About This Project

Trees@Mac is a virtual project designed to provide easily accessible information about the wealth and diversity of trees on McMaster University's campus. It combines geographical, photographic, scientific, and historical information in order to serve as a resource for anyone seeking knowledge about a particular tree of interest. By creating such a project, we hope to build appreciation and interest for the trees at McMaster. The campus has an enormous number of trees, which together form a natural wonder that deserves appreciation.

The university's land was formerly part of the Royal Botanical Gardens, and one of the goals of our project is to heighten appreciation for the natural features of campus that are a testament to the rich history of the area. The project also aims to offer a valuable contribution to student health at McMaster. As numerous studies show, interacting with, observing, and appreciating nature noticeably restores mental and physical health. By encouraging the appreciation of campus trees, Trees@Mac aims to promote new and unconventional resources for health and well-being at McMaster.

This project was created in 2018 by the Arts & Science Trees Inquiry (ARTSSCI 3TR3) class under the supervision of Dr. Alison McQueen. The tree 'portraits' were written by Arts and Science students from both the 2017 and 2018 cohorts.

How to Use This Website


Pins indicating trees on campus can be found on the map below; clicking on a pin will display the tree type and its identification number as well as photos and the tree's "portrait" in the left column (where applicable). These portraits are also available to read in the section below the map.

If there is a particular tree of interest, clicking on the map's top left icon will display a full list of all tree icons.

This map was created in 2018 using Google My Maps; the base map uses satellite images provided by Google. Based on the absence of recently planted trees, we approximate that the photographs for this base layer were taken in 2011. Consequently, there may be some discrepancy between tree pins and the map image.


McMaster University's Facility Services maintains a numbered inventory of the trees on campus, and some of these trees have silver tags with their associated number attached to their trunks. Our numbering system has used the inventory's numbering wherever possible, and we've prepended the number with a pair of letters as a "species code" to indicate the tree's type. For trees that did not have an associated number, we have used the number of the closest tree to it but appended it with a letter (e.g. an unlabelled ginkgo tree near 481 becomes GK481a).

Dating and Our Use of Historical Photographs

To gauge how old many of the trees are at McMaster, we have employed an experimental method of dating them using the university's Aerial Photography archives. There are many advantages to this method but there are also some disadvantages. It is tremendously helpful that we can see the way the campus ecosystem looked in the past through this resource: the photos show areas before trees were planted and they also document the growth of many beloved campus trees. However, it is important not to ignore the challenges of this method. The aerial photos only show the campus from above which means that often the only reliable indicator of a tree is its canopy. Therefore, trees growing beneath other trees and trees with blended canopies are difficult to identify. Another limitation is the quality of these old photos. While many do show distinct trees, often a canopy may appear as a blemish or slight smudge which makes it difficult to determine whether there is a tree at a particular location or if the camera lens simply had a spot in it. A third limitation is the infrequency of the record. In some cases, gaps of almost 15 years exist between photos which makes it difficult to pin down the precise year of planting. In addition, some trees are blocked by the shadow of buildings or are outside of the frame for some of the pictures. For these reasons, we are not able to estimate the age of all the trees. In cases where evidence is unclear, tree size can be used as a supplemental measure of age.

Portraits of McMaster's Trees

Click on the title of a tree to read its portrait.

American Hornbeam (Carpinus Carolinian) - AH431

For my initial presentation in Trees Inquiry, I was assigned the American Hornbeam, which is located in the centre of BSB field at McMaster University, where seven of them line the sides of a prominent walkway. When beginning to identify this tree, I initially thought it was the American Beech tree which has a very similar style of bark and leaf design, but is differentiated by the double serration on the Hornbeam leaves (Woodland). When reading further on the Hornbeam, I learnt it is commonly confused with the beech and is also often referred to as the Blue-Beech tree, connecting to the similarity between the Beech trees bark, but also the bluish tone that exists on young Hornbeam bark (Morton). With this understanding that my tree was in fact the Hornbeam, I moved on the varieties of the Hornbeam in its larger genus.

The American Hornbeam is one of 30 to 40 variations of Hornbeam that is typically found in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere (Morton). The name Hornbeam comes from old English with horn meaning hard and beam meaning tree (Woodland), which connects to the strength that this tree is known for. The Hornbeam falls into the Carpinus genus, which is a part of the Betulaceae family, or the Birch family (Missouri). While the Hornbeam has many physical similarities to the American Beech as previously mentioned, they do not share immediate connects in their genus or family. The Hornbeam's Latin name is the Carpinus Caroliniana.

The American Hornbeam grows across a large area of North American including as east as Nova Scotia and Florida, and west to Texas and Minnesota (Richins-Myers). It is closely related to the European Hornbeam, which inhabits most of mainland Europe, and reaches into Asia, as far as Iran (Bernheim). The American and European Hornbeam are difficult to distinguish and the differentiating feature is their bud design, with the American Hornbeam having a straighter bud compared to the more rounded European bud (Dept of Horticulture). Another Hornbeam that is native to Ontario is the Hop Hornbeam, which appears similar to the American Hornbeam, but is differentiated by the seed catkins, as the Hop variety has much softer catkins where as the American variety has more rigid wing-like catkins (Missouri). With this positioning of the American Hornbeam in the larger Hornbeam family, we can dive into its biology further.

The American Hornbeam is a deciduous tree, losing all of its leaves in late autumn after they turn bright colours of orange, yellow, and red (Richins-Myers). The Hornbeam is recognizable for its mature bark resembling distinctive flexed muscles (Dept of Horticulture). Its leaves are ovular and serrated, and hold a dark colour of green before autumn (Richins-Myers). In the spring time, the Hornbeam will flower into catkins and distinct bunches or nutlets, protected by winged clusters (Dept of Horticulture). The Hornbeam is a monoecious, meaning it carries both male and female reproductive capabilities, and it is pollinated by the wind (Woodland). Now understanding the physical appearance and biology of the Hornbeam, we can explore its challenges in nature.

The American Hornbeam does not have any major problems with disease, but recently has become the home for the Nut Tree Tussock. The Tussock is a form of moth, and both the caterpillars and eventual moths will feed off the Hornbeam tree (Woodland). The Hornbeam is also a popular home for birds due to it being a prolific seeder of delicious nutlets (Woodland). A worrying development for the Hornbeam is the reality that introduced Grey Squirrels have been scraping away and ripping the bark off of the trees, but the reason for this is undiscovered (Woodland). Now that I have established the more natural side of the Hornbeam tree, we can explore its interaction with humans and some of its many human uses.

In exploring the human uses for Hornbeam, it became clear that there are two different formats in which the Hornbeam had use. The first is a more practical use for the Hornbeam that plays on the tree's construction. This began with medicinal uses in Old England where tonics were made from Hornbeam bark to relieve tiredness and exhaustion (Woodland). The leaves were also said to be used to stop bleeding and to heal wounds (Woodland). Other practical uses in traditional time utilized the hardness of the Hornbeam to make a variety to tools from Ox yokes to butcher blocks and golf club handles (Bernheim). Similar uses still exist in modern times as the Hornbeam is commonly used for furniture and hardwood flooring, as well as various parts of the piano (Bernheim). While these more practical uses for Hornbeam were of great importance, a more symbolic and aesthetic role also exists.

This more symbolic use of the Hornbeam comes from the ability of the Hornbeam to be pollarded and line streets as living fences. The Hornbeam has become a very popular street tree in the United Kingdom (Bernheim), and in my case the trees were found lining the avenue to the Burke Science Building. This connected to the idea of an allee, which was how the concept of trees lining an avenue was described to me. The word allee means path or road line with trees and it is used as a method of emphasizing the coming to or arrival at an architectural feature (Collins). The original idea dates back to the ancient Egyptians who lined the avenue to a pharaoh's tomb with sphinxes (Theodoulou). The method is now popular in France to define grand streets and boulevards. While the Hornbeam's popularity in use along streets and avenues shows a more symbolic use, we can also see this in the poetry featuring the Hornbeam.

