A Primer to Honour Your Fresh Greens

How often do you buy more fresh vegetable greens than you can manage for your meal plans?  I’d often look in the crisper in my fridge and find fresh greens that we’d purchased such as Cilantro, Parsley, Dill, Basil, and even Spinach wilted or turned to mush, especially when my girls were very young and I had serious time management issues.  Many of these greens can have bits pinched off of the bunch for an entire week, but then there is the risk of inadvertent damage of the remainders along with cross-contamination.

A few years ago, I sat down with an elder for a meal and she pulled some vibrant basil leaves out of a bag in her freezer and tossed them into the meal.  They turned dark and wilted into the sauce as soon as they hit the heat, but the flavour was all there.

And so from that day on I had a new brain tool to manage my fresh greens and it is time-sensible and simple.   Hopefully this primer will help you save some time and money too.

You will need your selected greens, parchment paper (I find wax paper gets too sticky), and a baking tray or two depending on the bulk of your vegetable material.

R.K. Wash herbs and place on tray 086

Wash you greens of choice and shake dry.  Place parchment paper on baking tray.  Arrange greens in a single layer on the paper surface only.

R.K. Herbs layered in waxed paper 089.jpg

You can layer you greens and paper as high as your freezer will allow.

R.K. Herbs layered in freezer 090.jpg

Place in freezer and flash freeze for a few hours.  Overnight is fine too, I’ve forgotten for a day or two and they still turned out fine.

Once the greens are frozen, you will need to take them out of the freezer, one paper layer at a time, fold your paper with the herbs on it, and funnel them into a large freezer bag, touching them with your warm hands as little as possible.  DO THIS AS QUICKLY AS YOU CAN, seal the bag with lots of air in it, shake the herbs in the bag so they have individual space and air circulation, and set the bag back in the freezer.

R.K. Cilantro in bag 001.jpg

Once your greens sit in the freezer with the air for about half an hour, if freezer space is limited, you can squeeze out as much air as you can without crushing the greens.

Here’s to success and saving money!

May the forest be with you.

Making Paneer for your Botanigals Odd Spice Mixes

Paneer is a fresh cheese that is very easy to make.  Aside from the time it takes to stir the milk while it boils, and the time it takes to press the cheese, it is really a simple process and the product is way better than the packaged products you can find at large grocery chains.

What you will need:

4 Litres of whole milk and 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

(I always squeeze a bit more and you will see why later on)

4l-of-milk-049 Lemon juice 048.jpg

A sturdy strainer that can sit atop a large pot, a fine strainer, and a large section of cheesecloth.  Get this set up beforehand.

Strainer arrangement 067.jpg

STEP 1: Get your lemon juice ready ahead of time. 2 lemons should make your 1/2 cup +

Lemon juice 066.jpg

STEP 2:  Pour all 4 litres of milk into a large saucepan.  Set heat to medium low and stir constantly to avoid scorching on the bottom of the pan.  It will take about 30 minutes to boil.

Stirring milk 045.jpg

STEP 3: Once the milk is at a rolling boil and starts to foam add all of the lemon juice.
Pour the lemon juice into the milk and stir 069.jpg

STEP 4:  The milk will separate from the whey.  If not, you don’t have enough lemon juice.  Hopefully you will have more set aside, but for 4 litres of milk, 1/2 cup + should do it.

The curd separates from the whey 071.jpg

STEP 5: Strain the whey from the curd.  In this photo we’ve dumped the whey away.  You can save the whey, but we didn’t have a use for it this time.


STEP 6:  Run cold water over the curd until it cools.  We are using filtered water here, but tap water is really best and more efficient.

Pour cold water 075.jpg

STEP 7: Gather up the curd and wiggle the water out, make sure there is no more steam or heat in the curd bundle.  The centre, of course will hold the heat the longest, so be sure to cool that area too.

Gather up curd 077.jpg

STEP 8: Twist the curd in the cheesecloth into a ball.  It will still be holding water and that’s okay.

Squeeze and twirl  045.jpg

STEP 9:  Wrap the curd ball nice and tight and smooth so no curd can escape under high pressure, but so that the twist doesn’t punch a dent into the middle of the finished cheese. Set into a strong strainer that is firmly set on a sturdy catchment vessel like the saucepan you boiled the milk in.

Wrap stage 1 079.jpgWrap neatly around to the other side 080.jpg

STEP 10: Place a plate over the curd ball and then a cloth on top of that so the stone or bricks, or weight unit does not damage the plate or crumble into the unit.

Plate over curd ball 081.jpgDishcloth over plate 082.jpg

STEP 11:  Place the straining unit on a sturdy surface, or better yet on the floor because it will be heavy.  Set the weight on top of the cloth and plate.  Balance the weight so your cheese sets in a balanced fashion.  Let sit for at least 2 hours.

Rock press IMG_3618.jpg

STEP 12:  Unwrap the cheesecloth and enjoy the finished product.  I wash and dry my cheesecloth for further use.  Place your finished block of paneer in a sealed container or bag in the fridge until ready to use.  Depending on the level of hygiene throughout the process, it should keep for a week.

Finished cheese IMG_3622.jpg

Go to the botanigals boutique page and find The Odd Spice shelf.  Click on the Angrezi Curry Masala icon to find the recipe for Matar Paneer and purchase the spice so you can use your paneer in an unbelievably delicious dish!

May the forest be with you.







Peeling Garlic Without the Grief: It’s Scientific!


Do you hesitate to deal with garlic because it is a pain to peel, it sticks to your fingers, and your hands smell like garlic for a good while later?

Fresh, whole garlic is so great for people, but when it is fresh, there is a chemical reaction that occurs at the moment the cell walls are damaged, which creates the potent aroma we are all so familiar with.

Here are some simple hints on how to process a clove of garlic without the sticky and stiNky fingers. There’s simple science in here too! And please remember to always respect your knives.

Step One.  Find a substantial STAINLESS STEEL knife with a broad blade, this is key to ease and safety.  The stainless steel is key here too.

