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Spring in Toronto

Wildflowers

Spring in Toronto

Birds

Spring in Toronto

Insects

Spring in Toronto

Trees and Shrubs

Spring in Toronto

Skunk-cabbage

The earliest wildflower. By generating heat from a chemical reaction, the Skunk Cabbage can thaw the frozen ground that it is embedded in and emerges in March. A tough, leaf-like “spathe” protects and hides the yellow, club-shaped “spadix” covered in tiny flowers.

Description: The appears first, pushing up through the still-frozen ground. Two tough, purple and white striped petals form a protective cone (“spathe”) around the spadix which resembles a spikey yellow ball on a stalk. Leaves, which appear after flowering, are bright green and big.

Habitat: Swamps in deciduous woodland.

Height: 15 cm

Flowering: March - April

Scientific name: Symplocarpus foetidus

Spring in Toronto

Jack-in-the-pulpit

This curious plant grows in moist, rich woodland soils. The light green spathe (the “pulpit”) partly encloses and covers the spadix (“Jack”) which is covered with tiny flowers.

Description: A relative of Skunk Cabbage. Light green spathe (can be striped) partly encloses and covers the spadix (“Jack”) which carries tiny flowers. Leaves eventually overtop the flower. By late summer, the plant may have a black seed cluster that turns red by fall.

Habitat: Moist areas in mature deciduous woodland.

Height: 40 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Arisaema triphyllum

Spring in Toronto

Blue Cohosh

Leaves are purple when they first emerge, turning to blueish-green. The flowers are small and inconspicuous. By late summer the leaves have died back and only the blue berries remain.

Description: Perennial woodland wildflower with distinctive shiny purple stems. Flowers are leaf-like, greenish-purple. The petals bear fleshy nectar glands that are visited by early solitary bees.

Habitat: Rich, deciduous woods.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: April - May

Scientific name: Caulophyllum thalictroides

Spring in Toronto

White Trillium

Our provincial wildflower provides a spectacular sight in spring as it carpets the forest floor in white. Plants have leaves in “threes”, and the flower has 3 petals and 3 sepals. Seeds have special, external fat bodies which attract ants (a behaviour dubbed “myrmecochory”) who carry them back to food stores. Some seeds survive to germinate and in this way the plants spread.

Description: The unmistakable three-petal white flower is framed by large, fleshy green leaves. Often occurs in which transform the forest floor into a luminous white carpet. By late spring the petals have faded to a light pink before dropping off.

Habitat: Mature deciduous woodland.

Height: 20 cm

Flowering: April - May

Scientific name: Trillium grandiflorum

Spring in Toronto

Bloodroot

A large deeply-lobed leaf enfolds the developing flower bud, and acts like a parabola to help warm the Bloodroot flower. The plant name derives from the red sap that flows from cut stems or roots.

Description: The delicate white flower, which was preformed the fall before, is pushed up in early spring wrapped in a large, lobed leaf which helps protect the bud early on. Each flower opens for just a few days.

Habitat: Mature deciduous woodland.

Height: 15 cm

Flowering: April - May

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Sanguinaria canadensis

Spring in Toronto

Mayapple

The umbrella-like leaves can expand to dinner-plate size and completely cover the flower underneath. Only plants with two leaves will produce a flower. It transforms into a pale yellow fruit that is pulpy when ripe.

Description: Large, umbrella-like leaves, borne on a thick stem, hide a greeny-white flower which droops from below. Fruit is like a small green apple (hence the name).

Habitat: Rich deciduous woodland.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Podophyllum peltatum

Spring in Toronto

False Solomon's Seal

The long, arching stems have a terminal spray of fragrant flowers which becomes a cluster of wine-coloured berries by late summer.

Description: Graceful, arching stems with strap-like leaves, and tipped with a cluster of starry flowers. Flowers transform into red berries.

Habitat: Deciduous woodland.

Height: 70 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Maianthemum racemosum

Spring in Toronto

Starry False Solomon's Seal

A spray of white, six-pointed flowers is borne at the end of the stem which supports the lance-shaped leaves.

Description: Cluster of relatively large flowers at the end of palm-like leaf. Berries are black. Spreads mainly by rhizome growth.

Habitat: Deciduous woodland.

Height: 60 cm

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Maianthemum stellatum

Spring in Toronto

Hairy Solomon's Seal

The green flowers of this graceful plant hang in pairs below the lance-shaped leaves. The underside of the leaves is covered with a fine down, hence the name “hairy”.

Description: Slender curving stems with strap-like leaves. Green-yellow flowers hang singly or as pairs from the leaf axils. Berries are dark blue. Underside of leaves covered in fine hairs (only seen under magnification).

Habitat: Deciduous woodland.

Height: 70 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Polygonatum pubescens

Spring in Toronto

Foamflower

The delicate white or light pink flowers crowded on the flower stalk were thought to resemble a tiara, hence the scientific name. The leaves at the base are heart-shaped and resemble maple leaves. This species is quite variable, and many cultivars have been developed for gardens. In the wild, it prefers rich soil in moist, open woodlands.

Description: A perennial wildflower with maple-leaf shaped basal leaves. Delicate white (sometimes pink) flowers borne on a flower stalk have a “foamy” appearance.

Habitat: Rich, moist deciduous woodlands.

Height: 30 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Tiarella cordifolia

Spring in Toronto

Garlic Mustard

Named for the strong garlic scent of its crushed leaves, this plant has escaped gardens, invaded woodlands, and now threatens to displace native wildflowers.

Description: Tall plants with a white cluster of flowers at the top. The leaves, when crushed, smell like garlic. Seedpods form up stem. Native to Europe. Invasive weed. Biennial. Seeds germinate in early spring (coincide with emergence of spring beauty in northern Illinois) Forms a basal rosette plant first year and grows through winter if its warm enough. Unfortunately Garlic mustard can have secondary effects on insects; an example is West Virginia White butterflies which will mistake them for a foodplant and lay their eggs on the leaves. The larvae do not survive.

Habitat: Prefers moist, shady or semi-shade, such as along woodland trails, forest edge.

Height: 100 cm

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Alliaria petiolata

Spring in Toronto

Virginia Water-leaf

Often associated with sugar maple forests, where it can form dense ground cover. Light mottling of the leaves is characteristic and resembles water-spotting.

Description: Showy white or light violet flowers droop down and look “hairy” with the stamens hanging out of the petal tube.

Habitat: Deciduous woodland understorey.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Hydrophyllum virginianum

Spring in Toronto

Commmon Snowdrop

The white pendulous flowers are an early sign of spring. Forms spectacular dense drifts of flowers, often carpeting the ground under deciduous trees. It is pollinated by bees. Seeds have a small, fleshy tag (elaiosome) which are eaten by ants, and the seeds are distributed by them. Flowering period is short, and the leaves die back within a few weeks.

