Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

Green Aliens Invading Lanark County


Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

February 1, 2012

Green Aliens in Lanark County!

by Cathy Keddy, MVFN Program Chair

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists’ (MVFN) public lecture series, Trends in Fauna and Flora, continues February 16 with the fifth presentation, “Green Aliens Invading Lanark County.” You do not need to be an expert to enjoy the presentations—just possess a curiosity or appreciation for wild nature. Cottagers, hunters, fishermen, canoeists, hikers, campers, artists and seasoned field naturalists alike will find something to interest them as we explore what lives in Lanark County and how best to protect it for future generations. Refreshments are offered at each lecture.

This lecture will be presented by Ken Allison, botanist with the Plant and Biotechnology Risk Assessment Unit of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in Ottawa. He will talk about the ecology of alien plants, including their impact on native species of plants and our natural habitats. Ken is an expert at dealing with aliens, particularly green ones.

The growth and spread of North America’s alien flora has long been the subject of practical observation. As early as the 1600s, the entry of alien plants was being noted. These plant species arrived by many means, some accidentally in ship ballast, as packing material, as seeds or vegetative dispersal units attached to animals, or in feces. Others were deliberately imported for medical or herbal purposes, as forage, and as ornamentals.

According to David White’s authoritative Plants of Lanark County, Ontario (, one-third of all the 1296 plants in the County are considered aliens (they are not native to the area and were not here before European settlement). Most are rare (208), sparse (49), or uncommon (53), while the remainder (103) are common. No signs of triffids have yet been reported.

Next to habitat loss, the impact of alien species is the second most frequent cause of native species being at risk in the province. Alien plant species can detrimentally affect the native flora through many avenues such as habitat modification (soil, light, water availability, geomorphological processes), competition (leading to reduced growth and reproduction), and hybridization (loss of genetic variability).

Not all alien species are of equal concern. They can be sorted into several ecological groups. These include species that persist in the wild, but do not spread and dominate native species (e.g., Helleborine orchid in forests), those that become common in man-modified environments like roadsides, lawns and cultivated fields (e.g., bladder campion, ox-eye daisy, dandelion), and those termed ‘invasive’ that can become common, sometimes dominant, and invade natural habitats such as woodlands and wetlands, displacing native species (e.g., purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, buckthorn).

Hundreds of green aliens of all kinds are among us. Where should we direct our efforts to maintain the ecological integrity of Lanark County’s natural heritage? Four foci come to mind: 1) target alien species with the ability to invade intact, natural habitats, 2) target native habitats that are naturally vulnerable to invasive alien species (those that frequently experience natural forces that perturb them such as river and lake shorelines that are exposed to ice scour, flowing water, and wave wash), rare habitats, and habitats with rare species, 3) minimize opportunities for alien species invasion through human activities, and 4) keep informed, be able to recognize the most harmful aliens, and be vigilant for new arrivals. To find out which green aliens belong on our top 10 most wanted list, come to the lecture.

How bright is the future for green aliens in our county? Which new species should we expect and how quickly might they arrive on our doorstep? How are we doing with options for controlling or eliminating these species before they get a foothold? Come to the lecture.

Learn what you should know about these aliens among us and those poised to enter our county, and see how you can help to keep them at bay by attending Ken Allison’s presentation, “Green Aliens Invading Lanark County,” at 7:30p.m. on Thurs. Feb. 16, 2012, Almonte United Church, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. All are welcome ($5 fee for non-members). For further information please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Cathy Keddy at 613-257-3089.



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2011: Interesting Wild Mississippi Places and Faces, and their Champions

by Pauline Donaldson

Press story pdf with photos

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) held their Spring Gathering 2011 and AGM May 19th at the Almonte Civitan Community Hall. The evening was a celebration of wild nature and a tribute to those who help champion it including keynote speaker Paul Keddy, and Mike McPhail (MVFN Champion for Nature for 2011). The over one hundred members of MVFN and the public in attendance were treated to a delicious banquet served by Civitan volunteers.

