Saturday, May 31, 2008

Wild Ginger

Trust me, for years you could pass wild ginger (Asarum canadense) without recognizing there’s a low-blooming, urn-shaped gem underneath each leaf. Ask me how I know. ;-) Some nurseries call the colour of the bloom "burgundy", but I'd call the bloom in the above and below photos a reddish brown. What about you?
Here you can see the side view of a blossom. Isn't the blossom fuzzy on the outside?
I took these photos in the York Regional Forest on the side of a hill in rich soil.

The leaves are velvety and shaped like a heart. If you see the plant when it’s not in flower, you can test to see if it’s wild ginger by digging with your finger into the soil and scratching the root to see of it smells like ginger.

Wild ginger is not related to culinary ginger, but early settlers to North America DID use wild ginger roots fresh (crushed), dried (powdered) and candied, and are also said to have made wild ginger tea to sooth sore throats

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Under Sunny Skies/ Sky Watch

Who could resist spending the day basking in the sun under a blue sky such as this? Don't these lovely representatives of the Limousin family look like they are in the moo-ood?

Who are the Limousins, you ask? A very old and respected family with good breeding. In fact, cave drawings said to be 20,000 years old feature cattle that strongly resemble these golden-red cows. Limousin cattle are native to south central France in the regions of Limousin and Marche, where the terrain is described as rugged and rolling with rocky soil and a harsh climate. Limousin cattle have evolved into a sturdy, healthy and adaptable breed.

And now, here's another question for you:
Q: What do you call a grumpy cow?
A: Moo-dy
Oh, Pleeeeze! Not that old joke again.
I am NOT amused.
Now THAT was funny!

To visit more blogs celebrating Sky Watch Watch, click HERE.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Birchard Parquette

Birchard Parquette -- at the top of the hill in Mount Albert -- is a tribute to the first European to settle eastern East Gwillimbury.

In 1821, the land was dense forest with only a trail running north and south used by the native Objibway. Brothers Samuel and Rufus Birchard -- Quakers from Vermont -- each purchased 100 acres for a dollar per acre from. The two men plus Rufus’ wife Electra blazed a seven-mile trail easterly through forest and swamp from Hope (now Sharon) to their new property. And, as the story goes, Electra did not see another woman of European descent for two years until Samuel brought home his new bride.

Both families raised many children and, since the Birchards were interested in education, they donated one-quarter acre of land on which to build a school and burial ground. A tiny log schoolhouse was erected here in the early 1830s, and a sister of the Birchard brothers became the teacher.
Although the school was used only for a few years, the land can never be bought or sold. The deed for this site states that the property could be used solely for public purposes “as long as grass grew green and water flowed down hill.” The grounds eventually became a patch of weeds until in 1967 the Mount Albert Horticultural Society and the Women’s Institute transformed it into a lovely parquette, a Centennial project. (Canada was 100 years old in 1967.) The parquette was named after the Birchards who originally donated the land.

The bell mounted on the cairn is a school bell, but it's from another defunct school built down the street in 1890.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Wild Lilacs

Lilacs (Syringa) grow wild here but they are not indigenous to Ontario. Pioneers brought lilacs to North America in the early 1600's. Lucky for us, lilacs bushes could withstand a long sea voyage. Better still, they grew well on this side of the Atlantic.
The foundations of many old Ontario farmsteads can often be located by first spotting a lilac in bloom. Lilacs also go freely alongside many country roads.

Although there are approximately 25 species of lilacs, all are native to Asia and southern Europe. French lilacs have naturalized here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pioneer Cemetery/ Mount Albert

The land that eventually became the community of Mount Albert was first settled in the 1820s by Quakers on the east and west sides of an old Indian trail, which is now called Centre Street.

Other settlers soon followed, purchasing land from the Quakers. Many of the newcomers were Methodists buried in this cemetery between 1830 and 1894. Life was hard back then. Looking at the stones, it's sad to realize that many of the stones once marked the graves of children. But now the stones have been moved and laid flat, arranged in a line at the back of the cemetery for some reason I don't understand.
Here's a closer view of some the gravestones.
And here's another view. As you can see the engraved stones have weathered over the years and now many are difficult to read.
At the front of the cemetery, an engraved stone reminds passersby that this parquette is actually a cemetery.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Jack-in-the-pulpits (Arisaema triphyllum) are blooming in the forest now. They're hard to see because they blend in so well with their surroundings. But once you DO spot one, be sure to crouch down or gently lift the hood-like spathe so you can see Jack.

The photo above is of a brown Jack-in-the pulpit, but the spathe can be purple, brown, green or even white.
And here's a green one, found the same day just a few metres from the brown one.

Last year, we found them in many places along the path. This year only two!