Description: The flower is white, pendulous, and consists of six segments (not true petals). Each plant usually has two strap-like leaves. Snowdrops are perennials, which spread by both bulbs and seed.

Habitat: Gardens, fields, deciduous woodland. Prefers moist soil.

Height: 15 cm

Flowering: March - April

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Galanthus nivalis

Spring in Toronto

White Baneberry

Also called “Doll's eyes” for the distinctive white berries with black centre that are highly poisonous (hence the “bane” in the common name, alluding to its illness-producing attributes).

Description: Established baneberry plants can grow to a large spreading bush that is waist-high. Leaves are subdivided into leaflets which have toothed margins. The delicate flower will transform into the distinctive white berries with black centre.

Habitat: Rich, deciduous woodland.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Actaea pachypoda

Spring in Toronto

Downy Yellow Violet

The familiar pansies of the garden were derived from woodland violets, such as our native Downy Yellow Violet, named for the soft hair which covers the whole plant. The enlarged lower petal acts as a landing pad for insects and purple veins act as guides and lead pollinators to a nectar spur at the back of the petal.

Description: Flowers appear in early spring; purple veination on the lower petal. Heart-shaped leaves.

Habitat:

Habitat: Deciduous woodland.

Height: 20 cm

Flowering: April - May

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Viola pubescens

Spring in Toronto

Celandine

Celandine is introduced from Europe and thrives in damp sites on the edges of woodland. It resembles the familiar buttercup but it has four petals (not five). The hairy stem breaks easily and exudes a bright orange sap.

Description: Flowers are yellow with four petals. The fruit is a smooth capsule like that of a legume.

Habitat: Grows on damp ground, banks, hedgerows and by walls.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: May - August

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Chelidonium majus

Spring in Toronto

Marsh-marigold

Both the flowers and leaves are shiny, due to a waxy coating. The flower is unscented and has no nectar, but its bright yellow colour is a magnet for nearly 40 insect species.

Description: Plants are bushy and produce many bright yellow flowers. The leaves are so glossy they look like they have been varnished, but it's just wax - try scraping it off on your finger. Grows in clumps at the edges of marshes and streams. Bright gold flowers can be borne on long sturdy stalks. The “petals” (actually sepals) shine and have flower-guides for pollinating insects.

Habitat: Grows in marshy areas and along streams.

Height: 40 cm

Flowering: April - June

Scientific name: Caltha palustris

Spring in Toronto

Trout Lily

The mottled leaves are said to resemble the speckling on a trout. Plants spread by rhizomes and can form extensive patches. Only the large plants with two leaves flower; single-leaved individuals are sterile.

Description: A bright yellow flower droops from the top of a slender stalk. Plants can take seven years before they flower. Low, flat leaves are lightly blotched with brown, and a resemblance to the speckling on a trout may explain the common name.

Habitat: Deciduous woodland understorey. Often grows in extensive patches.

Height: 15 cm

Flowering: April - May

Scientific name: Erythronium americanum

Spring in Toronto

Large-flowered Bellwort

The drooping pale yellow flowers look almost too big for the plant. The flower stem “pierces” the base of the leaves.

Description: Tall plant with a drooping habit. The large yellow flowers are bell-shaped (hence the common name). Flowering period is about two weeks. Leaves are quite long and strap-like and the base of each leaf surrounds the stem so that it looks like the stem pierces the leaf (termed “perfoliate”).

Habitat: This plant thrives in moist deciduous woodlands with calcium-rich soils.

Height: 30 cm

Flowering: May - June

Scientific name: Uvularia grandiflora

Spring in Toronto

Dandelion

The bright yellow flower quickly transforms to the familiar fluffy “ball” of seeds which disperse in the slightest breeze. Introduced from Europe, it readily colonizes disturbed habitats and lawns.

Description: Leaves are basal and flattened with a characteristic toothed shape. Beautiful yellow flower sits on top of long stalk. One of the earliest flowers in spring. The flower quickly transforms to the familiar fluffy “ball” of seeds which blow away in the slightest breeze.

Habitat: Open, disturbed land, including mowed areas.

Height: 20 cm

Flowering: April - September

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale

Spring in Toronto

Coltsfoot

This introduced plant prefers wet, disturbed slopes. It is often mistaken for Dandelion, but Coltsfoot flowers earlier and the flower stalk is thick and scaly.

Description: Yellow flowers borne on scaly stalks, quite unlike the tall, smooth stalk of the Dandelion. Broad, flat leaves appear after flowering.

Habitat: Open, sunny areas such as old fields, roadside. Likes gravelly or muddy slopes.

Height: 15 cm

Flowering: March - May

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Tussilago farfara

Spring in Toronto

Early Meadow Rue

Delicate bushy wildflower. Early Meadow Rue is distinctive in having male flowers and female flowers on separate plants. The prominent dangling male stamens facilitate wind pollination.

Description: Male flowers have prominent dangling yellow anthers, female flowers are dull green. Delicate leaflets borne on slender stalks. Dies back after flowering.

Habitat: Dry woodlands.

Height: 40 cm

Flowering: May

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Thalictrum dioicum

Spring in Toronto

Wild Columbine

Wild Columbine usually grows as single plants scattered throughout wooded slopes and rocky areas. Each flower petal tapers to a spur filled with nectar which attracts bumblebees and hummingbirds.

Description: Delicate plant, with lovely lobed leaves. The orange flowers are sent up on tall spikes and droop downwards like bells. Long tube-like flowers contain nectar which hummingbirds harvest.

Habitat: Prefers the edges of woodland, and sandy soils rather than rich humus soils.

Height: 50 cm

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Aquilegia canadensis

Spring in Toronto

Wild Ginger

This low-growing plant of deeply-shaded forests has an unusual tri-lobed flower which grows at ground level, and is easily overlooked under the broad, luxuriant leaves. Crushed leaves or root has a gingery smell.

Description: Distinctive tri-lobed, purple flower is located at the base of the plant and lies on the ground. Early spring-emerging flies pollinate the flowers. Leaves are large and heart-shaped or ovoid. Spreads mainly by rhizomes to form extensive patches in preferred habitats. Ants disperse the seeds.

Habitat: Moist, rich soils in shady deciduous woodlands.

Height: 15 cm

Flowering: April - May

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Asarum canadense

Spring in Toronto

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium (also called “Cranesbill” because of the beak-like shape of the fruit) prefers lightly-shaded woods. The leaves are hairy, sometimes blotched, and when crushed they have a spicy scent. The plant contains very high concentrations of tannins and has been used medicinally.

