it happens I shift the content of the talk depending on the audience. The HBA folk don't need a ton of details about bees (although I will be going into some detail on native bees that differ from honeybees), just as the Master Gardeners don't need detailed advice about how to care for plants. At the HBA, I'll be focusing on what kind of pollinator gardens are (a) suited to a cooler, less urban climate than southern Ontario, (b) provide maximum benefit to a suite of native bees and other pollinators, and (c) what some of steps are to use public spaces for these gardens. I hope potential pollinator gardeners in the Orillia/Barrie/Muskoka area will drop in, even if you're not beekeepers - the HBA folk say the meetings are open to all and they seem like very nice people to meet. Bee careful though - after you've sampled good Canadian honey (not the Asian imports you get in most grocery stores) you might feel a new hobby coming on...

Saturday February 26, 2011. "Pollination Symposium" of Pollination Guelph, at the Harcourt Memorial United Church, located at 87 Dean Ave in Guelph from 9am - 3:30pm ($30 in advance - email  Talks will cover such topics as the current plight of bumble bees, the importance of flies as pollinators, collecting and sourcing seeds for planting projects, creating sustainable and pollinator-friendly landscaping and school gardens, the value of native vs non-native plants for pollinators, ways to get involved as pollinator stewards in your community, and updates from Pollination Guelph.

 Liriodendron tulipifera. "wildflowerbob", Wikimedia
Monday February 28 2011. "Trees in the Urban Setting" by Linda Hawkins, for the Horticultural Societies of Parkdale and Toronto, in Toronto at the Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church (250 Dunn Ave., just south of Queen St. West). This might seem a bit off-topic until you realize that spring and early summer flowering trees are crucial resources for pollinators during seasons when there aren't as many flowers blooming as later in the summer. Think buckeye, honey locust, tulip tree, catalpa, redbud - these are some of our most beautiful street trees. Come and hear more about them! Also, if you want to help at the Pollinator Gardens/Project Chirp booth and Feature Garden at Canada Blooms (see next item), this meeting is your last chance to volunteer.

 Tuesday March 15 - Sunday March 20, 2011. "Pollinator Gardens/Project Chirp" at Canada Blooms.We (the Pollinator Gardens project of the Parkdale and Toronto Horticultural Society) and Project Chirp are collaborating to have a booth and a Feature Garden at this well known gardening event in the CNE grounds of Toronto. These will be on display each day of the show - come and visit us. We definitely need volunteers to help with these - if you want to help, send email with "Pollinator Gardens volunteer" in the subject line to 

Design for Feature Garden - Clement Kent

Our Feature Garden will have native wildflowers in bloom, including trees, shrubs, and perennials. They will be colorful, fragrant, and all are beneficial to pollinators. There will be water plants, berry-bearing shrubs for hungry birds, butterfly flowers that also are food plants for caterpillars, and more. Drop by our booth after viewing the garden to ask questions or browse our literature.

In addition we have three seminars, all in Garden Solutions Rm 105, Hall A in the Direct Energy Centre:
  1. Wed. Mar 16, 11:00 a.m. "Wild Things in the City: How to Make a Pollinator's Garden" , by Dr. Clement Kent. This is a short, to the point version of my talk that should be accessible everyone, gardener, pollinator enthusiast, or not. Plus, we'll have copies (first edition, get yer collectable copy at Canada Blooms, signed by the world infamous author!) of my new booklet, "How to make a Pollinator Garden" by Clement Kent. This booklet gives the who, what, when, why, where, and how of pollinator gardening in a step-by-step manner. It's a non-profit publication being sold at a cost-recovery price (probably $5, TBD). It's a good way to spread the word about pollinator gardening to your club, school, or friends and relations.
  2. Wed. Mar 16, 2:00 p.m. "Gardening for Songbird & Pollinator Conservation" , by Christina Sharma of Project Chirp. Christina is passionate about making gardens a friendlier place for birds - so if you are a bird watcher, catch this talk.
  3. Sat. Mar 19, 11:00 a.m. "How You Can Help Preserve Canada's Pollinators" , by Prof. Laurence Packer of York University. Laurence is an internationally known expert on bees of the world, plus he's a great and entertaining speaker. He works hard to preserve threatened pollinators by speaking, serving on COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), and through his book, "Keeping the Bees".  David Suzuki says "Laurence Packer's wonderful book about the world of bees offers the sheer delight of learning about these diverse animals, their basic biology and the role they play in ecosystems. Keeping the Bees revels in the lives of bees but clearly shows how much more we have yet to learn and therefore makes a powerful case for being far more cautious in the way we exploit the Earth. A world without bees would be a world without people."You can also read the Globe and Mail's review. This should be a great talk!

 p.s. I'm sure I've missed some good events. If so, let me know about them and I'll add them to the blog....

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Many Monarchs – Too Much of a Good Thing?