Poetry featuring the Hornbeam in some capacity has originated from a variety of sources including Terry Trainor, Frances King, and Lone Wolf (Wolf). In the many of the cases the tree is used in the poems to create a backdrop and set the scene. We can see this most notably in a poem by Kate Moss, titled "Tree of Hope" (Moss). This poem discusses a single Hornbeam left in the battlefield of Deville Wood. The tree becomes a symbol of remembrance and hope for the area, tying it to the past but also pushing the region into an existent future. Moss' poem is beautiful and connects back to the use of Hornbeam's to draw attention to settings or events as would similarly exist with the idea of allee drawing one's attention to their location.

Overall, the Hornbeam is a beautiful, deciduous tree that can be found across the Northern Hemisphere. Its uses are varied and have changed through time, but what is noticeable is that just as the Hornbeams remain steadfast in BSB Field drawing our attention to the buildings of our campus, the Hornbeam will always remain a part of our history and future. It is a tree that both symbolizes and physically represents what has happened and where we are going.

Portrait written by Griffin Marsh

Works Cited

"allee". Collins English Dictionary, n.d. HarperCollins Publishers. 22 Sep. 2017.

"American Hornbeam." Department of Horticulture: College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment, University of Kentucky Press, 18 Sept, 2017. Date Accessed September 18, 2017.

"American hornbeam." Morton Aboretum, 2017. The Morton Arboretum Inc. Date Accessed Sept 20, 2017.

"Carpinus betelus." Royal Horticultural Society, n.d. The Royal Society. Date Accessed Sept 14, 2017.

"Carpinus caroliniana." Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d, Shaw Nature Reserve. Date Accessed Sept 16, 2017.

"European Hornbeam." Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, n.d. Date Accessed Sept 16, 2017.

"The Hornbeam." Woodland Trust, n.d, The Woodland Trust. Accessed Sept 16, 2017.

Moss, Kate. "Tree of Hope". Life in the Trenches, 16. Sept 01. Accessed Sept 15, 2017.

Richins-Myers, Vanessa. "American Hornbeam." The Spruce, 28 Jan, 2017. Date Accessed Sept 17, 2017.

Theodoulou, Michael. "Archaeologists discover second sphinx-lined road in Luxor dating back to fourth century." Mail Online, 16 Nov 2010, Associated Newspapers Ltd. Date Accessed Sept 16, 2017.

Wolf, Lone. "The Hornbeams." Felix Dennis Trust, 2017. Accessed Sept 15, 2017.

American Sycamore (Platanus Occidentalis) - AS457

The Platanus occidentalis, or American sycamore as it is more commonly referred to, is one of the largest deciduous trees found in Eastern North America (Elias 220). In just 20 years, it can reach up to 25 m in height and 2 m in diameter (220). Once full grown, the Sycamore can extend past 3.5 m in diameter and 35 m in height (220). The natural range of this massive species runs along the eastern seaboard of the United States and spreads as far West as Texas in the South and Iowa in the North (220). In Canada, the American sycamore is primarily found in Southern Ontario, however, some also grow on Prince Edward Island (220). South of the American border, sycamores take root in the northern mountain ranges of Mexico (220). To better understand this unique species, two main topics will be covered: the basic biology of the tree that allows one to identify it and its cultural significance, both historical and contemporary.

If one were to happen upon an American sycamore, they would easily be able to identify it by its unique bark pattern, large size, and the appearance of its leaves and fruit (Graves 132). Most tree bark is elastic, allowing it to expand as the tree grows (132). However, sycamore bark lacks this elasticity and thus falls off in irregular pieces as the tree develops (132). As the brown outer bark patches off, it reveals the inner bark below, typically bone-white in colour (Government of Ontario). The aforementioned size of American sycamores is another key feature in recognizing them (Government of Ontario). Lastly, the leaves and fruits of this tree are useful in identifying it (Government of Ontario). Sycamore leaves grow alternatively along the branches as opposed to directly across from one another (Elias 221). They are 10 to 20 cm long and usually equal in width to their height (221). In shape, the leaves are quite similar to those of a Maple; they are star-shaped with 3 to 7 lobes, smooth in texture, and have scattered teeth along the topmost outer edge (221). During the spring and summer, the leaves are a bright green colour (221). In the summer, tiny cone-shaped brown buds appear at the base of the petiole (the leafstalk that joins the leaf to the branch) (221). New leaves will grow from these buds the following spring (221). Come fall, the leaves turn a coppery-brown colour before falling off (221). Tiny flowers clustered together in dense balls appear on the American sycamore in spring (221). These flowers hang off of branchlets (221). The sycamore is monoecious, meaning that it produces both the male and female parts necessary for reproduction (Nesom 1). The male flowers are red in colour and 7 to 10 mm in diameter while the female flowers are a deep yellow and 10 to 14 mm in diameter (Elias 221). In the fall, the female flower clusters give way to a fuzzy fruiting ball which remains on the tree throughout the winter (221). These fruiting balls are densely packed with seeds that the wind disperses in the spring after the fruit begins to disintegrate (221). Once these seeds take root, two ephemeral leaves appear from the embryo (221). These leaves, referred to as cotyledon, help supply nutrients for the young plant before it can produce its own proper leaves and begin photosynthesis (222). A sycamore is a dicot, meaning that it belongs to the group of angiosperms (flowering plants) with two cotyledons in its embryo (222).

Another variety of sycamore quite common in North America is the London plane tree (Nesom 1). The London plane tree is a hybrid between the American sycamore and the oriental sycamore (Blackburn 208). Although the two trees appear quite similar, there are a few key differences. Firstly, the inner bark of the London plane tends to have a green tinge as opposed to the stark white of the American sycamore (208). Secondly, the London plane's leaves are not as wide as the American sycamore's (208). Lastly, the fruiting balls of the London plane grow in pairs, and occasionally triplets, as opposed to the American Sycamore's solitary fruit (208).

Culturally, the American sycamore is quite an important tree, having numerous uses in both the past and present. One of the first contemporary uses for the sycamore is for pulp and rough lumber (Nesom 1). Sycamores grow quickly in many different conditions, making it an excellent choice for plantations (Nesom 1). Another contemporary use for sycamore is the manufacture of small kitchenware items, such as rolling pins or wooden spoons (Stafford 157). Sycamore wood is light, durable, and easy to clean, making it an excellent material for these products (157). However, it is not a good medium for building larger objects, like furniture, because of the tight fibrous composition of the wood (157). Additionally, sycamore is also eschewed as a material in favour of more luxurious or exotic woods like mahogany (157). A further use for the sycamore is as a landscaping feature for large properties such as parks, campuses, or city sidewalks (Hora 119). The sycamore is especially desirable in urban areas as it can withstand far more pollution than many other deciduous trees (Hora 119). However, the sycamore is not a good choice for smaller properties, such as a domestic lot, because of their large size and the copious amount of sap they produce (119). This sap attracts many insects, which in turn attract numerous birds, making the tree quite messy (119). A relatively new use for the sycamore is the rehabilitation of polluted lands such as oil fields, waterway disposal sites, and coal mines (Virginia Polytechnic Institute 11). The sycamore is an optimal choice due to its rapid growth and ability to withstand high levels of toxicity (11). As the trees grow, they pull toxins up from the ground, mitigating pollutants and restoring the ecosystem (12).

Historically, American sycamores were often planted in Christian cemeteries (Loudon 89). Their ubiquity in graveyards is due to their connection to the Biblical story of Zacchaeus (Magness 5). Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector of Jericho, desperately wanted to see Jesus as he was passing through the city (Gatta 70). However, huge crowds formed around the Messiah (70). Zacchaeus, unwilling to give up and go home, climbed a sycamore tree so that he might catch a glimpse of Jesus (70). Jesus, spotting Zacchaeus in the tree, called out to him and praised him for his faithfulness (Magness 6). The sycamore became an important symbol in cemeteries as it represented that Jesus would not forget the faithfulness of the deceased (7).

Indigenous cultures also value the sycamore, albeit for different reasons. An old Cherokee myth tells the story of how the gods sent fire to people through a hollow sycamore tree (Portman and Garrett 285). Fire was an essential part of Aboriginal life, providing warmth and a way to prepare food (285). Thus the sycamore, via its connection with fire, came to be revered (285). Sycamores also possess various medicinal properties; its bark and leaves were used to provide relief from cold and cough symptoms as well as an aid in digestive, respiratory, and dermatological issues (Core 207).