Description: Bright pink flowers. After the petals die and drop off the young fruit, the long pistil remains and gives it a pointed look, somewhat like a bird's beak (hence “cranesbill”). When ripe, the fruit bursts apart at the base and ejects the seeds. The large leaves are hairy, and aromatic when crushed.

Habitat: Open woodlands. Prefers open shade, such as trail edge.

Height: 40 cm

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Geranium maculatum

Spring in Toronto

Virginia Bluebell

Virginia Bluebells grow in moist, rich soils such as found on the banks of woodland creeks which receive fresh sediment in spring floods. Flower buds are pink and change to the lovely blue when open and receptive to pollinators. This plant became popular in English gardens after it was introduced in the 18th century by plant collectors.

Description: Quite tall, erect perennial, which can grow in extensive drifts which provide a spectacular sight in spring. Blue bell-shaped flowers hang in clusters. Large dull-green oval leaves.

Height: 40cm

Flowering: April - May

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Mertensia virginica

Spring in Toronto

Periwinkle

Also called Myrtle, this groundcover plant, originally from central and southern Europe, has spread from gardens into natural areas. Unfortunately it is still sold commercially as groundcover. The asymmetric petals give the flowers a “pinwheel” shape.

Description: Trailing, vine-like groundcover plant. Dark green glossy leaves. Flowers are blue, but sometimes white or light pink. Does not usually produce seeds or fruit, but spreads by rhizomes and can form dense nats.

Habitat: Gardens, woodland. An invasive species that penetrates native woodland.

Height: 10 cm

Flowering: March - June

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Vinca minor

Spring in Toronto

Scilla

A popular early-spring garden flower, Scilla has invaded natural areas and can form large clumps. After flowering, it dies back and persists underground as a bulb until the following spring.

Description: Flowers are light blue and quite fragrant. The flowering period only lasts a few weeks in early spring. Leaves die back in summer.

Habitat: Gardens, deciduous woodlands.

Height: 10 cm

Flowering: April - May

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Scilla siberica

Spring in Toronto

Sharp-lobed Hepatica

The hairy flower stalks of Hepatica push up through the leaf litter in early spring, before the leaves appear. Flower colour is variable, and can be blue, white or pink.

Description: The three-lobed leaves are produced after flowering, and their dark wine colour and shape likely accounts for the latin reference to liver (“hepar” is Greek for liver).

Habitat: Mature deciduous woodland.

Height: 10 cm

Flowering: April - May

Scientific name: Hepatica acutiloba

Spring in Toronto

Narrow-leaved Spring Beauty

The delicate flowers striped with dark pink, are truely ephemeral and last just a few days. Flowers close when temperatures drop at night and on cloudy days.

Description: Narrow, grass-like leaves. The ripe seeds are “fired” some distance away from the parent plant.

Habitat: Rich, deciduous woodland.

Height: 10 cm

Flowering: April

Scientific name: Claytonia virginica

Spring in Toronto

Mute Swan

The Mute Swan is a large graceful white bird that was introduced to North America in the late 1800’s for ornamental purposes in parks and gardens. Birds escaped from captivity and their progeny spread up the northeastern seaboard of the United States. The first report of feral Mute Swans breeding in Ontario dates from 1958. By about the mid-1970’s, it was well established in Ontario, along the lower Great Lakes. Favourable habitat conditions have allowed its continued spread to inland lakes, marshes and rivers in southern Ontario. Its habit of “raking” the bottom while feeding has a negative effect on aquatic plants that are sources of food for some species of native waterfowl.

Description: The Mute Swan is a large, white, long-necked species of waterfowl. Adults are distinguished from other white swans by a black knob at the base of its orange bill, and by the sinuous curve of its neck. Males and females are difficult to distinguish except in breeding season when the knob of the male becomes enlarged. Juveniles are grey, moulting to white in late winter. Winter juveniles can also be identified by their pinkish beak. Chicks, called cygnets, may have greyish buff down, or they may be a dull white shade.

Habitat: Mute Swans inhabit a wide variety of aquatic habitats including lakes, ponds, marshes, rivers and estuaries.

Length: 150 cm

Wingspan: 240 cm

Weight: 10 kg

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Cygnus olor

Spring in Toronto

Trumpeter Swan

Aptly named for the loud bugling call that adults give. Until about thirty years ago, Trumpeter swans were rare in Ontario and not seen in Toronto. Concerted captive breeding has now restored small local populations and pairs have started to breed in the wild. Captive-raised swans can be identified by yellow uniquely-numbered tags that are inserted in the patagium skin of the wing. Both adults construct a large nest structure from reeds. The cygnets appear on the water by July. They hatch with a light grey downy, and then moult into a juvenile plumage. They can fly in six weeks.

Description: The largest of the three white swan species that can be found on Toronto's waterfront in winter. The distinctive black beak helps distinguish it from the Mute swan (which has an orange beak). The Tundra swan, an infrequent visitor to Toronto, has a yellow patch at the base of the beak, but this can only be seen close-up. Immature birds are light grey.

Habitat: Lakes, large ponds.

Length: 160 cm

Wingspan: 250 cm

Weight: 12 kg

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cygnus buccinator

Spring in Toronto

Canada Goose

The characteristic V-shaped flocks of these large, easily recognized and highly vocal birds are known to virtually all Canadians. Unlike Canada geese in far northern parts of their range, Toronto’s flocks are “non-migratory.” Some flocks remain close to the waterfront, while others “commute” from Lake Ontario, where they spend the night, to foraging areas in urban parks and other grassy areas, or farm fields on the outskirts of the City.

Description: Males and females look alike, but males are about 10% larger, on average. This is a large, distinctive, plump brownish bird with a long black neck, and a black head with a white chin and cheeks. The call is a loud, pleasant honk. The chicks (goslings) hatch with a covering of natal down feathers that are striped gold and black and which helps camouflage them in the grassy margins of ponds and wetlands. The juveniles are grey and white, not the white and black of the adults.

Habitat: Lakes, ponds and coastal marshes. In our area they are often seen grazing on grass in parks, and along the edges of ponds and other moist places.

Length: 110 cm

Adults: January - December

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Branta canadensis

Spring in Toronto

Mallard

The Mallard is the most abundant and widespread duck in the world. This species belongs to the group of “dabbling ducks” that feed in shallows, either at the surface, or by tipping the anterior body underwater, leaving the tail end sticking up above the water. Mallards also feed on land and have adapted very well to urban environments. This species hybridizes with other dabblers, including Black Ducks and Pintails. Native to the north temperate zones of North America and Eurasia, it has been introduced to some southern hemisphere countries as a game bird. It is considered to be the ancestor of most domesticated ducks.

