This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As Canadians, we should know our maple leafs, right?  After all, it’s on our flag. But do we know the differences between a sugar maple leaf and a red maple leaf?  How about a silver maple or a norway maple?  I did an exploration of my neighbourhood to find samples of maple leafs. I’ve posted pictures of them, along with hints on how to identify them.

The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) has leaves whose edges are not smooth, but are serrated. The leaves are 2 to 5 inches. Often triangular in shape, they have 3 to 5 lobes. The fall colour ranges from yellow, yellow-green, orange and red.

Leaves of the Red Maple

Below, are pictures of Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) leaves. Notice the smooth edges.  They are a bit bigger than red maples, being 3 to 6 inches.  Also, they  have three to five lobes. Their fall colours range from yellow to orange to red hues. Below is a lovely red and yellow one I found beside Queen Street in Toronto.

Leaf of a Sugar Maple

Leaves of the Sugar Maple

The Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) leaves are also quite smooth, but their 5 lobes are usually more deeply cut. They are from 3 to 6 inches in size. Another distinguishing feature is the silvery underside which give this tree its common name. The fall colours are green, brown and yellow.

Leaf of a Silver Maple

The leaf of a Norway Maple (Acer platinoides) is quite similar to a sugar maple; however, it tends to be wider than it is long. They are also often very large. A foolproof way of finding out whether it is a Norway maple is if during the growing season  its leaves ooze a white sap when broken.  Norway maple leaves tend to turn colour later in the season, and have less spectacular colour — a pale yellow.  As well, like the leaf shown below, the Norway maple leaves are prone to getting black spots, a type of fungal disease.

Leaf of a Norway Maple

The Autumn Blaze Maple hybrid tree (Acer saccharinum x Acer rubrum) is a  cross between a Silver Maple and a Red Maple.  The five lobes of the leaves are not as deeply cut as  a Silver Maple’s, although it keeps the silver underside. The fall colour is scarlet orange, or red.

Leaf of an Autumn Blaze Maple

Leaf of a Manitoba Maple (Acer negundo) does not look like your typical maple leaf. Another common name for it is the ash-leaved maple — an apt name for this compound-leafed tree.

Leaf of a Manitoba Maple

A less well-known maple is the Amur Maple (Acer ginnala). Its leaves are smaller (2-3 inches), have double serrated edges and have 3 lobes.

So that’s a quick primer on maple leaves. Now go out and look around for these leaves before they all disappear for the winter. During their leafless season, you’ll need to identify the trees by  their bark and structure, which I find more difficult.

P. S. Which type of maple leaf do you think most resembles the one on our Canadian flag?

The Canadian Flag

The Canadian Flag http://www.pch.gc.ca









Young Ash Tree

A  slight feeling of dread and sadness has been accompanying my walks down my street ever since  I learned about emerald ash borers (EABs).  These small green bugs are  originally from China, and are a blight facing all species of North American ash trees (Fraxinus spp.) They are infecting trees in my own city — Toronto –and in many places throughout Canada and the United States. How long will the beautiful, mature ash trees on my street live?

According to a City of Toronto staff member, because of the emerald ash borer, “Eighty to 95 per cent of the trees [in the city] are projected to die between 2015 and 2017, and from the point of infestation all of the trees will die somewhere between 10 and 12 years.”1

But recently I noticed some signs that gave me a sense of hope for the ash trees on my street, which, I would say, make up about 75% of the tree canopy on my street.  The City has identified 200 locations in Toronto where they will attempt to save ash  trees with a pesticide called TreeAzin.  The trees receiving these treatments are marked with metal tags.2 Most of the ash trees on my street bear metal tags, which I’m hoping signify treatment.

TreeAzin is the only treatment available for EAB and is a natural systemic insecticide made from seeds of the neem tree. It’s injected under the trees bark and kills EAB larvae. It’s quite expensive (up to $500 per tree) and needs to be repeated every two years indefinitely, so it’s not going to save all our ash trees. But it might keep death at bay for many of our trees until more effective control measures are being developed.

And hopefully it can save some of the trees on my street until that treatment is found. Otherwise, the walks on my street will become even sadder as the EAB devastates the beautiful ash trees.

Infected Tree Dying from EAB


1. The Star online. June 9, 2011. ‘Bug 1, Tree 0: Most of Toronto’s ash trees expected to die by 2017’. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1006004–bug-1-tree-0-most-of-toronto-s-ash-trees-expected-to-die-by-2017

2. ibid

Other Reading

City of Toronto web site:  http://www.toronto.ca/trees/eab.htm

Canadian Food Inspection Agency: http://www.inspection.gc.ca/plants/plant-protection/insects/emerald-ash-borer/faq/eng/1337355937903/1337356019017

The group of  White Snakeroot plants in my yard this year has created a delightful orb of delicate white flowers. It resembles a bush but it is actually a cluster of single-stemmed flowers.

I strongly recommend this native plant for shady gardens. Mine grows underneath the canopy of a neighbour’s Norway maple, and it has produced a plethora of flowers, starting in late summer, and continuing to bloom in September.

White Snakeroot

White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) is indigenous throughout southern Ontario in places such as rich woods, thickets, clearings, waste places, ditches, meadows and beside lakes and streams.  I planted mine four years ago and it has formed a clump of plants, about three feet wide and four feet tall in the centre.  The plants get taller towards the centre, which gives the illusion of a shaped shrub.