MVFN President Joyce Clinton presided over a short business meeting during which MVFN’s officers for the 2011-2012 year were elected. Returning to MVFN’s board of directors are Joyce Clinton, President; Janet McGinnis, Vice President; Mike McPhail, Past President; Janet Fytche, Secretary; Cathy Keddy, Program Chair; Brenda Boyd, Chair of Environmental Education; Bill Slade, Chair Environmental Issues; and Janet Snyder, Social Committee. Newly elected to the board of directors are Elisabeth DeSnaijer, MVFN Treasurer; Ken Allison, MVFN Chair Publicity; and Bob McCook, MVFN Director at Large.

Clinton reported on the year’s highlights, including a recent significant change to MVFN’s status. “I am pleased to announce that through the efforts of the board of directors and in particular Cathy Keddy and Howard Robinson, the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists is now officially a charitable organization. To help the board gain a clearer focus for the future, we held a visioning meeting in August last year. Our financial pulse is strong and healthy. Our treasurer Howard Robinson will be stepping down this year. I want to thank Howard for all his hard work over the last 3 years. Referring to other highlights with implications for children and youth Clinton stated, “The Environmental Education committee (Chaired by Brenda Boyd) has also begun the process of developing a plan for an MVFN Young Naturalists Program. The project is still in the pilot project stage, but it is a very exciting step for our group.”

Christine and Peggy










A special part of the evening was presentation of the 2011 MVFN Champion for Nature Award, given to individuals or groups who make outstanding contributions to the natural world in the Mississippi Valley. “This year we are awarding the MVFN Champion for Nature Award to Mike McPhail” said Clinton. “Mike was born and raised in Almonte . . . a geologist by training and has many passions in the field of nature. As MVFN’s vice president for three years, then president for three, Mike continues to serve on MVFN’s board.” Without a doubt, many MVFN projects would not have taken place without the driving force of Mike McPhail, a quintessential organizer, natural public speaker and leader, and a man with a passion and curiosity for our natural world. To mention a few such projects: Mike researched and organized MVFN’s first bioblitz which was held on the Bell property in Mississippi Mills in September 2009. This bioblitz quickly become a model for other clubs. Another project close to Mike’s heart is MVFN’s Habitat Creation which has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of blue-bird houses for our feathered friends as well as duck nesting platforms and other habitat projects still in the works.

Mike was unable to attend the evening due to illness, however the award was accepted on Mike’s behalf by his wife Peggy McPhail and daughter Christine (photo above).

Following the banquet and business meeting, the audience settled in for local ecologist Dr. Paul Keddy’s presentation “Natural Faces of Wild Mississippi Places.” “These [wild] species don’t come to meetings and don’t vote, so it is easy for them to be overlooked. One of my tasks at this spring celebration is to talk on their behalf.” Keddy’s virtual tour gave the audience an opportunity to reconsider a few of Lanark County’s special natural places, or to learn about them for the first time. In Lanark County we live in the great northern deciduous forest region which also includes some relatively rare (globally) areas of deciduous forest over marble. In the county, as farm land returns to forest, we are seeing good signs, such as the return of fishers, natural predators of porcupines. We share the northern deciduous forest with Ontario’s only lizard species (the five-lined skink), but few of us realize just how many salamanders we share it with. ‘Salamander Central’, the forest is teeming with these seldom seem amphibians. In addition to the return of favorite birds, spring in the deciduous forest means that spring ephemerals are about. These include often fragile and beautiful perennial woodland plants, such as wild columbine. These plants must quickly sprout from the forest floor, grow and flower while the sun can still reach them through the leafless trees. Attached to the seeds of ephemeral species such as Trillium, Hepatica, and Dutchman’s breeches is a little oil-rich snack for ants. Attracted to this food, the ants spread the seeds, but colonization of new areas occurs only very slowly. When plants are lost from an area, re-colonization is very slow and not guaranteed, since, as Keddy pointed out, ants do not travel far and are not good at crossing highways. As soon as the leaves bud out on the trees the tree frogs arrive and summer begins again in the forest.

A second special place featured was the Innisville Wetland Complex, an area officially designated as an ANSI (Area of Natural or Scientific Interest) by the provincial government. It is a huge, significant wetland area and yet it is relatively unknown and unseen by visitors and locals alike. Why aren’t there interpretive signs and perhaps an access point to the Innisville Wetland Complex, and a boardwalk to allow people to safely enter and experience this important natural area?