Jack-in-the-pulpits are sometimes called Indian Turnip. Native Americans ate the root as a vegetable…but before you try it, beware! Indian turnips must must be properly dried and cooked because the fresh root contains calcium oxalate crystals, which sting the tongue and throat. According to one account, the Meskwaki tribe poisoned their enemies by finely chopping roots and then rubbing them into meat for their foes to find. What a surprise! The "treat" is said to be flavorful but deadly within a few hours -- a painful way to die.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lake Scugog

Until 1830, Lake Scugog (pronounced skoo-gog, accent on the first syllable) was a shallow river that meandered northerly through thick swamps and muddy bogs. But when a dam was built on the Scugog River, thousands of acres of land along the river's banks were flooded creating the lake and an island called, you guessed it, Scugog Island.
Lake Scugog covers 63.5 square kilometres (25 square miles) with an average depth of 1.4 metres (4.5 feet) and a maximum depth of 7.6 metres (25 feet), all of which the Lindsay Dam artificially maintains.

Walleye and bass thrive in this shallow, murky and weedy lake. And in winter, the lake is covered with ice fishing huts, fishers there to catch walleye and perch. Crappie is abundant in spring.

Both photos look like the air and water were cold. Trust me, they WERE.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Downtown Port Perry

Port Perry is a picturesque tourist community east of East Gwillimbury and about an hour northeast of the city of Toronto. Clothing stores, restaurants, caf├ęs, galleries and antique shops line both sides of the Victorian-era main street (Queen Street). The main reason my husband and I like to visit Port Perry is to browse the town’s used bookstore, which is situated behind the shops in this photo. One of us is sure to leave with at least one book...usually more.
Across the street on the south side, chocoholics can visit The Nutty Chocolatier. ;-)
Or slip down an alley to photograph the town’s quaint architecture from a different angle.
Then cross the street again to take a shot looking easterly to see why this town is such a tourist attraction: Palmer Park beside Lake Scugog. It was a cool, dreary day but you can see the lake in the background. More about the lake tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wild Carrot Skeletons/ Sky Watch

It’s mid May and the sun is still setting on last year’s skeletons of Queen Anne’s lace (or wild carrot) here in Ontario. I found these on the edge of a farmer's field. Amazingly, when the stems of Queen Anne's lace dry they become rigid enough to withstand winter snow and winds. These are a bit weathered but still standing tall.
Here's a photo I took in early March, which shows why wild carrots are sometimes called bird's nests. When wet, the skeletons curl up.

I'm looking forward to seeing this year's crop of Queen Anne's lace. Some folks call them weeds...but not me. How lucky you are if they are already blooming where you live!

To see more Sky Watch photos, check out Wigger's World by clicking HERE.

Apple Blossom Time

Drive down a country road these days and you're sure to find wild apple trees loaded with blossoms, pale pink tinged with rose. Above you can see a tree that if all the blossoms are pollinated will be totally covered with apples this coming autumn.
There are so many wild trees around here that's it's hard to imagine that before Europeans settled North America there were NO apples in Ontario. Early settlers brought apple seeds and trees with them to the New World.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

YAY, Spring!

Today is a dreary day, but the landscape is popping with colourful flowering trees. Gotta feel great in spite of the drizzle. ;-)

Silvery Blue Butterfly

For fifteen minutes or so, this lovely female silvery blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) was nicknamed Buddy. Then she flew away.

Silvery blues are common in May and June in clearings, meadows, roadsides and near streams across Canada. This silvery blue was hanging out at a local gardencentre. Smart butterfly, eh?

One reason silver blues are prolific is they lay their eggs on the flower buds and young leaves of various members of the pea/bean family, which includes sweet peas, lupines, clover and vetch – the third largest plant family on earth. The emerging caterpillars feed on the flowers, seedpods, and young leaves and are tended by ants until the chrysalids form. The adults feed on yummy nectar from plants of the the aster family (daisies, asters, Echinacea).

I'm not sure if this butterfly was looking for a plant to lay eggs or for a flower loaded with nectar. Ha! The finger on which she's perched doesn't look like a sweetpea or an aster!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

EW! Eastern Skunk Cabbages

Ummmm. What do I smell? Could it be this eastern skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)? In the photo above, you can see the plant's shell-like spathe, mottled green and purple. Inside you can see the spadix on which there are flowers. Or not. OK, maybe the flowers are gone...or what passes for flowers with stamens and pistils
Here's a closer look. I think the plant has already been fertilized and this is what's left. I found the plants too late as they are one of the first plants to bloom in spring. I just recently noticed a colony growing in a roadside ditch. Tons of them!

I remember skunk cabbages from my childhood but haven’t seen any in years. So once I spotted these, I began looking for them in other places too...but with no luck. Why would I search for such a plant with a skunk-like odor? Ha! Would you believe nostalgia? How about curiosity?
Here are some leaves of a young plant that apparently didn't have flowers this year. Leaves emerge after the plants have flowered.

So why does the plant smell so bad? To attract flies, the insect thought to pollinate skunk cabbages. The plant also boasts another clever trick to attract flies: the flowers produce heat, perfect for tricking insects into visiting them during cold weather.