In conclusion, the sycamore is a beautiful tree with a unique history. Its large size, mottled bark, and leaves and fruit are all useful in identifying it. From a symbol of faithfulness, to an ecological restorer, this tree has served, and continues to serve, numerous important roles in society.

Portrait written by Josiah Schaafsma

Works Cited

Blackburn, Benjamin. Trees and Shrubs in Eastern North America. New York: Oxford UP, 1952. Print.

Core, Earl L. "Ethnobotany of the Southern Appalachian Aborigines." Economic Botany 21.3 (1967): 199-214. Print.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America: Field Guide and Natural History. Van New York: Norstrand Reinhold Company, 1980.

Gatta, Julia M. "Zacchaeus." Sewanee Theological Review 53.1 (2009): 78-80. Print.

Government of Ontario. "Sycamore." Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Government of Ontario, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 22 Sept. 2017.

Graves, Arthur Harmout. Illustrated Guide to Trees and Shrubs. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952. Print.

Hora, Bayard. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Trees of the World. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1981. Print.

Loudon, John Claudius. On the Laying Out, Planting, and Managing of Cemeteries. London: Printed for the Author, 1843. Print.

Magness, Lee. "Who Cares That It Was a Sycamore." Leaven 5.2 (1997): 5-8. Print.

Nesom, Guy. The American Sycamore. United States Department of Agriculture. 29 May 2003.

Portman, Tarrell Awe Agahe, and Michael Tlanusta Garrett. "Beloved Women: Nurturing the Sacred Fire of Leadership From an American Indian Perspective." Journal of Counselling & Development 83.3 (2005): 284-91. Print.

Stafford, Fiona J. The Long, Long Life of Trees. New Haven: Yale UP, 2017. Print.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute. How to Restore Forests on Surface-Mined Land. Virginia: Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 2011. Print.

American Tulip (Liriodendron Tulipifera) - TU448

Also known as the Tulip Poplar, Canoe Wood, Yellow Wood, or - more commonly - the Yellow Poplar, especially within the lumber industry (United States), the Tulip Tree is a unique and majestic tree worth getting to know. It is important not to confuse the American Tulip Tree (referred to as the Tulip Tree for the simplicity of this paper), with the African Tulip Tree - a tropical plant native to Africa. The Tulip Tree is indigenous to Eastern North America, extending from the southern shore of Lake Huron down to Florida. This deciduous species prefers the moist soil near streams or swamps; requires plenty of sun; and is usually found growing amongst other broadleaf trees. The Tulip Tree grows to be quite large, reaching heights of up to 35m, with a 1m diameter, and often lives to 150 years in age. It has a wide, deep root system, with a slender crown, straight trunk, and branches that do not begin until approximately two-thirds of the way up the trunk (Farrar, 244-45).

A key identifying feature of these plants is their unusual leaf shape which has four lobes and is notched at the top. The light green leaves are roughly 7-12cm in length and arranged in an alternating pattern, meaning that there is one leaf per plant node on opposite sides of the branch. During the spring, one can find 12-14mm long buds, the lateral ones being smaller and covered in a powdery white coating. In the autumn, the leaves change to a bright yellow. Another way to identify this tree is by its dark green bark which is smooth in texture, and becomes rigid and brown with age (Farrar 244-45).

The taxonomic name of this tree is Liriodendron tulipifera, which stems from the Greek words 'leirion', meaning lily, and 'dendron', meaning tree, while the species name means tulip-bearing ("Tulip-Tree."). Despite these names, the Tulip tree is related to neither the poplar, lily, nor tulip, but is actually a member of the Magnoliaceae family which includes the Magnolia flower. The family has two genera: the Liriodendron, and the Magnolioideae - a small tree in China. While the family contains roughly 220 species, the Liriodendron genus contains only one: the tulipifera ("Tulip-Tree."). Unlike other angiosperms, Magnoliaceae flowers are unique in that the stamens and pistils do not grow in rings, but instead in spiral patterns on a conical receptacle. Another distinguishing feature of this family is that they do not have separate sepals and petals (the encasing which surrounds the flower's reproductive organs), but rather tepals, which are a combination of both. The tulipifera is further unique in that it is pollinated by bees and its seeds are wind-dispersed, differing from other Magnoliaceae species which are pollinated by beetles and have seeds that are dispersed by birds (Cicuzza, Daniele, et al).

The Tulip Tree was named as such for its tulip like flowers, which appear after the leaves in June. Being greenish-yellow in colour, with some orange around the base, they are considered to be quite showy compared to other deciduous trees' flowers. They consist of six petals, 4-6cm long, and are roughly 5cm wide. Tulip Trees also grow greenish-yellow fruit called samaras, which form conical aggregates ("Tulip-Tree."). A samara is a type of fruit that is composed of papery wings, and contains one seed inside ("Samara."). When they ripen in the fall, the Tulip Tree fruit disintegrates and falls from the receptacle, allowing the wind to disperse the seeds ("Tulip-Tree."). The tree is usually resistant to disease, has minimal pests, and is a very fast growing tree, making it an ideal choice for replanting deforested areas; however, this also means that it is more susceptible to wind and ice damage (United States).

The Tulip Tree is not only a biologically complex tree, but is also diverse in its uses. Commercially, it is commonly planted as an ornamental tree, valued for its shade and aesthetically pleasing flowers. It is also considered to be a soft-hardwood, so it is used to make a variety of household items including furniture, plywood, paper, and even musical instruments (United States). The malleability of the wood also makes it an ideal choice for carving, whether that be paddles, spoons, or canoes (which is where the name 'Canoe Wood' stems from). The bark is versatile in that it can be used to make containers, shelters, and insulation - by stuffing it between layers of clothing - while the inner fibers can be used to make rope, and tinder. Additionally, the tulip tree has many medicinal benefits (Walker). Tea made from the inner bark is believed to treat arthritis, digestion issues, fevers and inflammation, and poultice made from the leaves can be used to treat wounds (Walker). In regards to edibility, the tree is not considered to be much of a food source; however, it is possible for humans to eat the nectar and to create flour from the inner bark (Walker). The roots are also used as a "lemon-like flavouring in spruce beer" ("Liriodendron tulipifera - L."). Finally, the tree serves as a food resource for such animals as birds and squirrels that eat its seeds, rabbits and deer who feed on the saplings, and insects who feed on the nectar ("Tulip-Tree.").

The Tulip Tree also has some fun facts associated with it. For example, it is the official state tree of Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee ("Tulip-Tree."); is the official bicentennial tree of George Washington's estate, Mount Vernon (Katemopoulos); and has been the topic of several poems - one of which was written about a historical tree in Inwood Park of Manhattan, New York (Hudson). Unfortunately, it is unclear as to who first discovered and named this tree, but as early as the sixteenth century it has been documented in North America by multiple European explorers (Katemopoulos). Overall, the Tulip Tree is quite an interesting, and valuable plant, for both humans and wildlife alike.

Portrait written by Emily Cowley

Works Cited

Cicuzza, Daniele, et al. "The Red List of Magnoliaceae." Cambridge, UK, 2007.

Farrar, John Laird. Trees in Canada. Markham, Ontario, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1995.

Hudson, Henry. "My Inwood." 3 June 1933.

Katemopoulos, Maureen. "The History of the Tulip Tree." GardenGuides, Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

"Liriodendron tulipifera - L." Pfaf Plant Search, Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

"Samara." Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

"Tulip-Tree." The Tree Pages, Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.

United States, Congress, USDA NRCS New York State, and John Dickerson. USDA Plants, Accessed 16 Sept. 2017.

Walker, Todd. "Posts about medicinal uses of tulip poplar on Survival Sherpa." Survival Sherpa, 8 Mar. 2016, Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.

American Yew (Taxus Canadensis) - Y488a

The yew tree is one of diversity and longevity having ten geographically disparate species and paradoxically being representative of death and everlasting life (Owens, 2015; Stafford, 2017). Yews have been recorded to be one of the longest living tree types in history, with some botanists suggesting certain examples have survived as long as 5000 years (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Stafford, 2017). Yet every part of the tree, except the red seed and pollen bearing arils that bloom in the summer, is poisonous (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The twisted, tangled growth pattern of the yew has further exaggerated focus on these intriguing trees in literature (Bevan-Jones, 2015). With such a rare permanence, for a living thing or manmade structure, and extensive use in prose, the yew is both botanically and metaphorically fascinating.

