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Written by: Summer Graham

 

After a long and cold Canadian winter, our thoughts are likely turning towards warmer days for bird watching, hiking, or gardening. But enjoying wildlife and nature doesn't have to wait for spring. When you garden with native plants you might find that wildlife visits your yard year-round as they rely on the seeds and berries from native plants to help them through the winter!

 

Depending on where you are in Canada, here are some native garden species that either produce food or create habitat for wildlife during the winter months:

 

White Spruce

(Picea glauca)

 

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White Spruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bur Oak

(Quercus macrocarpa)

 

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Bur Oak

Gray Dogwood

(Cornus racemosa)

 

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Gray Dogwood

Common Snowberry

(Symphoricarpos albus)

 

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Common Snowberry

Eastern White Cedar

(Thuja occidentalis)

 

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Eastern White Cedar

Hackberry

(Celtis occidentalis)

 

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Hackberry

Winterberry

(Ilex verticillata)

 

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Winterberry

 

Note that not all fruit and seed producing native plants offer winter support to wildlife. The species listed above are unique in that fruit will ripen and persist on the plant through the cold season, rather than fall to the ground and decompose before wildlife can use it. 

 

In addition to a properly maintained bird feeder (frequently washed and refilled to reduce the spread of disease) consider adding some native species to your yard and enjoy watching wildlife year-round!

 

 

Additional Reading:

 L.E.A.F – Six Native Species Ideal for Winter Wildlife Habitat 

Love your Landscape – Support Winter Wildlife With These 6 Berry-Producing Plants 

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Written by: Nicole White

 

World Wildlife Day logo - Stylized globe with silhouettes of plants and animals

 

This year's UN World Wildlife Day celebrates forest-based livelihoods worldwide with the theme  'Forests and Livelihoods: Sustaining People and Planet'.

 

I grew up a family who hunted, fished, and worked in the woods. Later, like many young Canadians, I laboured as a piecework tree planter in the Boreal Forest. But even people I know who have lived their lives in Canada's most urban neighbourhoods feel a connection to woodlands—for example, my Torontonian friends who feel a sense of integration when they visit High Park, the ravines of the Don River, or the Rouge Valley.

 

Forests are a cornerstone of Canadian life.  Everywhere, plants, microbes, birds, fish and a myriad of other creatures—including us—exist as part of a rich biological schema including forests. In Canada, forests sustain our culture, economy, spirituality, and livelihoods in ways that make this land and its people what they are.

 

Thirty-nine percent of Canada's land is forest, and this represents 9% of the world's total forests. The future is unwritten, but these numbers tell us that state of Canadian forests is a major variable in how climate change will play out worldwide.

 

Of course, it's a given that the changes we're already seeing—including severe wildfires, loss of ecological diversity, and the proliferation of invasive species that threaten tree populations—are expected to become more extreme in the coming years.

 

Adding to this, economic changes due to the pandemic, evolving consumer demands (for example, the decline of print newspapers and magazines), and international competition show that the preexisting commercial relationship between Canadian forests and people won't be the way of the future.

 

World Wildlife Day 2021 poster by Gabe Wong - Illustration of Indigenous people, plants, and animals from different cultures

 

Increasingly, many Canadians are recognizing what forests give them, and asking what they can do in return. To me, this year's World Wildlife Day theme (and this inspired illustration for the event by Gabe Wong) expresses a hope that our global communities are affirming their relationships with forests and finding constructive ways forward that honour our interdepedence.

 

What's happening right now in Canada to support this? Our country's issues are diverse and so multifaceted, but these are a few trends I've noticed recently:

 

Indigenous Forestry

Indigenous forest management systems offer expertise informed by thousands of years' experience working with this land. The most recent Canadian census reported that 70% of Indigenous people in Canada live in or near forests. (I've also seen similar statistics for other parts of the world, and globally.) Increasingly, Indigenous people are reclaiming portions of their original territories and asserting their right to participate in self-governance, including forest management.

 

Indigenous involvement in sustainable natural resource management is helping to bring socio-economic benefits to communities and maintain cultural, recreational, and spiritual connections to the land. As reported beautifully in the National Observer, residents of B.C.'s Tŝilhqot'in Nation are using clean energy to develop a new land, water, and wildlife management area, supporting self-determination within their communities.

