Friday, July 31, 2009

Solanum ptycanthum

Caution: this plant is poisonous. [Photo: Solanum ptycanthum.]Solanum ptycanthum, known in English as "eastern black nightshade" or "West Indian nightshade", and in French as morelle noire de l'est, is an annual or short-lived perennial native to North America east of the Rockies.

[Photo: Solanum ptycanthum flower.]Click for a closer look at the dainty white flower.

Echinacea purpurea in bloom

[Photo: Echinacea purpurea inflorescence.]The old Echinacea plant which we've had for a few years is in glorious bloom. This is one of my favourite plants, even if it isn't exactly native (we're a bit north of its native range). Not only is it pretty, but it's one of those perennials you can plant and forget. [Photo: Echinacea purpurea, with native Rudbeckia hirta and invasive Campanula rapunculoides.]Click to enlarge this photo and see the inflorescences in many stages of development.

Descurainia sophia in bloom

The flixweed (sagesse des chiurgiens) is in bloom, and starting to set seed. Now that it has seedpods, I know that this is non-native D. sophia, rather than native D. pinnata (see details on distinguishing the two). A shame. I do like the lacy bluish foliage.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Monarda fistulosa in bloom

[Photo: Monarda fistulosa in bloom.]Monarda fistulosa, known in English as "wild bergamot" and in French as monarde fistuleuse, is a perennial native to much of North America. As you can see it looks a lot like its close relative, M. didyma, but with pretty mauve flowers.

This photograph was taken at High Park.

Impatiens glandulifera in bloom

Warning: this is a very invasive plant in Toronto [Photo: Impatiens glandulifera in bloom.]Impatiens glandulifera, known in English as "Himalayan balsam", "purple jewelweed", "policeman's helmet", "kiss-me-on-the-mountain", "ornamental jewelweed", "Washington orchid", or "Indian balsam" and in French as balsamine de l'Himalaya or impatiente de l'Himalaya, is an annual native to the Himalayas but now an invasive weed in North America, Europe, and New Zealand. The Society for Ecological Restoration ranks Himalayan balsam as a Category 1 invasive (PDF):
Aggressive invasive exotic species that can dominate a site to exclude all other species and remain dominant on the site indefinitely. These are a threat to natural areas wherever they occur because they can reproduce by means that allow them to move long distances.

So although it is very pretty, please do not plant this in your garden, and pull it up if it volunteers.

I photographed this plant in High Park.

Maianthemum racemosum with unripe fruit

[Photo: Maianthemum racemosum with unripe fruit.]Maianthemum racemosum, known in English as "false Solomon's seal", "Solomon's plume", "false spikenard", "treacleberry", or "feathery false lily-of-the-valley", and in French as maïanthème à grappes or smilacine à grappes, is a perennial native to most of North America. The berries start out as tan; gradually they are covered by reddish speckles until they are solid red. In this they resemble their close relative, Maianthemum canadense, the lily-of-the-valley I recall so fondly from my childhood.

The Royal Horticultural Society awarded Maianthemum racemosum an Award of Garden Merit. It is grown in the RHS garden Harlow Carr, in the scented garden. I will have to smell its flowers next spring!

According to Plants for a Future, the fruit of Maianthemum racemosum is edible, with a "delicious bitter-sweet flavour, suggesting bitter molasses" and full of vitamins. I haven't tasted it myself (and I don't think "bitter molasses" sounds delicious either.)

I photographed this plant in High Park.

Circaea lutetiana in bloom

[Photo: Circaea lutetiana in bloom.]Circaea lutetiana, known in English as "enchanter's nightshade" and in French as herbe-aux-sorcières or circée de Paris, is a perennial native to eastern and central North America.

This was the only thing I saw blooming in the forests at High Park; most Canadian forest plants bloom in spring before the trees get their leaves.

Desmodium glutinosum: flowers and foliage

[Photo: Desmodium glutinosum in bloom.]Desmodium glutinosum, known in English as "pointed-leaf tick trefoil", "large tick trefoil", or "large-flowered tick clover" and in French as desmodie glutineuse is a perennial native to eastern and central North America. Like its relative, Desmodium canadense, it has racemes of small flowers similar to pea flowers (they are legumes), but D. glutinosum has smaller flowers, pale pink rather than purple.

