Tag Archives: Nature

A Curiosity for Lichens

I recently reviewed a book about lichens. It’s a small book, so only an introduction to an extensive topic. Finding a greenish-grey lichen similar to a photo in the book, on a hawthorn tree in my yard, drove my curiosity to learn a bit more about these organisms that are neither plant nor animal.

Lichens are made up of fungus (the protective outer layer), with algae and/or cyanobacteria (living on the inside and providing energy through photosynthesis) that work together in an association called symbiosis. They need each other to exist since they don’t have leaves, stems or roots. They absorb rainwater, and go dormant in dry periods.

My Scarlet Hawthorn tree has long puzzled me. It’s about 20 years old, produces a healthy crop of leaves each spring, and then bursts out in a profusion of glorious watermelon red blossoms.

But most years, it begins to drop leaves in July, and often by the end of August it is half bare. It doesn’t appear to be diseased, but I think it does suffer stress that depends on rainfall….and I haven’t figured out its favorite environmental condition. And it does have lichens….could they be harming it?

But lichens produce their own food, and since those that live on trees cling to the surface and don’t penetrate the wood, they are not thought to harm a tree. They seem to like older trees whose bark has cracks and uneven surfaces. When mine loses many leaves during summer, it gives the lichen more sunlight for its photosynthetic process. Since lichens can indicate good air quality, maybe they’re telling me something useful. They are food for some animals, like deer (they visit my yard) and might be a source of nesting material for birds (like the Pacific-slope Flycatchers that nest here every summer lately).

This species has small pits on the underside

So I’ve identified this lichen as Fruiting Honeycomb Lichen (Hypogymnia lophyrea) based on a photo and description. It’s a foliose lichen, the most common type to grow on tree trunks. If anyone knows it is a different species, please let me know!

Nature’s Balancing Act

On a recent trip to Haida Gwaii, we stopped on our drive north from Daajing Giids (Queen Charlotte City) to Masset to see Balance Rock. It’s listed as ‘not to be missed’, for the mystery of its precarious position. It isn’t unique—apparently there are lots of similar examples in the world—but we could get up-close and personal with this one.

How is the rock kept in place? Gravity and contact friction are the glue holding it at such a perilous angle. After being carried by glaciers to this spot, the ice melted and—what luck—set the rock down in this amazing position. It’s estimated to be anywhere from 200-100 million years old, but may have only been plunked here several 1000s of years ago. You can’t see the contact point at high tide, but only when the sea has receded to reveal its unusual nature on the rocky shore. Imagine the sight when storm waves batter it, flinging spray from this immovable object!

Looking south from the rock towards Skidegate

How does it feature in Haida Gwaii folklore? Good question with few solid answers. There might have been a story in oral legend, but many of those tales were lost when 90% of the population succumbed to diseases beginning in 1787 with Captain George Dixon, the British explorer who named the collection of islands the Queen Charlottes. It might be a perfect symbol for the Haida, though, of their enduring land as a sanctuary where all is connected in a fine balance, a quiet place apart from the mainstream of the busy world, striving to find stillness, and subsequently, peace.

The view north, overlooking Hecate Strait

Who Couldn’t Love a Banana Slug?

This may not be everyone’s idea of a neat critter, but the Banana Slug has a lot going for it.

Not your common garden slug (you will rarely find it there), this terrestrial gastropod is the world’s second largest slug, and is native to cool, temperate coastal rainforests of the Pacific northwest. Here, the Banana Slug spends its days happily sniffing out and munching on decaying plant and animal material, doing the world a favour with this garbage cleanup routine. In turn, it is itself food for birds, small mammals and reptiles. Sounds like a win-win, to me.

Not all Banana Slugs are yellow, but this one was the prettiest I’ve seen. We found it along the Tow Hill Trail in northern Haida Gwaii in June. We didn’t touch it….the idea of the slime is off-putting. But it’s not poisonous—though it may numb your tongue if you decide to take a taste (eew!). It’s hard to rinse off the skin, so best to let it dry, then it rubs off easily…so I’m told.

Getting away….close to home

We’re usually just getting home from a late spring holiday about now, and having to tackle the weeds that rejoiced in our absence. But holidays have become myths this year, the weeds never got their freedom to frolic, and a change of routine is needed. The solution? A ‘staycation’. I always thought the term a bit silly, but now I’ve had one—a four-hour experience that included a picnic by the lake, and always fascinating birding.

Bald Eagle

An immature Bald Eagle was the first prize, occupying a post along the road to Herald Provincial Park. Osprey flew over the lake; it’s approaching high-water, so we didn’t find beach to sit on at the day-use area. That’s likely what kept most people away too; they were only allowed into the adjacent camping area this week. We set up a couple of chairs in a sunny spot overlooking the lake that would normally be busy with boats at this time of year.

