Red means “go” for Red Osier Dogwood

Stepping into Nature - Minden Riverwalk

Red means “go” for Red Osier Dogwood

Minden, Ontario K0M 2A1, Canada

Created By: Haliburton County Master Gardeners


Just before you get to the entry to the marsh boardwalk, there’s a lovely stretch of riverbank with Wild Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), which has pale purple flowers in summer, Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea), Meadow Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), Slender Leaf Willow and Iris. We have a beautiful native iris, Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolour) which can often be found at the water's edge, its feet in calm water and its blooms of purple petals with yellow throats open to the sun.

Red Osier Dogwood is one of our “keystone” native shrubs, with prolific white flowers emerging in early spring providing nectar and pollen for bees and syrphid flies. The white berries in late summer and fall provide food for hundreds of species of birds and mammals. This species, when planted in a sunny location, is noted for its vibrant red stems. Favoured for its red colour in holiday decorating, this fast growing, suckering shrub can handle aggressive pruning. Tolerating a range of light levels and soil regimes, the roots of this shrub can help stabilize slopes since it forms a network of underground roots.

Where there are caterpillars, flies and spiders, you will find the predacious Eastern Yellow Jacket who considers them lunch. Their job is not to sting you unless you get too close to their underground nest, but to keep nature in balance. The prey and predator relationship conjures up seat gripping episodes of National Geographic, but this wasp is playing an important role in a functioning ecosystem. If you see them along the Riverwalk please don’t disturb their nests or threaten them and they will leave you alone.

For information on how to create a rain garden, which could include Red Osier Dogwood, check out this article from the Haliburton County Master Gardeners:

In addition to the Wild Bee Balm which has mauve flowers, did you know that there is a species of bee balm with stunning bright red flowers? Monarda didyma, or Scarlet Bee Balm as it is commonly called. Bee Balm is also known as Bergamot because the leaves have a floral fragrance reminiscent of the bergamot orange tree (Citrus x aurantium) used to flavour Earl Grey Tea. Pollinators such as the syrphid fly are attracted to the scent of bee balm and the Ruby-throated hummingbird is attracted to the colour and tubular shape of its flowers. Taste a leaf of the bee balm. It’s hot and spicy and you probably won’t like it. Well, neither do the sucking and chewing insects who like to feed on plants!

U-Links Species Profile:

Eastern Yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons

The Eastern Yellowjacket is a subterranean wasp species that has been identified at the Minden Garden walk. Subterranean because it builds its hives underground, in low-lying areas or inside of fallen woody debris, and stumps.

This species has various patterns on its abdomen, depending on the role of the insect in the hive (i.e., Queen, Worker, Drone). One standout feature of the Eastern Yellowjacket is the triangulated black band at the top of the abdomen of the wasp, which will vary in size depending on the sex of the wasp and its role in the colony. Size can range from 1.25cm-1.8cm in length (Yoder, 2001). Females tend to be larger than males, a concept known as sexual dimorphism.

It is considered a generalist species, because it can live in a large range of habitats including forests, meadowlands, urban, agricultural, and suburban regions across Eastern North America. It is also deemed a generalist because of the range of foods that it can exist on. It has been favoured with 2 compound mouthparts: mandibles used for catching and consuming prey, and a tongue that it uses to consume nectar from plants and fruits. The main prey sources for the Eastern Yellowjacket are arachnids (spiders) and caterpillars. Despite its unwarranted reputation the eastern yellow jacket is a peaceful wasp, using its stinger primarily for defence rather than for hunting, however, the wasp will sting multiple times if aggravated (Yoder, 2001).

The Eastern Yellowjacket has seasonal spawning patterns, with only the queen surviving the winters. (Yoder, 2001). Males have the shortest lifespan, dying shortly after mating with a queen wasp. Weather and the length of the season will dramatically affect the size of individual hives and the overall population abundance of the Eastern Yellowjacket; If an early cold snap occurs, most of the wasps will die off, leaving a smaller population for that year, whereas if the warm season is prolonged, the spawning success rate of the wasp, as well as the abundance of the population in the area will increase (Yoder, 2001). The Eastern Yellowjacket is considered a large pest species due to its ability to make nests in suburban and urban areas. Although versatile, the wasp does prefer to nest in more natural habitats (DiTerlizzi, 2017).

Researcher: Caleb Brown, Trent University

This point of interest is part of the tour: Stepping into Nature - Minden Riverwalk


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