Lee Valley & Veritas

Gardening Newsletter
  Volume 12, Issue 6 - June 2017  
Do You Know Your Tree?
Did you know that Canada, each of its provinces and two of its territories have an official tree? The exception is the territory of Nunavut, which occupies an area mostly above the tree line. Let me introduce you to a special group of trees that were selected as arboreal emblems.
Sugar maple
Sugar maple
Not only is it beautiful, but the sugar maple, Canada's national tree, also produces sap used to make maple syrup.
Canada's National Tree
Among the ten native maple species growing in Canada, the sugar maple's leaf was selected as our national symbol adorning the Canadian flag. Although the flag was inaugurated in 1965, it took more than 30 years to recognize the sugar maple tree (Acer saccharum) as Canada's arboreal emblem.

The sugar maple can be found in the Maritime Provinces, Quebec and Ontario. It is a medium to large tree reaching 35 metres (115 feet). Like most maples, its foliage turns red-gold in fall. Its gray-brown bark is divided into long, vertical ridges.

The tree is well-known as a source of sap. Early each spring, the sap is collected to produce maple syrup, a Canadian delicacy.

Provincial Trees
Western red cedar
With age, a western red cedar becomes an impressively large tree.
British Columbia
British Columbia adopted the western red cedar (Thuja plicata) as its official tree in 1988. Native to British Columbia and Alberta, it has multiple common names such as giant cedar, western thuja, giant or western arborvitae and shinglewood. The giant cedar is, in fact, not a cedar at all but it is definitely a giant that can achieve a height of up to 60 metres (197 feet). It has yellowish-green leaves and reddish-brown bark that is shredded and vertically ridged.

Western red cedar is an important timber tree. Its wood is valued for its distinctive appearance, aroma and durability. Shakes and shingles are often made of red cedar, and it is considered one of the best building woods for boats, canoes, poles and posts.

In 1984, neighboring Alberta selected the lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) as its arboreal symbol. The tree got its name from explorers who saw indigenous peoples using the pines as poles for tepees. The tree is native to western Alberta and most of British Columbia. It forms a medium-sized, slender tree with a straight trunk. It also features twisted needles that come in bundles of two and short purplish-brown cones.

The lodgepole pine played a significant role in Alberta's early history, providing railway ties for the railroad that linked the province to eastern Canada. Today it is used mainly in general construction and for wood pulp.

The white birch (Betula papyrifera) became the official tree of Saskatchewan in 1988. It is also known as the canoe birch since some indigenous peoples used its bark to build canoes. The bark was also a suitable substitute for paper; hence, the other common name, the paper birch.

White birch grows across Canada and north to the tree line. Mature trees feature distinctive white bark and spectacular golden fall color. Like sugar maples, white birches can be tapped in spring to make a sweet syrup. Compared to maples, however, it takes twice as much sap to make birch syrup; consequently, it is hard to find and more expensive.

The tree's wood is often used as veneer or plywood and is a popular choice for furniture. The hard but flexible wood is also suitable for making spears, snowshoes and sleds.

Manitoba designated the white spruce (Picea glauca) as its arboreal emblem in 1991. The tree has a number of common names such as cat, skunk and pasture spruce. Geography-related names include Black Hills, western white, Alberta white or simply Canadian spruce. The conifer grows across Canada and north to the Arctic Circle. It forms a large, conical-shaped tree with green to bluish-green needles. The relatively small, slender cones are light brown. The mature bark is dark gray and scaly.

Historically, white spruce provided shelter and fuel. Its roots were used for baskets, canoes and boughs for bedding. The tree's resin and needles were used for medicinal purposes. Nowadays, the tree is important for the production of wood pulp and lumber.
Eastern white pine
The eastern white pine features long, soft needles with a bluish tinge.
Made famous by the Group of Seven, the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) became Ontario's provincial tree in 1984. (It should not be confused with the western white pine (Pinus monticola), a soft pine of western North America.) Eastern white pine grows from Newfoundland to Manitoba. Young trees usually assume a dense conical shape that opens up with age. When mature, the white pine forms a broad, oval, flat-topped outline. This majestic pine is definitely the tallest tree in eastern Canada, usually reaching 30 metres (100 feet). It can be identified by its bundles of five long, soft, bluish-green needles. Its grayish-brown bark is broken into broad ridges.