[Photo: foliage of Desmodium glutinosum.]The leaves are divided into three broad pointed leaflets. D. glutinosum is distinguished from the other tick trefoils by its whorl of leaves encircling the stem below the inforescence. (Once again, I'm linking to the superior photography at Missouri Plants.)

[Photo: masses of Desmodium glutinosum.]The tiny pink flowers form a delicate pink cloud when grown en masse. I took these photographs at High Park.

Desmodium canadense in bloom

[Photo: Desmodium canadense in bloom.]Desmodium canadense, known in English as "showy tick trefoil", "Canada tickclover", "beggar's lice", or "Canadian tick-trefoil" and in French as desmodie du Canada, is a perennial native to eastern Canada and northeastern and central US.

This picture does not show showy tick trefoil at its prime; for photos where it actually looks showy, see the Desmodium canadense page at Missouri Plants, which includes some amazing closeups of individual flowers. The "tick" in the English common name refers to the seeds, which, like ticks, cling to animals' fur (and peoples' clothing).

I photographed this plant at High Park.

Cichorium intybus in bloom

[Photo: Cichorium intybus in bloom.]Cichorium intybus, known in English as "chicory", "blue sailors", "succory", "coffeeweed", "cornflower", or "Italian dandeliion" and in French as chicorée sauvage, is a perennial native to Europe, which is a widespread roadside weed here in Toronto. I photographed this plant in High Park.

Alliaria petiolata: seed pods

[Photo: Alliaria petiolata with seed pods.]Do I really need to do yet another post about garlic mustard? Yes, because there are still zillions of garlic mustard plants invading the wild spaces of Toronto, and now they are going to seed. So if you see these plants, please remove them if at all possible! (Read Sarah Battersby's article, Top 10 Reasons to Search and Destroy: Garlic Mustard if you don't understand why this plant has to be eliminated from Toronto.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Actaea pachypoda with fruit

[Photo: Actaea pachypoda with fruit.]Actaea pachypoda, known in English as "doll's eyes", "white cohosh", or "white baneberry", and in French as actée à gros pédicelles, is a perennial native to eastern and central North America. The berry is white with a black spot, hence the name "doll's eyes". "Baneberry" refers to the toxicity of the fruit. All parts of doll's eyes are considered poisonous to humans. There's a better photo of the berries at

I photographed this plant at High Park, where it was planted as part of restoration efforts.

What's blooming in High Park, late July

[Photo: black oak savannah in High Park.]The Toronto municipal workers' strike meant that the High Park Volunteer Stewardship Program didn't do any actual stewardship this past Sunday, but we did tour the wetlands of High Park, and I saw loads of great (and not so great) flowers:


  • Asclepias syriacus (common milkweed, asclépiade commune)
  • Circaea lutetiana (enchanter's nightshade, herbe-aux-sorcières)
  • Desmodium canadense (showy tick trefoil, desmodie du Canada)
  • Desmodium glutinosum (pointed-leaf tick trefoil, desmodie glutineuse)
  • Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot, monarde fistuleuse)
  • Nymphaea odorata (American white waterlily, nymphée odorante)
  • Oenothera biennis (common evening primrose, onagre bisannuelle)
  • Penstemon digitalis (foxglove beardtongue, penstémon digitalis)
  • Rubus odoratus (purple-flowering raspberry, ronce odorante)
  • Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan, rudbeckie dressée)
  • Silphium perfoliatum (cup plant, plante bain d'oiseaux)


  • Cichorium intybus (chicory, chicorée sauvage)
  • Daucus carota (Queen Anne's lace, carotte sauvage)
  • Dianthus armeria (Deptford pink, œillet arméria)
  • Impatiens glandulifera (Himalayan balsam, balsamine de l'Himalaya)
  • Melilotus alba (white sweet clover, mélilot blanc)
  • Melilotus officinalis (yellow sweet clover, mélilot jaune)
  • Silene alba (white cockle, silène blanc)
[Photo: Canada geese in High Park.]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why you really shouldn't grow invasive plants

I just have to respond to Michele Owen's blog post, What's Invasive? Telling People What They Can't Plant In Their Yards, on Garden Rant. It's really disappointing that a professional garden writer is so uninformed about invasive plants, and is spreading misinformation through a widely-read blog.