 

Coastal Guardian Watchmen also provide a model for what responsible land stewardship can look like in Haida Gwaii.

 

It's exciting to see collaborative efforts undertaken to synergize traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and settlers' science-based understanding of nature as complementary information systems.

 

In a recent lecture, Indigenous scholar and assistant professor Myrle Ballard at the University of Manitoba described how Indigenous expertise can inform scientific work.

 

The viewpoint has also been expressed poetically in the best-selling Braiding Sweetgrass, by botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, who espouses radical gratitude to nature by asking that humans consider the question, 'What can I  give in return for the gifts of the earth?'

 

Designing for Forest Health

Landscape architects and horticulturalists are inventing and adapting design models that enhance vitality for people and forests.

 

Miyawaki Forests: Image of tree with captions: Stores carbon, Feeds life, Builds soil, Counters climate change, Cools heat island, Improves health, Cleans air, Dampens sound pollution, Intercepts rainfall, Offers habitat

 

Planting individual trees is great, but what if you could fast-track the growth of a mini forest community in your neighbourhood? CanPlant is piloting a new project on using the Miyawaki Forest technique to do just that in Canada.

 

Wise Use of New Technology

Emerging technologies have their place in this work:

 

Remote sensing and artifical intelligence can give us new eyes in the sky to monitor our expansive Boreal Forest for extreme wildfires.

 

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analysis and interpretitive web cartography are being used to understand and educate Canadians about the value of our northern peatlands.

 

Ex-situ conservation methods carried out in sterile labs are providing hope for at-risk species, with researchers developing tissue culture and seed banking methodologies to preserve genetically unique local flora.

 

Education

I think that Gen Z will grow up more attuned to ecological issues than any previous generation. One educational resource I noticed recently is this kid-friendly website, which includes a colouring book, advocating for the conservation of Wisqoq (Black Ash) populations in our eastern forests.

 

Black Ash

(Fraxinus nigra)

Black Ash is native to Eastern Canada and is used in traditional basket weaving. Populations are currently under threat due to the proliferation of Emerald Ash Borer.

 

View on CanPlant

Black Ash

 

This blog post is a snapshot of my personal reflections, and I'm sure I don't have all the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe you have something to add about how Canadians and forests can work together, or where this is all going.  Do you know of something I should have mentioned here? Let us know!

 

For more information about World Wildlife Day events, which include a film festival, check out the offical website.

 

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By Christina Myrdal

 

What comes to mind when you think of a maple leaf? Maybe you feel a little extra patriotic. Perhaps it brings back memories of a fall hike through the lush orange and red foliage of a Sugar Maple forest. Or maybe it is the comfort of drizzling maple syrup onto your Sunday morning pancakes.

 

Speaking of maple syrup, here in eastern Canada we are known worldwide for our unique ability to produce loads of it. In fact, it may be what we are known best for as Canadians (other than our apologies and the use of the word ‘eh’). Large-scale maple syrup production is limited to a few provinces in eastern Canada where Sugar Maple hardwood forests dominate the natural landscape.

 

In Canada, Sugar Maple’s native range extends from southeastern Manitoba to Nova Scotia, and it is also native to the northeastern US. Sugar Maple is a unique species in that it requires freezing temperatures during the winter to initiate proper dormancy, followed by warm temperatures in the spring for adequate sap production. In addition, seed germination requires extremely low temperatures, around 1°C, which is the lowest of any known forest species. The climate of the northeastern US and eastern Canada provides this optimal temperature range and explains why these forests are so unique to this part of the world.

 

Now, let’s talk about syrup – one of the oldest agricultural products in North America. It is no wonder that the world’s biggest maple syrup producers (Quebec, Vermont, and Ontario) correspond with regions where Sugar Maple hardwood forests are extremely prevalent. Every year for a few short but productive weeks toward the end of winter, repeated freezing nights followed by warm days in the northeastern US and eastern Canada present the perfect environmental conditions for maple sap flow. Winter sap flow in maples is unique because process it is highly water and temperature dependent, as opposed to being triggered by spring leaf growth. Alternating temperatures between below and above freezing cause water in the tree’s stem to expand and contract, generating positive pressure in the stem that pushes sap up the tree and out of the nearest hole, such as a well-placed tap!

