What better way to break our hibernation than with a winter tree tour? This past Saturday we got together with Friends of Trinity Bellwoods Park and over 90 participants from across Toronto and neighbouring cities. It was mild, the sun was shining and although our toes started to freeze as we approached the end, we were assured by our guide, Mark Sherman, that the buds were a sign that spring warmth was on its way!
The most obvious challenge with identifying species in the winter is the absence of leaves. However, as Mark pointed out, not all trees drop their leaves. We all know evergreens such as spruce, pine and cedar keep their needles all year, but even some beech and oak species hold on to their browned leaves until new ones replace them. Knowing what other characteristics to look for can make winter tree identification a walk in the park.
Mark shared many helpful identifiers: elm trees have a vase-like shape; London plane (Platanus × acerifolia) and American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) have camouflage-like bark; and bitternut hickories (Carya cordiformis) have bright, sulphur-yellow buds. Two buds at the end of twigs (terminal buds) points to lilac (Syringa vulgaris) or Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), whereas three or more are characteristic of oaks. We learned that ginkgos are remnants of the Jurassic Period and that the big bitternut hickory next to the tennis court is the oldest tree in the park (thanks to the community that rallied to push the court’s construction over a few feet).
I observed a strong sense of community during the tour. People shared stories with me about their summer jobs teaching kids to weave willow twigs into baskets, about how serviceberries are a great a
ddition to a cream cheese icing, and for one young man, about how this tour was the first step to a future career in forestry. Though at first the trees seemed to be the main attraction, the people of this neighbourhood made the event memorable. And their keen interest in community forestry? Well, that was the serviceberry-icing on the cake.
You can take a tree tour by keeping an eye on LEAF event listings here
. Don’t miss the next exciting walk through our urban forest!