Description: Male in breeding plumage has a glossy green head, white collar and a dark brown front, with a bright yellow beak. Females are mottled brown and difficult to distinguish from females of some other dabbling duck species such as Gadwall and Black Duck. Both sexes have a blue wing patch (speculum) with white borders.

Habitat: Marshes, ponds and lakes, large rivers, urban parks.

Length: 40 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Anas platyrhynchos

Spring in Toronto

Ring-billed Gull

The familiar “seagull” of carparks and inland waters. Toronto gulls are well habituated; in carparks they will perch on light standards and watch for discarded human food to scavenge. Tommy Thompson Park on the waterfront now supports one of the largest gull nesting colonies on the Great Lakes.

Description: Crow-sized white bird. Adults have yellow legs, webbed feet, narrow, pointed grey wings and a yellow beak with a black band at the tip (hence the name). Immature gulls are mottled grey and light brown and do not attain the full adult plumage for several years.

Habitat: Freshwater, especially lake shores. In urban areas can be found in car parks and garbage dumps.

Length: 47 cm

Weight: 550 grams

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Larus delawarensis

Spring in Toronto

Downy Woodpecker

This inquisitive little black and white bird is our smallest and most abundant woodpecker. The Downy Woodpecker is a frequent visitor to bird feeders in parts of Toronto that have some tree canopy, and it is often observed hopping up tree trunks as it searches for larvae and spiders hidden under the bark. In early spring, males can be heard “drumming” on dead branches, posts, even. They are signalling ownership of a territory, hoping to attract a female mate.

Description: Male and female Downy Woodpeckers have black and white striped heads, but only the male has a small red band on the back of his head. The short bill distinguishes this species from the similar, but larger, Hairy Woodpecker.

Habitat: Downy Woodpeckers have adapted well to urban areas with open wooded habitats for nesting and foraging. They are attracted to patches of goldenrod, as this plant’s numerous galls contain larvae which are a rich source of food. Visits backyard bird feeders in winter.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Picoides pubescens

Spring in Toronto

Hairy Woodpecker

Has oversize toes and a stiffened tail which help secure it on tree trunks where it uses its robust beak to hammer at bark to uncover prey. Not common, but in winter will readily use bird feeders, especially suet feeders.

Description: Starling-sized black and white woodpecker with long chisel-like beak. Up close, a black eye-stripe and male has a red patch on the back of his head.

Habitat: Forest, especially mature mixed forest. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 20 cm

Scientific name: Picoides villosus

Spring in Toronto

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

The yellow-belly is really a lemon yellow wash on the breast. The chin (red in males; white in females) is set off by a black patch below. In spring, feeds at sap oozing from holes it has made in the trunks of birch and poplar.

Habitat: Mature forest.

Length: 20 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Sphyrapicus varius

Spring in Toronto

Rock Pigeon

Familiar pigeon of parks and streetscapes. At a food source, pigeons will quickly fill their crop, a distensible pocket in the oesophagus, then fly up to a safe perch where they slowly digest the meal. Can breed year-round, building a simple stick nest on building ledges.

Description: Grey pigeon with iridescent green head and pinkish front, short pink legs and small head. Much individual variation, but most birds have a white patch on the lower back and two black bands on the wings.

Habitat: Urban. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 20 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Columba livia

Spring in Toronto

Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove is a common bird in our area and is often observed perching on wires, sunning itself on lawns, or pecking for seed on the ground in small groups. This delicate looking dove with a long tapering tail and gray-brown plumage is easily recognized by its mournful cooing call and by the whistling sound its wings make as it becomes airborne. Mourning doves can be attracted to backyard bird feeders with seeds such as millet, black oil sunflower seeds and cracked corn.

Description: This slender, small-headed bird has a classic dove shape. The basic body colouration is subdued browns and grays. The tail is long and pointed, and the outer feathers are rimmed with white. The wings have a small number of black spots, and there is a single spot under the ear.

Habitat: Forest edge, old field and urban. Visits bird feeders. Mourning doves are birds of edge habitats. They occur both in agricultural and urban settings, and prefer open brushy and weedy areas with a small number of trees.

Length: 25 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Zenaida macroura

Spring in Toronto

Common Grackle

This bold, iridescent black bird struts around on lawns and open areas. The bright yellow eye is distinctive. Males have a much longer tail than females. Grackle song is loud and has been likened to a squeaky clothesline. Grackles migrate back to the City by late March. They pair and start nesting within a week or two of arrival. They prefer to nest in conifers.

Description: Robin-sized iridescent green-black bird with a long slightly down-curved beak and a bright yellow eye. In flight, the long, wedge-shaped tail is distinctive. Up close, female is browner and smaller than male. Juveniles are grey-brown; similar colour to juvenile starlings.

Habitat: Open habitat, especially parks, near marshes and gardens.

Length: 22 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Quiscalus quiscula

Spring in Toronto

Red-winged Blackbird

Male blackbirds arrive at ponds and marshes in mid-March to set up their territories. Females join them a few weeks later and choose a mate based on the quality of the territory. Males with the best territories may have two or more mates. A marsh with a large colony of nesting blackbirds is a busy, noisy place.

Description: Males are black with a bright red shoulder patch (epaulet) that is edged with yellow. Males use the epaulet as a signalling badge, and can expose or conceal it depending on the context. The female is heavily-streaked brown and blends well with dried cattails, their favoured nesting habitat.

Habitat: Freshwater, especially cattail marshes, but also old fields and roadsides. Visits bird feeders in early spring.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Agelaius phoeniceus

Spring in Toronto

Northern Cardinal

Cardinals will stay together in pairs all year, and keep in contact with loud click calls. Male song (females sometimes sing also) consists of loud, repeated whistles, and you can hear it at any time of year. A common visitor to bird feeders, where they use their deep conical-shaped beak to easily crack sunflower husks and then eat the seed.

Description: The unmistakeable bright red plumage and crest of the male cardinal contrasts with the more subdued female colouration. The red hue to the feathers is due to carotenoid pigments derived from the diet.

Habitat: Forest, woodland, gardens.

Length: 22 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cardinalis cardinalis

Spring in Toronto

American Robin

A common sight in gardens and especially on lawns where the Robin hunts for earthworms which it detects mainly by sound. Hunting birds will pause and cock their heads to listen. Males are well-known songsters, and they sing from before dawn in spring, with another burst at dusk.