 

Winter sap flow occurs in all maple and sycamore (Platanus spp.) species, and a few others including Walnut (Juglans spp.) and Birch (Betula spp.). So, does this mean we can tap these trees too? The short answer is yes. Sugar Maple sap contains the highest sugar content of all maple species (~2-3% on average), so while other maples can be tapped for syrup, it takes more sap (and more effort) because there is less sugar by volume.   Recently, there is a growing Birch syrup industry in Alaska, Russia, and Scandinavia. Walnut tapping has also been experimented with in recent years, but I am not aware of any large-scale operations.  Overall, the most critical factor in determining whether different species are worth tapping is the taste of the result. As a maple syrup producer, I think I’ll stick with maples for now.

 

Interested in learning more about Sugar Maple? Check out its species profile here.

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Written by: Heather Schibli


The benefits of planting trees have been well documented. In fact, several cities have adopted policies to increase urban tree canopy percentages. However, these plantings are typically reserved to publicly owned lands. How can we best maximize the urban canopy? Planting individual trees helps, but what if we could reintroduce forests within our communities?

 

Trees perform one of the most effective strategies to counter the rise of carbon dioxide emissions by sequestering photosynthetic carbon. A recent study has found that the world’s forests sequestered about twice as much carbon dioxide as they emitted over the last two decades. And yet, over these same two decades, global forest cover diminished by 99,119,000 hectares. Many initiatives, inspired by global assessments of tree and forest capacity to curtail emissions, have been proposed to mitigate climate change through tree planting.

 

Miyawaki Forests (MF), small scale densely planted native urban forests, have been successfully grown on private properties in Japan and elsewhere for more than forty years. The Miyawaki Forest method of planting, named for the botanist who developed it,  encourages tree communities to grow upward and to share resources, while the dense structure dissuades human interference. This process of urban afforestation in tight spaces can accelerate climax forest establishment from 100+ years down to 20 years by skipping earlier stages of succession.

 

Consisting of late succession species planted into richly prepared soils, these forest plots boast a minimum diversity of 30 locally native species divided into four structural layer categories; Canopy trees, sub-canopy trees, arborescent trees (small understory trees), and shrubs.

 

The Miyawaki Method

 

Miyawaki Forests are not replacements for our natural forests, but rather, a means to reforest urban and ecologically degraded settings that in turn provide:

 

• Added greenery

• Improved air quality

• Surface stormwater runoff mitigation

• A counter to heat island effect

• Habitat

• And a reduction in noise pollution.


With support from the Landscape Architecture Foundation of Canada (LACF), and in partnership with Carolinian Canada Coalition and Green Venture, CanPlant is piloting a study on Miyawaki Forest establishment in Canada. Our study is well timed! Not only do trees abate climate change, they also benefit human health.

 

There is a growing body of research that supports the link between connections with nature and human wellbeing. This has become increasingly apparent during 2020 with the implementation of ‘lock-down’ policies to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Trends in Canada point to loneliness, anxiety and/or lethargy linked to isolation and increased indoor time. Subsequently, Canadians who reported having more exercise outdoors benefited from better mental health. This is consistent with trends in Europe, and the argument that COVID-19 should be the impetus for creating more green space in urban areas.

 

Our climate and biodiversity crises stem in part from our manipulation of the landscape. Be it extracting crude oil, introducing invasive species, or flattening forests, our profound alteration of our planet’s landscapes has led to astonishing outcomes. It is time we reintroduce what has been stripped by replanting our forests in an effort to heal from the ecological trauma we have caused.

 

Whether grown in public or private spaces, establishing Miyawaki Forests could be part of this solution. It is our hope that this pilot study will help launch a movement of these urban forest plantings across Canada.

 

Successes attributed to MFs include rapid growth and self-sustenance post establishment period. The proven successes of MF establishment, health, vigour, and longevity have inspired CanPlant to assist various environmental organizations test and implement Miyawaki Forest theories and practices in Canada.

 

If you or someone you know is considering planting a Miyawaki Forest, let us know! We would love to collaborate!

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Written by: Christina Myrdal

 

Known for its sweet sap and brightly coloured leaves in the fall, Sugar Maple is an abundant and ecologically unique species in the hardwood forests of eastern North America.