Clove of garlic with substantial knife IMG_3382.jpg

Step Two. Take the root end off of the clove.

taking root end off of garlic clove IMG_3386.jpg

Step Three.  Press the knife down firmly, flat against the clove.  It’s okay if the clove breaks.  Place your fingers carefully, or use a fist, but don’t punch the knife.

Pressing garlic clove with knife blade IMG_3389.jpg

Garlic peel cracked IMG_3390.jpg

The clove will break free from the skin.

Garlic out of peel IMG_3391.jpg


Step Four.  Rinse your knife under COLD water while running your fingers and thumb along both SIDES of the blade, SHARP EDGE DOWN.  Do not touch the sharp edge, K?

Washing garlic knife and fingers IMG_3395.jpg

The cold water, stainless steel and garlic compounds react to each other, ridding your fingers of the garlic smell.  Neato!

May your hands smell great forever and May the forest be with you.

Gardening in Deer Country

This was my first ‘article’ written to be distributed at a ‘Ladies Night’ speech I was asked to do about gardening with deer, which is quite an issue around waterfront in Muskoka and Haliburton.

The topic was to be about ‘Deer Proofing’  but ‘proofing’ is practically impossible because deer are an inherent part of the ecosystems here that we have to live with.  Ah, the White-tailed deer.  Cute, doe-eyed, nibbling herds of destruction that love exotic and imported landscaping plants from southern suppliers for more than one reason: 1.  These nursery plants are well watered with well water from sedimentary bedrock, 2. because of the different soils they hold different nutrients ie. more calcium, so they’re like a vitamin booster,  3. the irrigated plants are, of course, more succulent, and 4. they just simply taste different.

This was one of my first public presentations representing BarK.  This presentation got us our first annual maintenance client fifteen years ago, and here’s why: I recommended during the speech that dogs and their urine are the best deer deterrent, but lacking one of those, the women of the house could just ask their men to pee around the yard a bit more.  So the next day, this client’s maintenance man phoned me up and said his wife told him that I was just ‘crazy enough’ to work with this client as her groundskeeper!

We have a much deeper understanding about these ungulates through experience in the field since this article was written/ compiled in 2003.  We wanted to pull from the book that was out at the time (Deer-Proofing Your Yard and Garden from the States) and make it fit Muskoka, listing the ‘deer proof’ plants that could possibly grow here.

It’s not a great compilation, and we have many more tricks up our sleeves at this point in our career, but it is a good primer to start with.   Here is a deer deterrent watering recipe we’ve used that was passed down to us by our Garden Mother and we’ve adapted it further with essential oils.  Good luck!

Botanigals Deer Deterrent Formula

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup grated Ivory or Irish Spring soap
  • 1-2 cups of water 
  • (Optional)  Geranium and/ or Clary Sage essential oils

Blend together egg, water and soap flakes to emulsify.   Pour mixture into a container for the garden.

Whisk in essential oils.

Add the mix to watering can and then fill to agitate the mix.

Apply to susceptible areas of the garden and, if possible, to main deer pathways which access your yard.

Gardening with deer p1.jpg

Gardening with deer p2.jpg

Gardening with deer p3 cropped.jpg

May the forest be with you.

Wild Recipes for Biodiversity

This article was written and compiled in 2002 and  distributed as a marketing tool for BarK throughout Muskoka at trade shows, markets, workshops, and seminars.  Updated and printed in 2005 for the Edible Algonquin Summer Workshop series.*

We all know the joys of harvesting wild fruit such as Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Cranberries or Crab Apples.  There are also many well-known wild vegetables like the Wild Leek and ‘Wild’ Asparagus along with a wide array of nuts and seeds.  By learning the virtues of the lesser-known edibles found throughout Central Ontario, we may become encouraged to invite more indigenous and naturalized plants into our lives.

Perhaps with this new dimension of understanding, our native plants and our variety of ‘weeds’ will seem more acceptable or attractive to us and be allowed to remain in our yards.

Their presence in our ecosystems increases botanical diversity.  Diversity means more options.  It opens new doors of taste exploration and nutritional alternatives for us, as well as the surrounding natural community.

The following pages include recipes that utilize some of these lesser-known plant species that can be found throughout this great garden that we call Muskoka, Haliburton, and Parry-Sound.

As we live in this enormously productive system, we need to respect both the power and fragility of its components.  Remember when harvesting:

  • to be absolutely certain of your I.D. skills.
  • Always leave enough behind to regenerate for the wildlife that appreciates this bounty as much as you, your family and your friends.  Most importantly,
  • wild foods should only be consumed in moderation and with great respect for their energy and strength.  Take care, and enjoy!


(Cornus Canadensis)

HABITAT: Thrives under open conifer stands where the sun penetrates the forest floor.  Best used to create a blend from forest edge into lawn, pathway or any other open space.  Ideal for under pines.

Berries are produced in late summer.  Delicate in flavor, this fruit is an excellent reason to stop and eat when on a hike or enjoying a sunny day in the yard.  Seeds can be swallowed whole.  Planting the creeping member of the Dogwood family along a pine-fringed edge of the yard give you a great reason not to mow the outskirts of the lawn (if grass grew there in the first place) and will encourage songbirds to feast right in front of you!



(Taraxacum officinale)

With new pesticide by-laws popping up like dandelions in communities across Canada we may as well re-learn the new/ old ways to deal with these ‘weeds’.  High in vitamin A, and also packing iron and folic acid, dandelions provide a plethora of healthful foods that have been forgotten and eventually lost throughout the chemical revolution of the mid 20th century.  So let us raise our mugs of dandelion coffee and make a toast:  Here’s to improved health!  For your yard, garden and body!

Like lettuce, tomatoes and asparagus, in fact, like all of our fruits and vegetables, dandelion greens are best when gathered at just the right stage.  It must be done before a flower forms in the crown of the plant.  As soon as the plant starts sending up bloom stalks, the dandelion season is over as far as the vegetable portions are concerned.

