Monday, May 30, 2011

Profile on Invasives: Giant Hogweed

Giant Hogweed

Heracleum mantegazzianum

This post marks the beginning of the "Profile on Invasives" series of the blog.

I will post in detail about some of the invasive species most commonly found in Muskoka.

Do you have a suggestion for a species you'd like to see covered?

Let me know by leaving a comment below!

What is it?
Giant Hogweed is a biennial or perennial plant, flowering only once in its lifetime and reproducing only by seed. Plants forming rosettes to 1m high the first year; in the second year, either sending up a flowering stem, or remaining vegetative and producing a very large rosette of huge leaves, these including their petioles, up to 2m high, and flowering in the third year. As it goes through these stages, its' appearance changes (see photos below).

Giant Hogweed grows for 3-5 years and 4-5 metres tall before flowering. Flowering occurs from June to August, at which point the seeds are released. Once the seeds are released the plant dies. Seeds are dispersed by wind, water and humans, and can survive in the soil for 7 years. Each plant can release between 20,000 to 100,000 seeds, resulting in high rates of spread.

Where does it grow?
Giant Hogweed grows in moist environments, generally near streams, lakes and ponds.
Why is it dangerous?
Giant Hogweed competes with native species for light, and can change the composition and reduce the diversity of native plant communities.

Giant hogweed contains a clear, watery, toxic sap. When this comes into contact with human skin it reacts with sunlight which results in severe burns on the skin within 15 minutes of exposure. The burns are extremely painful as evidenced in the photos below.

The sap is also carcinogenic and teratogenic, meaning it can cause cancer and birth defects. If the sap gets in your eye, the chemical in it can singe the cornea and cause temporary or permanent blindness.
What is the District of Muskoka doing about it?
On May 26th, Moose FM reported that the "Township of Muskoka Lakes is doing what it can to protect residents from the dangers of Hogweed. At a special council meeting last week, council directed staff to take action to eliminate Giant Hogweed from public land. This includes the use of pesticides and warning signage in known areas. The resolution will now go to District Council, where councillor Brad Burgess will ask to speak to members about undertaking a similar resolution district wide." Stay tuned...
What should you do if you find giant hogweed?

  • DO NOT touch the plant!

  • DO NOT try and control the plant yourself; contact a pest control expert or your town/municipality

  • Report your sighting to the Invading Species Awareness Program

  • Keep children and pets away from the plant

  • Help stop the spread of invasive plants of all kinds by removing seeds, fluff, plant material from your clothing, shoes, pets, and bikes before leaving a natural area.

  • Should you touch Giant Hogweed, wash the affected area immediately with soap and cool water. Avoid sunlight and seek medical attention.

Similar Plants

Giant Hogweed has a similar appearance to a few other common plants in Muskoka:

More Information and Photos

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Invasive Plants and You

Q: What do periwinkle, tansy, giant hogweed, norway maple, and garlic mustard have in common?

A: They are all invasive species!!

above: periwinkle

What is an invasive species?
According to the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC), invasive species are alien species whose introduction or spread negatively impact native biodiversity, the economy and/or society, including human health.

So what is an alien species?
Alien Species - Plant, animals and micro-organisms that have been accidentally or deliberately introduced into areas beyond their native range. Synonyms may include introduced, non-native and exotic.

What's the problem?

Financial Cost
Invasive alien plants cost us all money. They are a huge drag on the economy. Consider the simple subset of the added cost to farmers (over $2.2 Billion annually in Canada) and to your weekly grocery bill.

Environmental Cost
They also cost us environmentally, as these invasives replace or compete with native species causing a loss of health (i.e. resilience in ecosystems) human terms adding to the risks for our future security, making adaptation to climate change more difficult and adding to the problem of biodiversity loss.
There are about 500 invasive plants in Canada. Most of them (over 440) are in Southern Ontario, and thus most of the economic and biodiversity issues are in Ontario.