 

Sugar Maple is a relatively slow-growing, large shade tree that can grow in a variety of habitats, from forest/woodland to meadows and savannahs. This species is fairly sensitive to pollution, drought and salt, and grows best where soil water is abundant to facilitate sap production.

 

Sugar Maple leaves are palmate with five lobes and its flowers are yellowish-green, long-stalked dropping clusters. It can often be confused for Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), a non-native species, however Norway Maple has white sap which can be observed by pulling a leaf off at the petiole.  Here are some additional facts about Sugar Maple:

  • Form: Tree (deciduous)
  • Size: 20-35 m tall
  • Sun/Shade: Full sun to full shade
  • Soil: Sand, Loam, Humus enriched
  • Habitat: Forest, Woodland, Savannah, Forest Edge, Prairie/Meadow/Field, Riparian
  • Canadian Distribution: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (see map)

 

Sugar Maple

(Acer saccharum)

 

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Sugar Maple is unique in that it requires cold winter temperatures, well below freezing, for proper dormancy. It also requires a very low temperature to initiate seed germination, approximately 1°C on average, which is the lowest of any other forest species. Its requirement for cold winters and warm summers is why it is so prevalent in eastern Canada and the northeastern US. Warming temperatures in recent years due to climate change are threatening more southern distribution of Sugar Maple that rely on these cold winters, which over time may lead to a northern shift in its geographical range.   This could potentially have devastating economic impacts to the US maple syrup industry.

 

Sugar Maple has always been an important economic asset to Canada, with Quebec and Ontario being two of the largest maple syrup producers worldwide. During the 2019 season, Quebec alone harvested 12 million gallons of syrup (that’s about 480 million gallons of sap!) It is no wonder why Canada is world-renowned for our maple products.

 

If you live in Ontario, you may be interested to know that you can find the oldest known Sugar Maple in Pelham (Niagara Region) at Comfort Maple Conservation Area. The trunk is a whopping 6 metres in diameter, and it is estimated to be between 400 and 500 years old!

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Written by: Summer Graham

 

The UN has declared the years 2021-2030 the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, which aims to halt the degradation of ecosystems and restore them to a natural state. This ambitious undertaking will contribute to achieving global goals set to enhance livelihoods, counteract climate change, and stop biodiversity loss and collapse.

 

Healthy ecosystems like forests, wetlands, and mangroves contribute to the halting and reversal of climate change, absorbing up to one third of global CO2 emissions. With a projected global population of 9 billion by 2050, healthier ecosystems will allow us to feed growing populations without removing more natural features from the landscape. Restoration also has potential to create sustainable, green jobs which will be essential for the recovery and creation of sustainable societies post-COVID-19 global pandemic. In addition to these benefits to humans, almost 1 million plant and animal species on the brink of extinction can be brought back by restoring healthy habitats for them to thrive in.

 

 Currently, 57 countries, subnational governments, and private organizations have committed to start restoring over 170 million hectares of land within the decade. A variety of landscapes and ecosystems will be targeted including farmlands, forests, waters, mountains, grasslands, peatlands, and urban areas. The 10 actions highlighted for the decade of restoration work include:

 

  • Empower a global movement
  • Finance restoration on the ground
  • Set the right incentives
  • Celebrate leadership
  • Shift behaviours
  • Invest in research
  • Build up capacity
  • Celebrate a future of restoration
  • Build up the next generation
  • Listen and learn

 

Read, watch, and explore the resources below to learn more about the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and visit https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/ to learn how you can get involved!

 

Read:

IUCN - Decade on Ecosytem Restoration 

Rainforest Partnership - 2021-2030 Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, UN Announces 

Decade on Restoration - Tree planting crash course 

 

Watch:

Webinar on the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration

10 years to Heal the Planet

The Morton Arboretum, what is ecological restoration? 

 
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Written by: Summer Graham

 

Did you know you can use CanPlant to create customized species lists for your native plant projects? Once you set up an account using your email address, you can view, edit, and add species to your saved lists, and export them as either a PDF including species details and photos, or as an Excel file.

