It happens quite often. A seed gets deposited – from the air, or by a bird or passing chipmunk – in the centre of a pot and a plant starts to grow proudly, looking for all the world as if I had put it there… until it reveals itself to be an imposter and is yanked out and consigned to the compost heap. But while I couldn’t put a name to this particular plant, it wasn’t one of my familiar weeds and it was so perfectly centred and so healthy looking I decided to keep it until I figured out what it was.
A week or so ago, it flowered. A lovely lavender blue, and I recognized it immediately as the Monkey-flower. What excitement! I had seen it on occasion at Tiny Marsh and thought it quite charming. In fact, it charmed its way onto the flyer for the recent Tiny Marsh BioBlitz. The corolla (which is the name for all the petals of a flower) has an upper and lower lip and a yellowish centre that, apparently, looks like a monkey’s face – though I can’t see it. No offence to monkeys, but it’s much prettier than the image that conjures up.
Its genus, Mimulus, used to have 150 species, but DNA-driven reclassification reduced the number to seven, of which two are native to eastern North America, both quite common in wetland areas. The one that magically appeared in my nursery is the Square-stemmed Monkey-flower (M. ringens); the other is the Winged Monkey-flower (M. alatus), which looks very similar. Both have opposite leaves, but the leaves of the winged version have short stalks, whereas those on the square-stemmed one do not. And the winged’s flowers grow close to the central stem, while the square-stemmed’s flowers each have their own little stalk.
After checking for its preferred habitat, I bore it off to its new home in my bog garden where it has settled in with other moisture lovers like Cardinal Flower, Royal Fern, Buttonbush, Swamp Milkweed, White Turtlehead and Blue Vervain.
The Monkey-flower is the latest in a series of gifts from heaven – volunteers, as gardeners call them when they emerge unbidden and, if they are lovely or otherwise desirable, are greeted with delight and encouraged to grow on. Another recent arrival in my garden is the native Wild Mint – Mentha arvensis. It also is common, having a circumboreal distribution, but still, not something I’ve come across every day. I had a request for it last year. Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago, among the weeds around the picnic table, suddenly, there it was! I recognized it immediately because I had recently looked it up in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, thinking I might scout around and try to find some. Its pale purple flowers grow in whorls on the square stem at the base of opposite leaves.
These chance discoveries are a reason I am careful in my weeding. My paths always offer up plentiful quantities of Joe Pye Weed, Anise Hyssop and White Baneberry, but the surprises are what makes the exercise worthwhile. A few years ago, the field that I am naturalizing threw up a White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), its spikes of lovely white hooded flowers emerging above a sea of goldenrod. I collected some seed and left the rest to spread naturally. Each year, the field had a few more plants, and now there are more than I can count. New disease at birdfeeders
I emptied my birdfeeders a few days ago and left everyone to forage for themselves for a couple of weeks. I normally feed right through the summer, feeling that we as a species have removed so much in the way of other species’ feeding grounds, replacing them with gardens of alien plants, pesticide-laced crops, invasive species and hard surfaces, that any help is more than warranted.
But there’s a bird disease emerging in the Maritimes. It’s called trichomonosis. The birds get an inflammation of the mouth and esophagus so they can’t swallow their food, and they regurgitate it. Their feathers look matted and wet and they are lethargic. The culprit is a parasite, transmitted through the regurgitated seed. Sterilizing the feeders is a first step, dealing with possible contamination below the feeders is another.
The federal Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative
advises that “in order to avoid facilitating the transmission of the disease during known outbreak of trichomonosis, it is suggested that you remove bird feeders and baths for at least two weeks to disperse birds and reduce the likelihood of transmission.” We don’t have a known outbreak here in Ontario but we should take this as a reminder of how important it is to keep the feeders clean. And it may only be a matter of time before the disease reaches us. Watch out squirrels!
There’s a new boss in town. Squirrels and chipmunks that had become so bold we almost tripped over them have faded discreetly away because we have a puppy. An energetic four-month Golden Labrador/Husky cross, a rescue from Attawapiskat on the James Bay coast. I have visited that community and like to think of Ami, as we have named him, as a link to the people there, whose efforts to work out a sustainable future in the face of government obstacles I fully support. Ami is delightful and energetic and learning not to pull plants out of pots and not to race across beds trampling seedlings. August hours
) and it can be arranged. I will be weeding - watchfully.