Owens writes:

A civilized society makes the fewest rules possible. If it's not hurting you, it's fine for me to do it.

I totally agree, and I think most people would. The problem is, invasive plants, by definition, hurt others—invasive species are second only to outright destruction in causing habitat loss. Habitat loss not only harms wild animals who are driven extinct, it also harms people as we lose all the benefits of well-functioning ecosystems:

  • purification of air and water
  • mitigation of droughts and floods
  • generation and preservation of soils and renewal of their fertility
  • detoxification and decomposition of wastes
  • pollination of crops and natural vegetation
  • dispersal of seeds
  • cycling and movement of nutrients
  • control of the vast majority of potential agricultural pests
  • maintenance of biodiversity
  • protection of coastal shores from erosion by waves
  • protection from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays
  • partial stabilization of climate
  • moderation of weather extremes and their impacts
  • provision of aesthetic beauty and intellectual stimulation that lift the human spirit
Source: Biodiversity and Human Health: Benefits of Ecosystem Services

(For more information on invasive plants, native plants, and their impact on ecosystems and all life on earth, I highly recommend Bringing Nature Home by Douglas W. Tallamy (Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2009).)

Owens' response is that naturalized invasives, like the Hemerocalis fulva (orange daylily, lis d'un jour fauve) which grows by the roadside, are pretty. It's true, some invasives, like H. fulva, are pretty. But why grow them, destroying habitat, when there are so many other plants which are pretty and ecologically benign?

Owens rhetorically asks,

Should our world therefore be nothing but weeds and overbred, super-fussy garden plants?

Of course not! But it's just wrong to assume that the only alternatives to invasive plants are "weeds" and fussy plants. Many native plants are as beautiful as the invasives she admires, if not more so. Here in Toronto, our showy natives include:

There are too many plants native to Toronto to list here (the index to my 25 posts listing them is here), and the same is true for any part of the world where plants grow.

In addition, there are many well-behaved non-natives that are not "overbred" and "super-fussy". Indeed, if she had looked more closely at the list of invasives that she complained about, she would see that it's only so long because it covers all of the United States, a large country with many different ecosystems which are vulnerable to many different invasives. Yes, Alcea rosea (hollyhock) is on the list, but is only a problem in California, so New Yorkers like Owens can still grow it in good conscience. (Click each plant name on the list to see where it is invasive in the U.S.) Wherever you live, there are many non-natives which will grow well and not invade local ecosystems. (Although, read Bringing Nature Home to learn why you should grow lots of natives.)

(Owens also wonders why Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard, barbe de bouc), which grows freely in her garden, is not on the invasive list. The answer is simple: because it is a native plant! It's a contributing member of the ecosystem in New York where Owens lives and elsewhere in North America.)

Owens attributes concerns about invasive plants due to "paranoia and lack of trust". If only. Extensive experience has shown that certain plants in certain areas are extremely harmful. It doesn't make sense to ignore decades of scientific research just because a gardener thinks some invasive plant is pretty.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, July 2009

I've been so busy with summer fun (went to Ontario Place yesterday!) that I almost forgot today was Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

First, my beloved natives:

[Photo: Monarda didyma.]
Monarda didyma (bee balm, monarde) is one of my favourites. Such a pretty shade of red! [Photo: Asclepias tuberosa.]
The Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly weed, asclépiade tubéreuse) is getting huge! Hard to believe that a couple of years ago it was a single stem, about 20 cm tall, with no blooms.

[Photo: Liatris spicata starting to bloom.]
Liatris spicata (blazing star, liatride à épis) is just starting to bloom.

p[Photo: Rudbeckia hirta.]
The Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckie dréssé) has opened a few tentative blooms. It will be smothered for next GBBD, I'm sure!

