by Malgosia Halliop
Our April LUNA meeting coincided with the Toronto Botanical Gardens' celebrations of Earth Day, and the main building and gardens were packed with visitors of every age. The late-April weather was cool, with clouds and sun alternating, and the threat of a night-time frost in the forecast. Our group wandered down into the ravine after first meeting in the library, intending to look around, talk about future sketching tours, and do some sketching of our own.
There were an increasing number of planted spring flowers in bloom in the gardens - tulips, daffodils, and more - but deeper down in the ravine, spring was more slowly making itself felt. The ravine was full of eager visitors on this day, as well as a drawing class in progress. As we walked along the path, we noticed buds opening, red and green flowers appearing on different species of maples, leaves just starting to unfold on some raspberry canes, as well as new leaves on several shrubs we weren't able to identify. Leaves were out on several willow trees near the creek, as were the white "pussywillow" catkins and yellow flowers of what looked like the more shrub-like salix discolor species.
On the elevated creek bank, we spied some clusters of compound yellow flowers that looked similar to dandelion, but with no leaves yet visible: this was coltsfoot, an early spring plant that shows its flowers before its leaves.
A highlight of our walk was checking on the skunk cabbage that we had seen warming its way through the ice at the end of March. This plant actually generates its own heat early in the spring, and so can push through snow and ice. Its strong smell and unseasonable warmth attract flies, which then pollinate the flowers. This month, skunk cabbage plants were visible all through the shallow wetlands near the creek, growing next to clusters of marsh marigold leaves and the yet-unopened flower buds of that native wetland plant. A few of us became fascinated by examining the unusual architecture of the skunk cabbage - the large unfurling pale-green leaves and the curled sheath-like yellow and maroon structures called spathes, inside which the plant's tiny flowers grow on a round protrusion called a spadix - and we settled in to sketch them for the remainder of our visit, interrupted only by an enthusiastic ravine tour, some exuberant cardinals, and a lone and silent cottontail rabbit browsing for new spring growth.