During Ontario's early days, the eastern white pine was an important source of income and trade. Nowadays, it is regarded as the most valuable softwood lumber in eastern Canada. It's mainly used for doors, siding, panelling, furniture and cabinetwork.

The yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) was adopted by Quebec in 1993. The tree can be found in Newfoundland, the Maritimes, southern Quebec and Ontario. It is the largest of the eastern birches, reaching a height of 25 metres (80 feet). The tree is identified by its yellowish-bronze exfoliating bark. Like all birches, it develops beautiful golden-yellow fall foliage.

Yellow birch is one of the principal hardwoods used in acetate of lime, charcoal, tar, oils and distillation of wood alcohol. It is also suitable for furniture, cabinetwork, flooring and doors.
Balsam fir
The balsam fir makes a popular Christmas tree.
New Brunswick
In 1987, New Brunswick proclaimed the balsam fir (Abies balsamea) as an official symbol. Commonly known as the Canada balsam, this fir is indigenous to every province except British Columbia. Its needles are dark green on top and white below. Mature trees bear striking purple-blue cones that, like the gray bark, are often blistered with resin. The Canada balsam forms a dense, compact, often spire-like crown that makes it a popular Christmas tree selection. It is also important in the lumber and pulp and paper industries.

Nova Scotia
The red spruce (Picea rubens) was adopted by Nova Scotia in 1988. The conifer, also known as the eastern or yellow spruce, is a common sight in the Maritime provinces. It is a medium-sized conical tree with yellowish-green needles and chocolate-brown cones. The bark is dark gray and furrowed. Its wood is ideal for making stringed musical instruments such as guitars, mandolins and violins.
Red oak
The beautiful red oak is a common sight in eastern Canada.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island was the first province to select an arboreal emblem, the red oak (Quercus rubra), in 1905. This large deciduous tree is commonly seen in eastern Canada from Lake Superior to Nova Scotia. It is valued for its symmetrical shape, red fall foliage and pollution tolerance. The lobed leaves of the red oak are large, and the gray bark has unbroken, vertical ridges.

Another key feature of the tree is its capped acorn. For indigenous peoples, acorns were a vital source of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Additionally, they could be stored over the winter due to their high tannin content. Today, red oak is used for furniture and flooring.
Black spruce
The black spruce prefers wet, poorly drained sites.
Newfoundland and Labrador
One of the principal species of the boreal forest, the black spruce (Picea mariana) was proclaimed as an official symbol of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1993. It is common across Canada, including the Arctic Circle. This conifer prefers wet, poorly drained sites; hence, its two common names – the bog and swamp spruce. It has dark-green needles and reddish-brown bark that features large thin scales. Black spruce produces short principal branches and a dense, oddly shaped crown.

The conifer is known as Canada's paper tree thanks to its long fibers. For centuries, the tree has been used to make healing salves, beverages, and binding material for birch-bark canoes.

The subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) was selected as Yukon's provincial tree in 2001. The tree is native to the mountainous Yukon interior and central British Columbia. It features bluish-green needles with rounded tips and scaly, gray-brown bark. Its short, stiff branches slope downward, allowing them to withstand heavy loads of snow and ice. The subalpine fir's height can range from 6 metres to 30 metres (20 feet to 100 feet). Its form is often twisted and contorted.

The tree's needles produce a lemony-tasting tea, a traditional cold remedy of the indigenous peoples. Its sap has been used as a medicine for lung ailments. Nowadays, it is mainly used for wood pulp and lumber.
The tamarack, or larch, is deciduous, unlike most conifers.
Northwest Territories
The conifer with the widest range in North America, the tamarack (Larix laricina), was adopted in 1999 as the arboreal emblem of the Northwest Territories. It is commonly called the larch and can be found in all Canadian provinces and territories. Unlike most conifers, the larch is deciduous. Every late fall, the needles turn gold and drop. Early each spring, new green needles appear in dense, brush-like tufts. Larch bark is scaly and reddish-brown. It grows as a straight, slender tree with a conical crown.

Larch wood is extremely durable and rot-resistant. Tannin from its bark is used for tanning leather. The tamarack is also a prime source of firewood and is used in making poles and posts.

Now that you have been introduced to your official tree, try to find some in your neighborhood. And if you have a bare spot in your garden, consider filling it with your provincial tree.

Text and photos by Gina Dobrodzicka

Gina Dobrodzicka is a freelance writer and trained horticulturalist who lives on Vancouver Island. Her website is www.gdgardendesign.com.
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