A Bounty of Butterflies

Written 2005.  Published by the Lake of Bays Association 2012.

I have recently been identified by a friend as a ‘selfish gardener’.  After progressing from the initial disbelief, through abhorring the idea, to being rather angry, I am now very close to accepting and embracing this statement; especially since I can’t deny I have a little obsession.

As soon as the frost is out, I drop everything and run off to the gardens.  I leave my family standing there mouths agape (but with lunch in the fridge) watching my back as I hustle down the trails as fast as my galoshes will allow.  For me, there’s nothing more fun than tossing earthworms, taking stock, and preparing everything for summer’s all to short symphony of colour.  I may be on the verge of becoming a gardening addict.  I know I’ve lost all restraint.  I just love soil.  I immerse myself up to my elbows in sticky, sweet muck.  Despite the kerchief, it still gets in my hair and smeared across my forehead and I find great amusement in going to pick up more garden supplies in my lovely, dirty state.  Don’t even ask about the state of my car…

Selfishness? Addiction?  It could be either.  There’s no denying there is a lot of self-gratification in gardening.  You get outside, breathe fresh air, move your muscles, burn calories and it’s a great way to relieve stress – just take it out on the weeds!  There are other rewards, too- Lavender sachets, Choke cherry jelly on toast, Highbush cranberry jam with turkey, fresh Oregano sprinkled on spaghetti- if this is selfishness, I don’t want to stop!

Maybe I can manage some justification. One of the greatest joys of gardening is how it allows us to commune with nature.  To watch flowers swaying in the breeze lulls the mind into meditation.  Working with the earth and with plants brings life-long learning.  Observing any garden up close reveals amazing wildlife and plant interactions that might otherwise go unnoticed.  Here’s my best argument of all – creating and maintaining a garden is actually generous!  Obviously your family and neighbours benefit from the beauty and bounty, but purchasing, reproducing and caring for plants is also a form of conservation, which helps many other living things too. No matter how small the space, a garden is a cradle for species diversity – and diversity within an ecosystem is one way scientists measure environmental health.  Every plant introduced to a garden creates a new little system, or home space, capable of providing food, shelter and meeting places where some creature(s) can eat, sleep, bask in the sun, and socialize.  Now I ask you, how could the host of an environmental oasis for hundreds, or even thousands, of creatures be selfish?

I’m prepared to argue further for those who spend most of their time in an organic garden.  They are giving much more!  Or ideally they are. I am an organic gardener, blending indigenous plants along with my favourite old cultivars.  This is great for the environment, as the native plants are capable of interacting with their natural surroundings, and it is great for gardeners too.  When a garden is left to function naturally and organically, with diligent tending by the human hand, it is as capable as a chemically maintained garden of producing a vast yield of colours and tastes. It is a myth that naturalized, healthy gardens have to be messy with a poor palette. Is it more work to garden organically?  Perhaps, but we garden because we love it, so extra time in the garden isn’t a bad thing for us selfish gardeners. Remember though, we are also doing good for even the tiniest of wild creatures and the rewards can be enormous.

Let me tell you about ONE of these rewards: when we create home space, watering holes and a bounty of food for some of the most beautiful, unobtrusive, and serene garden guests imaginable we get a great return. These guests pollinate our plants and bring genetic diversity to our space.  With their bright colours and hints of iridescence, they will provide an unmatchable display of glitzy yet tranquil entertainment throughout the spring and summer.  Ladies and gentlemen, let’s get to know our special guest…the glittery, flittery, none-too-jittery, rarely bashful BUTTERFLY.

R.K. BarK Botanical Studio Fritillary 4x5.jpg
Great Spangled Fritillary on a Swamp Milkweed bloom in early July, Lower Oxtongue River.

To get started we must understand for whom we are gardening: the order Lepidoptera, a.k.a. butterflies -and some not very orderly moths- so here are some facts about these pretty critters.

Butterflies love basking in the sun. Like reptiles, they are cold-blooded and depend on the sun’s rays to warm them throughout the day.  In our climate, they are naturally most active at and after noon when the sun is at its warmest.  Most butterfly-friendly plant species, such as wild berries, do best in full sun, so choosing plants for the butterfly garden is really as easy as eating raspberry pie.  Just look for the full sun symbol.

Butterflies don’t like wind.  They are a relaxed bunch of delicate insects so they don’t like to struggle while eating.  Butterfly gardens should be placed in areas sheltered from prevailing winds, such as by walls, hedges, fences or the forest’s edge.

