Thistles and Manitoba Maples
The story of the Manitoba Maple
Several years ago, I bought a 7 acre property about 15 minutes drive from where I live, just north of Winnipeg, hoping to start an organic permaculture tree farm there. There have been a lot of challenges with this project....first and foremost my enthusiasm greatly exceeds my knowledge. I did not notice how wet the low lying spots were, or how many trees dislike wet feet. Or know how hungry the deer and other wildlife are, and how much they love to browse young trees. Several hundred dollars spent, lots of hard work and after planting hundreds of little trees over the last 3 years and some larger ones, very few survive.
But another foe of the tree seedling survival, is whoever has been mowing my tree plantation. Is it one of the neighbors or the municipality or the farmer who is tilling most of the acreage for planting crops? I don’t know and when I question each of the suspects...nobody knows. Truly I feel so annoyed, because I know that in a few years, as the normal succession occurs on this formerly river bottom land, the thistles and dandelions will disappear and give way to shrubs and trees. No thistle or dandelion lives in dense shrubs or forest,
Manitoba has a Noxious Weed Act and I do have lots of dandelions and thistles, some wild mustard and few others as well. So it is likely that there is someone who does not like my thistles and dandelions. I want to be a good neighbor. So I have been spending a lot of time hand pulling thistles(the dandelions have already flowered)
And I have noticed something extraordinary.....when there is a patch of thistles, growing in the midst, is a little Manitoba Maple tree. Could the thistles be protecting the little tree from being eaten by deer? Or are the deep roots of the thistle helping the maple tree get through the compacted clay soil? Or are the many beneficial insects attracted to the thistle helping protect the tree from insect predators? Maybe all of these. It struck me how amazing and perfect are the partnerships in nature! How little we know and understand of all of this.
Instead of poisoning and destroying the many plants on the Noxious Weed Act, we need to learn about and respect the ecological role these plants play. We need to understand and respect Nature ‘s wisdom.
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Manitoba is where I was born and where I have spent most of the five and one half decades of my life. I lived on the outskirts of the town of Portage La Prairie at a time when tadpoles and frogs inhabited the ditches and ponds, when there were many Monarch butterflies each summer along with dragon flies and grasshoppers. Redwing blackbirds perched the cattails of the ditches. As children we picked dandelions for bouquets and made wishes before blowing dandelion seed heads. We searched clover for lucky four leaves and rolled on the grass…there was no concern of poisonous herbicides. The grass was thick. Wherever we dug…there were earthworms