The Return of the Insects

We often mark the arrival of Spring with the return of the robins or the blooming of wild flowers, yet an equally thrilling and exciting moment is the emergence of insect life. I have seen my first fly of the year, buzzing majestically through my backyard, after of many months of hibernation. These and other insects are now beginning to emerge from their deep sleeps.

These delicate friends of ours, though small, provide crucial roles in the tapestry of life, pollinating flowers, aiding decomposition of plant matter, creating top soil, and providing food for the birds and the fish. Our human ancestors of the not-so-distant past celebrated the return of these friends with elaborate rituals. I do the same.

If a fly lands on my arm, as I sit in my backyard, I am grateful to know that our city ecosystem still supports such important creatures. Although they may be an annoyance at times, they are a telling sign of the life and energy that circulate through our ecosystem.


Prairie Crocuses are Flowering



  The Prairie Crocuses are popping up all over grassy southern slopes around Calgary parks. The Prairie Crocus, or Anemone patens, is not a true Crocus but is instead a part of the Buttercup family. Pasque Flower, which refers to its blooming period around the time of Passover, or Wind Flower which refers to the Greek origin of its genus name, Anemone, are both alternative names. The flowers bloom close to the ground before the growth of the leaves so they can be tough to find initially. Once you see one however, you'll start seeing them all over! Keep an eye out for them and watch where you step while walking on sunny slopes; they're a beautiful and sure sign that spring is just about here!

The catkins are coming!


Over the past month I’ve been taking advantage of our unseasonable weather and taking weekly (sometimes daily) trips to one of my favourite parks in the city, Nose Hill. Over the past week I have been watching as some of the aspens blossom with their furry catkins bursting out of tiny buds. Yes, in case you were wondering, catkin does refer to cats. It is a borrowed Dutch word, katteken – meaning kitten. Catkins live up to their namesake and do usually have a furry appearance (most of us learn this first through pussy willows). They are clusters of tiny flowers that are usually wind-pollinated though sometimes relying on insects.

If you do happen to wander up to Nose Hill, or to any other aspen groves around the city, pay attention to which trees are blossoming and which are not yet. At this time of year and in the fall you can easily identify one characteristic of the aspens which is that they grow in groves of a single clone. This means that while different groves may be on a slightly different schedule for blossoming or for dropping their leaves, all the the trees in a grove will act more or less simultaneously. As aspens are either male or female, it also means that each tree in a grove will be the same sex which can  make it difficult for pollination to occur.

Aside from the interest of the catkins themselves, the significance of their blossoming is that spring is on it’s way! Until we get our next dump of heavy spring snow there will be plenty to watch for in Nose Hill and elsewhere around the city.