The first harvest should occur long before the last frost of spring when there is a “slightly reddish tangle” of leaves poking out through the grass.  Use a narrow shovel or spade to pry out the plant, roots and all.  Voila!  Weedin’ and eatin’!

Dandelion greens harvested from grass that have been allowed to grow longer, or from edge habitats or fencerows, taste better than those found in a frequently mowed lawn.

The roots of the dandelion can be peeled like a potato or carrot, thinly sliced crosswise, and then boiled in two waters (dumping the first water once boiling, then adding more boiling water and continue to boil until tender) with a pinch of soda added to the first water.  Garnish accordingly.

Dandelion roots can also be slow roasted at 120oC (250oF) for 4 hours or until the roots snap drily and appear dark brown in the centre.  Grind or fracture and store.

Then you can Steep 1 palm-full of grounds to every cup of water for a tea or coffee substitute adding milk or sugar as you wish.  Roots for this purpose can be gathered any time of the year; however they will be most potent before any energy is put into greening up or flower production.

Between the roots and the greens of the dandelion plant are the dandelion crowns.  Remove the root in a way that allows the crown to stay in one piece and remove the greens where they begin to, well, green.  These make a fine nibble cooked (boiled for 5 minutes, drain and season) or raw.

Dandelion flower buds can be harvested before they open and can be fried until they start to pop and jump in the pan.  These can be added to eggs for a wonderful omelet.


(Hemercallis fulva or H. flava)

HABITAT: Plant in full sun for best flower production.

Gather unopened flower buds.  When eaten raw, they impart a slight aftertaste, like a very mild onion.

You may also boil a few minutes, butter, season, and serve.

Unopened flower buds may also be dipped into a rich egg batter and flash-fried in very hot fat until golden brown.

Unopened flower buds or wilted day-after flowers can be added to soups or stews during the last few minutes of cooking.  They will create a gumbo-like consistency similar to okra.  Both can be used fresh, or can be dried in a warm place for about a week and then stored for future use.  The buds will require more drying time than the wilts, perhaps they could be sliced in half.  Dry and store the buds and expired flowers separately.

Hemerocallis tubers are also edible.  Clean bulbous sections of the rootstock from the rhizomes and root hairs.  Wash and boil in salted water for about 15 minutes.  Older tubers are soft and inedible.  When dug in spring there will be many young tubers fresh and white.  These can be eaten raw.


(Samcucus Canadensis)

HABITAT: Edge habitat particularly wetland edge.  Full sun without full exposure to the elements.  Prefers moist soils by ditches, the water’s edge, or beneath roof runoff.

Note: There aren’t enough large colonies of  Sambucus Canadensis in Muskoka to support commercial human use,  the berries are best left for the wildlife who need them, so it is best to purchase and grow your own colonies before you use them for yourself.  Identification can be assured this way too.

The stems, roots, leaves and unripe berries will cause stomach upset.  Not recommended for people with known food allergies.

* UPDATE Not recommended for use against COVID-19 as the immune response from this plant medicine is in fact triggered from slight inflammation and COVID thrives within inflamed human bodies.

Black Elderberry fruit.jpg


Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Canada Elderberry) not Red, Black, Narrow or Blue Elder.

  • 2 cups of Canada Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis)
  • 1 cup of  rosehips
  • 1/2 cup Echinacea purpurea root chunked
  • 1/4 cup Chicory root chunked
  • 1/4 cup chunked and bruised ginger root
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • Add 5 cups of water (or unsweetened sumac-ade) to the fruit and roots (See below for sumac-ade directions)
  • Heat to a simmer and continue gently for 10 minutes, mashing the fruit, roots and spices, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
  • Pour the contents of the saucepan through a ‘jelly bag’ made of several layers of cheesecloth, twist up the mash once the liquid has strained into the container, and squeeze out the remaining juice.  You can place a plate with a rock press on the bag and allow to strain further for an hour or two and add that to the batch before dividing into jars.
  • Add the honey to the warm liquid while it is still hot so it dissolves.
  • Add another cup of sumac-ade and pour into mason jars for storage in the refrigerator.

You can make a canning bath for this recipe by speeding the final mash squish step, but it is best fresh anyhow.


Use Sambucus Canadensis only (Canada Elderberry) not Red, Black, Narrow or Blue Elder.  Canada elderberries flower in late July and ripen to a deep purple in late August early September.  This recipe works best if mixed with other fruit that have more acidic juice and higher pectin content than the elderberry.


  • Crab apples (for pectin)
  • Place crab apples whole into a kettle and cover with water.
  • Boil until tender (20 min) than strain off juice. This will be very watery.
  • Put aside


  • Elderberries (and other fruits of choice)
  • Add 1 cup of water (or sumac-ade) to each quart of fruit.
  • Simmer gently for 10 minutes, mash the fruit, and simmer for 10 minutes more.
  • Pour into jelly bag made of several layers of cheesecloth and squeeze out the juice.

To make the jelly, blend 3 cups of the elderberry mix with 3 cups of the crab apple juice.  Choose your alternate juice (in this case crabapple) for your taste.  As long as you use AT LEAST 50% PECTIN-RICH JUICE.

Add 6 cups of sugar and boil until the jelly test tells you it will jell when cooled in the glasses.


After mixture has reached a hard boil take up a small amount with the stirring spoon, wave over the kettle until the juice cools slightly, pour back into the pot.  If it runs off like water it is far from done.  If it drips off in two places it is approaching the jelly point.  When the last two drops run together, sheet off the spoon, and seem to break at the edge of the spoon when they drop, remove immediately.  Best stored in sterilized half-pint jars with two-piece lids.


For a true wild jelly you could try using 50% elderberry juice and 50% sumac-ade (Rhus typhina) creating a jelly lighter in colour and tarter in taste.  But then you would have to add 1 packet of pectin to 2 cups of elderberry juice and 2 cups of sumac juice rather than the 3 cups of each required in the previous recipe.