There are ten different species under the genus Taxus (Owens, 2015). The biological segment of this paper will focus on the Taxus canadensis, though, as that is the tree found on the McMaster campus and which is native to Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and the north-eastern region of the USA (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The common name for the canadensis species is the Canada Yew, American Yew, Creeping Hemlock, or Ground Hemlock (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2008). The genus name is believed to derive from the Greek word 'taxis' which means order or arrangement, and the yew is also similarly entitled 'tasso' in Italian or 'tejo' in Spanish (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Kahles 2013). It is believed that the Latin word 'toxicum' for poison is derived from the genus name for the yew (Bevan-Jones, 2015). The specifying title canadensis is simply the Latin term for Canadian (Long, 2008). The British species of yew is one of the most famous, therefore the name yew has a Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon history, with records of the use of this plant name as old as 500 BC, although various spellings have been recorded throughout the last fifteen hundred years (Bevan-Jones, 2015).

The Canada yew grows best in cool, moist, shaded areas because the roots must stay relatively cool to thrive (Pinto & Herr, 2005). Unlike some other species of yew, the Canada yew is not commonly used as a decorative tree variety (Owens, 2015). A Canada yew can be identified by its bright green, linear tapered needles, ruddy brown bark, branches diverging upward in many directions, and by its red berries in the summer (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The needles grow in a 'spiral' manner from twigs attached to branches of the tree (Pinto & Herr, 2005). They lay in flat rows extending at a slight angle in symmetrical flat planes from either side of the twigs (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The undersides of the needles are a paler white-green (Pinto & Herr, 2005). When the needles first grow they are a vibrant, deep green, but over the course of 3 or 4 years they age and turn a golden brown colour (Pinto & Herr, 2005).

The Canada yew is a monoecious plant, meaning it has both male and female reproductive parts (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The berries, also entitled arils or cones, which bloom over the summer, contain the reproductive "buds" (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The male arils contain pollen sacs with pollen grains enclosed by each sac (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The female cones, instead, contain a seed (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The berries are the only part of the yew that is not poisonous, although if broken the interior of the seeds, which grow inside the berries, are toxic (Pinto & Herr, 2005). After growing in the summer, the seeds and pollen are spread by the wind or squirrels, deer, or birds (Allison, 1990; Pinto & Herr, 2005). The seeds then typically require the winter to germinate and will bud the following spring (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The yew grows at a very slow rate, and tend to grow in a branching pattern from a low central trunk (Pinto & Herr, 2005). Typically, Taxus canadensis trees grow to a height between one and five metres tall (Pinto & Herr, 2005). An average yew is anticipated to survive for a few hundred years although there are records of yew trees surviving for thousands of years (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Stafford, 2017). Determining precise ages of yew trees is difficult as the bands that form within their trunk and bark are so minute that botanists are rarely certain of a precise age (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Stafford, 2017). Dissimilar from most other trees, the yew has a significant capacity to regenerate despite any damages incurred to a tree, from storms, natural aging, or human destruction of the plant (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Stafford, 2017). This compounds the difficulty horticulturists experience in assessing the age of specific yews, as the rings within the tree can be warped by trees' efforts to repair and revive sections (Bevan-Jones, 2016; Stafford, 2017). This trees' longevity also allows for a distinguishing ability to become hollow; there are multiple records of ancient yews that have a trunk that has hollowed itself out (Bevan-Jones, 2015). In addition to being poisonous to other living things, the yew is not susceptible to almost any diseases or pests (Pinto & Herr, 2005). The multitude of methods the yew possesses for survival make it distinct from almost any other living thing.

Accounts of yews living for thousands of years have made them a mysterious symbol of eternal life to many artists, authors, clergy, and scholars throughout history (Stafford, 2017). Few other people, plants, animals, structures, or even civilizations have been recorded to exceed a lifespan of a thousand years (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Stafford, 2017). Some believe that certain yews in Britain are older than the Stonehenge or Egyptian pyramids (Stafford, 2017). Due to this aptitude for survival, the tree has long been a religious symbol for everlasting life (Stafford 2017). Many churches in England were purposefully built beside a yew, an embodiment of hope and eternal life adjacent to the church (Bevan-Jones, 2015; Stafford, 2017). Despite this aspect of wonder, the yew's toxicity has led to it's portrayal as an image of death, depression, or grief in many works of writing (Stafford 2017). Sylvia Plath wrote, "the message of the yew tree is blackness - blackness and silence" (Stafford, 2017). Many writers have written about the ominous yew, although most were referring to the English Yew or Taxus Baccata, as that was the proximate species to them, rather than the Canada yew (Bevan-Jones, 2016; Stafford, 2017). Regardless of which species is referenced in prose, all the species are poisonous and possess great durability (Bevan-Jones, 2016; Stafford, 2017).

Beyond providing inspiration for fictional works, the yew was most used for woodcarvings and bows in the past (Owens, 2015). Because the tree grows so slowly the particles are tightly bound, creating a strong but pliable wood, ideal for an archer's bow (Stafford, 2017). There are no concrete records of medicinal uses of the taxus trees in the past. Recently the extract taxane, found in the yew's bark and needles, was determined to be useful in chemotherapy treatment of ovarian, breast, and prostate cancers (Stafford, 2017). There was concern over the limited supply of yew trees when this drug treatment was initially discovered because the growth of the yew is so slow that new populations cannot be cultivated quickly to meet greater demand (Stafford, 2017). The invention of a synthetic form of taxane in the 1990s abated this fear (Owens, 2015). Taxane continues to be used in chemotherapy treatment today.

Yews are unique. They are one of the most long living things in the world, and possess a dichotomous depiction (Stafford, 2017). Taxus are composed of almost all poisonous parts, exempting their berries, yet also possess an extract that can save lives, and have greater strength and durability than nearly any other plants (Pinto & Herr, 2005). Evaluating the yew from multiple perspectives makes one realize the importance of a holistic view. To a botanist this would be a poisonous tree, to a biochemist the basis for a chemotherapy drug, to an artist an eerie image of death, or to a cleric a symbol of eternal life. All of these divergent branches are valid, though. The durable yew demonstrates the vitality of perspective.

Portrait written by Talia Moretti


Allison, T. D. (1990). Pollen Production and Plant Density Affect Pollination and Seed Production in Taxus Canadensis. Ecology,71(2), 516-522. doi:10.2307/1940305

Bevan-Jones, R. (2015). The ancient yew: a history of Taxus baccata. Oxford: Windgather Press.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2008). American yew. In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from

Kahles, C. (2013, April 26). Taxus baccata. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from

Long, C. A. (2008). The wild mammals of Wisconsin. Sofia .: Pensoft.

Owens, J. N. (2015, April 3). Yew. In The Canadian Encyclopedia . Retrieved September 24, 2017, from

Pinto, F., & Herr, D. (2005). Autecology of Canada Yew (Canada, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources). Retrieved September 23, 2017, from /repository/mon/15000/252416.pdf

Stafford, F. J. (2017). The long, long life of trees. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Zamir, L. O., Nedea, M. E., Zhou, Z., Bélair, S., Caron, G., Sauriol, F., . . . Mamer, O. (1995). Taxus canadensis taxanes: structures and stereochemistry. Canadian Journal of Chemistry,73(5), 655-665. doi:10.1139/v95-084

Austrian (Black) Pine (Pinus Nigra) - AP488a

Walking on the many pathways that criss-cross McMaster's campus, it is difficult to find a route that does not pass by a Black Pine. The tree is surprisingly prevalent on the campus footprint, the large, coniferous evergreen making for an easily recognizable feature of the landscape. The Black Pine is indeed readily identified, being a rather unusual member of the Pine family. Its shape, for one, makes it distinguishable: its level branches form a pyramidal crown in the tree's youth, which becomes more flat-topped in maturity, and, unlike any other Pines, the tips of its boughs curl upwards, giving the tree a lively, kinetic appearance as though constantly blowing in the wind (Ohio State; Earl, 2018). Its foliage, like any conifer, is composed of needles, these ones dark green and around 5 inches long (Ohio State). They grow distinctly in pairs, often twisted or curved, and are notably supple; Black Pine needles closely resemble those of the related Red Pine tree, but differ in that only Black Pine needles are flexible enough to wrap around the finger without breaking (Earl, 2018; Muma). Its cones - another coniferous staple - are small and dense, normally 2 to 3 inches long and bearing sharp spines on their exteriors (Ohio State). And an unmissable characteristic is its bark, which coats the tree's trunk like thick, scaly armour. The bark is grey-brown and split by dramatic groves and fissures, lending the tree an almost reptilian texture (Sullivan, 1993). On older trees, whose trunks have long been exposed to the sun, the bark can lighten in colour as well, becoming a chalky white on its outside layers (Ohio State).

