(The Goulbourn Wetland in fall splendor. Photo Jessie Lozanski)
(Editor’s note: Jessie Lozanski brought us her ‘Wild Stittsville’ book and is now bringing the community many articles that will be a monthly look at what’s happening with some of the flora and fauna in Stittsville’s ecosystems. Follow along and use this as inspiration to get out in our natural community! Jessie has recently formed a Stittsville Land Keepers group. If you are interested in or concerned about our biodiversity, feel free to join and follow on Facebook.)
While sometimes considered a weed species since it often grows successfully in disturbed areas, milkweed is actually an incredibly important native species. Monarch butterflies, one of Canada’s most beloved and threatened insects, are entirely reliant on milkweed for their lifecycle and spend their summers almost exclusively on this plant before migrating to Mexico for the winter. There are over 110 species of milkweed in North America but in Stittsville you are most likely to come across Common milkweed or Swamp milkweed.
You can identify milkweed in fall by their large horn shaped pods that burst open to reveal hundreds of seeds attached to super soft fluff. The fluff has actually been used by humans historically to stuff mattresses, and life preservers during the Second World War- a Canadian company has even started making mittens using the fluff as insulation.
Unfortunately over the past 20 years, Monarch populations have dropped over 80% making the presence of milkweed in our parks and gardens critical. Milkweed has also been disappearing from our ecosystems but luckily we can all help out. You can sometimes buy milkweed seeds from your local garden centres but oftentimes these are non-native cultivars from Europe or Asia. So the best (and free) way to guarantee native milkweed seeds is by harvesting them yourself from milkweed around your neighbourhood. All harvesting should be done responsibly, keeping in mind to not take too many seeds, you should only need a few to start some plants in your backyard. To learn how to harvest and plant milkweed seeds you can follow this link https://xerces.org/blog/harvesting-milkweed-seed-pod-and-plan. You can also contact the Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in obtaining free milkweed seeds.
Eastern White Pine:
Despite being an evergreen which means a plant that retains its leaves in winter, Eastern White Pines lose about two thirds of their needles in fall. You might have been alarmed when you saw your white pine developing yellow needles but all white pines shed their old needles about every year and a half.
Eastern White Pines are Ontario’s tallest tree species. They used to be even taller, rivaling the heights of Douglas Firs and Redwoods of the West Coast. Early colonizers used the massive straight trunks of pines to build ships, virtually wiping out all of our tallest specimens. Some of the tallest Eastern White Pines you come across today are ones that had been afflicted by White Pine Weevil, an insect native to North America. The White Pine Weevil will often cause the tree’s trunk to grow with deformities and at odd angles. Although a menace to lumbermen, the weevil does not significantly damage the trees and actually saved many of our large pines from the axe.
After growing since spring, fall is when young coyotes start dispersing and looking for their own territory. During this time you are likely to start hearing lots of yips and howls as coyotes search out for their families or encounter other coyotes during their journey. Two coyotes encountering each other can create a cacophony of noise that sounds like over a dozen individuals. This is not something to fear, just think of it as the coyotes saying hello to the neighbourhood as they tour for a new home.
Coyotes are extremely intelligent and resourceful creatures that have significantly expanded their range in the past 200 years in large part from human causes. Originally only residents to Southwestern United States, coyotes spread across nearly all of North America following the livestock populations and wolf culling that occurred with colonization. With wolves almost completely exterminated from the landscape, coyotes had more availability to prey like rabbits, mice, and deer. Coyotes are also famous scavengers, eating just about anything which enhanced their ability to survive compared to wolves. Their ability to switch between hunting and scavenging as well as their ability to act as a pack or in solitary, has allowed them to spread north and east and live in the country and cities alike.
Although a contentious creature since they were often blamed for lost livestock and now more recently blamed for lost pets, coyotes are an important part of our ecosystem. Coyotes manage rodent and prey populations in Ontario, a niche previously belonging to wolves. Coyote attacks on humans are extremely rare and to ensure the safety of your pet keep your cats inside and your dogs on leash (which also helps other wildlife, cats are an extremely invasive species that kill over a billion birds per year in North America and dogs are responsible for their fair share of wildlife deaths as well).