Bring to a boil then add 5 cups of sugar.  Again, bring to a hard boil.  Allow to roll for 1 minute.  Remove from heat, skim it, pour into sterilized jars and seal immediately.


(Viburnum triloba)

HABITAT: Full sun to part shade locations.  Found along stream banks, wet thickets, moist woodlands and fencerows.  Does not like to bake in hot full day sun.

Highbush Cranberry Jelly

If berries are gathered after frost, pectin may not be required in this recipe.  Easiest if large seeds are removed from pulp before beginning the process.  When cooking, add lemon or orange peel shavings to eliminate any bad odor the berries may produce.

Cover several quarts of berries with water in a kettle.  Add outer peels of 2 lemons or oranges.  Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.  Mash thoroughly and simmer another minute or two.  Force the juice and pulp through a coarse strainer to remove any missed seeds and citrus peel.

Add 1 package of pectin to 4 cups of strained fruit.  Bring to a boil then add 5 cups of sugar.  Boil again for 1 minute and seal in sterile jars or refrigerate.


(Vitus vulpina)

HABITAT: Full sun locations, usually edge habitats: fencerows, trailside, roadside or open forest.  Can become invasive in southern Ontario if left to naturalize; climbing trees upwards of 5 meters to gain more sunlight for fruit production.  Vines easily controlled with regular maintenance. Can be a fantastic privacy buffer when allowed to climb an arbola, or when trained to an espalier.  Prefers moist, sedimentary soils.

Gather grape leaves in June, when they are full-sized yet still tender.  They can be preserved with salt for use at other times of the year. To preserve the leaves, lay each grape leaf flat in a covered dish and sprinkle each leaf liberally with salt.  Continue until the jar is full, then cover and keep in a cool place.  To use, wash gently several times in fresh water and use as fresh leaves for rolling or other purposes.

The fruit becomes fully ripe September and October.  True to its name, the Frost Grape is sweetest after first frost.

Stuffed Wild Grape Leaves


1 Cup rice to 2 Cups cold water together in a saucepan with a dash of salt and oil.

Bring to a boil then turn heat to low and cook until the water is absorbed (15-40min depending on rice type).

Mix partially cooked rice with ½ pound ground meat and add 1 package of spaghetti sauce mix or 1 can of sauce.

Place 1 tablespoon of the meat-rice mixture on each grape leaf and roll from the base toward the point, carefully tuck in the ends.  Steam for 1 hour in a covered kettle then serve hot.


(Helianthus tuberosus)

HABITAT: Full sun.  Will do well in any soil on the drier side.  Will block your view (grows upwards of 8 feet tall).

You will only need a few yards (1 yard = 9ft2) of rootstock to produce enough Helianthus for many years.  Once you plant this species, you may not be able to rid yourself of it.  Give it lots of room in the garden or its own solitary patch of ground.  Forage in the fall.  Do not dig until after frost.  The nutrition will have sunk back to the roots by this time.  They have as much food value as the potato but most of the starch is in the form of inulin, making this tuber valuable for those who require a low-starch diet.

Use in place of potatoes in any recipe, however do not expect potato texture.  These tubers are more like turnips.  They will not become crisp when fried.

R.K. Sunchokes BHLR July 10 2017_RXB3793 wtm.jpg

Jerusalem Artichoke Casserole

4 Cups boiled and mashed Jerusalem artichoke tubers.

2 Cups of fine bread crumbs

½ Cup melted butter

2 beaten eggs

Black pepper to taste

Combine and pack into a casserole dish.  Bake covered for 30 minutes in a medium oven (325-350oF).  Uncover for the last 10 minutes to brown the top and serve hot.  Sprinkle grated cheddar cheese, parsley and breadcrumbs over the top when out of oven to uncover.


(Podophyllum peltatum)

HABITAT: Deciduous woods on south-facing slopes (sunny and warm in the spring).  Prefers loamy, rich soils.

This species emerges and unfolds its parasol during the full sun of spring when deciduous trees have not yet begun to leaf out.  Later, the dappled shade of the forest is ideal for the remainder of the summer until the fruit are ripe and the umbrella-like leaves die back to prepare for the winter.  Thrives where one would find White Trillium and Wild Leek.  WARNING: All parts of the Mayapple other than the RIPE fruit are toxic.  Juice from the leaves and roots may cause dermatitis in some.

The fruit are ripe when they are yellow and the leaves of the plant begin to yellow for dormancy.  The fruit should practically fall into your hand (if they haven’t already fallen into the mouth of a chipmunk). REMEMBER TO REMOVE THE SEEDS BEFORE PROCESSING.

Mayapple 2.jpg

Mayapple Marmalade

  • Early autumn brings the ripening of the May Apple. Gather ½ gallon of RIPE Mayapples.
  • Remove the stem and blossom ends.
  • Cut into quarters, REMOVE THE SEEDS, and place in a suitably sized kettle.
  • Add 1 Cup of water and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep pulp from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  • When the fruit is soft enough to mash easily, push it through a colander to remove the skins and any missed seeds.
  • To 4 Cups of this pulp, add 1 package of commercial pectin and bring to a boil.
  • Once boiling, add 5 cups of sugar.
  • Stir constantly while it raises to a hard boil and maintain for one minute.
  • Skim off foam and pour immediately into sterilized half-pint jars and seal.

This fruit has been adored for centuries and is considered a delicacy.  If harvested and processed appropriately it is perfectly safe and enjoyable.


(Plantago spp.)

Another common lawn weed that can be easily prepared as a spinach substitute!  Gather the youngest, unblemished leaves.  Add to a pot, cover with water and boil for 15 minutes.  Drain, garnish and serve!  Can also be eaten raw, added to a domestic or wild salad.

Plantain seeds can be winnowed, slow roasted, ground and added to butter as a fine peanut butter substitute.