Description: Plump, grey bird with a rust-coloured breast and relatively long tail. Up close, yellow beak and white eye-ring contrast with the dark head. Female has sightly more subdued colouring than the male. Young Robins are speckled brown, and usually naiive and rather too confiding.

Habitat: Familiar bird of suburban lawns. Forest, especially forest edge, open woodlands, parklands, backyards.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Turdus migratorius

Spring in Toronto

European Starling

Starlings are human commensals, thriving in urban areas. Starlings hunt for bugs in the soil and litter layer of grassed areas, such as lawns, sports fields and sidewalks verges. They use a technique called “gaping” in which the beak is thrust into the sward and forced open to expose bugs hiding inside. Starlings are hole-nesters, building a coarse nest bowl inside any suitable cavity. They have even started nesting inside the hollow precast hydro poles now replacing the old wooden poles. Pairs can raise two, sometimes three, broods between May and October. In winter, starlings feed in flocks, and at dusk gather in large, communal roosts.

Description: Robin-sized black bird. Starlings have a bustling gait, and appear to “strut” as they walk rather than hop. In spring and summer, sharp yellow beak, short tail, and shiny purple-black plumage. Young starlings are light brown, and nosiy as they trail their parents demanding food. By late summer, starlings have moulted into their white speckled winter plumage, and their beaks are black.

Habitat: Urban, including playing fields, farmyards. Visit bird feeders.

Length: 15 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Sturnus vulgaris

Spring in Toronto

Dark-eyed Junco

Juncos overwinter in Toronto, arriving from their boreal forest breeding grounds in late Fall. They live in small, mobile flocks, and maintain contact between members with “click” calls. Male song which consists of trilling, and courtship chasing between pairs, starts in March prior to the northward migration. By mid-May, the juncos have left.

Description: Juncos are slate-coloured above and white below, with a light pink conical beak. Adults males and females are quite similar; females are a little paler. When flushed, the white outer tail feathers flash conspicuously in flight.

Habitat: Open woodland, edges. Visit bird feeders.

Length: 10 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Junco hyemalis

Spring in Toronto

Black-capped Chickadee

A favourite of backyard birdwatchers, chickadees are confiding and in winter can easily be trained to take food by hand. In fall, birds will store hundreds of seeds in holes and crevices throughout their woodland range. Later in winter, they can remember each cache and retrieve them! In winter chickadees are often seen in mixed species flocks along with nuthatches and woodpeckers.

Description: Sparrow-sized woodland bird with a chubby body and an oversize head that gives it a chick-like appearance.

Habitat: Forest, especially deciduous and mixed woods, but also parkland and urban gardens. Visits bird bird feeders.

Length: 8 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Parus atricapillus

Spring in Toronto

House Finch

A native of western United States, House Finch became established in New York from escaped cage birds, and have gradually expanded their range north. Their song is a beautiful, elaborate melody. Males begin to sing in March.

Description: Male has red on head and front, female is streaked brown. Much individual variation.

Habitat: Garden parks, suburban backyards. Will visit feeders in winter.

Length: 13 cm

Scientific name: Carpodacus mexicanus

Spring in Toronto

Song Sparrow

This sparrow is aptly named for its loud, pleasant summery song, consisting of high pitched notes succeeded by trills. The Song Sparrow shows considerable variation in colour and pattern throughout its widespread range in North America (and northern Mexico). In general, it can be described as a medium-sized sparrow with a brown back and brown-streaked white underparts. In our area this adaptable bird is most likely to be seen in edge habitats, and shrubby fields in early stages of succession, often near water. A mated pair typically builds a small, cup-shaped nest in a well-hidden location on the ground, but Song Sparrows may also nest in shrubs or small trees.

Description: The adult Song Sparrow’s white breast and flanks are darkly streaked with brown. A small dark blotch is often present in the centre of the breast. Juveniles have a lesser degree of streaking. Both adults and juveniles have brown backs. A tail that “pumps” up and down in flight is a characteristic feature of this sparrow.

Habitat: Wet thickets, old field. Shrubby habitats near ponds or marshes are favoured.

Length: 16 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Melospiza melodia

Spring in Toronto

White-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches are engaging birds in winter, quite confiding and not afraid to approach humans closely as if sizing them up. They have the distinctive foraging habit of hopping downwards on tree trunks, aided by oversize feet and claws. They use their slightly upturned, forcep-like beak to glean prey from under bark flakes.

Description: Sparrow-sized blue and white bird with a short tail and legs. Up close, a narrow, slightly upturned beak. Male has a black cap, female has a grey cap.

Habitat: Forest, especially mature deciduous forest. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 14 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Sitta carolinensis

Spring in Toronto

American Crow

The only large all-black land bird that you are likely to see in Toronto (the other is the double-crested cormorant which is a water bird). In flight, broad wings have a ragged wing-tip appearance due to wing slots. The loud “caw” call is distinctive, and is given loudly and repeatedly, especially when chasing enemies such as the Red-tailed hawk. Crows are smart birds that live year-round in family groups. They are omnivores, often seen feeding on road kill.

Description: Large black bird with a robust beak. Up close, you can see dense bristles covering the nares (nostrils). Broad wings with prominent wing slots.

Habitat: Open habitat, especially open fields with scattered woods, and agricultural land. Urban.

Length: 50 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Corvus brachyrhynchos

Spring in Toronto

Blue Jay

A familiar bird of suburban backyards where they are noisy and conspicuous most of the year. In winter, Blue Jays live in mobile flocks of males and females, adults and immatures. These flocks will descend on backyard bird feeders and chase off other birds. In the Fall, Blue jays will hide acorns and peanuts in caches that they memorize the location of, so they can re-find in winter. Gives a range of loud calls, including bell-like calls. In March, the winter flocks break up into smaller courtship groups usually consisting of two females and a number of adult and young males. Eventually, pairs form and nesting begins. Young males may not breed in their first year.

Description: Distinctive, medium-sized blue and white bird with a prominent blue crest. Males and females look alike. Relatively short, rounded wings and a flap-and-glide flight.

Habitat: Forest, especially forest edge, but inhabits wide range of habitats with trees including backyards, where in winter it visits bird feeders.

Length: 25 cm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata

Spring in Toronto

House Sparrow

The familiar sparrow of city sidewalks and backyards. Usually live in small, noisy flocks which get bigger in winter as families coalesce. Primarily a seedeater, but in the breeding season it feeds nestlings with insects, and gardeners sometimes despair of sparrows browsing the tender shoots of vegetables.

Description: In summer the sexes are easy to distinguish; male has a chestnut back, pale grey front and a black throat, female is paler and does not have a black throat. In winter, males still look a little darker but they do not have a prominent black throat patch.