 

After you use our filter feature to find species with the attributes you are looking for, our customizable plant lists help you keep track of and sort species for any application you can think of! Here are just some of the many ways you can make use of the species list feature on CanPlant to help you get inspired:

 

  • Making a list for shopping at your local native plant garden center (start in the winter and be ready to go when spring comes around!);
  • Creating lists of common and available species for restoration projects;
  • Keeping track of native garden species for planting by habitat type (eg. Pollinator garden, boulevard planting, wetland/wet meadow restoration);
  • Make a list of rapidly establishing native species to stabilize a recently cleared area;
  • Creating study sets to help learn and review species names and ID;
  • Keep a list of species you identified in a natural area you visited;
  • Create a “wish list” of native species you are looking for as donations towards a low budget or charity planting project;
  • Help a friend or neighbour make a list of native species to replace non-native/invasive species in their garden;
  • Create a “watch list” of unwanted invasive species in your province;
  • Develop a list of “acceptable species” to distribute to homeowners adjacent to a sensitive natural area;
  • And so much more!

 

TIP: If you are going to create multiple lists, make sure to give each a unique name and use the “description” section to add a brief note on what the list will be used for!

 

Now that you have some inspiration for creating species lists in CanPlant, head to our species page and start planning your next native species planting today! 

 

 

 

 
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Written by: Mary Anne Young

 

 

What’s not to like about a plant that flowers while other plants are shutting down for the season?

 

American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), is an understory shrub of North America’s eastern deciduous forests. Although it does have interesting wavy leaves which add character in the forest, or woodland landscape design, throughout the summer, its real beauty is in the late fall when its yellow fall colour drops and it begins to bloom. Few native plants in North America flower in this season, so it is always a delight to me to find a Witch Hazel in full bloom when other plants are winding down for the winter.

 

 

 

The flowers are unique, consisting of twisted thread-like petals with a pleasant scent. It also has an interesting seed dispersal mechanism where the woody seed capsules slowly mature over the course of a year and when it dries to a certain extent splits open to shoot 1-2 black seeds explosively up to 6m (20 feet) in every direction.

 

 

 

Here are some additional details about this fascinating species:

 

Form: Woody plant, medium to large shrub
Size: 3 – 4m tall and wide
Sun/Shade: Partial shade to full shade
Soil: Clay, Sand, Loam
Habitat: Deciduous forests, stream banks, clearings
Canadian Distribution: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island (see map above, from VASCAN)

                                                                

                                 

                                                                         

American Witch Hazel

(Hamamelis virginiana

 

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Witch Hazel is probably most popularly known for its use in medicine historically and today, where its leaves, bark, and twigs are used to make extracts and tinctures. Its tendency to grow along stream banks may have led to the myth that underground water could be found using a forked Witch Hazel branch (water witching).

 

Understory shrubs of the eastern deciduous forest have a tendency to be overlooked in favour of the delicate spring flowering wildflowers underfoot, or the towering trees overhead. However I challenge you to keep an eye out for Witch Hazel this fall as it puts on a show unrivalled by other forest plants at this time of the year.

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Written by: Carl-Adam Wegenschimmel

 

Honey Mushroom

 

One of the greatest adversaries to garden and wild plants is the great host of pathogens that regularly attack them. These organisms can belong to a variety of groups, including; fungi, bacteria, nematodes, and viruses. As human beings, we often consider the economic costs these organisms have on our economy, particularly in the agricultural, garden, and forest industries. However, pathogens also play natural roles in our ecosystems, killing sick plants and controlling the population growth of certain species that could otherwise dominate a community.

 

With the growing concern and insight into climate change, understanding how these understudied groups may affect plants and ecosystems is becoming increasingly important. One of the most noticeable of these groups is fungi!

 

Fungi attack their plant hosts in a variety of ways, some may first kill their hosts and feed on dead material (necrotrophs), which enter their hosts through wounds and natural openings. Other fungi feed on living tissue (biotrophs) which often enter their hosts in more specialized ways (Doehlemon et al. 2017).

 

Ulmus americana

Necrotrophs can sometimes be very destructive, especially when they are invasive species. A well-known example is Dutch Elm Disease (Ophiostoma novo-ulmi), which has severely reduced Elm tree abundance in North America. In this case, the fungus attacks trees with the aid of insects like the Native Elm Bark Beetle (Hylurgopinus rufipes) and the introduced European Elm Bark Beetle (Scolytus multistriatus). Dutch Elm Disease is believed to have originally been introduced from Asia, and so our native Elm trees have evolved little resistance to the fungus (Hubbes 1999). American Elm (Ulmus americana) and Rock Elm (Ulmus thomasii) have suffered the worst with Red Elm (Ulmus rubra) being slightly more resistant. The disease is spread to Elm trees when the beetles feed on twigs in spring time entering and slowly spreading into the trunk of the trees, blocking vascular tissues and eventually killing the host. The beetles are attracted to the diseased elms for breeding and subsequently bore holes into the infected Elms. Eggs are laid inside infected Elms where newly hatching beetles pick up spores and continue the cycle. 