The Black Pine is a long-living tree that can survive in the wild for up to 600 years. However it also grows relatively fast, a fact best evidenced by its rapid maturing: Black Pines reach maturity at between 15 and 40 years old, and reach their reproductive prime at 70 (Sullivan, 1993). Due to its dense, horizontal root system that penetrates deep into the soil, the Black Pine is also a resilient and adaptable tree that can survive dry, sandy soil, acidic conditions, heat, drought, and even the salt sprays and pollution common in urban areas (Ohio State; Cserenyes & Tamas, 2014). This, combined with its rapid reproductive rate, makes the Black Pine a fast spreading, and sometimes heavily invasive species. Reproduction occurs every 2 to 5 years for Black Pines, when its pine cones release seeds that disperse towards the ground borne on wing-like structures. To create these seeds, the tree relies on the wind for pollination: the tree creates tubular, upward pointing pollen flowers on the tips of its branches - often orange or pink in colour - where its light pollen awaits a gust of wind to carry it off (SUNY). The Black Pine is monoecious, bearing both male and female flowers in late April and early May, and when a tree's pollen fertilizes a female flower (either of another tree or one of its own), it grows into a seed bearing cone (SUNY).

The Black Pine is native to a wide expanse of Europe and Northern Asia (Sullivan, 1993). Naturally, it is found between Spain and Morocco in the west and Turkey in the east, and lives as far south as Cypress and as far north as Crimea and Russia (Sullivan, 1993). Its wide native territory has produced a correspondingly wide variety of names for the tree based on where it is found, which include but are not limited to the Austrian pine, Australian pine, Corsican pine, Crimean pine, Pyrenees pine, and European black pine (Sullivan, 1993). Evidently, the Black Pine is not native to Ontario, although over the last century and a half the tree has become naturalized in the North-Eastern United States and Great Lakes region.

The story of the tree's introduction to North America is an interesting one. During the waves of European immigration in the 19th century, the tree was brought to North America by Eastern European immigrants, many of whom settled on farmsteads in the North American interior (SUNY). Around these farms they planted the Black Pine, whose large stature and adaptable, resilient growth acted as “shelterbelts,” protecting prairie farms from the sweeping winds, soil erosion, and snow drifts of the Great Plains (SUNY). The tree was so effective in this capacity that, beginning in 1935, the United States Forests Service began to plant Black Pines in response to the continuing Dust Bowl. With its added benefit of providing work during the Great Depression, the Forest Service embraced the tree planting project, and over 8 years it completed the largest tree planting effort ever conducted, planting 222 million trees and creating 19 000 miles of shelterbelts in the plains (SUNY). From the enormous number of trees planted during this time, the Black Pine inevitably began to escape its intended planting sites, and quickly became naturalized in North America.

Today, Black Pines, with their dense roots, are still used in afforestation policy to prevent erosion. They are popular in forest reclamation programs because of their rapid reproduction rate and the ability of their decaying needles to revitalize depleted soil, often being planted in the wake of strip mining or other environmentally destructive practices (SUNY; Cserenyes & Tamas, 2014). Yet the widespread planting of Black Pines also produces unintended consequences: their thick canopies effectively shade the forest floor where they are planted, crowding out native, light-demanding plants (Cserenyes & Tamas, 2014). Their roots can further harm native forest neighbours, and moreover, Black Pines are highly flammable trees and greatly increase the risk of forest fire in areas where they are planted (Cserenyes & Tamas, 2014). As adaptable and fast-breeding trees, they are also highly invasive in areas of central Europe and even in parts of Canada and the United States (SUNY). Despite such dangers, Black Pines are still frequently planted, especially as wind and shade screens in urban areas where the tree's pollution-tolerance and resistance to salt and cold is valued (Gilman & Watson, 1994).

More traditional uses for the Black Pine involve the field of medicine, and many parts of the tree are used in traditional healing practices. In Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean region, for example, the turpentine of Black Pine trees is collected and used for a variety of medicinal purposes, from curing ear pain, to protecting wounds, to improving skin quality (Ari et al., 2014). It is commonly used as an antiseptic for wound coverings, and also as a pain reliever and muscle relaxant when rubbed on the affected area of the body (Ari et al., 2014). Several studies have confirmed its use for such purposes: extracts from Black Pine needles, resins, bark, and cones have been shown to inhibit the development of many forms of bacteria and microorganisms, and its turpentine exhibits antioxidizing (cell-protecting) and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, sometimes of a strength many times greater than artificial compounds (Digrak, Ilcim, & Alma, 1999; Gulcin et al., 2003). Beyond medical use, however, the tree's sticky resin finds many other traditional, albeit mundane, uses in the Mediterranean region - in addition to a medicine, many people use the turpentine to hold together window frames or prevent leaks in their roofs (Ari et al., 2014).

As a tree that both was and is still enthusiastically planted in North American landscapes, the Black Pine's prevalence on McMaster's campus is perhaps not so surprising. And indeed its prevalence is indisputable: from most spots on campus one can glimpse, even if from a ways away or over top of a building, the upturned branches and curving needles of the Black Pine.

Portrait written by Ian McIntosh


Ari, S., Kargiolglu M., Temel, M., & Konuk, M. (2014). Traditional tar production from the Anatolian Black Pine [Pinus nigra Arn. Subsp. Pallasiana (Lamb.) Holmboe var. pallasiana] and its usages in Afyonkarahisar, Central Western Turkey. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 10(29).

Cserenyes, I., & Tamas, J. (2014). Evaluation of Austrian pine (Pinus nigra) plantations in Hungary with respect to nature conservation - a review. Tajokologiai Lapok 12(2), 267-284.

Digrak, M., Ilcim, A., & Alma, M. H. (1999). Anitmicrobial activites of several parts of Pinus brutia, Juniperus oxycedrus, Abies Cilicia, Cedrus libani and Pinus nigra. Phtyotherapy Research, 13(7).

Earl, C. J. (2018). Pinus nigra. The Gymosperm Database. Retrieved from:

Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1994). Pinus nigra: Austrian pine. U.S. Forest Service, Department of Agriculture.

Gulcin, I., Buyukokuroglu, M. E., Oktay, M., & Kufrevioglu, O. I. (2003). Antioxidant and analgesic activities of turpentine of Pinus nigra Arn. Subsp. Pallsiana (Lamb.) Holmboe. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 86(1), 51-58.

Muma, W. (n.d.). Austrian pine. Ontario Trees & Shrubs. Retrieved from:

Sullivan, J. (1993). Pinus nigra. Fire Effects Information System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Retrieved from:

SUNY Orange. (n.d.). Austrian pine. Retrieved from:

The Ohio State University. (n.d.). Pinus nigra. Retrieved from

Bur Oak (Quercus Macrocarpa) - BO488a

The Bur Oak tree, or Mossycup Oak with its majestic trunk and extensive branches, stands tall and proud amongst its neighbouring arboreal relatives. The coarsely furrowed trunk provides a strong foundation for the tree and allows for the deep burrowing of its thick, winding roots. There are a variety of oak trees in the world, but one can divide these varieties into 2 main taxonomic sections of oaks which are native to North America; the red oak and the white oak. The Bur Oak, or Quercus Macrocarpa is a part of the white oak family and is distributed throughout Eastern North America. It is the most common oak in Ontario, standing to be one of the largest oaks, boasting a diameter of up to 2-3 feet and a height of up to 80 feet (Row et al, 2012). However, what this tree maintains in magnitude, it lacks in speed. This slow growing tree is one of the slowest growing trees in the family, with a growth speed of about 5-30 cm a year. It continues to age for about 200-400 years, stretching high into the sky and into the depths of the soil.