Habitat: Urban, including farmyards. Visits bird feeders.

Length: 12 cm

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Passer domesticus

Spring in Toronto

Red Lily Beetle

Native of Eurasia, it has recently invaded Ontario. It is a serious pest that attacks plants of the lily family. The adults overwinter on the ground under dead leaves and they emerge in early spring. Larvae feed on lily leaves. They often get covered with sticky frass that helps conceal and protect them. Adults have some interesting behaviours when threatened by an enemy. The first escape response is to freeze and then drop off the plant to remain motionless on the ground. If this doesn't work and they are grabbed, they try to startle their attacker by making a sudden squeaking sound.

Description: Adults are bright red with black legs, head and underparts. Larvae are usually black.

Habitat: Found on lilies, their host plant.

Length: 8 mm

Adults: April - June

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Lilioceris lilli

Spring in Toronto

Six-spotted Tiger Beetle

Adults are active predators and usually prefer to hunt in sunny, sandy sites for a wide variety of prey, including ants, spiders and grasshoppers. The larvae live in an excavated burrow, and feed by ambushing passing prey such as spiders. The larvae pupate in the burrow and then as adults dig themselves out to emerge in early spring.

Description: Metallic green beetles with long legs and relatively large eyes. Sprint along on the ground, but will fly if pressed.

Habitat: Sandy trails, sunny open sites.

Length: 12 mm

Adults: April - August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cicindela sexguttata

Spring in Toronto

False Blister Beetle

These beetles are often encountered on early the flowers of spring ephemerals such as hepatica and trout lily where they feed on the pollen and congregate for mating. Although not “true” blister beetles (which secrete a toxic chemical called cantharidin), false blister beetles do secrete a fairly nasty chemical in self-defense.

Description: Small, elongate beetles with a red thorax that, on close inspection, is bumpy. Larvae burrow into rotten wood.

Habitat: Woodland and wood edges.

Length: 2 cm

Adults: April - May

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Asclera ruficollis

Spring in Toronto

Green Stink Bug

Adults feed on plant juices of a variety of hosts including trees and commercial crops. They overwinter in leaf litter and become active in early spring when temperatures are above about 15°C. When disturbed they discharge a foul-smelling liquid from glands on the underside of the thorax.

Description: Adults are bright green. Distinctive angular shape has been called “shield-like”. Young nymphs are striped black and white, and only attain green colouration as adults.

Habitat: Found in leaf litter in early spring.

Length: 15 mm

Adults: April - August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Chinavia hilaris

Spring in Toronto

Large Carpenter Bee

Aptly named, the first sign of Carpenter bees may be neat, circular holes about 1 cm in diameter which they drill into dry standing wood. They build chambers inside the tunnels for their overwintering sites and nest cells. Males are territorial and guard their nest chambers stocked with pollen and nectar for the larvae.

Description: Large blue-black bee which looks like a bumblebee, but closer examination reveals a thorax that has a “bald patch” where there is no hair, and the abdomen is bare (whereas bumblebees have hairy abdomens). Slow, somewhat erratic fliers.

Habitat: Fields, woodland edge.

Length: 25 mm

Adults: May - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Xylocopa virginica

Spring in Toronto

Carpenter Ant

Our largest ant. Sometimes invade houses and are quite destructive when they excavate nest sites in decaying wood. Adults do not eat the wood they excavate as they build nest galleries, instead they prey on insect herbivores, so Carpenter ants are important in helping control some of the defoliating insects of trees. In turn, Carpenter ants are a key prey for Pileated Woodpeckers and are also eaten by Blue Jays and American Robins.

Description: Large black ants with a rounded thorax. Colonies consist of worker ants of various sizes.

Habitat: Prefer decaying trees.

Length: 10-20 mm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Camponotus pennsylvanicus

Spring in Toronto

Green Metallic Bee

These strikingly coloured bees are a type of sweat bee, so named because they are attracted to the salts in perspiration. But don't be alarmed if they land on your skin as they are docile; the males cannot sting, and the females will only sting if really provoked. Usually seen on flowers where they feed primarily on pollen.

Description: Small bee with iridescent green thorax and a black and white striped abdomen.

Habitat: Fields, meadows.

Length: 12 mm

Adults: May - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Agapostemon virescens

Spring in Toronto

June Beetle

Shiny brown beetle often found at night close to lights in May and June. Adult beetles feed on flowers and leaves. The larva is the white grub often found when turning sod in spring; at high densities they can kill a lawn.

Description: Adults are glossy brown. The larvae which live underground are white, with a brown head.

Habitat: Woodland, gardens. Larvae are often found in lawns.

Length: 20-25 mm

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Phyllophaga sp.

Spring in Toronto

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloaks are long-lived as adults--up to 11 months. Individuals seen in early spring have overwintered as adults. They become dormant (aestivate) in the hottest months and reappear in the fall. Aestivation is the summer equivalent of hibernation, employed by many species to avoid the heat and lack of moisture. The caterpillars, armed with a spectacular array of spiny hairs, feed on leaves of Willow, Elm, Birch, Cottonwood, and Hackberry.

Description: Wings blue-black fringed with yellow. The yellow wing border is diagnostic, however as the butterfly ages the border can fade to white. Males and females have identical wing markings. Caterpillars are spiny, predominantly black but with white speckles and rows of red spots along the back. The spines are branched and look decidedly nasty.

Habitat: Woodland, gardens.

Wingspan: 80 mm

Adults: March - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Nymphalis antiopa

Spring in Toronto

Eastern Comma

Adults which have hibernated under tree bark emerge in early spring as soon as the sap starts flowing. They will perch in sunny spots to warm up.

Description: Burnt-orange butterfly with irregular wing outline. Derives its common name from a scrawly white line on the wing underside which looks like a punctuation mark. When they emerge in early spring, the adults are tattered and their hind wings are relatively pale. The has dark brown hind wings.

Habitat: Woodland, gardens.

Wingspan: 70 mm

Adults: March - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Polygonia comma

Spring in Toronto

Cabbage White

This butterfly will be familiar to any vegetable gardener. It has become a pest in some situations since being accidentally introduced near Montreal from Europe 150 years ago.

Description: White, with one (male) or two (female) rounded black spots on dorsal forewing. In flight looks white, but up close you will see the underwing has a pale yellow tinge.

Habitat: Fields, meadows, vegetable gardens.

Wingspan: 50 mm

Adults: May - October

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Pieris rapae

Spring in Toronto

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Toronto's most common swallowtail, with large yellow wings sporting black stripes, and a "tail" on each hind wing. The female lays her large round yellowish-green eggs on leaves of larval food plants, including cottonwoods, willows, cherries and birches. Overwinters as a chrysalis that resembles a dried curled leaf.