Butterflies like to sip water.  Our winged visitors need to wash down their sweet meals with sips of the best thirst quencher around: fresh water.  It doesn’t take much, but they like it best where moisture is constantly dripping- like at the base of a downspout, or in very shallow pools.  Biologists know that butterflies, particularly males, gather in large groups around puddles which produce salt crystals as the stagnant water evaporates into the sun.  Sprinkling a tiny dash of salt on your water source and replenishing it after heavy rainfalls may bring a wider variety of butterfly species to the garden.  Although it does skirt the subject of saltiness, we won’t embellish on the butterfly’s fondness for excrement.

White Admirals ‘puddling’ on a pile of poop. That’s some great minerals!  Algonquin Park.

Butterflies prefer an all-you-can-eat buffet of various nectars.  Creating a garden with a smorgasbord of shape, scent and colour will attract butterflies in more shapes, sizes and colours to enjoy, but importing exotic plant varieties does not encourage native butterfly populations.  It is best to include as many indigenous plant species as possible if you want to attract butterflies and increase their population.  In turn, they’ll improve the diversity of the surrounding environment and give you many more spectacular photo opportunities.  As you plan your garden, include plants to provide a progression of blooms so butterflies can enjoy the blooms for the entirety of our brief warm season.

Many butterflies have short proboscises (tongues).  There are only a few species that can reach the nectar in very long, narrow, tubular flowers.  Choose brightly coloured flowers that openly invite winged wildlife to drink their nectar and distribute their pollen.  If deep tubular flowers are your favourites, you can take comfort in the fact that hummingbirds have long, agile tongues and will never turn up their beaks when offered the beauty of a bell.

Butterflies lay their eggs on plant species their caterpillars eat.  It’s kind of like leaving meals in the fridge when you run off to the garden.  Like all parents, they only want the best when it comes to their kids, and butterflies can be very picky.  If there’s a butterfly you’d like to see, you need to know what their offspring likes to eat.  The larvae will chew, grow, and attach their chrysalis on or around their favorite food, with the food sometimes contributing to their safety (monarchs eat the milkweed because it makes them taste bad to predators). The plants will be nibbled on, but it is a symbiotic relationship as the parents pollinate the flowers.  Don’t worry, the plant can handle a little loss; some pruning by larvae makes the root system hardier.

R.K. Milkweed with Monarch larvae 5 IMG_6180.jpg
Monarch caterpillars on a lone Common Milkweed plant.  Baysville.

Butterflies cannot tolerate pesticides of any kind.  If there is any pesticide use near your garden -even in roadside ditches- caterpillar have a good chance of ingesting the poison, with death a likely result.  All pesticides, chemical, biological, genetically modified, or systemic, affect more than just their target (think honeybees).  The bacterial/fungal pesticide Btk (Bacillus thurngiensis kurstaki), for example, is a “biological technique” for controlling cabbage white, gypsy moth and tent caterpillars.  Research has shown that drifting pollen from Btk-modified corn can harm butterfly larvae on nearby, untreated plants.  Use only organic methods of pest control if you want healthy butterfly visitors.

So where does one begin once the decision has been made to become a kindred host? 

  1. Start by thinking of your favorite plants and colours and go ahead and use them.
  2. Peruse the butterfly menus attached and see what matches your preferences.
  3. Sketch or visualize where the plants will go in your garden. Double check that your placements fit the criteria listed above.
  4. Protect the natural environment by buying nursery-grown stock rather than trying to transplant your own. Many butterfly plants don’t do well when transplanted.
  5. Plant your selections in plenty of rich soil during cool predictably rainy weather. Spend a bit of time tending to them to make sure they take root. Water deeply for the first month or two.
R.K. Joe Pye weed with Monarch IMG_3060.jpg
Monarch on Joe-pye weed.  Trappers Trail, Haliburton County.

Now sit back and get ready for a never-ending nature show where any day can bring a new and interesting visitor!

What’s to be expected after so much thoughtful preparation?  The table is set and the nursery decorated, but when will the guests arrive? Butterflies generally require temperatures to be above 16oC to emerge from hibernation or migrate from their exotic winter residences to summer in Central Ontario.  Once they’re here, some butterflies keep rigid itineraries and visit the same flower at the same time every day.

