Monday, August 16, 2010

Heritage: The Trees of Queen's Park

Todd Irvine spoke about one of his favourite trees, a 250 year-old red oak, to a Heritage Toronto walk in Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On 11-September-1860, Edward, Prince of Wales, opened Queen's Park in what has become central Toronto. 150 years later, Queen's Park is getting quite a bit of attention, including a Heritage Toronto tour of the grounds focusing on its botanical history led by well-known local urban forestry consultant, Todd Irvine, last Saturday.

Horse chestnut trees such as this later planting observed on 14-August-2010 once lined University Avenue in the area of Queen's Park

Once, the area around Queen's Park had been full of white pines and red oak trees. When the legislative assembly building was built, many of these trees were removed to make way for the building and to open the area to its south. However, to the north, the forest was initially left in place, meaning that 250 year-old red oak trees have survived, now some of Irvine's favourite trees in the park. White pines are being replanted, so while some oaks are not in good health, the northern part of the park may slowly start to resemble its original appearance. In the meantime, many waves of different appearances have graced the park. Once, horse chestnut trees lined University Avenue, and now mostly later plantings of this species dot the grounds.

The interesting-looking seed pods of the Kentucky coffee tree generally held three seeds, seen at Queen's Park in Toronto, Ontario on 14-August-2010

As always on a Heritage Toronto walk, there was a lot to learn. I didn't know that the Scadding Cabin, the oldest building in Toronto, had been built of the same white pine species that had once dominated Queen's Park. I didn't know there was such a thing as a tulip-tree, even if it doesn't really resemble the flower. One tree that was especially interesting was the Kentucky coffee. Not only did I learn how its seed pod could actually be used as a coffee substitute, but that its leaves were actually compound, and what I would have thought were the leaves were actually leaflets. Come autumn, first the leaflets will fall, then the remainder of the leaf structure.

Todd Irvine held what was actually a single leaf of a Kentucky coffee tree, pointing to the leaflets in Queen's Park on 14-August-2010

Different walk leaders have different styles, and Todd Irvine tried something I hadn't seen before on a Heritage Toronto Walk--showing historical pictures using a laptop computer. It didn't work--besides the outside glare issues, the screen simply wasn't big enough. Sticking with laminated print-outs that can be passed around seems to be the optimum alternative.

The use of a computer to show pictures during the Trees of Queen's Park Heritage Toronto walk was largely ineffective on 14-August-2010

Early in the walk, someone asked about black walnut trees, and upon seeing one near the north end of the park, Irvine decided to divert the walk to it and end it there. Such serendipity is the joy of going on Heritage Toronto walks.

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