Description: Adults have large yellow wings sporting black stripes, and a “tail” on each hind wing. The caterpillar is green at maturity with a swollen head bearing colourful eyespots that mimic real eyes.

Habitat: Observed in many habitat types, including parks, woodland openings, and roadsides.

Wingspan: 80 - 140 mm

Adults: June - October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Pterourus glaucus

Spring in Toronto

Common Lilac

A very popular ornamental large shrub or small tree in gardens and parks. The attractive, sweet-smelling flowers bloom in late spring. The nectar attracts long-tongued bees, butterflies and moths.

Description: Leaves are heart-shaped with smooth edges. Lilac leaves often look whitish by late summer, due to powdery mildew infection. Flowers can be white, light purple, or dark purple. Individual flowers have four petals and a tubular base, and are arranged in clusters at the tips of branches.

Habitat: Gardens, parks. Naturalized in woodland areas.

Height: 5 m

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Syringa vulgaris

Spring in Toronto

Forsythia

An early flowering shrub that is used as an indicator species in phenology studies. Popular garden ornamental. As the flowers fade, leaf buds open.

Description: Deciduous shrub. Small yellow flowers open in early spring before the leaf buds open. Leaves are pointed with toothed edges.

Habitat: Gardens, parks.

Height: 3 m

Flowering: April

Fruits: June

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Forsythia suspensa

Spring in Toronto

Silver Maple

Silver maples are a common street tree in Toronto. Their distinctive red flower buds open early, well before the other maples. The leaf is elongated and quite delicate with deep-cut lobes. On the underside, the leaf colour is almost white. On older trees, the “stringy” bark is another distinctive field mark for this maple. The seeds, or keys, produced in spring, are favourite source of food for squirrels.

Description: Leaf is elongated (much longer than wide) with deep lobes (5) and the notches are rounded and U-shaped. Pointy tips to lobes and prominent teeth. Delicate looking leaf quickly becomes dry and curled after dropping. Leaf underside is white. Key is quite large (5 cm) with a thick swollen seed. The wings are joined at an angle of about 90 degrees.

Habitat: Prefer damp situations, such as river edge, but tolerate the dry, urban conditions.

Height: 40 m

Leaf length: 7-12 cm

Flowering: March - April

Fruits: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Acer saccharinum

Spring in Toronto

Sugar Maple

Our splendid native Sugar Maple is largely confined to ravines and intact woodlands in the City, but is now being used in street plantings rather than the Norway Maple. Old specimens develop distinctive deeply-furrowed bark which curls into thick “licks”.

Description: The leaf has 3 prominent lobes and two smaller lobes at the base. The notch at the bottom of each lobe is rounded. Flowers are inconspicuous and open at the sane time as the leaves. The wings of the key (fruit) are shorter than the stalk, droop down in a U, and are almost parallel

Habitat: Prominent in remnant woodlots, and major ravines.

Height: 40 m

Leaf width: 10-15 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Acer saccharum

Spring in Toronto

Norway Maple

Norway Maples were introduced as an ornamental tree for parks and streetscapes, but they have naturalized and invaded woodlands where they are considered a threat to native plants. Fast-growing and shallow-rooted, Norway Maple creates dense shade and a dry forest floor. It resembles our native Sugar Maple, but if you break the leaf stalk it exudes a milky sap (Sugar Maple has clear sap).

Description: Leaf similar to Sugar Maple, but 5 prominent lobes with two extra teeth per lobe. Separate male and female flowers appear before the leaves. The popular “Crimson King” variety of Norway Maple has yellow flowers and the bud scales are deep red, and they look quite distinct from the most widely planted Norway Maple which has yellow bud scales and bright green leaves. The large paired keys which sit horizontally in a straight line (as opposed to drooping vertically) ripen in early Fall.

Habitat: Parks, ravines, suburban streets.

Height: 30 m

Leaf width: 10-15 cm

Flowering: April - May

Fruits: June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Acer platanoides

Spring in Toronto

Manitoba Maple

A scrubby tree that thrives in the City. Its twigs and young stems are brittle, but it re-grows readily and it can become weedy. There are separate male and female trees; female trees are easy to spot as they alone carry the clusters of keys in the Fall.

Description: Fast-growing small tree, usually with multiple stems. The compound leaf is composed of 3-7 leaflets. The leaflet shape varies, but larger leaflets are usually faintly tri-lobed. Buds and young twigs have a purplish blush. Male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious) and are wind pollinated. The winged fruits (samaras or keys) are retained on the female trees well into winter sometimes.

Habitat: Riparian tree. Disturbed sites. Urban ravines. A pioneer species of abandoned fields.

Height: 15 m

Leaf length: 12-30 cm

Flowering: April - May

Fruits: June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Acer negundo

Spring in Toronto

White Oak

White oak was one of the giants of pre-settlement broadleaf forest in Toronto, reaching heights of up to 30 metres. Distinguished from other oaks here by its leaves which have rounded lobes and are smooth underneath. The acorns are sought after by squirrels.

Description: Large, deciduous tree with pale grey bark which has a scaly appearance. Leaf has 5 to 9 lobes which are rounded (not pointed). Both male and female flowers occur on the same tree (monoecious). The male flowers (pollen-producing) are yellow and open a little before female flowers in early May. The acorn is quite small (2 cm) and elongated, and the cap of woody scales covers less than one-quarter of the acorn. The acorn develops over summer and ripens in the Fall.

Habitat: Prefers deep, moist soils in mixed deciduous forests.

Height: 30 m

Leaf length: 12 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Quercus alba

Spring in Toronto

Red Oak

Red Oaks are among the last of the native trees to leaf out in spring. They are host to a myriad of insects, including caterpillars of butterflies and moths which feed on foliage, wasps which form leaf and stem galls, and beetles which bore into the acorns and tunnel into wood.

Description: Large deciduous trees with grey bark which is patterned into long vertical ridges. Leaf usually has has 7 or 9 lobes which are pointed, helping to distinguish it from the White Oak which has rounded, blunt lobes. Male and female flowers are separate, but on the same tree (monoecious). The fruit is an acorn which is quite large and squat (3 cm long) with a shallow cap that covers about one-third of the acorn. It develops on the tree for two years and ripens in the Fall.

Habitat: Grows on a variety of soils. Used as an ornamental shade tree. Red Oak is more salt and drought tolerant than White Oak and so has been planted in streetscapes.