Okay, okay…I’ll stop with the trivia.  When the Lepidoptera finally choose your garden, what is the best way to enjoy them?  Some garden hosts pull out a field guide and begin to identify their guests – Butterflies of Algonquin Provincial Park by Gard W. Otis is an excellent reference for gardeners in Lake of Bays.  Some butterfly hosts dutifully record and count their guests for the North American Butterfly Association’s annual Fourth of July Butterfly Count, while simultaneously hoping to add a few new species to their ‘life lists’.  Now, my mother would say there is no better way to educate a child about nature’s life cycles than to observe the pupae’s metamorphosis from an earth-bound larva into a floating jewel of a butterfly.  To sit patiently as it emerges, damp and wrinkled, is almost too much to bear. Remember – don’t touch, it will do fine on its own.  Then to wait for just a little longer, as its wings unfurl and the body hardens to sparkle in the warmth of the sun before it can take its first flight…This can be an awe full lesson in patience for hurried adults as well.

When you have your own butterfly garden, you’ll understand: it is a little selfish, it could easily become an addiction, and it is definitely generous. Don’t feel too guilty after all, butterflies leave meals behind and fly off too, remember?  So when the afternoons are too muggy to work, I sit back and relax in my hammock with my girls, let my husband take the photos, and enjoy the silent beauty of the hovering butterfly, revelling in the fact that I have contributed towards one of the most colourful and complex shows on Earth: a Butterfly Garden.

Recommended Reading:

Opler, P.A. and Malikue, V.  1992.  A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston.

Otis, G.W.  1994.  Butterflies of Algonquin Provincial Park. The Friends of Algonquin Park. Whitney.


May the forest be with you!  R.K.

Of Titans, Clones, and other Fun Guys

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ON MY WALK THIS EVENING  I stopped to admire an enormous Beech tree that towered above me.  The smooth, satiny trunk was a shade of light ash and it reached with great purpose out of the snow, reminding me of the muscular arm of a Titan, or that of a warrior from Troy.  It seemed as though it was grasping for the moon.   I was surrounded by saplings of the same species, and several other mature specimens were peppered throughout the stand, which covered about 2.5 acres, or one hectare.  I wondered which of these saplings could in fact be ‘clones’ of the giants in the canopy.  Which ones were genetically independent?  Or were they in fact titans in themselves?

The American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is a master of illusion.  A person could be fooled into thinking there are more trees in the forest than there really are!  You see, as our native Beech tree sends roots out beneath the soil, genetically identical specimens pop up from these roots creating ‘offspring’ around the original.  Beech tree colonies, or ‘stands’, are very often made up of these clones.  To elaborate, while a Beech tree’s roots grasp down deep into the soil to support the biomass above ground, they also creep just below the organic soil of a forest, sending up whips that appear to be baby trees, or saplings, when in truth they are genetically a single tree.  The next time you find yourself among a Beech stand you may well be surrounded, both overhead and underfoot, by one colossal organism!

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An excellent American Beech specimen is proof that Fagus grandifolia is the Black Bear’s highway to the sky (and to a great snack)!

Although a Beech tree can create many trunks from one plant, it will still produce seed to provide a safety net knit with genetic diversity.  These little bundles of evolutionary traits, otherwise known as Beech Nuts, are much appreciated by the Black Bear.  When travelling through a Beech stand, one can often see claw marks tattooed up the length of a Beech tree long after a bear has hauled itself up the smooth, grey trunk in its pursuit of comfort food before winter.

Beech bear nest 2.jpg A Black bear ‘nest’ where the bear pulled the branches in to sit upon and munch on the Beech nuts.

Beech Nuts.jpg

Speaking of comfort food, the nuts of the American Beech were used to flavor the chewing gum of the same name (Beech Nut). Another tree species that weighs in, with a member covering a record breaking 80 hectares, is the Trembling Aspen.  However, the largest recorded living organism, as of 1999, was in fact a fungus from Washington State.  This fun guy wasn’t significantly showy in the way of fruit (those things we call mushrooms), but over it’s thousand-year lifespan it did manage to distribute itself underground to effectively cover about 600 hectares.

The American Beech has a reliable companion in the Yellow Birch, often found co-habiting  Muskoka’s hardwood forest canopy with the dominant Sugar Maple, the odd Black Cherry, and Ash. The Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) reproduces only through a miniscule seed that, in order to germinate let alone grow to maturity, must land on exposed soil or a rotting stump to avoid the dense, smothering carpet of Sugar Maple leaves on the forest floor.   Yellow Birches will cling to rock faces alongside Hemlocks, and can stand on ‘legs’ long after the stump they grew around for years has decomposed.

During a hike through a Beech and Yellow Birch stand, one may also be intrigued by the beauty of the Indian Pipe (Monotrope uniflore), a parasitic vascular plant species that relies on the roots of trees for a source of carbohydrates.   The Indian Pipe contains no green chlorophyll and therefore cannot harness starches and sugars (carbohydrates) through photosynthesis.  It is a species that has evolved to form a symbiotic relationship with these trees.  This fleshy little ‘flower’ uses a fungal bridge to feed on carbohydrates from the tree.  This allows it to live in dense shade while it simultaneously creates by-products that provide compatible nutrition for the tree.  Now that’s a win- win-win situation!   One can usually find the delicate white canes of the Indian Pipe on the forest floor among Beech and Yellow Birch from Late July through September.