(Swamp, Bristly, Smooth & the cultivated Rugosa)(Rosa palustris, R. acicularis, R. blanda & R. rugosa)

HABITAT: Full sun, well-drained soil (swamp rose prefers ditches or swales).  Will even do well in hot, dry sandy habitat where other plants would sizzle, but the bush shape and hips will tend to dwarf under these conditions.

Wild rose petals perfume your mouth when picked and eaten fresh.  When added to tea, you can be assured that your guests will never forget the occasion.  They can be added to ice cubes for refreshments to bring memories of summer in the dead of winter.  The cheery splash of rose petals in a salad will brighten any setting.

R.K. Swamp Rose.jpg

Rose Petal Jam

2 Cups sugar

½ Cup water

2 Cups fresh rose petals

1TBSP lemon juice

1 TBSP orange juice

Dissolve sugar in water and add remaining ingredients.  Place in a pan over LOW heat.  Stir constantly of ½ hour or until sugar has dissolved.  Cool, pour into clean class jars and store.

Wild rose hips can be eaten raw or dried.  They are very high in vitamin C.  To prepare, remove stems and bract ends as well as the bristly seeds.  At this stage they can be jellied or dried.

Rose Hip Jelly

2 Cups juice

3 ½ Cups sugar

¼ Cup lemon juice

1 pouch liquid fruit pectin

To 4 cups of prepared rose hips add 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for ½ hour, covered.  Strain.  Measure 2 cups of juice into a large saucepan.  Add extra water to make 2 cups.  Add lemon juice.  Add sugar to juice in saucepan; mix well.  Place over high heat and bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Stir in pectin immediately.  Bring to a full roll, then boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off foam with a metal spoon.  Pour quickly into warm sterile jars, filling up to ¼ inch from rim.  Seal while hot with sterile lids with new centers.


(Rhus typhina)

HABITAT: Prefers sandy, well-drained soils in full sun.  Will eventually grow into thickets unsurpassed by most shrubs.  Sumac colonies are appreciated by all forms of wildlife and bring gorgeous colour change to the landscape throughout every season!

Sumac Berries.jpg


Collect the red, fuzzy berry clusters when they are deep red and ripe before heavy rains wash away the acidity.  Place the heads in cold water and lightly bruise between hands.  Allow to soak for 10-15 minutes then remove the flower heads.  Strain the remaining liquid through a cheesecloth filter to remove the acidic hairs.  Sweeten to taste.


Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons. 1976.

Tom Brown Jr’s Guide to Wild Edibles & Medicinal Plants by Tom Brown Jr. 1986.

Foxfire 2, edited by Eliot Wigginton. 1973.

Harrowsmith Magazine. Issues through 1978-1989.

Through conversation and correspondence with elders et al. following presentations to the many Horticulture Societies in Ontario District 18: Muskoka/ Parry-Sound, workshops and seminars.

Compiled by Rebecca Krawczyk, 2002.  The above recipes are guidelines for educational and landscaping purposes only.  Responsibility for collection, preparation and consumption of the aforementioned ingredients falls solely upon those collecting, preparing and consuming.

BarK Ecologic Gardens & Nursery will not be held responsible for any injury that may occur while utilizing this literature as a guideline.

May the forest be with you.

*Botanigal no longer gives large public seminars about wild edibles due to the risk of over-harvesting by humans, which can degrade existing wild forage populations for wildlife.  

Private tours on privately owned property are available upon request.

Black Ops Birders


What Makes a Bad-Ass?
Protocol for Ultimate Black Ops Style

By: Corvus Corax

ARE MY BINOCULARS HANGING TOO LOW!?  If so, this common birding faux-pas can invoke questions from the layman such as: “Have you been hunting?”, or “Who do you work for?”, or if encased in a jacket on a female geek, “When are you expecting?” Oh dear.

A fully-fledged Black Ops may be spotted with their binoculars at an awkward height on the torso, despite trying to maintain a sharp silhouette. Silent fabrics are choice, and hair can be unruly. Even in the age of The Oracle, hard documentation gear is on hand: cameras, loops, and a variety of field guides; so that the discovery on any given day is never compromised or interrupted.

To find a flock of Black Ops with cameras aimed at a tree boasting a fine representation of Homo sapiens genitalia, or at a turgid flush of gametophytes, is commonplace. They can also be seen lowing like cattle over a lump of scat containing putrefied rodent. A Bad-ass can never over-analyze a blood droplet or skid-mark, as these observations often result in fascinating anecdotes, for example: ‘Chew rodent skulls well, or they’re no fun to drag through the bum’ ~ we all have our imaginations.

Bad-asses readily chirp to others in a study group about how little they know, but the Black Ops actually know more than they let on. They find the little things, often perverse, and document them, while laughing on the inside.

The Black Ops make it a regular game of speaking in code, and pretending to be on high priority recon missions; this handily camouflages the absent and sometimes messy state of the complex Bad-ass brain. It is the willingness to investigate further after a day of immersion with The Learned, and holding a twisted mind behind one’s tongue, that makes a Black Ops a Black Ops.
The Bad-ass typically carries bounty to tempt others to become Black Ops; it is the perfect guise, because those who pack great food and other sweets are often assumed to be angelic. The treats ease the transition as geeks move to the Black side. Once the Black Ops patch is worn, the pride of becoming Bad-ass overrides the fear of being discovered. If discovered, the Bad-ass knows the code to bring others into the Black Ops fold with stealth and skill, and perhaps a cold beer.

Black ops birders bev two rivers cliff botanigaled.jpg
An agent sporting vernacular Black Ops on Two-Rivers trail.  Note how the Bad-ass is typically concealed beneath the pant leg.


Black Ops birders can be dangerously similar to other birders; driving with Black Ops can too, be risky.  Though we operate using tactical, cautious, and defensive protocol; brakes are often applied suddenly.  There are times when vehicle doors and rear hatches may be left open as the Black Ops vehicle veers out onto a parkway, spewing gear, in order to keep up with the learned and senior members of a study group.  Aside from the roadways, other mishaps may occur.  Technical equipment has been dropped into water bodies, and smashed into bedrock.  Footwear can be lost in bogs, eyes are poked for future floaters ~ guaranteed, and operative face-plants into snow and muck are commonplace.

