Carlington Woods is a natural wonder in the middle of the city.

by Bev McBride

What a treat it was to go on the Carlington Woods Ramble this morning! This was a joint event with the OFNC and the Friends of Carlington Hill. Convener-leader Owen Clarkin met the group at the trailhead. It was a ramble-style walk, so the pressure was off the leader to find all the good stuff. Participants were encouraged to explore and point out items of interest for the group. That approach, combined with the many knowledgeable people in attendance, made for a most enriching trip (and the leader did end up pointing out quite a lot).

A Gromwell (Lithosperum species, probably L. officinale) on its way to iNaturalist

Carlington Woods is a natural wonder in the middle of the city. It is mostly upland in character, well-drained, on limestone close to the surface. Bedrock exposures in places create an alvar-like environment. In other places, piled rock, probably from quarrying, create a landscape similar to an alpine glacial moraine. As well, there are many wooded trails crossing flat sections or passing by cool, shaded escarpment faces. Club members might be familiar with the limestone quarry here, near where Clyde Avenue’s northern section ends. Common Ravens nest on the quarry walls. Indeed, we watched three ravens chasing each other above the huge, fenced-off, water-filled pit that is now used as a snow dump.

Some OFNC members know this place as Clyde Woods. It has, at times, been a birding hotspot. It was once famous for wintering owls, before housing development changed the character. Residents of nearby communities have in recent years put a lot of energy into learning about and publicizing the fine natural attributes of the area. It is a lovely setting for a group nature walk. I would encourage more of this type of activity here.

Our group noted intensification of higher-impact recreational activities now in progress, some official. Also, citizens have, on their own initiative, been breaking and clearing trails for mountain biking, further fragmenting the woodlands. A paved bicycle path has crossed through for decades now, part of the city’s greater network of cycle paths, so the site is easily accessible by bicycle. I’d encourage people to leave their bikes (locked securely) and enjoy the area on foot. With its varied and rocky terrain, this is an ideal site to give your feet and ankles an agility-enhancing walking treatment so necessary to counterbalance time spent walking on flat concrete and indoor floors. There are even a few steep hills to give your calves a super stretch.

Contemplating a rocky slope

Today’s participants discussed how the vegetation was typical of a limestone upland, and how it was possible to find some native, limestone-loving species here. As with many urban natural areas, there are many introduced, naturalized plant species present. Few herbaceous plants were flowering, but we did note some interesting trees. There are quite a few specimens of Bitternut Hickory(Carya cordiformis, see large, old one in photo above) and some rather healthy-looking Butternuts (Juglans cinerea) and Eastern Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra). Owen also showed us some hybrids of Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) and Siberian Elm (Ulmus pumila); a native species hybridizing with an introduced one. The result is known as Ware’s Elm (Ulmus x intermedia). As Owen pointed out, the leaves are intermediate in appearance between tiny Siberian Elm leaves and relatively large Slippery Elm leaves.  At least one of these trees was large and old, suggesting this type of hybridization is not new.

I hope the OFNC visits this area again. It’s not easy being a large natural area surrounded by urbanization. You take a beating from all directions. It’s great to see community members and naturalists embracing this one.