Do not plant this plant near pastures, however. It’s poisonous to livestock, and will create “milk sickness” in humans when they drink the milk of animals who have eaten the plants.

I think it’s safe to plant this perennial in my city garden, far from any grazing domestic animals. It will spread by seeds, so if you plant this flower, you will be pulling out seedlings. The picture below shows seedlings that grow in the stones surrounding my flower beds. They do not spread by roots, however, so they are relatively easy to control.

Snakeroot Plant Seedlings

Don’t be fooled by the ugly name, the White Snakeroot makes a pretty addition to shady city gardens.

My hens-and-chicks plant (a species of Sempervivum) had pretty little flowers this summer. But I knew that the plant that bore them was going to die soon.  However, I wasn’t too worried because I also knew that there would be many other little ‘hens and chicks’ that would remain.

Hens-and-Chicks Flowers

I heartily recommend planting Sempervivum in  the most difficult of conditions. They do fine in sandy, dry, soil with poor nutrition. And they spread in neat clumps.  They’re especially great in rock gardens and xeriscaping. Although they’re not grown for their flowers, they are a nice little splash of colour in the spring.  Although the part of the plant bore them will die, if you’ve got a large enough cluster of them, you don’t need to worry, and you can enjoy this  flowery exit.

Dead Flower Stalk

Do you think it looks messy to let the leaves that fall on your garden bed lie undisturbed?  That seems to be the case for a majority of gardeners.  Whether the neighbours think it looks unkempt or not, I have a policy of leaving mine to rest on my gardens, especially the beds with woodland plants.  I do this for a variety of reasons.

My Garden Bed with Leaf Mulch

First, they keep in moisture.  We had very little snow and precipitation this winter, but what did fall, was largely retained by the leaves.

Second,the leaves help to support a thriving soil food web with an abundance of different types of microscopic life forms, beneficial insects, and earthworms to make your soils teem with life.

Third, it’s convenient. No need to rake and bag for yard waste pick up.  No need to buy and add mulch to replace the leaves. I do add some compost to some of the plants that need extra nutrition.

I am careful, however not to make such a thick layer that it smothers the plants.  The leaves are from a Norway maple, which are fairly large, and may cause matting which plants can’t grow through. It is possible to use a mulching mower to shred them if you own one.

Yes, sometimes the leaves blow around and look a bit messy on my walkway.  However, the wooden siding on my flower beds helps keep them in.

The proof that the mulch benefits the plants can be seen when I compare the Solomon’s Seal that has leaf mulch with Solomon’s Seal that has no leaf mulch (see below).  The ones with mulch are tall and lush and already blooming. The ones without leaf mulch (or any mulch for that matter) are short and straggly and only have a few buds.

So next time you start to rake leaves from your flower bed, you might like to reconsider!  Leaves are a gardener’s friend!

Solomon’s Seal without Leaf Mulch

Solomon’s Seal with Leaf Mulch

A few years ago I planted a sharp-loped hepatica — a native woodland flower– to add to my front garden.  I made the mistake of leaving it in  the coir pot, which I thought would biodegrade.  Later, I found out  that the amount of moisture needed to decompose the pots might rot the roots of the plant. The containers need to be constantly wet, otherwise they will dry out and take water away from plant roots. Also, when they decompose, they deprive nitrogen from the soil.

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica

When I didn’t see the flower last year,  I thought that it had died. But lo and behold, I spotted one small flower this year coming up through the leaf litter.  What a beautiful surprise!

The flower opens  first while the furled, hairy leaves are still just peeking out of the ground.  When the flowers disappear, the leaves open out.  These small brownish leaves are blending in with the leaves in my flower bed, which makes me think they may have been there last year, but I didn’ t notice them.

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica Leaves

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta) like well-drained, rich soil, with dappled sunlight in the spring and shade in summer.  Mine is growing in sandy loam at the edge of the shade of a Norway maple.  Hopefully, it will continue to thrive and multiply there. Luckily, I hadn’t given up and planted something else at that spot. Sometimes it takes a year or two for a perennial plant to adjust to its new surroundings and show its lovely blossoms. So don’t give up on your flowers after one year… you may get a welcome surprise.

This past Monday,  April 16,  I was hanging out enjoying my front garden when I noticed a fluttering overhead, and a flitting about in my garden.  There were dozens of butterflies — more than I’ve ever seen together at once — flying in and past my garden.  “Could this be part of a migration?” I wondered.

Monarchs were not among these butterflies. The majority I saw were Red Admirals. They were on the go, and  they didn’t stop long enough for me to take a picture.

After a little research, I found that there are probably more than ten species of butterflies in Ontario that make an annual migration.  Why don’t we hear as much about these migrations as the Monarchs? Could it be that, unlike the Monarch, there is no one overwintering location known for them?

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to notice these butterflies. The ROM Blog has a post about these Red Admirals being spotted all over southern Ontario on Monday.  One of the butterfly watchers on the blog said it was the largest migration of Red Admirals he’s ever seen.  They migrate from the US every year.

So watch out for these Red Admirals: they may already be laying eggs on those nettles in your garden which you had meant to pull last fall but, lucky for the butterflies, didn’t.