While the temperatures continue to fluctuate, some days snowy and FREEZING, others harbingers of spring, I can’t help but eye last years leaves coating the forest floor, searching for any sign of green life… And some have begun to emerge!
My favorite part of spring is always this search! My excitement never fades with each new plant as it begins it’s emergence, and even more so if they grace me with their delicate blooms!
It can sometimes be challenging to find true native flowers in Toronto, for all their diversity, colours and specialties, many have been ousted by invasive species, covered in garbage, or unable to thrive due to their sensitive and unique natures. Still, many persevere! In pockets of older trees, the paths less traveled, in areas sheltered from the busy-goings-on of the city, the brilliant yellows of Trout Lilies, whites of Bloodroot and Trilliums adorn the forest floor. Here are a few more unique spring wildflowers, and even a link to where you might find them in North York! (courtesy of naturalist - be sure to record your sightings too!)
~As a reminder, native wildflowers (especially in Toronto!) are few and far in between! Please enjoy their beauty and only take pictures (and memories! :) ). Picking flowers can significantly damage (or kill) the plant!!!~
The ever iconic trillium is an early bloomer and a sure sign spring has truly sprung! They prefer shaded areas, with moist rich soil, and can be found in both deciduous (leafed) and coniferous (needle) forests.
Trilliums are often found in large clumps as they primarily spread through rhizomes (large roots/tuber-like structures) underground! They are also, however, spread via seeds… by ants!
Trilliums rely on ants to gather their especially designed seeds and return them to the nest underground. While the ants will snack on the tasty ‘elasiome’ (an oily tasty sack attached to the seed), they discard the seed in their waste pile, thus providing the seed with a fertilized, underground growing spot!
This act of seed dispersal via ants is called myrmecochory, and is used by many spring flowers including Bloodroot, violets and trout lilies!
Click here to see Trillium sightings in North York via iNaturalist!
Speaking of Bloodroot, these are another one of my favorite spring flowers. Also white in appearance, these shorter, rounder flowers are a very early bloomer. They have unique round, lobed leaves which makes them an easy plant to identify year round! They are named for their bright red roots! The northern end of G. Lord Ross Park has many blooming even early in spring!
Click here to see Bloodroot sightings in North York via iNaturalist!
While not as colourful, a fun spring find is always Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers! With 3-leaves reminiscent of poison ivy, I’ve often exercised caution around these plants until I see their unique flowers! Jack In-the-pulpit is pollinated primarily by fungus gnats. To attract them, they emit a faint fungal odour. Once the gnats enter the flowers, they struggle to escape the slippery sides and hooded spadix (center part of the flower that sticks out). Whether or not the gnat is able to escape, depends on the age and sex of the flower.
The flowers change sex as they mature, so if the flies enter a younger, male flower, they can escape through a tiny hole near the bottom (after they’ve been coated in pollen). When the gnats enter mature female flowers however, the hole has covered over and they are trapped inside, pollinating the flower in the meantime.
In addition to having such unique flowers, their colourful red berries, while toxic to humans, are a great source of food for a number of birds, rodents and even some insects!
Click here to see Jack-in-the-pulpit sightings in North York via iNaturalist!
Did you know Ontario has a flower that can heat itself? Often the very first flower to emerge in spring is the skunk cabbage. Their dark red spotted, egg-shaped flowers burn excess starches stored in their large roots to produce heat! They can heat themselves up to 15 degrees Celsius! This means they can thaw the ground as they grow, and even melt ice and snow!
Along with these strange flowers comes some strange.. Scents as well… Skunk cabbages are smell of decay they use to attract beetles and flies. So admire the flower, but I won’t stop for a sniff!Skunk cabbages are easy to identify by their flowers, and can be found in low lying areas of forest, or anywhere marshy (as they are bog plants they love rich, wet soil).
Click here to see Skunk Cabbage sightings in North York via iNaturalist!
Ontario is filled with so many more gorgeous spring flowers!! Sadly many of them are few and far in between around Toronto Ravines and parks. Thankfully, there are many clean-ups, invasive species removal and rewilding initiatives taking place across the city! One day I hope we will be able to see the likes of Pink Ladies Slippers, Star Flowers and Bunchberries gracing our local forests. Until then, be sure to check out your local parks for ways to get involved in healing our forests, and consider planting some native plants in your gardens!
If you would like to learn more about some of Ontario's wildflowers, check out some of these great Ontario Park's blogs!
Orchids of the North: the Life of the Pink Lady's slipper (one of my favorite blogs!)
If you're interested in identifying wildflowers, a great starting point is always the iNaturalist app! As well, here are some great online resources below!
Finally, I couldn't resist adding some of my absolute favorite Ontario wildflowers. All of these were commonplace on early spring walks while I was working at Grundy Lake Provincial Park! (undisturbed and healthy forests are what they tend to favor)
(hover over each picture to see the common name)