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May the forest be with you R.K.



Plants for Septic Tile Fields

Septics and Tile Beds are a hot topic in Cottage Country.

Some waterfront properties are large enough and flat enough with appropriate setback from the water’s edge for a full septic and tile bed system.  Some are limited in footprint, or it is an older structure that is too close to the water, and can only accommodate holding tank.   If a holding tank is placed on grade and back-filled creating a new ‘mound’ on the property, erosion and wash-out of the imported fill can be a big problem, requiring multiple re-visits by the contractor.  Either way, the process of installing or repairing a septic system is, truthfully destructive, exposing mineral soil, which is a perfect invite for invasive species*.  Therefore, septic system fields require diligent maintenance to prevent nature, and invasives, from moving back onto the system, because that’s what they need to be – fields.

Why don’t we want the forest to move back to the areas we’ve cleared for our effluent management?  Well, the below-ground plumbing cannot be shifted.  Pipes and clay tiles, drainage gravel; they  are all required to stay put and function well for as long as they can for a good return on investment.  Tree and shrub roots, being woody, are known to fracture even the most impressive rock-faces, let alone foundations, concrete pools, and other man-made structures.  Woody roots punch holes and grow ever larger, which is great for porosity and soil health, and they hold shorelines in place and prevent erosion, but they just don’t cooperate with infrastructure stability, which humans require.  It is best to treat septic fields as just that – fields and meadows, whether in the shade or sun, they need to be culturally maintained areas.

It is recommended to regularly maintain one’s tile bed area by pulling out newly established trees and shrubs, pretty much on an annual basis.  The forest ALWAYS wants to return with the help of all of the little critters burying their caches and pooping out forest seeds.

Raspberries and blackberries are usually the first pioneers, followed by cherries, poplars and of course, Sugar maples.  We spend a lot of our client time pulling plants out of septic beds.  So how can we make it easier on ourselves?  How can we make it more difficult for raspberries and blackberries to establish?

Planting groundcovers and wildflowers with shallow, running roots is a good way to start.  These plants won’t completely prevent the establishment of woody roots, but they will make it more difficult for woody-species’ seeds to hit mineral soil.   The faster one can re-establish vegetation upon disturbed soil, the more efficient the vegetation will be at keeping the woody-species seeds from hitting soil. So, which groundcovers are not invasive (like Vinca minor), and which are indigenous to the area?  Which are best for sunny tile beds and which are best for shade?  There are some taller wildflowers that have shallow root habit, but many tile beds are part of a ‘vista’ system, where tall species are not wanted, and then there is of course turf, which can be maintained and kept at a low height by mowing.

Planting your tile field, along with planting your waterfront with a buffer of indigenous deep-rooting woody species (there are many low-growing woody species which put down good roots) will help keep your lake healthy and you and your neighbours, wild and human, happy.

*Please be sure to request that your contractor clean and pressure-wash their heavy equipment in their yard before bringing it onto your site.  Heavy equipment and their tracks and ‘teeth’ hold many an invasive species in among their metal parts and are one of the main culprits in the transport of vegetative invasives.


N.B. Many of the following species will do a sufficient job covering a part-shade tile bed as well.  They can all be found in Central Ontario.

Barren strawberry (Waldstenia fragarioides)


Canada anenome (Anenome canadensis)

Canada Anemone June 2016 039.jpg

Large-leaved aster (Aster macrophyllus)


Bracken Fern (Pteridium aqualinium)

Jewelweed (Impatiens repens) and Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)


Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum)



R.K. Blue-eyed grass IMG_3531.jpg

Black-eyed susan


A new tile bed with disturbed soil is a perfect opportunity to establish Fireweed.


and Common milkweed, which will return annually for Monarch butterflies.

R.K. Milkweed with Monarch caterpillar.jpg


N.B. Many of the following species will do well on a part-sun tile bed as well.  They can all be found in Central Ontario.

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)


Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

R.K. Bunchberry colony IMG_9732.jpg

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Sensitive fern (Oenoclea sensibilis) with Joe Pye weed (not for septics)


Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Christmas fern June 2016.jpg

Wild Bergamont (Monarda fistulosa)

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Rough woodland sunflower (Helianthus divericatus)Rough woodland sunflower IMG_1102.jpg












Solomon’s seal

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False solomon’s seal

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Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

Columbine cultivars (Aquilegia spp.)