Sherman Ranch bartender July 2011 IMG_4712.jpg
Creatures that live among the Black Ops often become Bad-asses themselves.

Though there can be tactical mishaps, if a Black Ops and their crew ever get lost: Never Fear!  Survival is always in mind when packing for an outing.  A Black Ops can always save themselves along with their predictably helpless counterparts on any journey.  Like a good scout, Bad-ass birders will reliably have essential tools, liquids, plenty of food and other, ahem, provisions on hand.

Resist the urge to be cocky.  It has been proven that a Black Ops can become so confident with their Bad-assiness that they wittingly wander out of sight of their platoon.  It is easy for an operative to become distracted by a documentation mission, only to leave teammates panicking in the elements.  There is nothing quite like the hairy eyeballs a smart-assed agent can get from saturated cohorts once it has been discovered that said operative handily returned to a warm, dry rendezvous vehicle to sit in comfort while studying photographic results.  It is advised not to add fog doodles to these situations.  One must beware their Bad-ass ego when playing with others.

Black Ops Birders tend towards success; often managing unique businesses with clients who can’t seem to satiate their need for the curious Black Ops style: the IT Factor that comes with our super Bad-ass work.

Sometimes a Black Ops will honourably graduate from the flurry of self-employment to the big track:

The Government Office!

When this happens, the Black Ops must remain calm.  A new sleep schedule should be quickly and deftly adapted, with no hint of pain, or the Bad-ass may be discovered.

When wearing a uniform, attitude must be concealed to undergarments and socks.  Since Bad-asses often bite their tongue and keep thoughts inside their heads, new verbal skills must be adopted.  Projection is important, with head held high.  And the lips must delay thought, filtering through the data bank of curse words, ‘Artsy Fartsy’ phrases, and dirty analogies.  It should also be mentioned that scat photographs, calendars of genital-like tree growths, and other such hilarity projects should remain at home and not be brought to the office; not even to be hidden on the back of the office door!

Dawn's new office redacted botanigaled.jpg
A successful Black Ops implant in-situ.  Telepathic communication with the seniority has been observed.

Yes, the life of a Black Ops Birder is unique and mysterious, but if the aforementioned recommendations are followed, to the letter, a Bad-ass can retain an appearance of normalcy and professionalism.  That is also what makes a Black Ops a Black Ops, the ability to adapt, and we learn these skills through our entrepreneurial spirit and our intense observation of the natural world.  Our Black Ops style carries us through any situation, mundane or challenging, because we are Bad-ass, and the Bad-ass always come out on top!  CC.

To my Black Ops Ladies Crew:

May the forest be with you, and may you be among the forest.










Tales of a Walking Stick

Sprout Letterhead Feb 2012 flattened.jpg


The Shillelagh helps us gauge the size of the prints we photograph.

We are lucky enough to snowshoe right out of our back yard. With walking sticks in hand, we pack down trails every winter to observe wildlife and experience the woods sans blood-sucking bugs. With this hobby has come a fellow love for winter tracking over snow. The stories that unfold from footprints left behind are unwittingly evident with every dusting of fresh snowflakes, and are so descriptive in their own way; they could have inspired Shakespeare to write another comedy or tragedy.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have loved the clues left behind. Tiny tracks leading to a bright red droplet of blood on snow, a smattering of feathers drifting about an impressive set of wing-prints.  Is this the scene of a murder?  Or just a quick snack provided to a Raven via automobile?  I have caught myself gazing down at the snow with no one else around, laughing out loud at the slapstick choreography laid down by a Red squirrel, of which Chaplin would be proud, marvelling to myself: ‘Who needs a Hollywood script’.

Upon first glance of my winter tracking photos, the walking stick seems to be the star attraction.  It has its own unique beauty and like many celebrities, is lankier than most.  It has received many compliments in the most unexpected places. My friends have given the stick the honorary title of Shillelagh. It was originally sought out to calm my ‘bearanoia’, as I often walk in the woods alone, but it has now become an indispensable tool and I never enter the woods without it.  As mentioned before, it is longer than the average walking stick so it allows for support, even when it breaks through the snow below trail level to hit solid ground.  It has a hook on one end; this lets me pull myself up a steep slope, or off of my backside, with the help of a small tree trunk.  I often lay the stick down in the snow to document animal tracks measuring length between bounds along with print size.

The gaits of different creatures tell such great tales. Prints can express the personalities of the animals that leave them behind, along with their moods at the time of imprint.

Red Squirrels are spastic and comedic, always taking stock.

The Fisher cruises her territory.

Otters play.

Pine Martens bound towards adventure.

The Grouse shuffles monotonously for snacks, which is amusing because walking the line is quite the opposite of bursting out of the snow into a surprised face!

Wild Turkeys, the newly imported flocking heirlooms, are so unsure of what to do with their bulk they look sideways at each other to see why they’re walking forward.

A Porcupine tramps uphill in an awkward determined, squiggle staying afloat on its bristles.

The Fox lightly skips along in direct register with purpose, scouting his turf.

Wolf seem to happen upon our trails because they are often tracking themselves; afloat above the crust covering large tracts of land.

Raven skim in from above quietly observing and leave mischievous and curious prints for you to find.

The little Deer mouse is so busy hopping on its haunches from seed to seed that it doesn’t notice its past.

While the Vole frantically scurries from one hole to another, in a constant state of fear from above.

The deep dents, long jumps and melted snow beds, accompanied by scratched soil and nibbled ferns follow the White-tailed deer.

All of these patterns remind us of winter survival and the wisdom of conserving calories.

I measure this with my stick.

r-k-beaver-or-otter-printsR.K. Otter slide.jpg

Otter tracks on the left and a sign of super-fun sliding on the right.