No, this article is not about royal weddings, but it is about monarchs – Danaus plexippa, the monarch butterfly, to be precise.

migrating monarchs in my pollinator garden
A year ago I spoke to the Toronto Horticultural Society about “Wild Things in your Garden”. I mentioned monarchs in that talk. Did you know that monarch studies have a special link to Toronto? Fred A. Urquhart, a University of Toronto scientist, studied monarchs since 1940 tracing their migration routes, but he couldn’t find their winter roost in the rough mountains of Mexico. So, he placed ads in Mexican newspapers. An US engineer living in Mexico, Kenneth C. Brugger, saw the ad and in 1975 told a delighted Prof. Urquhart that he’d found the roost. 35 years of work had paid off! Spectacular pictures ensued in places like National Geographic, and eventually the Mexican government created a Monarch Preserve to protect the trees in which the monarchs roost. More details about this quest are at the site of the Urquhart Memorial Garden, and you can read a detailed history of Urquhart's story in this 1999 Vanity Fair article by Alex Shoumatoff.

In my 2010 talk I highlighted declines in monarch butterfly numbers during the winter of 2010, when one quarter the number overwintered in Mexico compared to 2009.  All this gloom had one good effect: it mobilized many people, including me, to think and act to preserve Canadian habitat for pollinators, including monarchs. With the support of the Hort and many of our members, this has grown into our Pollinator Gardens (PG) project. As part of the project, I planted a number of milkweed plants (the only food for monarch caterpillars) in my cottage garden with an eye to finding out which species were most attractive to the butterflies and which grew easily. I can now report preliminary results from one year’s observations.

monarchs on swamp milkweed, my PG
My veggie garden is surrounded by a wild garden with common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and butterfly weed (A. tuberosa). In previous years the wild garden had raised respectable numbers of monarchs, and I thought perhaps the presence of lots of common milkweed might make the butterflies ignore the swamp milkweed (A. incarnata) and Scarlet milkweed (A. curassavica) I planted among the veggies. Nothing could have been farther from the truth! The new species were covered with caterpillars by August, so much so that some of the plants would have been eaten down to nubbins if I hadn’t moved caterpillars to less crowded quarters. Most popular was the Scarlet milkweed (with both caterpillars, adult butterflies, hummingbirds, and people, all of whom liked its bright red and gold flower – to eat, in the case of the caterpillars!). However, by the end of August the stand of swamp milkweed had caught up more than a dozen caterpillars visible on any sunny noontime, among the big pink, fragrant flower clusters.
caterpillars eat scarlet milkweed

I did some research, and found that monarch moms prefer to lay their eggs on milkweeds with (a) soft leaves, and (b) high levels of the noxious compounds which make birds throw up when they eat monarchs. Sure enough, scarlet and swamp milkweeds both have softer leaves than the common species and higher levels of icky goo. So far, so good.

Because I had many, many monarchs in one area I had much more luck in locating the critical stage between caterpillar and butterfly: the beautiful sea-green, gold-speckled pupa. These can be very hard to find in wild sites, as the caterpillars wander far from their milkweed restaurants before pupating. But I had enough to actually learn to recognize their habits. I found that caterpiggles typically wiggled about 2 to 5 meters away from their plant before pupating. I found many pupae under horizontal surfaces about 30 cm to one meter above ground level. They liked the bottom of  the board fence that rings the garden, and especially the underside of wild grape leaves in the wild garden. My first research conclusion for the PG is that in settings like a school garden, planting milkweeds a few meters from benches or horizontal boards on posts may allow children to see the stunning pupae when they return to school in September.

monarch pupa, about 1 day since pupation
Although monarch adults have few natural enemies, caterpillars and pupae are eaten – not by birds, but by tiny fly or wasp parasitoids whose eggs eat the larval stages from the inside out. Ugh! I was worried that concentrating good food plants in a small area might increase losses to these parasitoids, but encouraged by reports that they are not nearly as destructive in Canada as in the US (where up to 90% of monarchs are killed in larval stages by them).

parasitoid wasps on caterpillar ready to pupate
There are programs to monitor the number of caterpillars attacked by fly parasitoids, but because pupae are so hard to find, not much study has been done on the tiny wasps that attack them. So, with my newfound search pattern for pupae, I did some preliminary research. I’ll need a second season to make the results scientific, but I can tell you today that monarch pupae are indeed attacked by wasps in Ontario, that the damage is minor in July but rises in August, to the point where almost half the pupae in my garden in September were parasitised. Was this because I had created an ideal breeding site by planting very attractive milkweeds densely? That’s a question I hope to follow up this year, by moving some of the milkweeds to another location in lower densities and monitoring pupae there, compared to the main cluster. Then I’ll be able to tell you whether many, many monarchs are too much of a good thing.

The goals of the PG project include education and scientific research in how best to make a pollinator garden. As the example I’ve just told you shows, you can contribute to both these goals in your own garden with nothing more complicated than some milkweed plants and a pair of sharp eyes. Nothing I did required a microscope or test tube! Plus, I got to do all my research out of doors in my garden in some of the finest weather of the year…unlike, for example, studying the effect of vanishing Arctic ice on polar bears.

p.s. all photos in this blog post were taken by me, Clement Kent, in my country Pollinator Garden during summer/fall 2010.