Next: the new and exciting!

[Photo: Dionaea muscipula in bloom.]
I wasn't expecting the Dionaea muscipula (Venus fly-trap, dionée attrape-mouche) to bloom! (I've already killed two of these.) I think it's very happy to be out in the sunshine with lots of bugs. According to carnivorous plant expert Barry Rice, you shouldn't let your Venus fly-trap flower. Unfortunately, I didn't realize it was sending up a flowering stalk until it was too late (okay, I admit, I also wanted to see the flowers). Recently it tried making a second flower stalk but I nipped it in the bud like a good gardener.

[Photo: Echinacea purpurea.]
The Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower, echinacée pourpre) is just starting to turn pink.

p[Photo: Athyrium niponicum var pictum 'Applecourt'
Not exactly new, or even a bloom, but too pretty to leave out: Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Applecourt' (Japanese painted fern, fougère peinte). Earlier this summer it was struggling, I guess due to transplant stress, but it seems to be on the mend.

The hostas (cultivar unknown) are in full bloom now! Of course the flowers cannot compete with the gorgeous foliage.

[Photo: Campanula rapunculoides in bloom.]
I believe this is Campanula rapunculoides (creeping bellflower, campanule fausse raiponce), which is unfortunately rather invasive in southern Ontario. I'll be deadheading this religiously; I can't remove it completely because my landlords' son is attached to it.

[Photo: Hemerocalis fulva and Erigeron annuus.]
Hemerocalis fulva (orange daylily, lis d'un jour fauve) is another invasive my landlords' son won't part with. Here it's growing with native Erigeron annuus (daisy fleabane, érigéron annuelle).

[Photo: Helianthus annuus.]
This Helianthus annuus (sunflower, tournesol) was a volunteer. The parents were probably 'Velvet Queen' and 'Autumn Beauty'.

[Photo: Dianthus chinensis 'Double Gaiety Mixed'].
The Dianthus chinensis 'Double Gaiety Mix' (China pinks, œillets de Chine) which I started from seed in March is in full bloom now.

[Photo: Mentha sp. flower spike.]This Mentha (mint, menthe, don't know the species) grows like a weed in our garden— indeed, when we moved in, we practically had a mint lawn! I never noticed before how fluffy their flower spikes are.

Lastly, the old standbys: [Photo: Viola x wittrockiana Delta Pure Rose.]
The Viola x wittrockiana 'Delta Pure Rose' (pansy, pensée) is still soldiering on despite the hotter weather.

p[Photo: planter with Petunia and Fuchsia.]
The planter my landlords' son put together is filling out nicely. It's dominated by Petunia 'Sanguna Lavender Vein', the dark purple, pink, and 'Famous White' petunias are apparently not nearly as vigorous. The fuchsia also seems to be flourishing.

[Photo: Calibrachoa.]
The calibrachoas are still going strong. The basket with bright pink petunias and verbenas, on the other hand, is petering out, so I didn't even bother photographing it this month.

[Photo: Tagetes tenuifolia 'Lulu'.]
Tagetes tenuifolia 'Lulu' (signet marigold, tagète tachée) just keeps getting better. This is the most successful plant I've grown from seed this year.

[Photo: Nicotiana 'Perfume Mix'.]
Only one of the seeds of Nicotiana hybrid 'Perfume Mix' (flowering tobacco, tabac d'ornement) grew and survived to bloom. The flowers are okay but not terrific, and are not especially fragrant. I don't think I'll bother with these in the future.

[Photo: Sedum in bloom.]
Lastly, the mystery Sedum that the landlords' kids and I rescued from a garden down the street (the new owner replaced it with a lawn) is growing like a weed and blooming for the first time!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cabbage butterfly

[Photo: Cabbage butterfly on Tagetes tenuifolia 'Lulu'.]So far my attempts to attract butterflies to the garden have not been a rip-roaring success, but there are some visitors. The most common lepidopteran I've seen in the garden is the cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae), which originated in Eurasia but is now widespread here in North America. This is a male; the females have two black spots on each forewing. Cabbage butterfly larvae feed on plants in the Brassicacea family, the adults feed on nectar. (I mention this because some butterflies prefer fruit, rotting carrion, or dung!)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Juglans nigra: now with leaves!