Bee balm (Monarda didyma)

Bee Balm August 2016 008.jpg

…and then there are always those running mints and oregano, but I wouldn’t use them for food if you use chemical cleaners or bleach…

There will be more photos to come.

May the forest be with you.


Preparing and eating artichokes

Okay, this is not at all forest epicure or ecologically themed, but I wondered how to go about preparing artichokes and have just embraced the process this year.

Thought I’d share.  Enjoy!


Nice artichokes.  Clean, dense tips, tight around centre.


Cut off base of stem leaving at least one inch from flower base.


Pull off lower petals accordingly.

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Cut off petal tips.


Cut off dense flower tips with a sharp knife.

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Get steaming water ready and up to a boil in a very large pot with a tight-fitting lid, a steaming tray, a slice of lemon, a bay leaf and a clove of garlic.

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Rinse outside well, flower tips down to keep inside of flower clean.


Rinse the inside of the flower and stretch the petals open a bit.


Place in steamer once water is boiling, tips down.  Put on the lid.


Start to make the dip.  Mayonnaise (Olive oil), Balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard.


Add salt and pepper to dip.  I add salt in a nice thin layer on the top after blending well.

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Artichokes should be done after steaming for 15 minutes, or until the lower petals pull off easily and flesh can be easily stripped from the petal base with your teeth.

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I forgot to take photos of the eating process because I was too busy eating.

Eat the artichoke by pulling each petal off the flower, dipping it, and stripping the flesh off of the petal with your teeth.  As you get closer to the centre of the flower, you should be able to eat more of the petal, closer to the tip.

This is the end of the meal in this photo.  This here is the heart.  Sometimes the hairs above the heart are too hard and prickly to eat, so scoop them out where they meet the meat of the stem.  These particular artichoke centre hairs were soft so we ate them.  You can eat the whole heart of the ‘handle’ (stem) too.  The ‘heart’ is the base of the flower, it looks like a bowl, leading into the stem.  It is very sweet and rich.

May the forest be with you.


Is it Poison Ivy?

How many times have you asked this question?

It is quite common, in Lake of Bays, to have a situation where a landowner has misidentified Wild Sarsaparilla for Poison Ivy resulting in the eradication of the ‘culprit’ along with the existing biodiversity on their property.  I have seen entire lots cleared with a bulldozer due to lack of knowledge regarding Toxicodendron radicans.

I have found throughout my travels in my home zones that Poison Ivy tends to stick to human activity zones, particularly those zones, or towns that have a long human history, back to the days of horse and cattle traffic.  I had an elder tell me that the poison ivy seeds travelled and distributed through the ‘horses’ doovers’ – and I would bet on cow patties as well.

Hopefully this Poison Ivy Primer can help you spot the key differences between Poison Ivy and its ‘look alikes’.

Poison Ivy, Oxtongue River Rapids.


That’s a pretty good start, though there are many tri-foliate plants out there that are quite friendly, and useful for that matter.

Poison Ivy is shiny, very shiny, and has margins that are not serrated like a saw blade.  The margins are a little ‘ripply’.  The venation is quite evident.  The leaves are almost leathery and there is typically a little pink or red spot where the leaf margins meet in the middle, and often the base of the margin, or the entire margin of each leaf can be pinkish or reddish.

The stems and runners are woody.  The leaf scars are very prominent, quite similar to an ash twig.

The berries are white and unappealing.

Poison Ivy ‘berries’.  Petroglyphs Provincial Park.

Sometimes the sap of the Poison Ivy plant will oxidise and present as black tar upon the twigs.  It is this sap of the poison ivy plant that is the root of the problem.

The best thing to do if you are travelling among Poison Ivy, is to cover your footwear with gaiters, or something that can be washed easily with soap and water.

Soap and water is the best way to remove the sap from footwear and clothing.  Dish soap is excellent for cutting the oil and resins found in poison ivy sap.  If you are hand-washing an item, use gloves.

If you have skin contact with poison ivy sap, keep your hands off, don’t touch your face, mouth, nose or eyes, and try to get to a washing station as soon as possible. Apply soap concentrate to the sap on skin or clothing, and try not to smear the sap any further than where it made contact.

Pinch the sap up gently, rather than scrubbing.  It is probably best to dispose of the cleaning cloth.

You can then throw the clothes, solo, into the washing machine.

NEVER EVER BURN POISON IVY as a means of disposal, or you may damage your eyes and lungs, along with any other beings around you, with the toxic smoke.