A third local area discussed was the ‘Lanark Highlands Glacial Spillway Forest’, an area so named by Paul Keddy. This glacial spillway, near White Lake, is a remarkable area which was carved in the past by tremendous volumes of glacial meltwater which flowed past carrying and depositing loads of sand and gravel. Surprisingly, one corner of the spillway ‘valley’ actually overlaps part of Blueberry Mountain, but this is possible. As is often the case for unique areas such as this, a variety of interesting things are aggregated there. For example a rare southern tree species, the shagbark hickory has been found there, and in shady areas, walking fern (found in forests over marble) which spreads by producing new plants where the leaf tips touch the ground.

Keddy’s lecture was an excellent conclusion to MVFN’s 2010-2011 lecture series Biodiversity and Vital Connections for Fauna, Flora and People. People connected with the presentation, the local natural areas featured and were educated and inspired. MVFN’s lecture program is on break now until September but the canoe and summer outing season is just getting started. The next MVFN summer walk takes place June 19th at the Purdon Fen and the next canoe outing is scheduled for July 10th. Please watch the MVFN member email network or consult for further details on these outings.


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Presentation by Paul Keddy: “Where the Wild Things Are”

“Where the Wild Things Are”

 On Saturday March 5th, The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Conservancy (MMLTC) will welcome Dr. Paul Keddy, an internationally recognized ecologist and Lanark County resident, to speak about some of the “wilder” features of our area that make it a unique and special place to live. The MMLTC works with private landowners and in the community to help preserve spaces where wild things are found.

 “Wild places,” says Dr. Keddy, “are essential for the survival of other living beings, as well as for ourselves. I will describe our wild places of Lanark County, and also explain why they are important, and how scientists set priorities for protection. Not all wild places are the same, and it is important that over the next few decades we build a proper network of protected wild places. But we have to focus on the important places when we can.”

 “Of course, in one way, it is obvious that wild species need wild places. Cities, subdivisions, farmland and clear cuts are not places where most wild species can live. Lanark County has some remarkable species. A few of my personal favorites are the Black Rat Snake, the Blanding’s Turtle, the Black-throated Blue Warbler, and the Gray Tree Frog. None of these will survive for the next generations without the wild places in which they live.”

 “But it is not only wild species that need wild places. People do too. We have a deep need for wildness. Jesus, after all, spent 40 days in the wilderness of the Middle East. The Buddha spent years living in the forests of India. We too need wild places, even if we sometimes have difficulty explaining why. Canoe trips, wilderness hikes, hunting camps, and summer cottages all give us some experience of wildness.”

 When he was younger, Dr. Keddy spent many hours canoeing on the Mississippi River and hiking in the surrounding forests. “In my lifetime,” he says, “many of the places I once loved have been turned into subdivisions or carelessly logged. Species that I used to see are missing, or there are only a few where they were once abundant. We forget so soon. People have already forgotten that Passenger Pigeons, now extinct, are recorded as having nested in Beckwith Township.

 Although he has returned to live in Lanark County, Dr. Keddy still works on wild places elsewhere. He has recently worked on projects involving restoration of the Everglades, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and even San Francisco Bay. He will be drawing upon some of these examples to provide further insight into Lanark County.

 Although he has an international reputation as a scientist and writer, Paul is probably best known to us for writing Earth, Water Fire: An Ecological Profile of Lanark County. Now in its second printing as a revised edition, this book is an easy-to-digest, delightful and informative sail through the surprising natural and recent geological history of this area. The book will be available for purchase at his talk.

 By the end of the talk, we should know where our wild places are, and what we should do to keep them intact. Since the Land Trust exists to take gifts of wild places to protect them for future generations, how better to spend an afternoon than hearing about wild places and meeting other people who care too.

 Dr. Keddy will be speaking at MMLTC’s annual meeting which will be held Saturday, March 5, from 2-4 pm at the United Church Hall, 115 Clarence Street, in Lanark village.


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