During the winter of 2011-12, the precipitation fell as rain almost as often snow, so the trails remained like eggshells.  Whenever we tried to ‘just boot it’ we’d punch through repeatedly, burning more calories than we cared for, so the snowshoes had to stay on most of the winter.  Another consequence of the rain and icy crust was that the trails were very noisy, snowshoes on ice crystals reverberate terribly, so we rarely saw any animals in person.  The upside to this was that the trace evidence of their travels was terrific. The mammals, other than deer, had no problem floating on top of the snow pack, and thanks to the several light dustings of snow we could tell who had walked where, and on which day.  We began to discuss the activities of the repeat rovers and eventually determined the home ranges and daily habits of several of our wild neighbours. The trails didn’t quiet down for us until the second substantial snowfall of the winter, which occurred near the end of February.  The clear sky and cold that followed gave us the chance to properly stabilize our woodland snow bridge to perfection.

Snow angel.jpg

So how does one make the perfect snow trail?  One must time it just right around the ideal weather systems, which only occur a few times per winter, if you’re lucky. Watch the weather for a warm, bountiful snowfall.  Then flatten the snow and groom the trail throughout the warm spell, ideally during or just after a predictably large dump of snow.  This is even better when you know it is going to be followed by a quick freeze and clear skies afterwards.  If timed correctly one can get a bridge built through the forest so it can be walked upon without snowshoes into the spring melt.  When you get a trail like this, you feel like a wild animal, floating over the snow as if a string were attached to your head, a light and springy marionette, if at least for one or two days,  with hopes for one or two more weeks.

When we need to pound snow within a limited time frame, we use our 3 snowplowing dogs. Our two big shepherd siblings push snow with their chests, punching narrow footings for the trail bridge, and the little pug-beagle (peagle) works like a submarine, his curly tail being the only thing visible wiggling above the snow.  We follow with the snowshoes smoothing the trail like icing on a cake and…Voila!  A quadruple pounded trail with deep piers, which after freeze will be ready to float a 125-200 pound human in boots.

Many animals use our trails almost immediately after they are blazed, even when they are too thin to float us.  Some critters tunnel under our snow bridge such as mink, grouse, and other forest rodents. We can tell where they’ve been beneath, but just not from the tracks; the dogs can’t resist poking their noses through the snow when they smell a heat-sealed creature pocket.  When we pound under perfect conditions, the trails can support even the White-tailed deer along with Fisher, Pine Marten and Turkeys, who like to walk on top. The deer and hare nibble any twigs back away from the trail once they use it for travel, which helps us out too.

R.K. Ruffed Grouse prints in snow.jpgR.K. Grouse scat dual duty.jpg

Ruffed Grouse tracks and scat are quite a consistent sight, though we’ve seen fewer now that the Wild Turkey population has increased.

During one of my crunchy February 2012 treks I came across the tracks of a fisher with two perfectly tidy marks running parallel to the footprints, like a gnome had been cross-country skiing alongside. I had found its den just a few hundred meters up the hill from our trail- head the month before, and up until that point had just enjoyed observing what time, and in which direction, it ventured out across the snow from its home. The precision and consistency of the extra markings peaked  my curiosity.  It must have carried a kill!  I wanted the whole story, and I went out the following morning to find it.

R.K. Fisher dragging hare cropped.jpg

The Fisher will travel great distances to pursue and carry a kill.

The forecast was predicting a snowstorm to begin that afternoon. This was a time of great tracking, because of the light dusting over the crust, but it was not a good time for a human to slog through the snow to find the kill site.  The crust was thin, and I broke through about half-a-foot with each step. I may as well have had shovels on my feet- but I was determined.  I wanted blood, and I wanted to document it with my camera and Shillelagh.  The fisher had walked directly from its den towards the kill site, crossing the trail of a porcupine and several hares without even stopping for a sniff.  It had only one purpose that day.  From what I could tell, it knew exactly where to find what it required. After it had performed the bloody and likely swift deed, it carried its prey across the river and over the road to where I regrettably had to abort the mission. With my inner naturalist and parental adviser wrestling in my head, I headed back, absolutely amazed that this determined creature had dragged its kill over two kilometres, skirting its original trail beyond my ability to follow. The disappointment of not concluding the investigation with a gory photo didn’t dampen my spirits too badly.  I wondered if the two lines in the snow could have been created by a pair of feet, maybe a hare. A friend offered a theory that perhaps one line was created by a nose, and the other a tail, being neatly folded in half to be transported. I then thought about how lucky my cats were, that this efficient hunter had not decided to target them, as they were so much closer to the fisher’s den than the one whom didn’t live to tell…

R.K. Porcupine squiggle with stick.jpg

This porcupine squiggled two kilometres uphill and beyond from the river below.  That’s quite a migration for such an awkward dude!

Surely enough, the heavy snowfall we needed for better trails occurred the next day with a twenty-centimetre dumping of snow. With this I knew I would never get the true story of the conquest that day, but I was happy to have thicker and quieter trails.  The fisher must have sensed that the trekking was soon to become more difficult for hunting, it had gone out to kill when the travel and transport of prey was easy, and so it stayed happily in its den, all drafts sealed and well fed with whatever it was, for about a week without having to venture out into the deep, fresh snow again. I sent wishes for pleasant dreams to that natural born killer, glad that it had stayed away from my cats, as I fell asleep with a great tale in mind. (February. 29, 2012. R.K.)

N.B.  I found this a week or two later, at the mouth of the Fisher’s shelter which was under a large dead fall log.

R.K. rabbit hindquarter ouside of Fisher den 2011.jpg

May the forest be with you.

Are Wild Scents Common Sense?

Why Wild Scents are Sensible.

Aromatherapy and Plant Folklore for Muskoka, Haliburton, and Central Ontario.


