Serviceberry serves our wildlife

Stepping into Nature - Minden Riverwalk

Serviceberry serves our wildlife

Minden, Ontario K0M 2A1, Canada

Created By: Haliburton County Master Gardeners


There are a number of species of Serviceberry found in Ontario: Saskatoon Servicberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) near the Ontario-Manitoba border, Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) native to southwestern Ontario and Smooth Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) found from Southern Ontario north to Lake Superior.

The small tree at this tour stop is a Smooth Serviceberry and is very adaptable to a range of growing conditions: moist (not water logged) to dry soil, tolerating full sun to partial shade. It can grow to 10 meters tall with smooth gray bark on multi stemmed trunks. The leaves are oval or round, less than 8cm long with fine teeth on the edges and they turn bright orange to dark red in the fall. Clouds of dainty white flowers cover this tree and are often the first blossoms you see in fields and at the edge of woodlands in the spring. Small red fruits turning to purple or black ripen by mid to late-summer. The fruits are sweet and delicious and can be used in baking or preserves. Serviceberry has a fibrous root system that provides good soil stabilization along shorelines and this feature also makes it easy to transplant.

This small tree is considered a “keystone” species because it is a critical component of our local food web. The nectar rich flowers are an early food source for butterflies, hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators. For more information on keystone species, see by Doug Tallamy.

The berries are eaten by orioles, robins, thrushes, woodpeckers and cedar waxwings as well as by squirrels and chipmunks. Some larger animals such as moose, deer and snowshoe hares may browse on leaves and twigs. The foliage is food for the larvae of the eastern tiger swallowtail, viceroy, red admirals and other butterflies. Cosmetic damage to the leaves can be done by the larva of pear sawfly and gypsy moth, but predatory insects and birds will control them. Please do not use pesticides!

Where there are butterfly and moth larvae you’re sure to find carnivorous paper wasps. Caleb Brown, a student researcher working with U-Links, netted 2 species at this site. The more numerous of the two was the European Paper Wasp, (Polistes dominula) which came all the way from Europe. The other is a local - the native Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus). Both are yellow and black like the yellow jacket, but have much thinner waists.

Unfortunately, the European wasp overwhelmed the native Northern Paper Wasp, reproducing at a higher rate and eating its way through nature’s buffet leaving nothing but scraps to the native wasp. Much diminished in numbers, the good news is that the Northern Paper Wasp is still to be found along the Riverwalk. Paper wasps build their fiber nests in cracks and crevices and will only sting you if they feel threatened.

You might also see a beetle-like insect called a Boxelder Bug or Maplebug (Boisea trivitta). It’s a good name because this “true bug” likes to eat the seeds and suck on the leaves of Manitoba maple, other maples and ash trees. Because it is very particular about what it eats, scientists call it a specialist. This native bug has wings, 3 sets of legs, antennae and is black in colour with red markings. Birds and other animals won’t eat this bug because it releases a very nasty smell and tastes bad should they get too close. You might catch it sunbathing in large clusters on the ground or on a window ledge. If this bug gets into your home they don’t pose a health threat to you or your pets. They’re just looking for a warm place to overwinter.

See the listing of regional native plants by the Haliburton County Master Gardeners at (Serviceberry is on page 28)

U-Links Species Profile:

European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula

Although mistaken for a Yellowjacket, this insect is a part of the Polistes family, which is the Paper Wasp family. Its colouration gives it an aggressive black and yellow pattern, with jagged yellow bands painted across its abdomen and thorax (shoulder area). The Paper Wasp has a very thin waist typically much thinner than the yellowjacket. The European Paper Wasp also has a unique orange colouration on its antennae and legs. This species does not experience gender dimorphism, with both the males and the females looking fairly identical, with the sole exception being in the forewing size, where females are typically larger (Buck et al., 2008).