 

 

Chrysomyxa pyrolae

Biotrophic fungi require living hosts in order to feed and have evolved specifically to interact with a living organism rather than a dead one. One of the most visible groups of these plant parasites are the rust fungi, which is one of the largest orders of fungi containing more than 8000 species worldwide (Lorrain et al. 2018). Some rusts cause little damage to their hosts whereas other species are better referred to as hemibiotrophs, which start off as seemingly benign biotrophs but eventually kill their host and act as necrotophic fungi (Koeck et al. 2011).

 

 

 

 

Some hemibiotrophic rusts are known to cause devastating damage to crops. Other species of rusts are rarely seen but have complex lifestyles like Chrysomyxa pyrolae seen here (right) on American Pyrola (Pyrola americana), which cycles between its Pyrola and Spruce (Picea spp.) hosts. Although this species does not necessarily kill its hosts, it has been observed to negatively affect seed crop in spruce trees (Sutherland et al, 2011).

 

There is still much to learn about the complex interactions between fungal pathogens and their plant hosts. Although with the continuous increase in scientific knowledge and technology, our understanding of these interactions is becoming clearer. Citizen science apps (like EDDMapS Ontario and iNaturalist) have also helped document the occurrence of these species, and may serve to help record the distribution of invasive species and maybe even prevent the spread of early invasions.

 

 

References

 

Doehlemann G, Ökmen B, Zhu W and Sharon A. 2017. Plant Pathogenic Fungi. Microbiol Spectr. 2017

Jan;5(1).

 

Hubbes M. 1999. The American elm and Dutch elm disease. Forest. Chron. 75:265–273.

 

Koeck M, Hardham A. R.  and Dodds. 2011. The role of effectors of biotrophic and hemibiotrophic fungi in infection. Cell Microbiol. 2011 Dec; 13(12): 1849–1857. Published online 2011 Sep 14. 

 

Lorrain C, Gonçalves dos Santos K.C, Germain H, Hecker A and Duplessis S. 2018. Advances in understanding obligate biotrophy in rust fungi. New Phytologist (2019) 222: 1190–1206.

 

Sutherland R, Hopkinson S and Farris S.H. 2011. Inland spruce cone rust, Chrysomyxa pirolata, in Pyrola asarifolia and cones of Picea glauca, and morphology of the spore stages. Canadian Journal of Botany 62(11):2441-2447 · January 2011

 

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Written by: Nicole White

 

When you call into mind a picture of this country, there's a good chance you're picturing the Boreal Forest. I know I can't help but picture these northern woodlands, which were idealized and made famous by the Group of Seven's influential 20th century landscape paintings, and are perhaps now hardwired into many people's minds as the definitive image of our land's wilderness.

 

The Jack Pine, by Tom Thompson

The Jack Pine, by Tom Thompson, 1916-17. The National Gallery of Canada.

 

However, while the Boreal Forest is vast, it represents only one of our incredibly diverse ecological communities, which include rainforests, alpine regions, and even desert landscapes! The expansive ecology of our country can be classified into 15 terrestrial ecozones (learn about these on our Find My Ecozone web map), or eight forest regions. Within these, there's a lot to discover.

 

The Acadian Forest

 

One forest region, unknown to many Canadians, is found in our eastern temperate broadleaf and mixed forests. These comprise a unique system generally called the Acadian Forest by settlers. Even as someone who'd grown up on the East Coast, this was something I'd never heard of until pursuing a horticultural diploma and becoming more interested in local species.

 

Formed as glaciers retreated north out of what we now call the Maritime provinces, Quebec, and New England, the Acadian Forest is a relatively small area, only perhaps 8% the size of the Boreal Forest. However, nested within it are several distinct and variable habitats. In these communities, flora and fauna work together in ways not found anywhere else, representative species show their understated beauty, and some very rare plants take refuge.