It was largely empty of waterfowl, but a Chipping Sparrow kept us company while we ate our sandwiches. We heard Song Sparrows, Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos and saw one Solitary Sandpiper.

Chipping Sparrow

Next stop, Peter Jannink Park in town, where several hundred Western Grebes gather along the shore in the only breeding ground left in the BC Interior. High water is unsettling them too, with nesting among the reed canary grass barely underway.

I’ve missed witnessing their spectacular ritual mating dances for years, so staying home has had this unexpected benefit.

This park is a popular home for other birds too. A Catbird welcomed us, along with a possible Alder Flycatcher. Tree Swallows have claimed nest boxes newly refurbished last year by the local naturalist club.

Tree Swallow on nest box

Nearby, the Marine Park invites visitors to walk a special trail maintained by the club. We strolled along the wharf accompanied by the kreek-kreek calls of more Western Grebes.

We’ll have to go back in a week or so to check out their nesting success. Plenty to do while staying close to home this summer.

My umbrella…

It’s been a rainy autumn in my home area of BC. That means plenty of days when I could use my umbrella. Since rainy days are dreary, I bought an umbrella that is far from dull. It depicts Claude Monet’s 1886 Impressionist painting, Woman with an Umbrella, alight with the yellows, greens and blues of a sunny day. Why make gloomy days more dingy with a plain, boring, dark umbrella? It would be like carrying the rain cloud with you!

More attracted to Realism for its close observation of detail, I’m not a devoted fan of Impressionism. But I do enjoy the light and color of the natural images and the sensory effect of fleeting glimpses of detail. It’s cheery, especially for an umbrella, offering the feeling that brighter skies are only moments away.

I’ve had many compliments on that umbrella. I respond that it is probably the only ‘Monet’ I’ll ever have. So I was delighted to have the chance to visit Giverny, Monet’s home and garden near Paris this spring. I’d see the actual inspiration for his work, with maybe a chance to own another ‘Monet’.

The gardens at Giverny are popular, so the pathways that wove through the acreage around ponds and over bridges were filled with visitors. But it was a quiet pilgrimage, everyone enjoying the profusion of colors and artistic landscape design that Monet created. I was surprised to find so many of the same flowers that I’ve planted at home…


Lunaria….Honesty….Money Plant

One plant, lunaria, grown for its papery silver seed pods was one of my dad’s favorites. The other names he told me—honesty, money plant—are the ones I remember best.

This shop sold umbrellas….much like mine. The main gift shop was awash with souvenir items all depicting favorite Monet images. I now own a Water Lilies mouse pad; it is at my fingertips all day, recalling the enjoyable tour of a springtime garden that inspired one artist’s legacy…and an umbrella that lifts my mood every rainy day.

The Snail Days of Summer

Our BC summer has been unusually hot–you’ve heard of those ‘dog days’, of course, that seem to crawl by through July and into mid-August. Not humid, though. Just the opposite, in fact. Too dry! Finally, today, it is raining. First time I’ve seen, heard, smelled (glorious, after all the wildfire smoke we’ve been eating) and felt rain since June. Besides ushering in the fresh air, it has brought out oodles of garden snails. But in spite of the lack of natural moisture for weeks, I’ve seen plenty of snails enjoying moist shady patches in the sprinkled garden all summer. So why not call these the ‘snail days’ of summer?

Snail crossing an island in the water bowl

I’ve long admired the colorful swirls on snail shells. They brighten up patches of dark soil, and turn up everywhere: climbing up the sides of the rain barrel, sitting on plant stems, tracing the rims of flower pots, traversing the patio stones, even crawling up the window glass. When I mention how many I see, others frown and suggest they are bad news. But I have to look hard to see any signs of harm in the garden. Sure, the odd leaf has a few holes, and I did find one small marigold struggling to grow while being dined upon by a snail. But I can ignore that for all the good these gastropods might do.







Favorite land snail foods are rotting vegetation, algae, fungi, dying plants and dead organic matter…they take on the role of recycling and clean-up crew. Fine with me! In turn, they might be eaten by small mammals, birds, worms, insects and snakes (yes, there’s a small garter snake living in the flower bed). So unless I see a lot of plants disappearing, I’ll let nature balance the equation at a snail’s pace.

Looking for munchies among the moss and leaf litter







My curiosity about these snails led to the question…what is the smallest and the largest snail? In Borneo, scientists discovered a teeny snail (Acmella nana) only visible with a microscope. On the other end of the scale is the African giant snail (Achatina achatina) with a shell around 27 cm long.
The largest snail I’ve seen isn’t a land snail. It’s the sea or marine snail called the Moon snail (Euspira lewisii).






I first saw this one on west coast beaches, and again this June in the Bonne Bay Marine Station Public Aquarium in Norris Point, NL. Enterprising hermit crabs use the empty shells as a new home, to replace one they’ve outgrown.

So did someone say snails weren’t useful?