What are some solutions?
Here are a few ways you can help stop the spread of invasive species in Ontario:

Quick Tips

Gardening? Plant native species.
Going camping? Don’t transport firewood. Buy it locally; leave what you don’t use there.
Going fishing? Don’t empty your bait bucket in or near water – it’s against the law.
Going boating? Wash your boat before you move to another lake or river.
Going hiking? Clean visible mud, plants and seeds from your boots and other equipment.
Have a fish pet that is no longer wanted? Don’t release it into the wild and don’t flush dead fish down the toilet. Put them in the garbage or compost.
Have a turtle or other small reptile pet that is no longer wanted? Don’t release it into the wild. Contact a reptile rescue society like
Little RES Q for help.
Travelling? Don’t take plants, plant parts, seeds or fruit across borders.

Report your sightings
Call the Invasive Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711
OIPC is working with partners to develop a mapping tool that will support an online database. On the
Invasives Tracking System, you can review maps that show the known range of invasive species and contribute your additions to the information.

Be informed
There are lots of great resources available online. Check out the list at the end of this posting. The OIPC has also developed some helpful guides:
The Landowners Guide to Controlling Invasive Woodland Plants
Grow Me Instead: Beautiful Non-Invasive Plants for your Garden
And many more on the OIPC "Publications" page

Want to know more?
Ontario Invasive Plant Council
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources: invasive species and biodiversity
Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters: Invading Species
OMNR: Aquatic Invasive Species
Terrestrial Invasive Species
A helpful brochure to identify giant higweed in different stages of growth
Pick up a copy of the May/June 2011 issue of Muskoka Life for some good articles about how to get rid of invasive species and wht native plants are best in Muskoka!!
Invasive Alien Species in Canada (Environment Canada)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Discovering Ontario's Conifers

In this video, Chris talks about coming to know about different trees through using their materials in everyday use. He talks about making fires, tea, ropes, baskets, canoes and more from tree products. If you are outdoors this weekend be sure to make some time for a walk in the woods--and let me know what you learn!

What do you think of the video?

In what ways do you come to know the trees?

Enjoy the long weekend!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

2011 Environmental Lecture Series

There's something for everyone at this year's Environmental Lecture Series!

Click on the blog title or the poster above for more details.

See you there!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Composting 101

Get a high quality soil conditioner to improve your garden!

Reduce household waste by up to one third!


What is compost?

According to the Compast Council of Canada, composting is a natural biological process, carried out under controlled conditions, which converts organic material into a stable humus-like product called compost. During the composting process, various microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, break down organic material into simpler substances. Composting is an aerobic process, meaning that the microorganisms require oxygen to do their work.

Benefits of Composting:

*Compost helps to maintain a healthy soil pH so that plants grow better

*Compost helps plants cope with stresses from drought and frosty temperatures

*Compost helps improve texture of soil

*Compost helps increase a sandy soil's moisture holding capacity
Compost keeps earthworms content so that they can go about their work of aerating the soil

*Compost is a great source of plant nutrients

A special nod to coffee:

Coffee grounds fit the standards set by gardeners for compost materials. The grounds, when mixed with soil, release nutrients that make the ground richer and more acidic. Plants that flourish in acidic soil will be healthier since they can get the needed nourishment from the ground. If you have a good supply of coffee grounds, just spread them evenly in your garden. Your plants will reward you by producing robust blooms.

*New for Muskoka: Visit Oliver's Coffee (Bracebridge, Port Carling, or Bala) for your free bucket of grounds.

Worried about wildlife?

*Don't compost food scraps. Use a worm bin (i.e. vermicomposting) indoors instead. Or bury your food scraps directly in the garden, about a foot below the soil's surface.

*Make sure your compost pile doesn't smell. Strong odors attract pests. Odors in a compost pile are the result of anaerobic activity, which means your pile is compacted or too wet and air can't reach all of the materials. Be sure to turn it regularly to avoid this problem.

Not a gardener?

If you can't use the compost in your garden, you can still compost! Most communities in Muskoka offer curbside compost pick-up. If you just can't generate enough compost, some towns offer days where compost material is available for pick-up for use in your garden.

Want to know more?

Peterborough Green-Up Fact Sheets: a whole series on composting!!

Environment Canada: Composting Tips

Green Action Centre (Manitoba) has some good information