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Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve

Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve Newsletter

April 2003

Getting ready for spring

Spring is here and we are ready for a busy season of plantings, clean-ups and nature walks at Todmorden Mills. In late winter our forestry consultant, Steve Smith, selected a 0.25 hectare site just south of the pond for plantings this spring. He marked about two dozen Manitoba maples which needed to be removed to open up the canopy enough to allow establishment of the new trees and shrubs.

Contractors removing brush from the new planting site, February 2003.

In February, W. M. Weller Tree Service Ltd. spent two days cutting down the marked trees, and removing and chipping the trimmed branches and other brush. The chips will be used as mulch around trees and shrubs this year. To prevent the cut maples from re-growing, a licensed herbicide operator will do a follow-up treatment on the cut stumps in early April.

In late April, local students will plant about 270 trees, shrubs and wildflowers in the new site as part of the Rotary Ecosystem Education program. The Toronto East Rotary Club has once again helped organize this event.

City plans for Todmorden renovation

With renovations recently completed to the Paper Mill, the City of Toronto's Culture Division is now planning to undertake the next phase of building and site renovations at Todmorden Mills. Preliminary plans call for modernization of the existing theatre, upgrades to the historic buildings, and the construction of new roads, parking lots and footpaths on the site. The work is expected to take three years at a cost of about $2 million. It represents the most significant improvements to the site since 1967.

While most of the planned work is to be around the historic buildings and immediate area, some of the proposals may have implications for the Preserve. For this reason, the City has kindly invited TMWP to attend some early planning meetings to learn first-hand about the proposals, and to comment on them. Chair Paula Davies, board member Miriam Webster, and Steve Smith and Mike Dennison have met with City staff and the project architects twice.

Current options include developing interpretive signage at the mill tailrace near the Oxbow trail, and on top of "Tod Mountain" south of the parking lot. The most significant proposal calls for changes to the back parking lot. In one scenario, the parking lot would be closed and the vehicle bridge would become a footbridge. In another option, the parking lot would be converted from a gravel base to an asphalt base.

Either of the proposed changes to the parking lot would impact the Preserve and our work. If it were to be closed, then the area could be naturalized, but only after significant remediation of the contaminated gravel and underlying fill. If it were to be sealed, then more extensive run-off protection than currently exists would have to be installed to minimize pollution of the Don Oxbow wetland.

Wildflower Monitoring starts

Volunteers needed to track flowering

In a new program starting this spring, we are encouraging visitors to the Preserve to report the flowers they see on their walk around the trail. We have selected a subset of 24 species in the Preserve to monitor, including native species such as trilliums and blue flag, and familiar introduced species such as dandelions and garlic mustard.

Casual observations from visitors collected over the year will help us to build a picture of the flowering patterns in the Preserve. This will allow TMWP and the Museum to provide better interpretive programming for visitors and students. Over the long-term, the data may also help us track the relative abundance of species in the Preserve, and monitor the success of restoration efforts.

The wildflower monitoring program will be run in conjunction with staff at the Todmorden Mills Museum. Visitors can pick up datacards from the Museum on their way out to the trail. They simply check off the species they see flowering and drop off the completed cards after their walk.

To help visitors with wildflower identification, we are providing a set of handy flashcards that illustrate each flower and provide some basic identification information. The sets can be signed out from the Museum, or purchased.

If this pilot program proves successful, similar monitoring programs are planned for birds and butterflies in 2004. For more information on the wildflower monitoring program, please contact Mike Dennison, by phone 416 696 7230, or e-mail dennison@hopscotch.ca.

Visitors can report their wildflower sightings in the Preserve.

TMWP at the Civic Garden Centre

In February, TMWP had a display at the Get the Jump on Spring event at the Civic Garden Centre. The event was attended by about 2,000 visitors who were checking out booths of many of southern Ontario's horticultural societies, clubs and environmental groups.

There was steady attendance at our booth, and we distributed about 150 newsletters. Twenty people added their names to our mailing list. Our wildflower quiz, where visitors were asked to identify pictures of species in the Preserve, proved popular.

Paula Davies at the TMWP booth, Civic Garden Centre, February 2003.

Upcoming Public Events at Todmorden Mills

Members and friends are welcome to attend TMWP events. For planting events, we recommend that you wear sturdy footwear. We meet briefly at the Paper Mill before each event.

  • Saturday, April 5, 10 am. Annual spring garbage clean-up. With Friends of the Don East (FODE).
  • Sunday, April 13, 1:30 - 2:30 pm. Nature walk "Waking up from Winter". Todmorden Mills Museum staff. Museum Admission. Ph. 416 396-2819.
  • Wednesday, April 23, 6 pm. Nature walk. Followed by a FODE meeting in the Paper Mill about their Neighbourhood Forest Strategy. All welcome. Ph. 416 466-9153.
  • Saturday, April 26, 2 - 4 pm. Wildflower planting.
  • Thursday, May 15, 3 - 6 pm. Wildflower and fern planting.
  • Sunday, May 25, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. Nature walks. Free.
  • Sunday, June 1, 9:30 - 12:30 pm. Wildflower and fern planting.

Skunk Cabbage:

Our earliest wildflowerMike Dennison

By March, with snow still on the frozen ground, the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) has already started flowering in the Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve. The purple and yellow spathes are poking out of the ground. Hidden inside each protective sheath, is the spadix which is an unusual club-shaped structure, yellow, and embedded with tiny flowers.

Skunk Cabbage in early March.

The early emergence of the inflorescence is helped by heat produced by the spadix as it grows and which thaws the surrounding snow and ice. This heat, which can raise the plant temperature 25°C above ambient, is created by a chemical reaction involving salicylic acid. The warming also helps disperse the pungent chemicals which attract pollinators such as flies and beetles.

Flowering is brief, and just as the flowers are dying back, the bright green foliage appears. Soon the formerly bare swamp area is transformed into a lush "cabbage" patch, with large leaves reaching up to one metre high.

Todmorden Mills is one of just two locations in the Don Valley to have Skunk Cabbage, according to Diana Banville's handy summary of plant distribution in Toronto (Banville, D. 1985. Vascular plants of Metropolitan Toronto. Toronto Field Naturalists). It is also present in Sherwood Park where Janice Palmer, a TMWP board member, reports there is a healthy patch.

There will be an opportunity to view the Skunk Cabbage in April and May, when we conduct guided walks of the Preserve.

A Special Thank You

The focus of our work at the Preserve is environmental -- we strive to restore the natural habitats in this special place. The work is done by people and there are many to thank. Here are some who helped so far this year (please let us know if we forgot someone).

  • Our generous members who supported us with recent donations: Harvey Medland, June Murdoch (President, Leaside Garden Society), Cynthia Neuman, Albert Roffey, Marilyn J. Smith, Sharon Spears and Ian Wheal.

  • Nazlin Chagpar, owner of the Bulk Barn Franchise in Don Mills Shopping Centre, for providing a discount on candies used at the Civic Garden Centre display.

  • Beth McEwen, City of Toronto Forestry Department, for funding the winter site preparation.