The large trunk and branches of the tree naturally suggest great leaves as well. The well known lobbed leaf of the Bur Oak grows to be about 15 to 25 cm long (Gilman, 1994), marked with a shiny green colour on the surface, and a pale, hairy tone underneath. Upon closer examination, one will notice that there are about 2-3 lobes on the upper half of the leaf, and about 5-7 deeper lobes on the lower half. Generally, the leaves of the Bur Oak have deeper lobes than most other oak trees, and thus can be identified by this distinguishing factor. In the fall, the leaves turn an antique yellow colour, but unfortunately fall to the ground shortly after.

Like majority of plants, the Bur Oak is a monoecious tree, possessing male and female organs on the same tree. The male and female flowers are born in separate catkins, blossomed on the current year's branchlets. The male flowers are produced in rather drooping yellow catkins while the female flowers are reddish in colour. They tend to exist in either solitary or clustered in groups of 2 or 3. During the summer, the fertile flowers develop into nuts which are initially green but progresses into a deep brown as it matures. The acorns mature in the first year and drop from the tree August through November.

The rather simplistic name of this tree, "Bur" originates from the fuzzy, encompassing cap which covers the acorn (Kimmerer, 2015). More than half the nut is enclosed by this capsule and thus provides the nut with a stable dwelling until cracked open by an animal or human. The Bur Oak boasts the largest acorns of any oak tree, and is said to be the most palatable of all oak trees. While acorns in the Red Oak take 2 years to mature, the White Oak acorns only take one year.

Although the large Bur Oak commands much attention above the forest surface, below the depths of its roots lies a specimen just as remarkable. Below the soil lies an intricate maze of thick, horizontal roots, providing much stability and hydration for the tree. This vast hydration system allows for efficient water retention and absorption, thus allowing for substantial drought resistance. The large central taproot grows deep into the ground, while other roots sprout laterally off of it. Due to their impressive root size, Bur Oaks have very little competition amongst other plants. Their primary competitor is another Bur oak tree, separated by the size of the root. The depth of its roots also make Bur oaks ideal for areas near sidewalks as the breakage of roots through the surface is not a cause for concern.

The forgiving character of this tree can also withstand harsh soil conditions, poor atmospheric air levels, and serious drought and fires. Thus, the course wood of the Bur Oak is not only resistant to urban conditions, making it the ideal tree to plant in a city park, or street, but is also largely fire resistant. Due to its course, impenetrable wood, the Bur oak can withstand heavy forest fires. Bur oak lumber has the same strength and durability as white oak but is usually of less value due to the large number of limbs on the tree. Nonetheless, the Bur oak wood is widely marketed as "white oak" and is commercialized to create sturdy pieces of furniture, cabinetry and hardwood flooring.

Although the Bur Oak is largely resistant to disease and pests, there are a few ailments which it occasionally suffers from. Bur Oak Blight (BOB) is a fungal disease known to infect oak trees, (some pathogens specifically targeting Bur Oaks), causing minor leaf spots which can further progress and kill the leaf veins. This leads to the scorched appearance of the leaf, which may remain attached to the stem as the other leaves fall off (Porter et al, 6).

Another possible cause of Bur Oak degradation is Anthracnose. White oaks appear to be more susceptible to this infection than other species. As the leaves grow during the wet, spring weather, the infection causes "twig and leaf dieback, leaf distortion and angular necrotic spots on mature leaves" (Peter et al, 4). Fortunately, this disease rarely leads to permanent damage and the tree usually recovers as it becomes resistant to the pathogen.

Nevertheless, most often, the Bur Oak stands tall and healthy, providing an edible food source for not only woodland animals, but for humans as well. Acorns can be roasted until the cap is eliminated, thus leaving a smooth interior. The acorns of the Bur Oak are said to be the most edible and appetizing of the oak family. They can be ground up into a fine powder and used to make bread, and flour. The seed can also be roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

Although there is not much medicinal use with Bur Oaks today, this ancient tree was very popular amongst the native americans. The Bur oak was widely known as a medicine tree and provided food, resources and structure for the natives. The acorns were once a staple part of their diet, as well as a crucial component of many ceremonies and gatherings. The various parts of the tree were also used to make beautiful bows, baskets, instruments and pottery. Native americans also used the inner bark of the tree to "treat various maladies such as cramps, diarrhea, wounds and sores, hemorrhoids, heart and lung trouble" (Anderson, 2007).

Thus, this shade tolerant, majestic tree overflows with biological wonders, ecological stability and society and cultural history. As the name Quercus itself suggests in Celtic, this gnarled, ancient tree is most definitely a "tree above all others".

Portrait written by Nandani Nair


Anderson M, Kat. (2007, September). Indigenous Uses, Management, and Restoration of Oaks of the Far Western United States. USDA. (2), 1-18. Retrieved from

Gilman F, Edward. Watson G, Dennis. (1994). Quercus macrocarpa Bur Oak. Retrieved from,buroak.pdf

Kimmerer, Tom. (2015). Venerable Trees: History, Biology, and Conservation in the Bluegrass. Retrieved from

Porter, Stephanie. Cleveland, Travis. Nixon, Phil. Oak Problems. Plant Clinic Report. (4-6). Retrieved from

Row, J. M., W. A. Geyer, and G. Nesom. (2012). Plant Guide for bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa Michx.). USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. Retrieved from

Chinese Magnolia (Magnolia X Soulangeana) - CM840a

Few trees match the dramatic beauty of a magnolia tree, with their magnificent profusion of pale pink flowers. The blossoming of these fragrant blossoms in early spring are said to open "like a thousand porcelain goblets" which might, in part, explain why the magnolia tree is sometimes referred to as the "tulip" or "saucer" tree as the petals begin to spread in full bloom (Plotnik, 2000). All magnolia trees are from the common Magnolia genus of the large Magnoliaceae family. The Magnoliaceae family is named after the French botanist, Pierre Magnol (1638-1715) who was interested in plant life, diverging from the rest of his family who worked as apothecaries (pharmacists) ("Magnol: families of plants," n.d.).

The magnolia family is ancient, and they are recognized today as one of the oldest flowering plant lineages in existence ("Mighty Magnolias," 2017). Fossilized specimens of the Magnolia acuminata (more commonly referred to today as the cucumber magnolia tree) have been found and dated to be approximately twenty-million years old ("Mongolia," 2018). Furthermore, several fossilized plants that have been identified as belonging to the Magnoliaceae family are dated back to ninety-five million years ago ("Mongolia," 2018).

Members of the Magnoliaceae family are so ancient. They are thought to have appeared before the bees did, approximately around sixty-five million years ago ("Mighty Magnolias," 2017). Because of this, the basic structure of the magnolia flower was already established before bees acted as a selective pressure in pollination. Since then, the flowers are thought to have evolved to accommodate and encourage pollination by beetles which were among the first insects to ever visit flowers ("Beetle Pollination, n.d.). For instance, the female parts of the plant try to mimic the male parts with the hope that the beetles will become more interested in the plant and will pollinate the plant in return ("Mighty Magnolias," 2017). Furthermore, because the pollinating beetles eat their way through the petal and other floral parts of the plant, the carpels of the magnolia flowers (a female reproductive organ for flowering plants or angiosperms) have become hardened and are extremely strong ("Mighty Magnolias," 2017).

Despite the overall ancient history of the Magnoliaceae family, several species including that of the magnolia trees found on McMaster University campus, have appeared relatively recently. There appears to be four magnolia trees currently planted on the McMaster campus, all of which are from the popular, deciduous, Chinese magnolia species (Magnolia X soulangeana). The Magnolia X soulangeana is a hybrid magnolia species resulting from the cross between Magnolia deudata and Magnolia liliiflora, which was first performed by the French plantsman Etienne Soulange-Bodin (1774-1846). Soulange-Bodin was himself a retired cavalry officer from Napolean's army. He initially performed the breeding at his chateau de Fromont near Paris. The hybrid that resulted when he crossed these two previously existing Magnolia species impressed Soulange-Bodin (H., 2012). Since that time, the hybrid quickly became a part of the common cultivation amongst plant breeders in England, other parts of Europe, and North America.