                           NOT POISON IVY                             Dewberry in this instance are trailing and thorn-less.
                                                            NOT POISON IVY                                                  Goldthread in the foreground, and Sorrel in the back to the left do have three leaves and grow in dense mats.  Sorrel  is succulent, and Goldthread is shiny leathery in appearance like Poison ivy, but note the serrated margins of the Goldthread.

May the forest be with you.



Well, we’ve had a pretty good example of a drought year here in Lake of Bays and Algonquin Highlands.  The rain, when we’ve had it, has not been well-timed for the berry crops, but the mushrooms have been having a great time!

Our Shiitakes had an amazing run this fall, as did many other Fun Guys.  The ‘Shrooming since the beginning of September has been fantastic!!

Note the buff caps, white speckled edges, and the clean, dry, fuzzy, straight stems of the Shiitake.  The caps maintain a nice curl under right up to the days of desiccation.  Shiitakes don’t look slimy.  They remain monochromatic throughout the organism.

I had a client send a set of mushroom pix to me through email this Thanksgiving weekend, wanting an ID from me, almost convinced that they were Shiitakes.

The mushrooms were growing from what seemed to be a Sugar maple stump that had been cut three inches above grade several years earlier.  The mushrooms were twisted, and grooved with smooth, shiny, yellow caps, almost like Slippery Jacks, they could’ve been Honey mushrooms, but were past their prime if they were…

I didn’t have time to ID the subject specimen with any certainty as to whether or not it was edible AT ALL, not to mention that I was out the door to the funeral for the father of a dear friend (link below), but I knew how to answer the question right away.

I hastily wrote out key ID:

Note the shiny, ‘wet’ caps and the contrast between the caps and the dark, twisty, grooved stem.  

Shiitakes are buff, dry, solid, monochromatic through cap to stem, dry, and clean. 

Cheers to a great Thanksgiving and DON’T eat the mushrooms!

I don’t like to I.D. mushrooms during my edibles workshops as edible, it has been a general rule of thumb for me.  I thought that writing about them, and forcing myself to identify some of my hundreds of mushroom photos, may expand my horizons.

Let’s run through a quick course of fall mushroom photo ID from Botanigal’s Fall Travels… These images were taken in Algonquin Highlands, Lake of Bays, and Ottawa, as noted in the captions.  You will notice that they are slowly being identified over time…

Earth Tongue type.  Lake of Bays.
R.K. Earth Tongue SLAR 2015 IMG_1430.jpg
Golden Clustered Clubs.  Algonquin Highlands
These look a lot like Shiitakes, but they are not on wood and have a stem ring.        Lake of Bays
Parasol type with a sock.  Lake of Bays
This is difficult to I.D. due to the lack of an under-view, very much like polished marble.   Lake of Bays
Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric.  Lake of Bays
Orange Milk Mushroom.  Lake of Bays
These are fun!  Lake of Bays


R.K. Fungi 3 BHLR 2015 IMG_1857.jpg
I ran into a bear who was doing the same thing as I – totally focusing on the mushrooms!!  Long-rooted Agaric (Xerula furfuracea) stems may be as long beneath the ground as you see above grade!
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Lacquered polypore.  Limberlost Nature Reserve
Stinkhorn.  Lake of Bays.
R.K. Mystery mushroom 1.jpg
Flowerpot Parasol (Leucocoprinus birnbaumii) likes houseplants
Green-headed jellybabies.  Algonquin Highlands

R.K. Slime mould SLAR 2015 IMG_1422.jpg


Tremella mesenterica.  Lake of Bays
Pilobolus kleinii type.   Lake of Bays
Puffball found by my pal Gillian on her way to the ‘Lil’ Girls Room’.  Mud Lake, Ottawa.

Please read the Ottawa Citizen’s obituary for artist and naturalist John Crosby, dear father to my best friends, and a key role-model to my LOB-Ottawa pals, along with my fellow naturalists and birders.

John regularly haunted Mud Lake as long as he was able.

He was an amazing Canadian artist.


May the forest be with you Joe.

R.K. Earth Tongue SLAR 2015 IMG_1430.jpg
Can you find all of the other fungi in this photo?

T-bud Method for Apple Grafting

Today I finally got around to grafting some genetics from two very special apple trees onto some of my Brighton Siberian crab apple stock, which I obtained from my friends at Waverleybrook Farm.

The first tree is from Mont Morillonite, South Portage, from which my pal will be moving soon, so we want to save the genetics.  The second is from an old tree near Dorset which produces really yummy apples.

