Last Friday, I realized it’s been a while since our last microadventure. Climate March, rainy weather, our son moving back home for his summer break – and the next thing we know three weeks have gone by without a nature outing. Add to that extremely busy times at work – and I was starting to feel the lack of Vitamin N. As another weekend rolled in, I was looking forward to getting outside and hopefully catching a glimpse of trilliums. My search for the best trillium-viewing spot rendered a place called the Happy Valley Forest. Seemed like a perfect spot to get a boost of happiness.
Located just north of Toronto, the Happy Valley Forest is one of the largest remaining intact hardwood forests on the Oak Ridges Moraine, one of Southern Ontario’s most distinct landforms. It is classified as a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and is protected by a recently revised Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. The Nature Conservancy of Canada has an important role in protecting this environmentally significant area with 298 acres in its possession. It considers Oak Ridges Moraine one of its “National Masterpieces” and works hard to preserve it.
The importance of an old-growth forest near Canada’s largest urban centre is hard to overstate. It protects and recharges the headwaters of streams that flow north to Lake Simcoe and south to Lake Ontario. It is a large carbon sink right by one of Toronto’s major highways. It serves as a reservoir for biodiversity, offering much needed habitat to many species at risk. Plus it provides a great spot for hiking.
To get to Happy Valley, we followed Road 7 north of King Road all the way to the dead end. There is no official parking but there is ample room by the side of the road. From there, Road 7 can only be accessed on foot or a horse leading to the entrance to Happy Valley Forest.
We couldn’t find a map of the area but the trails were clearly marked and easy to follow. Regular signs reminded to stay on the trail, although serious hikers shouldn’t need reminders.
We didn’t spend much time on the trails because our younger son was tired after a week full of dance rehearsals plus had to get some rest before his year-end show the next day. But even two hours provided ample opportunities to revel in the green lushness of a spring forest.
Bird song bounced from tree to tree and a frog chorus rippled across ponds.
The ground was carpeted in trout lilies, tender fiddleheads and yellow drooping flowers with a beautiful name uvularia.
Trilliums, however, stole the show. Fields and fields of three-petal flowers stretching in every direction. And it’s not just petals — everything about trilliums comes in threes: three leaves, three small sepals, even a three-sectioned seedpod. I guess it’s not surprising with a name like that.
The white trillium is Ontario’s official flower and can be seen on the province’s logo and all sorts of official documents. In nature, though, it can only be found for a couple of weeks in May.
In addition to the white trillium, there are four other species growing in Ontario: red trillium, painted trillium, drooping trillium and nodding trillium. We came across red trilliums at Happy Valley, and one with green petals. For a second we thought we discovered a new species. But then it turned out the green stripes are caused by a virus, possibly parasitic, subcellular organisms called mycoplasmas. Eventually the virus takes over and the plant can no longer produce flowers and seeds. So much for a new discovery!
My little research uncovered many other interesting facts about this iconic Ontario flower. For instance, trillium seeds come with an appendage rich in nutrients to attract ants, who carry seeds back to their colonies. There, once the food parcel is consumed, the seed is discarded still intact giving birth to a new plant. The way nature works is truly fascinating!
Or did you know that red trilliums have no nectar, and therefore, are not pollinated by bees? Instead, they smell like decaying flesh to attract carrion flies and beetles to do the bees’ job. We did try to smell them – it wasn’t particularly pleasant.
Trillium comes under many other names, such as toadshade for its resemblance to a toad-sized umbrella and Wake Robin for its appearance with the first robins. My favourite is Birthroot for trilliums’ medicinal uses during childbirth. What a fitting name for a flower that arrives in early spring to signal nature’s rebirth.
Hope you get a chance to get outside and enjoy the sight of these spring harbingers before they are gone.