HOW MANY TIMES CAN YOU REMEMBER being lost within an enchanting scent in nature?  Perhaps you happened upon a cool, lowland pocket of air, enveloped by Jewelweed.  Perhaps you had just trimmed some grass beside a moist, naturalized area.  Perhaps it was simply melting snow.  I’ve come across many inexplicable aromas, in what would seem to be the middle of nowhere, but memories of a similar perfume brought me back to a familiar place.

Some people may be content to take a deep breath, acknowledge the beauty of this planet, and store the moment to memory for another day.  I’m not one of those people.  One would find me on my hands and knees scavenging for a leaf or root, bruising a variety of cambium and detritus between my fingers only to stick them both, my fingers and the cambium, up to my nose.  “What is that smell?”  This curiosity, along with hastily discovering those scents not-so-pleasant, have taught me quite a bit about the wonderful aromatic oils that can be found and utilized with our local plant species here, in Muskoka, Haliburton and Parry Sound.

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

The power of the essential oil that occurs in the Balsam Fir becomes evident when a branch is thrown on a campfire and erupts like fireworks, filling the air with its sweet scent.  When a Balsam Fir is cut down and left to dry slowly, the pile creates a heavenly aroma similar to a quart of fresh strawberries. The Cree First Nation used crushed plant matter in a chest plaster to ease breathing.  One would know the medicine had worked once they could feel the aroma of the needles in their mouth.  Fir was also widely used for bedding as it repelled pests.

r-k-lob-creek-glade-backlit-2016-024Eastern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

This fragrant tree fringes the majority of shorelines along our watersheds and is used in many ways by Canada’s First Nations.  Cedar twigs are placed on hot stones in sweat lodges for purification. Cedar, representing the Southern quadrant of the Medicine Wheel, is one of the four sacred herbs used in purification smudges for ceremony and ritual along with Silver Sagebrush (West), Sweetgrass (North) and Tobacco (East) {Lavender may substitute}. In Europe, twigs were burned on open fires to banish nightmares and nervous conditions.

Common Juniper (Juniperus communis)

This native shrub of bedrock and shoreline is one of the earliest aromatics known to man.  Evidence of juniper boughs has been catalogued in prehistoric dwellings. Smouldering juniper branches were once carried around farmland to bring protection to crops and livestock.  The branches are potent, but it was the dried berries that were burned in Egyptian, Tibetan and First Nation’s ritual incense. Also said to ward-off negativity, juniper can be a part of a healthy lifestyle. Juniper berries can be crushed between two stones while visualizing the self eating well, exercising and thinking positively.

Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Yet another invigorating conifer, the snappy scent of pine is said to speed healing. Canada’s mother of botany Catharine Parr Traill once wrote: “If I were a doctor, I would send my patients to live in a shanty under the pines.”  Pine has historically been placed in sick rooms and inhaled often during recovery from illness.  The scent of sun-baked pine needles is indeed sweet and uplifting. With this in mind, pine is said to protect, banishing negative energies back to their origin.  Pine is also associated with wealth and may assist meditation on the subject.

Sweet gale (Myrica gale)

The resinous yellow nutlets found on the Sweet gale shrub may remind one of some staple Middle Eastern herbs. When crushed, they will stain the skin yellow like turmeric, and they are highly fragrant and resinous sticking to the fingers like frankincense. The scent is rich and woody like the aforementioned and also brings about grounding energies for meditation and deep thought.  The leaves of the Sweet gale will too give off a lovely, spicy scent when crushed and will not leave any sticky resin behind. Look for Sweet gale along shorelines.

Sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata)

This grass of moist places was dried and braided by Canada’s First Nations.  This practice is being widely rediscovered among those who meditate.  The end of the braid is ignited then calmed to a smoulder.  The resulting smoke is used to purify the person and area in which the meditation is taking place.  Sweetgrass is added to mixtures smoked during First Nations’ pipe ceremonies to summon good energy.

White Water-lily (Nymphaea odorata)

One of the first flowering plants to evolve, a paleoherb, the White Water-lily is found in shallow bays where motor-craft cannot disturb the habitat. The succulent flower takes skill to reach.  Although light in tone, the aroma holds a deep wisdom from the past.  If one should find oneself gazing at their reflection in the smooth water amongst a colony of White Water-lily, one may wish to ask a question that requires a sage answer. Drink in the ancient, time-tested scent and acknowledge how fleeting the chance is to enjoy it, as this plant should not be picked and the aroma cannot be harnessed in a bottle.  Each day for 4-5 days, the flowers open early in the morning and close by early afternoon.  Once pollinated, the stem coils like a spring and pulls the developing fruit under the water.


The scent of White water-lily holds the key to great wisdom.

Wild Rose (Rosa blanda),(R. acicularis),(R. paulstris)

Modern aromatherapy research supports the rose’s timeless link with love.  The aroma is very efficient at turning our thoughts towards romance.  Inhale the spicy, sweet scent and visualize the cosmos leading you into a mutually satisfying relationship.  To spread loving energy throughout your home, place fresh roses in every room.  The scent calms domestic tension and ensures a warm, happy time for all who visit.  The oils of rose are also aphrodisiac, directly influencing the brain and passionate centres of the body. Mirror visualization with a rose can improve one’s opinion of their true beauty.

R.K. Swamp Rose.jpg

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wintergreen leaves and berries smell and taste exactly as named.  Quite rightly used historically for a wild tea.  One palm-full of leaves per one cup of water made a delicate and fragrant brew. A leaf snapped between your fingers will release a clean aroma that brings thoughts of cool days and crisp water. A few wintergreen leaves on a person may bring protection, particularly when travelling, and will bring positive energy to a space.  The oils in this plant contain ASA, or acetylsalicylic acid, the same compound found in Aspirin, so the tea can be used as a pain-killer, however it is equally dangerous to children under 12 years of age, and adults if over-consumed.


May the forest be with you. R.K.

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

Sprout Letterhead Feb. Final.jpg

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!

R.K. Bear claw beech.jpg

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.

R.K. Indian Pipe 1 2016 220.jpg

May the forest be with you R.K.