Thursday, 10 October 2013

Natural Areas Inventory Update

As the Natural Areas Inventory project wraps up its final field season, our ecological land classification crew is still busy surveying many of the natural areas throughout Hamilton.  Over the years, our ELC teams have found many rare and exciting species in our watershed, and this field season has been no exception! Recently, the team was thrilled to discover a rare Carolinian tree species known as Pawpaw.

Pawpaw, also known by its scientific name as Asimina triloba, is a small tree which can reach up to nine meters high, and usually grows in small groups or thickets.  They tend to grow in floodplains and shady areas with rich organic soils. This plant has teardrop-shaped leaves that have been said to smell like Bell Peppers when they are crushed, and can sometimes grow up to 30 centimetres long!  The leaves are bright green when they first open and droop downwards, giving the tree a tropical appearance.    

Pawpaw, flowers through late May to early June in Ontario and although the flowers are showy, with their six big red-purple petals, you might be more likely to notice their smell first! Like many other plants, Pawpaws are pollinated by insects, but instead of attracting bees, their flowers give off the smell of carrion to attract fruit flies and beetles.   Once the flowers are pollinated, they set edible yellowish-green fruits that are full of big, shiny black seeds.  These fruits can also have a different flavour to them, depending on the conditions they grow in, and are said to taste like custard, mangos, and even bananas.

The discovery of Pawpaw is an excellent find for the NaturalAreas Inventory project and the City of Hamilton for many reasons. First, adding a new tree species to the list of those already found in the city is exciting for Hamilton residents. Second, the discovery of a new Pawpaw population is exciting at a province-wide scale, as these trees are usually found along the northern coast of Lake Erie and throughout the Niagara Region. 

Pawpaw is just one of the many exciting finds resulting from the Natural Areas Inventory Project; don’t forget to keep an eye on the website for more to come! 

Jessica Consigilio
Ecological Land Classification Technician
Hamilton Conservation Authority

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