It is the end of August, so I may have waited too long, but between work and and becoming convinced by my high-school buddy to live a little, off we went, my pal and my two daughters, on an impromptu Provincial Park tour to Sandbanks – we hit Peteroglyphs and Presqu’ile on the way there – and happened upon the suspension bridge at Ferris on the way home. We based at my relatives in Presqu’ile bay.  Great fun making old and new memories.

R.K. Osprey at Presqu'ile 2016
Ospreys are nesting on the little  lighthouse just inside the bay from the big lighthouse on Presqu’ile point.  I took this photo while my uncle was giving us a tour of Gosport Bay in my Grandad’s Shepherd, in which he cruised the waters of Lake of Bays from 1954-1990.

So,  back to the apple grafting.  The T-bud method works as follows:

Obtain a nice, fresh razor blade or box-cutter blade.  Have an alcohol pad on hand to wipe the blade clean between cuts.  Have your genetics from your tree of choice and your root stock on hand.

First: Cut off your bud of choice.  Leave the leaf attached as a handle so you don’t have to touch the cuts.

T-bud grafting bud cut

Step 2: Cut a capital ‘T’ into your root-stock, carefully lifting the cambium so that the slit will be able to accept the graft.

Step 3: Insert your bud from the top of the ‘T’ without touching either cut with your DIRTY fingers.  Make sure the cambium of each piece is in contact with the each other.  Push the bud down so that it sits just below the top of the ‘T’

T-bud inserted

Cut of the tip of the bud piece that is sitting above the top of the ‘T’ and the leaf ‘handle’.

Step 4:  Coat with your grafting wax, and Voila!

T bud grafting with wax
This is a rather sloppy job with the grafting wax – it is a cool day and I couldn’t keep the wax warm, as I was using my friend’s good dishes lined with tinfoil.  Note to self: Get a wax warmer.

Step 5:  Wait patiently to see if the connection takes and wait even further to see if the apples are as delicious as the ones from the genetics you’ve selected.

That’s it for now.  Good luck!  May the forest be with you.



Botanigal: The Beginning.

Welcome to the Botanigal blog.

As you may have guessed, I am passionate about plants, particularly those found in Ontario, and I have been studying Ethnobotany – the scientific study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses, for about 25 years now.

Being a nursery woman, environmental horticulturist, and ecological consultant by trade, I spend most of my time outside in the forests of Muskoka and Haliburton districts, collecting genetics and propagating indigenous plants for our native plant nursery and botanical gardens near Dorset, Ontario.  I harvest plant material from our acreage and our gardens for propagation, food,  and herbal applications.  I also lead ecological interpretive tours and flora walks, and sometimes lead birding and other faunal outings with fellow citizen scientists, most often in the areas around Algonquin Park, but I have spent significant periods of my life studying plants in other parts of Ontario and Canada.

During my younger years I planted trees for three summers across Northern Ontario (Thunder Bay, Ignace, Kenora, Atikokan, Kapuskasing, Hearst, Cochrane, Jellicoe, Geraldton), and Northern Manitoba (Swan River), and Northern Quebec (Rouyn-Noranda and Cadillac).

I spent a lot of time looking at the ground. Looking at the sky.  Looking at the little things.  Being by oneself for long periods of time in the brush allows one to notice subtle sights and smells.  I often found interesting plants by following my nose.  It took me a whole summer of tree planting to figure out that the alluring scent of strawberry was being released by dead Balsam Fir as it dehydrated towards decay.  Poplars, however smell pretty funky as they rot – but when alive, have a fine powder on their bark that can act as an impromptu sunscreen  and I am still learning new things everyday.  My good friend, Jeff the woodworker, gave me that little tidbit about the Poplar’s powder , which he had learned from a retired Algonquin Park ranger.

Aspens in fall
Poplar species, like these aspens (bright yellow), hold their leaves longer than most other deciduous trees here in Algonquin Park.  The Red Oak leaves (brown) are very rich with tannins and therefore, hold their leaves into the deep winter until the new leaf buds swell, thus ejecting the old leaves off of the tree.

I grew up in southern Ontario surrounded by farmland and fence-rows near the Holland Marsh north of Toronto.  Post-secondary studies drew me to:

  • Lindsay (Sir Sandford Fleming College – Integrated Resource & Ecosystem Management and Permaculture),
  • Peterborough (Trent University – Environmental Science BSc. Ecological Agriculture),
  • Sault-Ste. Marie (Laurentian University –Botany and Ethnobotany),
  • Milton, (Landscape Ontario Pre-Apprenticeship I and II Programs), and the
  • Humber River Valley (Humber College – Landscaping and Horticulture Apprenticeship).