Members of the Chinese magnolia species grow either as large shrubs or small trees. Chinese magnolia trees have alternate, simple leaves that are oblong or oval in shape. The leaves themselves are a dark, shiny green colour, which provides a stunning contrast against the soft pink of the flowers and the grayish-brown colour of the bark. Despite their light colours, the petals of the magnolia flower have a leathery texture due to the fact that the petals are, in fact, tepals, which are the result from the fusion between the petals and sepals of a plant. And despite their apparent fleeting beauty, the Chinese magnolia tree has a life expectancy for approximately a hundred years ("Magnolia Tree Facts," 2018).

The magnolia flower is attached with shifting symbolic meanings over the years. For instance, in the Victorian era, magnolias were sometimes sent between lovers and, in these instances, they symbolized dignity and nobility. In ancient China, magnolias were thought to be symbolize the Yin, of womanly beauty, gentleness, and strength ("The Magnolia Flower: Its Meaning and Symbolism," 2018). In the Southern states of America, the white flowers of the Southern magnolia tree were commonly seen in bridal floral arrangements as the flowers symbolize the bride's purity and honor (Orchidya, 2018).

These traditional understandings of the magnolia tree were used as a stark contrast in the song, Strange Fruit, which was most famously sung by Billie Holiday. The song, however, had first been a poem written by a white, Jewish teacher named Abel Meerpol (Vigliar, 2014). Meerpol wrote the poem after he saw a horrific image of the lynching of a black man (Vigliar, 2014). In the second stanza of the poem, it reads:

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

In this, the gentleness, innocence, and beauty most commonly associated with the Magnolia tree and its flowers, is contrasted with a grotesque image of the lynching of a black body. The song was so controversial that other singers bowed to pressure not to sing it. Holiday used to end her set with the number, allowing musicians to remain in darkness while she sang under a single light. She began singing the song in 1939. The 30s were a time of record numbers of lynching in the South (Vigliar, 2014). Once you have heard the song, the name of the magnolia tree is forever associated with it. The contrast of the magnolia tree's blossoms to the poplar tree's "strange fruit" serves to render the scene more gruesome. Yet, the use of the tree in such a powerful way serves to give its beauty new meaning in context of a powerful protest song.

Portrait written by Ava Corey


Beetle Pollination. (n.d.). Retrieved from

H., D. (2013, September 30). The saucer magnolia. Retrieved from

Magnolia. (2018). Retrieved from

Magnolia tree Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from

M. (2017, April 11). Mighty Magnolias. Retrieved from

Orchidya. (2018, March 01). Magnolia - a symbol for gentleness | Orchidya London Flower Shop. Retrieved from

Plotnik, A. (2000). The urban tree book: An uncommon field guide for city and town. New York: Three Rivers Press.

Vigliar, V. (2018, April 30). "Strange Fruit"- Billie Holiday. Retrieved from

Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea Pungens var. Glauca) - BS398

The picea pungens var. glauca goes by many names: Colorado spruce, blue spruce, and even Colorado blue spruce. The two Latin terms in its name refer to its needles -- "pungens" translates to "sharp-pointed" and "glauca" refers to the needles' blueish colour (Rhodus). The Colorado blue spruce was discovered in the Rocky Mountains in 1862 and has since been planted widely across North America and even as an ornamental tree in Chinese cities ("Colorado Blue Spruce", Qin et al. 11094). As its English name suggests, this tree is both the state tree of Colorado and a distinctive blue colour that makes it so popular (Nesom); in fact, it was described by American botanist Donald C. Peattie as an "insistently pretty tree [that] displays its charms of tier on tier of branches graduated in perfect symmetry from the longest boughs that sweep the ground to the slender but strong top" (138). The beautiful colouring and columnar, pyramidal shape of the Colorado spruce make it ideal for use in landscaping, and it is also a popular choice as a Christmas tree ("Colorado Blue Spruce").

Due to their popularity in landscaping, Colorado blue spruces are found in the wild and commonly planted. Since these trees are treasured for their appearance, there are many cultivars which grow to different sizes and have unique foliage colours and growth habits (Rhodus). The glauca variant specifically grows slowly to 27-41 meters high with a spread of about 6-9 meters, with an upright shape and a similar growth habit to the species itself (Ness). These trees thrive in full sunlight and prefer moist, acidic soil, but are adaptable and able to tolerate many different soil types and general adverse conditions. They are also somewhat tolerant of salt spray, with blue or blue-silver forms more tolerant than green forms due to a greater coating of needle wax (Rhodus). In the wild, Colorado blue spruces are common by stream banks in canyons (Nesom). Their root systems are wide-spreading and moderately deep, which helps them against the wind ("Colorado Blue Spruce").

The variety of Colorado blue spruce cultivars leads to a wide range of identifying features for this tree. In general, its evergreen needles are silvery to blue-green in colour and grow at right angles on all sides of stout, yellow-brown twigs (Nesom). There are some observable patterns in the differences in colour - young cultivated trees tend to be especially silvery, while wild ones are predominantly dark green with blueish new growth (Peattie 137-139). Another characteristic of Colorado blue spruce needles is that they are stiff and prickly, often causing pain if grabbed by a hand ("Colorado Blue Spruce"). This tree's bark is gray-brown and relatively thick but is often difficult to see due to the tree's dense foliage (Rhodus). Colorado blue spruce trees have ellipsoid cones about 6-11 cm in length with ragged margins on their tough spreading scales (Nesom, Peattie 137); however, this species is usually propagated through grafting (Rhodus).

There are a variety of diseases, pests, and conditions that can harm the Colorado blue spruce. The three main types of diseases that plague these trees-needlecasts, tip blights, and canker diseases-are all caused by fungal pathogens. In general, branch dieback is an identifying symptom that a Colorado blue spruce is diseased, but excessive needle shedding and sunken areas that ooze resin are also indications that it is suffering. These trees are also susceptible to gall adelgids and spruce spider mites, which are two common insect pests (Cregg et al.). Finally, research by Qin et al. investigated the effects of vehicle exhausts on Colorado blue spruces in Chinese cities and found that this tree changes the anatomical structures and physiological traits of its leaves in order to avoid damage from pollution (11094). Despite these dangers, Colorado blue spruces are popular and resilient enough that they are not severely threatened.

The most common use of Colorado spruce trees is ornamental or horticultural, but it has other uses as well. In nature, these trees provide food and shelter for birds such as siskins, nuthatches, and crossbills ("Colorado Blue Spruce"). This habitat provision is essential both for resident species and migratory wildlife. Additionally, spruce trees are dominant trees in many forests, and their aesthetic appeal contributes to booming outdoor recreation and ecotourism industries (Freedman). The Colorado blue spruce is not used for lumber because the wood is brittle and frequently full of knots (Nesom).

Spruce trees have mythological significance for North Americans: among Southwestern tribes, these trees are "symbols of the sky and directional guardians of the north", and in northern tribes they represent peace and protection. In particular, the Hopis consider spruce trees sacred due to a myth about a medicine man, Salavi, who transformed himself into a Spruce tree ("Native American Spruce Tree Mythology"). The beauty, adaptability, popularity, and significance of the Colorado blue spruce make it a truly remarkable tree.

Portrait written by Julia Cooke

Works Cited

"Colorado Blue Spruce." Arbor Day Foundation. Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

Cregg, Bert et al. "What Is Spruce Decline and What Should You Do About It?" MSU Extension, Michigan State University, 2 Mar. 2015, Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

Freedman, Bill. "Spruce - Economic And Ecological Importance Of Spruces." Science Encyclopedia, Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

"Native American Spruce Tree Mythology." Native Languages of the Americas, Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

Nesom, Guy. "Blue Spruce." Plant Guide, United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5 Dec. 2000. Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

Ness, Carol. "Colorado Blue Spruce." Tree Help, Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

Peattie, Donald Culross. A Natural History of Western Trees. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1991.

