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)

Wild bergamot 062.jpg

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












Solomon’s seal

R.K. Solomon's Seal IMG_3688.jpg

False solomon’s seal

R.K. False Solomon's Seal 1 IMG_3685.jpg


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.

Cut petal tips.jpg

Cut off petal tips.


Cut off dense flower tips with a sharp knife.

Steaming water.jpg

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.

Rinse outside thoughroughly tips down.jpg

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.

Done steaming.jpg

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.

Scooping hairs from heart.jpg

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!
R.K. Laquered Polypore emerging 1 2016 Limberlost 174.jpg
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.