I’ve seen many ecotypes, soil types, and micro-climates, along with varying levels of human development and have become quite appalled by urban sprawl, as it is everywhere.

On that note, I have borne witness to all of my sacred childhood learning places succumbing to development.  ‘Progressing’ towards  subdivisions, pavement, and automated farming.

I found comfort through these times by collecting the genetics of my floral friends and making more of them before the developers arrived, and the irony is that this Anthropocene drove me into my career.  I’ve been reproducing the genetics of these plants, among other rescues over the years, with bits of root and seed; the seeds of my teachers who listened with me, and are now still with me, holding memories of those dear places in their beauty.

We are now witnessing a very similar style of progress here, in Muskoka and Haliburton along what were once  peaceful shorelines of cottage country, where I have been lucky enough to have a life-long home too.

Despite the fact that contemporary urban landscape styles, new to Muskoka, with ‘lot-line-to-lot-line’ clear-cutting bring me paid work in the remedial niche; shoreline erosion mitigation, site replanting, and goose control landscaping methods, I still find it heartbreaking to know that what once was here, as I knew and loved, has been mown down for palatial estates.  These dear places where my family stories were held.  Held among wooden sentinel friends which towered over me as a child and adolescent, gone on somebody else’s whim.  It is a painful feeling and this is not a new emotion felt only by me. Generations before have felt the burn of extirpation and being separated from their home roots, along with  witnessing the loss of forest friends.

What we haven’t quite grasped yet as a wealthy waterfront society, is that these ‘urban clubhouse’ ideals are far more intensive to care for than the existing plant communities that grew with our great-grandparents.  The real irony is in how much input is actually required to remove and destroy cottage country’s low-maintenance forest gardens of beauty and age-old diversity.  Diversity which will take a century to return because the land has just been cauterized from the water, sun-cooked and barren, hindering dragonfly habitat, resulting in a new fortune being spent on irrigation.

I have resigned to the fact that this is a part of change, and I hope that future generations can change in a new way.  A way in which humans can hold a new understanding of the time it takes for a tree and its symbiotic community to grow.  Perhaps future communities will even apply a monetary value to this time, these trees, these plant and animal communities where:

More biodiversity on a site makes the site worth More $$, more valuable.


Perhaps one day we could even apply this idea to ones’ property value as an inherent understanding, that through maintaining existing plant populations, we improve human condition.  Leaving forest communities to thrive on a site will be inherent with the health of the human community.

On a lighter note, in the midst of all of these examples of questionable urban progress, the riparian zone is an amazing place to work and take photographs!

The biodiversity levels are fantastic in this ‘ribbon of life’, along the shorelines of our lakes and rivers.  I often find time to document these watershed edge zones.  My dearest waterfront clients show some serious old school respect for the waterfront and we have created the most beautiful spaces to spend time and make memories.  They are citizen scientists themselves and I will write about their efforts in the future.

I also get to spend lots of time in and around Algonquin Park and the Algonquin Highlands Water Trails chumming and chopping with my ‘artsy fartsy’ and scientific pals, and I am hoping to post what I think are fun and interesting finds and events on a regular basis.

WARNING: There will be pics of poo – and dead things.  Check out the ‘Scat and dead things’ group on Facebook.

This blog will likely be a visual learning tool more than a wordy one now that you have an overview of who is writing this blog.

So thanks for reading, and hopefully you’ll be interested enough by the posted content that you’ll follow along with me in this journey of my blog.

May the forest be with you.

Floating along with the Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation for the fourth annual Silent Boat Poker Run.

R.K. LBHF Poker Run 2016

So 2016 was the fourth year for this great educational event held on the lower Oxtongue River near Dwight, Ontario.  I have been the Floating Ecologist for the event since its inception and can say – without jinxes – it hasn’t rained during the event yet, it’s always sunny!

There is no race for time with this poker run. It is all about the hand you get dealt, from floating dealers, which is not comprised of your typical cards with hearts and spades. These cards are handcrafted with photographs of local native species and the best hand is the one with the most Species at Risk, so you can take as much time as you’d like. Take a swift or relaxed paddle, collect your hand, see the sights and get a really nice lunch.

Aside from Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, and White-throated Sparrow, the more noticeable flowering plant species one would typically see along this paddle during this time of the year are as follows:

R.K. Cardinal Flower 2016 for web
Cardinal Flower
R.K. LBHF Poker Run 2016 Wapato for web
Arrowhead or Wapato
R.K. LBHF Poker Run 2016 White Water lily for web
White Water Lily

R.K. Swamp milkweed with spider









R.K. Swamp milkweed with spider
Swamp Milkweed

Can you find the flower spider?

May the forest be with you.