Dandelion Aspectators (Try This Anywhere!)
Theme: Advocacy; Environment; Health & Wellness; Citizen Science
Accessibility: Family-friendly; Fun For Kids;
By Dana Buchbinder
Citizen Science Coordinator, EcoSpark
Did you know that scientists use data about when and where dandelions bloom to study climate change patterns? Now you can be the plant scientist! EcoSpark leads a self-guided excursion for citizen scientists to investigate aspect, shade, and other fun ideas in botany. Use these map points or observe from anywhere. Photograph dandelions and report your sightings to inaturalist.ca/projects/ecospark-participant-observations. Adapted from PlantWatch.
Everyone can participate in citizen science observations anywhere (learn more at ecospark.ca). This is 1 suggested route for a rigorous family excursion including some dandelion observation locations, but you can participate in this simple scientific study by observing dandelions anywhere.
Stop 1: Look to the hills
Address: Christie Pits Park (Christie St. and Barton Ave.), or anywhere with north and south aspect
Description: This time of year dandelions are everywhere, seeking sun. The direction a plant faces is called its aspect. Look at the north-facing and south-facing hills from the sidewalk near Christie Pits Park or anywhere and notice how many dandelions are blooming with yellow flowers on each hill. Photosynthesis depends on the light level and in Canada the sun shines from the south. (In addition, the slope steepness matters. Why do you think that is?) Snap close-up dandelion photos for inaturalist.ca/projects/ecospark-participant-observations
Stop 2: Addressing flowers
Address: Wychwood Barns Park (Benson Ave. near Christie St.), or any east-west street in Toronto
Stop 3: Exposure to light: SHADY
Address: Nordheimer Ravine (St. Clair Ave. W. and Wells Hill Ave.) or anywhere shaded
Description: Are there more dandelions blooming on the (sunny) north side or (shady) south side of your street? (Fun tip: house numbers on the north side of Toronto streets are even, south side are odd.) Walk east and west along the residential streets near Wychwood Barns Park (home of EcoSpark’s office) or anywhere in Toronto to see if even versus odd house number relates to blooming dandelions! Dandelions were introduced, but now they grow on their own. What other introduced or cultivated plant species can you find? Are there native species as well?
Description: Enter the shady trails down into the forests of Nordheimer Ravine to observe plants in full shade. Are dandelions blooming yet down in the relative darkness? Identify their leaves before the tell-tale flowers arrive by viewing images at www.naturewatch.ca/plantwatch/dandelion/. Fun fact! According to PlantWatch, “the name dandelion comes from the French, dents de lion, which means ‘teeth of the lion,’ and refers to the jagged edges on the leaves of the dandelion plant.”
Stop 4: Exposure to light: SUNNY
Address: Spadina Road Park (Spadina Rd. and Russell Hill Dr.) or anywhere sunny
Stop 5: A Plant’s View of the City
Address: Baldwin Steps (Davenport Rd. and Spadina Ave.) or anywhere with perspective
Description: Make your way to the sunnier areas or Spadina Road Park and the sidewalks of Spadina Rd. to find out if dandelions in full sun have gotten a head start blooming. Can you find any in your area that are already coming to seed? Look for the white puff balls that children like to blow loose in the summer. People who harvest and eat dandelions prefer early, spring growth before the leaves get too bitter.
Description: Complete your tour at Baldwin Steps, which overlook the city. From this vista consider the swaths of new green growth and ask yourself what our city is like for the plants that live here. From dandelions to towering trees, plants hold information about the ecological health of nearby nature: our habitat. How much water and sunlight do they need? How do green spaces support human health? How does road salt and other pollution affect vegetation? Which species are native and which are invasive? Observant scientists like you help reveal these mysteries! Remember to submit your dandelion data to inaturalist.ca/projects/ecospark-participant-observations. Learn more about citizen science and please consider supporting our programs at ecospark.ca.