Skunk cabbage is said to be poisonous for humans to consume (and who'd want to anyway?), but it’s a source of food for squirrels and deer. And bears think skunk cabbage roots are a delicacy. Fortunately I didn't see any foraging bears the day I took these photos. ;-)

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Real Dandy Farm

Have you ever seen so many dandelions in all your life? Not me. I can't believe how YELLOW the field is!

The side of the hill carpeted in gold faces southerly so it receives lots of sunlight to make strong, healthy plants and zillions of seeds.
Here's another view, just in case you didn't believe the first one.

Did you ever blow on a dandelion's fluffy, white seed head? Did you get your wish?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

There Goes the Neighbourhood!

I know what you’re thinking, I bet. You think I really should clean up my yard.

But wait! This isn’t my yard -- it's a tag sale in the parking lot of the Mount Albert Home Hardware store and it's hosted by the Mount Albert United Church.

People from all around EG donate unwanted items to this sale held twice a year at the unofficial beginning of summer (Victoria Day Weekend in May) and end of summer (Labour Day in September).

The hardware store parking lot faces a two-lane highway that runs between Toronto and cottage country. For sure, locals shop for bargains at this sale but some of the best customers are Torontarians heading north for a long weekend of fun. Sheesh! You can never have enough mugs, lampshades or Christmas ornaments at the cottage, can you?
All proceeds from this weekend's sale went to two charities: HIV-AIDS Africa and a food bank for hungry families in and around EG. And believe it or not, many of the items you see on these tables did indeed go to the cottage.

Did I find anything useful at thus sale? I DID! Inside the tent were tables of used books. ;-))

Saturday, May 17, 2008

1864 Ontario Farmhouse

Built in 1864 (that’s OLD for this part of Ontario), this is an intact example of a mid-nineteenth century farmhouse common to this area.

East Gwillimbury Town Council recognizes this building’s historical and architectural value and intends to designate this property (including all the farm buildings) as such under the Ontario Heritage Act…just in time, as malls are expanding eastward at a frightening pace towards this farm. This means, the farm stays…but developers can build around it.
The architectural style and proportions of the house reflect a typical centre-gabled 1½-storey dwelling built of red and yellow brick a century and a half ago. At the back is a board-and-batten woodshed with a small belfry, which…oops! can’t see. I took the photo from the road -- a busy road at that with cars and trucks whizzing by.

Saving this house really is a just-in-time effort.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Blue Cohosh

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) has been a mystery to me for several years until it finally struck me that the plant with pretty blue berry-like seeds in autumn is this plant with tiny, almost inconspicuous brown or green flowers in spring,
I like the foliage and have always thought it would make a lovely foil for lighter coloured plants in a shady garden. Bonus: the flowers smell like nutmeg.

Apparently blue cohosh roots and berry-like seeds are poisonous if eaten but roasted seeds have been used as a coffee substitute. Hmmmm. This is another wild food I'll let someone else try. How about you?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crabapple buds/ blue sky

This photo was taken a couple of days ago at the Pioneer Cemetery in Mount Albert, a community on the east side of East Gwillimbury. The blossoms are probably out now, as the weather has been sunny and pleasant. But the sky is definitely NOT as blue today as the day I took this photo!
For more Sky Watch photos, visit Wigger's World by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New Leaves in Spring

Remember when you were a kid (or maybe last fall if like me you haven't grown up yet) collecting leaves and pressing them between the pages of a book?

Well, I decided to collect some spring leaves this year...but with my camera. And LOOK! Young leaves are very beautiful too, don't you agree?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mother Goose

The eggs have hatched and now the REAL work has begun. Right, mom?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Great Merrybells

Great Merrybells, synonym Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), is another plant some gardeners like to purchase at specialty nurseries selling wildflowers. So imagine my surprise when I happened upon them the first time on a walk in the local forest. Often two or three of these drooping yellow flowers grow on each stem, growing in clumps. They are connected by rhizomes (underground roots).
Believe it or not, young shoots are also reported to be edible when the leaves are stripped off and boiled like asparagus. I wouldn't know though. I've never eaten them!

Native Americans used the rhizomes in an infusion to relieve backache and to massage sore muscles after a long day in the woods gathering firewood. (Some days I could use that after a long walk in the woods!) They also used the infusion as a poultice to relieve toothaches.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Oh Dandelion

I don't want to make any enemies here, but I actually like dandelions. ;-)

From "Poems for Memorization"
Rod and Staff Publishers

"Oh dandelion, yellow as gold,
What do you do all day?"
"I just wait here in the tall green grass
Till the children come out to play."

"O dandelion, yellow as gold,
What do you do all night?"
"I wait and wait til the cold dews fall
And my hair grows long and white."

"And what do you do when your hair is white
And the children come out to play?"
"They take me up in their dimpled hands
And blow my hair away."

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East Gwillimbury is a rural town less than an hour north of Toronto, Canada's largest city. My family calls me CameraGirl because I take my camera with me wherever I go.