 

Extend of the Acadian Forest

Approximate extent of the Acadian Forest.

 

This area also roughly corresponds to the extents of the Wabanaki Territory, and has been understood by the Mi'kmaq and other Indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands to be the place where the sun is first welcomed by the people of Turtle Island. The name 'Wabanaki' means 'People of the Dawn'.

 

Approximate extent of Wapane’kati. This map is derived from a more detailed graphic found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabanaki_Confederacy

 

Acadian Forest Habitats

 

Since the arrival of European settlers, many forested areas in the Acadian Forest have been lost to logging or agriculture, and disease has taken its toll on native Beech and Ash populations. Less than 1% of the forests prior to colonization remain today, but Hemlocks of over 100 years old can still be seen in preserved areas such as the Kentville Ravine in Nova Scotia.

 

An East Coast gardener looking for native trees to include in their landscapes could consider the following key species (click the View Plant button for more information on each):

 

Red Spruce

(Picea rubens)

 

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Red Spruce

Yellow Birch

(Betula alleghaniensis)

 

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Yellow Birch

Northern Red Oak

(Quercus rubra)

 

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Northern Red Oak

Sugar Maple

(Acer saccharum)

 

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Sugar Maple

Eastern Hemlock

(Tsuga canadensis)

 

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Eastern Hemlock

 

Understated beauty can be found in the bogs and wetlands of eastern woodlands, where Spaghnum (Peat) Moss, edible plants including Blueberry and Cranberry (both in the genus Vaccinium), and Rhodora, our native rhododendron, thrive in the acidic soil. Orchids including Rose Pogonia, White Fringe Orchid, and Dragons-Mouth are on display here, as well as carnivorous Pitcher Plants and Sundews. In marshes, Blue-flag, Wild Calla, and Waterlilies are common.

 

Roundleaf Sundew

(Drosera rotundifolia)

 

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Round-leaf Sundew

Rose Pogonia

(Pogonia ophioglossoides)

 

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Rose Pogonia

Waterlily

(Nymphae odorata)

 

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Waterlily

 

Rugged coastal area such as Peggy's Cove and Cape Split harbour lichens, mosses, and other flora adapted to growing in these wild places where almost no soil exists.  Plants include Rock Polypody (actually a small fern), Labrador Tea, and Sedums (which I've seen tenaciously clinging to vertical cliff faces overlooking the Atlantic)! Trees in these habitats tend to assume a stunted form to withstand high winds and salt spray.

 

Rock Polypody

(Polypodium virginianum)

 

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Rock Polypody

Creeping Juniper

(Juniperus horizontalis)

 

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Creeping Juniper

Labrador Tea

(Rhododendron groenlandicum)

 

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Labrador Tea

 

Moving inland, you might find sandy heath barrens, areas which could not be more different from the stereotypical idea of Canadian wilderness! Sand barrens have historically been generated by natural wild fires, but research in the Annapolis Valley suggests that in modern times, they've established themselves on abandoned farmland. These rare areas are now threatened by agriculture and ATV traffic. Pines, Poplars, and ericaceous plant species take root in these dry, nutrient-poor soils, as well as uncommon plants like the provincially endangered Canada Frostweed (Crocanthemum canadense).

 

Canada Frostweed. Photograph by Melinda Thompson.

 

The Acadian Forest continually offers surprises for anyone willing to look for them. For example, the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens (Geum peckii), which appears in two small disjunct locations on Digby Neck and Brier Island, popular whale-watching destinations in the Bay of Fundy. This plant exists on just one other location on earth -- alpine habitats in New Hampshire's White Mountains. We don't know why this special plant has chosen to persist in two very different habitats and nowhere else, but if we can continue to protect it and learn from it, it may have a lot to teach us.

 

LEARN MORE

 

A visit to the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens' constructed habitats (which they describe as 'living classrooms') in Wolfville, Nova Scotia would be an ideal way to start learning and exploring the Acadian Forest system. You could also go about this virtually by exploring observations and projects from this part of the world on iNaturalist.

 

If you're a plant person on the East Coast, you can help make the CanPlant database better reflect the biodiversity of these communities by submitting your plant photos. If you have any other suggestions or questions, let us know!

 

Further Reading

 

 

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