This species was originally from Europe, and was brought over to Canada and has also spread to other places in the world. (Howse et al., 2020). The European Paper Wasp is a very competitive wasp and has managed unfortunately to outcompete other types of native paper wasps all around the world, including the Canadian native Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus) (Howse et al., 2020). Prior to the introduction of the European Paper Wasp in the 1980’s, Polistes fuscatus, commonly known as the Northern Paper Wasp, was the most abundant of its kind in Eastern North America (Howse et al., 2020). The European wasp, an efficient nest builder, reproduces quickly and is thereby able to expand its territory consuming resources wherever it goes. (Howse et al., 2020). Although a formidable foe in territorial ambitions, the European paper wasp has not been able to drive out the Northern Paper Wasp, and both can be found here along the Minden Riverwalk.

European Paper Wasps have unique nest formations, using plant and wood fibres that they have chewn, often collecting their building materials from old porches and fences (Cranshaw, 2008). These nests are open faced, and are not covered like other nests that are created by yellowjackets or bees. These insects overwinter differently, preferring to snuggle into holes, nooks and crevices in and around urban areas. They don’t necessarily build their nests in the same location as they overwinter and may leave once it is warmer (Cranshaw, 2008).

Polistes dominula collects nectar for both brood reproduction and to sustain their thermoregulation.

The wasp will also hunt for caterpillars to feed to their larvae. This wasp has also been known to eat fruit (Galvan et al., 2008; Hodgson & Roe, 2007). These species are not particular with their food, however they have a tendency to hunt moth and butterfly caterpillars, making them of benefit to the gardener looking for a natural way to control unwanted pests like aphids and plant eating caterpillars. (Cranshaw, 2008).

Another unique characteristic of this species is their ability to regulate their activity. They can optimize their energy usage by conserving energy in their resting phase or through affecting their body’s metabolic rate. This is a response to the influence of the environment on their bodies which want to be in a state of balance (Kovac et al., 2019). These insects are not typically aggressive and may string only when their nest is disturbed (Cranshaw, 2008).

U-Links Species Profile:

Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata
Boisea trivitta, also known as the Boxelder bug (sometimes called Maplebugs) is a flat, greyish black insect with red bandings along the edges of its elytra and thorax. It spans roughly 130mm in length and has a leathery pair of wings that are tucked underneath its black and red shell (Hodgeson & Roe, 2010). During its nymph phase (young Boxelder bug phase) it is a bright red colour and has not yet developed wings. Although its colouration resembles a ladybug or a milkweed beetle, the Boxelder bug is not a part of the Coleoptera order, but rather the Hemiptera order. The insect contains a straw-like mouth that it uses for feeding (Hodgeson & Roe, 2010).

The Boxelderbug is classified as a specialist species, as it prefers to congregate in the boxelder maple (also known as the Manitoba maple) where they feed on the seeds, leaves, and the twigs of the tree. They also have other species that they can utilize for survival, such as other maples and ash trees, however the boxelder tree is the prime spot for this insect (Baxendale & Keith, 1975, revised 1992)..

During the cooler seasons, the boxelder bug will hide in leaf debris and other dry areas it can find (Hodgeson & Roe, 2010). They also congregate near surfaces with good sun exposure, where they will sun themselves in large groups. Roofs, windows and walls are all common places for the boxelder bugs to congregate to sun (Hodgeson & Roe, 2010).

The Boxelder bug can commonly be found congregating in masses all over various surfaces, both in natural and anthropogenic environments. Around the fall season, thousands of boxelder bugs will group up around warm areas to stay warm, making it seem as though a tree or your house has been infected with a tedious pest insect. Although it is not ideal to have these insects congregating in your house, they do not pose the caliber of threat to your home as a termite or an ant infestation might, as they do not devour at foundation or raid any of your food storage systems. Rather, the boxelder bug is looking for a place to stay warm for the upcoming cold season (Houseman and Barret, 2022). These insects also pose no harm to people or pets, but can be a nuisance species when they do breach your house. Be sure not to squish them, as they can stain surfaces if squished. Instead, using a vacuum, or hand removing individuals and putting them outside is a better alternative and will not stain walls, floors and carpets (Housemen & Barret, 2022). To avoid having these insects invade your home, sealing any cracks in the windowsill and replacing old screens will assist in ensuring they cannot enter your home.

Researcher: Caleb Brown, Trent University

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


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