[Photo: Juglans nigra.]The black walnuts in the back yard are looking much prettier now that they are in leaf. (Here's what it looked like without foliage.) These native trees will be a source of nuts for the local squirrels when they're older. Black walnut produces "juglone" which makes the nearby soil unsuitable for some plants, such as tomatoes. There are a number of juglone-tolerant plants to choose from to grow under your black walnut. [Photo: Juglans nigra leaves.]The large compound leaves have a tropical feel. They look similar to those of the invasive Ailanthus altissima (tree of heaven), but A. altissima's leaflets have a pair of teeth at the base. Black walnut also has pleasantly fragrant leaves, smelling like incense, whereas Ailanthus has a foul smell like burnt peanut butter.

Potentilla norvegica

[Photo: Potentilla norvegica.]Potentilla norvegica, known in English as "rough cinquefoil" or "Norwegian cinquefoil" and in French as potentille norvégienne or potentille de Norvège, is an annual, biennial, or short-lived perennial native to the temperate northern hemisphere. The dainty yellow flowers have five petals, and five sepals which are longer than the petals and protrude between them. [Photo: Potentilla norvegica foliage.]Despite the English common names ("cinquefoil" means "five leaves"), the compound leaves have three leaflets rather than five. If you click the photo to enlarge it you will see they, and the stems, are covered with fine hairs.

Sunflowers! (Helianthus annuus and H. tuberosus

[Photo: Helianthus annuus in bloom.]The volunteer sunflower (H. annuus) is in full bloom, and I'm happy to see it's yellow, not that disappointing brownish orange like the 'Velvet Queen' I had last year (which was supposed to be red).

[Photo: Helianthus tuberosus, not in bloom.]We also have native perennial sunflowers in the garden, probably Jerusalem artichoke (H. tuberosus). I'm not sure, but I think this is just one plant! It grows over 2 metres tall, and has small (for a sunflower) yellow flowers in the autumn. The roots are massive tubers, which are apparently edible, though I haven't tried it.

Echinacea pallida inflorescence

[Photo: Echinacea pallida inflorescence.]Echinacea pallida, known in English as "pale purple coneflower" and in French as échinacée pourpré clair is a perennial native to eastern and central North America. As you can see, it resembles its familiar relative Echinacea purpurea, but with paler petals which hang down like a hula skirt (there's even a cultivar called 'Hula Dancer'). Unlike E. purpurea, E. pallida is native to Ontario.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The aphids' days are numbered

[Photo: ladybug near colony of aphids.]Look who showed up at the ants' aphid farm!

Ladybugs are such enthusiastic predators of aphids that they are often purchased just for this purpose. I've read that this is unreliable as the ladybugs are apt to fly away when released instead of staying in your garden. If you do want to buy ladybugs, get a native species (check here to see which ladybugs in Ontario are native). Unfortunately, the bug here seems to be the invasive Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis), introduced to control pests, which has an annoying practice of overwintering in peoples' houses! The Asian lady beetle can have many different colours and markings; it is distinguished from native ladybugs by the white markings on and behind the head, which surround a black "M" or "W".

The bright colouring of the ladybug is a warning to other predators that ladybugs secrete a toxin when attacked.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Development of Monarda didyma flowers

First the bracts turn dark red... [Photo: Monarda didyma in bud.]

Then the flower buds colour up... [Photo: Monarda didyma flower buds.]

...and grow larger. [Photo: Monarda didyma flower buds.]

Almost open... [Photo: Monarda didyma flower almost open.]

...and here's a fully opened inflorescence in all its glory! [Photo: Monarda didyma in full bloom.]

Bee balm is such an easy to grow plant, and attracts hummingbirds (though I have not seen this myself). I would expect that this is a healthier way of feeding hummingbirds than a feeder filled with sugar water, and lower maintenance too.

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