What’s Growing: In Your Backyard

Melanie Priesnitz
Conservation Horticulturist, Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens

The natural world is a great place to make new discoveries and embark on explorations close to home. Even the very best naturalist will always find that there’s something new to be learned in the great outdoors. Nobody knows for sure how many species live on this planet. Several million plants and animals have been identified to date, and scientists estimate there to be upwards of 8 million species in total. It’s possible that more than 80% of the species that exist are yet to be discovered! So, if you hear anyone say to you this summer that they are bored, tell them to go outside and explore.

You don’t have to travel very far in nature to learn new things. A walk in the woods with an inquisitive mind, a field guide, or a smartphone can open the door to a wealth of discoveries and learning opportunities. Personally, I have been trying to learn the names of dragonflies and butterflies this summer. I have spent much of my life focusing on plants down on the forest floor, so I’ve now decided to expand my knowledge and look up for a change! It started while I was walking in the woods hunting waterfalls and began seeing yellow butterflies everywhere. I learned that these are eastern tiger swallowtails and that they are amazing creatures. The larvae of these majestic insects have some amazing tricks to protect themselves from predators. They transform into something resembling a snake head when disturbed, and if that doesn’t work, they have specialized glands called osmeteria that produce a foul-smelling acid secretion to ward off predators.

I’ve just started observing the differences in the dragonflies that I see and I’m beginning to learn their whimsical common names. Sedge sprite, dragonhunter, petite emerald, and rusty snaketail are among my favourites! With over 6500 species of dragonflies and damselflies in the world and just over 200 in Canada, I have a lot of learning yet to do!

If you’re not already familiar with iNaturalist, it’s a great app by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society for exploring and observing the natural world. Download it to your phone, take photos of the species that you want to identify, and you’ll have a wealth of knowledge and experts at your fingertips. iNaturalist is also used to catalogue biodiversity so maybe one day with your help, we’ll know just how many species we share this fine planet with.

The Acadia University campus, including the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, remains closed to the public this summer, however there are lots of great natural areas to explore in the Annapolis Valley, including your local parks and trails, and your own backyard if you have one!

You can visit us virtually by following the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens on Facebook or Instagram.