O Canada! Where Pines and Maples Grow

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Photo Glen Spurrell
Attractive beech tree at the trail entrance at the fairgrounds. Note how it holds dry leaves into the winter.

Life is full of surprises. And a surprise for me recently was that my last column (Giants among Us, January 2017) elicited the most comments from readers yet. But why was I surprised?  Trees are all around us and are both necessary and beautiful.

And so let me build on this interest by writing a second column on trees. And I’m thankful because I was distressed having covered only three kinds in that column.

The second verse of O Canada (yes, there is a second verse!) begins, “O Canada! Where pines and maples grow”. That’s good enough for me!  So let me take pine, maple and beech as the trees for this column–beech, perhaps my favourite tree, will then round out the number to an even half-dozen.

The only pine I will deal with is the Eastern White Pine. Look for a tall evergreen with long branches reaching  up and out; the needles  are long and soft and the bark deeply fissured. This is the provincial tree of Ontario. It was and still is the most valuable tree for the softwood lumber industry in eastern Canada. In colonial times it was reserved for the masts of the Royal Navy ships. Because of its value we don’t see many majestic specimens. In Medd’s Mountain I have been able to find only 3 medium sized trees.

Here in Canada we have ten species of maple; but for our area the Sugar Maple is the most common and most loved. It is the national tree of Canada, with a stylized version of its leaf on our flag. It may be our national tree but strangely it is only native to less than half of Canada (east from the very tip of south-east Manitoba to the Maritimes but not the northern parts of this range and not Newfoundland and Labrador). Other species are found in every province across Canada but none extends up into the territories. The Sugar Maple is familiar to everyone here because of its brilliantly coloured leaves in the fall and the delicious maple syrup and maple sugar it yields. Also our villages are lucky enough to have mature specimens as street trees. I was reading only recently that the very large and old maples you see along farmers’ fields and roads came about because in the 1880s farmers were paid by the government to transplant saplings from their woodlots and forests.

My third tree for this column is the American Beech. It is a very attractive species that is easily recognised because of its long, graceful buds, its smooth silvery bark and its habit of holding dry leaves during the winter. Historically its nuts (mast) were a favourite and important food for the now extinct Passenger Pigeon. Old reports tell of huge flocks of these birds perching to eat, causing massive limbs to break under their weight.

Readers’ comments about the last column were diverse and interesting. One reader wrote to tell me that that cedar tree with the 16 foot girth was probably about 180 years old. I was hoping it would be older but nevertheless I learned that there are ways of estimating a tree’s age without chopping it down and counting the growth rings. Another reader telephoned me to recommend a new book at the library. I have taken it out and I’m learning many things such as the recently discovered ways that trees communicate with each other. More about that some other time.

So whether you’re out for a walk or you’re simply gazing out your window there are trees to see and admire. Get out! And enjoy!

By Glen Spurrell

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