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.