Height: 25 m

Leaf length: 15 cm

Flowering: May

Fruits: October

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Quercus rubra

Spring in Toronto

Siberian Elm

Siberian Elms were planted extensively after the native Elm declined from Dutch Elm disease. Now naturalized, the Siberian Elm grows rapidly and is considered invasive.

Description: Tall, straggly trees with brittle branches - Siberian Elms were especially hard hit in the ice storm of 2013. Small leaves have distinctive double-teeth. Flowers inconspicuous and wind pollinated. The fruit, called a samara, consists of a seed surrounded by a circular membrane which dries to a papery wing. The fruit ripens in summer and disperses on the wind currents, helped by the wings.

Habitat: Widely planted in gardens as hedges and on streetscapes, now naturalized and invades open, disturbed areas.

Height: 35 m

Leaf length: 2-7 cm

Flowering: April

Fruits: June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Ulmus pumila

Spring in Toronto

Eastern Cottonwood

Cottonwood and poplar trees are trees of open, windy places, and their leaves “flutter” noisily in a breeze. By early summer, the fluffy seeds are being released, and they gather like tidal wrack in pools and puddles. Cottonwoods are classic floodplain species, and the seeds must fall on moist ground to germinate; if they settle on dry ground they quickly dessicate and die. or else they quickly dry up and die.

Description: Tall, columnar-shaped trees with branches at about 45 degrees to the trunk. Leaf shape is like an equilateral triangle, with rounded corners. The leaf shape is like an equilateral triangle, with rounded corners. Examine the leaf stalk (petiole) and note it is flattened. The flattened, wide petiole of the cottonwood helps leaves twist rather than bend in a wind. This reduces the chance of the petiole being bent and broken. The fruit are green capsules lined up along a stalk so they look like hanging strands of peas.

Habitat: An early colonizing tree of tough, sandy sites.

Height: 30 m

Flowering: May - June

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Populus deltoides

Spring in Toronto

Pussy Willow

The male flowers, called catkins, have yellow pollen-producing anthers. Female flowers which are on a separate tree from the male flowers, are silky and are prized by florists for arrangements.

Description: Flowers in clusters called “catkins” appear before the leaves. Male and female flowers are on separate trees (dioecious). The silky female catkins are sought after by flower arrangers and give rise to the common name.

Habitat: Wetlands, particularly pond edge.

Height: 3 m

Flowering: May - April

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Salix discolor

Spring in Toronto

Smooth Serviceberry

This small native tree flowers brightly in early spring supporting native pollinators, then produces bright berries in late summer which the birds gorge on. It is a popular species in City restoration projects, and as a modest specimen tree in front yards.

Description: Usually shrubby but in open sites can grow to a small tree. Leaf underside is smooth. White flowers. Red, glossy berries are ripe by August. The leaves turn yellow or reddish orange in the fall.

Habitat: An understorey tree. Planted as specimen trees in gardens.

Height: 4 m

Flowering: April - May

Fruits: June - July

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Amelanchier laevis

Spring in Toronto

Choke Cherry

This small shrub is common but inconspicuous in the woodland understorey, and only in sunny sites does it grow large enough to flower profusely. Native bees pollinate the flowers, and the fleshy cherries are popular with many birds, especially Cedar Waxwings, American Robins and Northern Cardinals.

Description: Large shrub, but in open, sunny sites can grow to small tree. Bark is grey with small spots. Leaves are bright green. Flowers are in dense clusters and can turn the whole shrub white. Cherries are dark red turning black when mature in late summer.

Habitat: Prefers forest edge and open woodland.

Height: 3 m

Flowering: May - June

Fruits: August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Prunus virginiana

Spring in Toronto

Japanese Flowering Cherry

Their showy white flowers produce a profuse spring display for two weeks in May, and thousands visit key locations such as High Park to view the blossoms.

Description: Medium-sized trees. Flowers (blossoms) are white to pink depending on the cultivar. Bark is shiny, thin, and marked with raised horizontal lines called lenticels. Fruit are small, black berries, but not all cultivars produce fruit.

Height: 5 m

Flowering: May

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Prunus serrula

Spring in Toronto

Flowering Crabapple

Trees can be smothered in flowers in spring. Flower visitors include bees, and some birds notably Baltimore Orioles but also House Sparrows. The small red fruits often persist on the tree through winter and provide food for European Starlings, American Robins and Cedar Waxwings.

Description: Small to medium sized trees with reddish brown bark which becomes scaley in older trees. Flowers in May, for about two weeks. Depending on the variety, flower colour ranges from white through light pink to red. Fruit are small (10-20 mm) red apples which ripen in the Fall. Fruit can stay on the tree through winter.

Habitat: Gardens, parks. Naturalized in woodland areas.

Height: 4 m

Flowering: May

Origin: Introduced

Scientific name: Malus baccata

Spring in Toronto

Pagoda Dogwood

In undisturbed forest remnants, the Pagoda Dogwood is the main understorey shrub below a Sugar Maple and American Beech canopy. The mildly fragrant flowers attract native bees and flies. In the Fall, Robins especially feed on the berries.

Description: Small tree, with greenish-yellow bark. Branching is layered horizontally giving a pleasing shape. Unique for Dogwoods, the leaves alternate on twigs (hence another common name is alternate-leaved dogwood). Small, white flowers are arranged in flat-topped clusters. Ripe fruit is black.

Habitat: Understorey tree in deciduous forest.

Height: 5 m

Flowering: May - June

Fruits: July - August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cornus alternifolia

Spring in Toronto

Red-osier Dogwood

The flat-topped flower clusters are a magnet for insect pollinators. Berries are eaten by songbirds in the fall. Twigs are flexible, and are used in basket weaving and floral arrangements.

Description: Dense, deciduous shrub. White flowers arranged in clusters at the end of stems. Leaves arranged in opposite pairs along the twig. Prominent veins curve and run towards the tip. Fruits are white berries. Young branches are deep red and are flecked with white.

Habitat: Prefers moist soils, especially the edges of swamps. Invades old fields.

Height: 2 m

Flowering: May - June

Fruits: July - August

Origin: Native

Scientific name: Cornus stolonifera

Spring in Toronto

About this guide

This mobile web app guide to common spring plants and animals of Toronto has been created and produced by Hopscotch Interactive.

At Hopscotch, Alejandro Lynch and Mike Dennison have spearheaded the development, design and production of the guide. Artwork and design has been contributed by Hugo Lynch. Research and writing contributions from Irene Bowman.

Creative Commons License

The text of this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Permission to use some images in the guide has been kindly given by Ian Craine.

Please send any feedback or questions about the guide to Mike Dennison, dennison@hopscotch.ca.

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