Qin, Xuebo, et al. "Anatomical and Physiological Responses of Colorado Blue Spruce to Vehicle Exhausts." Environmental Science and Pollution Research International, vol. 21, no. 18, Sept. 2014, pp. 11094–98. PubMed, doi:10.1007/s11356-014-3015-4.

Rhodus, Tim. "Picea Pungens." The Ohio State University, Accessed 9 Dec. 2018.

Crabapple (Malus) - CA1100a

Crabapples are not exactly the most romantic kind of tree. When most people picture a Crabapple, it is not with an image of particular grandeur or impressiveness, but is likely instead the picture of a small and "crabby" tree that appropriately invokes its name. It is true: Crabapple trees are not particularly tall, they have knobby, twisted limbs, and bear relatively mundane leaves. Their fruit, although colorful, is bitter and indeed often snubbed; perhaps it is because parents reproach their children for trying to eat the sour fruit, or perhaps simply because it is not commonly done, crab apples are often (mistakenly) thought to be inedible or even poisonous. Yet the Crabapple tree is also highly ornamental, and is a prized tree in gardens and landscapes. In the spring it blooms brilliant blossoms of radiant pink and red, and it maintains its vivid fruit throughout summer, fall, and sometimes even winter, constantly colouring its environment. It is no wonder, then, that eleven of these trees have been planted around the Mary Keyes' residence on campus where, set in a row and spaced evenly between Cottonwood trees, they were placed purposely for their decorative value as bolts of colour in the otherwise bleak, built landscape.

Before further discussing Crabapples, however, a disclaimer is needed: to term Crabapples as a "species" is something of a misnomer. In truth, "Crabapple" describes a whole group of tree species that are members of the Malus, or apple, genus ("Crabapple"). Officially, it refers to all Malus species with fruit under two inches in diameter, a definition that encompasses most species in the genus (Peterson, 2016). That makes for a lot of trees overall: by some estimates, Crabapples comprise dozens of trees; by others, up to hundreds of varieties. As a consequence, Crabapple trees exhibit a wide range of qualities. In height, they can vary from five feet tall to over thirty, and the size of their crown varies from six to twenty-five wide (J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. [JFS], 2018). Crabapple shapes vary as well, taking on round, upright, weeping, spreading, pyramidal, and columnar forms (JFS, 2018). In the spring-time, their floral displays of coloured blossoms can be white, pink, magenta, or red, and their fruits can be red, purple, yellow, or orange, sized between half an inch and two inches in diameter (JFS, 2018). Their leaves, though for the most part shades of light or dark green, can sometimes be reddish or bronze colour as well (Peterson, 2016). With such a wide range of qualities that any given "Crabapple" tree can express, and so many similar combinations, it can be difficult to identify the specific species of a tree like those behind Mary Keyes'. For those trees, however, their short height and round shape, along with their dark green leaves and red fruit, suggest that they are either Donald Wyman Crabapples or Adams Crabapple trees.

The many tree species in the Crabapple category share some distinctive features. As members of the Malus genus, they are easily identified by their spiny, hunched form and gray, scaly bark that accumulates fissures and cracks as the tree grows, giving the tree the knobby appearance of a traditional fruit tree (Conservation Volunteers; "Plant profile," 2013). Their leaves are ovular and sharply toothed, between two and three inches long and alternating on the tree's crooked branches ("Plant profile," 2013; Conservation Volunteers). Perhaps their most identifiable feature, Crabapple blossoms bloom in late April and early May. The blossoms have five petals and grow into small, round fruits with a sepal, or crown-shaped ridge, on the bottom ("Plant profile," 2013).

Crabapples are a stoic class of trees, and often grow alone. Indeed, they can often be the only Crabapple tree in a given forest (Woodland Trust). Stoicism makes for rather an odd trait in Crabapples, since unlike many other trees, Crabapples are self-incompatible, meaning they must be pollinated by another tree in order to reproduce (Conservation Volunteers). This fact is likely because members of the Malus genus have for a long time been agricultural products whose reproduction was regulated by the breeding procedures of human farmers; indeed, apple trees are thought to be some of the first plants to be domesticated in the Agricultural Revolution, and Crabapples are even older, being the ancestors of the modern cultivated apple (Conservation Volunteers; Woodland Trust). As such, Crabapples rarely grow in the wild, instead they grow mostly in thickets and old farmers' fields, where they enjoy the nutrient rich, alkaline soil ("Plant profile," 2013; Conservation Volunteers). They are native to Europe, Asia, and most of the Northern Hemisphere, where despite their agricultural history they form a valuable part of the natural ecosystem, feeding caterpillars with their leaves, bees with their blossoms, and birds, rodents, foxes and badgers with their sour fruits ("Crabapple", Woodland Trust).

Perhaps reflecting their tough appearance, Crabapples are quite disease resistant; however, there are a number of diseases by which that are typically plagued. Apple Scab, Cedar-Apple Rust, and Powdery Mildew are all fungal diseases that attack the leaves of Crabapple trees, disrupting photosynthesis and sometimes causing them to fall prematurely in mid-summer (Peterson, 2016). Fire Blight is another prominent concern, an often-deadly bacteria that causes the tree's bark to peel, resulting in the death of the tree's wood and blackened appearance as if scorched by fire (Peterson, 2016). Though serious if left untreated, most of these diseases can be addressed fairly efficiently if noticed and attended to in a garden or landscaping context.

Crabapples are certainly not the trees that one goes to see on, say, a family trip to the apple orchard. A trip to the arboretum, however, may prove a different story: with their vibrant springtime blossoms and fruit, Crabapples are highly-popular ornamental trees, and their beauty is the most common reason for which they are planted (the same reason that eleven of them now stand behind Mary Keyes' residence) (Peterson, 2016). However, they have diverse applications as well. The dense wood of Crabapples, for example, is good for timber and carving, and more-over is water resistant – so much so that the foundations of Venice are built on Applewood (Conservation Volunteers). In Ireland, a traditional yellow dye is also extracted from the bark of Crabapples and is used to colour fabric and wool (Woodland Trust). Historically, Crabapples have been associated with love and marriage, and Applewood was burned by the Celts during traditional fertility rites and festivals (Woodland Trust). The fruit of Crabapple trees can also be eaten: though perhaps not so tasty on its own, Crabapple fruit is often used in jams, jellies, and sauces, or else in baked goods or roasted with meats ("Plant profile," 2013). And though they may not be the incentive of an apple orchard trip, they in fact play a significant role in orchards too, making for excellent pollinating partners for cultivated apple trees (Woodland Trust).

The name "Crabapple," and the inhospitable image that it conjures, might therefore be somewhat inappropriate. For Crabapples are not crabby at all, but are bright colourful and dramatic trees, admired for their beauty, decorative value, and host of applications. This admiration is evidenced even on McMaster's campus, where eleven Crabapple trees have been purposefully planted to the landscaped environment to add some natural beauty to the area. And beauty they add indeed; their bright red fruits call out against the adjacent brick building, and their mid-spring bloom of pale petals is certainly a sight to see.

Portrait written by Ian McIntosh


Crabapple. (n.d.). In Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Retrieved from

J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co. (2018). Crabapple information chart [Data file]. Retrieved from

n.a. (2013, November 22). Local wild plant profile: Crabapple. Retrieved from

Peterson, C. (2016, February 4). Crabapple selection guide. Retrieved from

Phipps, J. B., Robertson, K. R., Smith, P. G., & Rohrer, J. R. (1990). A checklist of the subfamily Maloideae (Rosaceae). Canadian Journal of Botany, 68(1), 2209-2269.

The Conservation Volunteers. (n.d.). Crab apple. Retrieved from

Woodland Trust. (n.d.). Crab apple (Malus sylvestris). Retrieved from

Cypress Oak (Quercus Robur) - CO090

This tall and imposing tree presents a contradictory facade to those trying to identify it at a quick glance. With the shape of a cypress and leaves of an oak, it seems entirely implausible, until one discovers the existence of the Cypress Oak, or Pyramidal English Oak.

The scientific name of this tree is quercus robur fastigiata. Quercus refers to the oak genus, while robur narrows it down to the species, an English or French oak, also referred to as a white oak (McCardle and Santamour Jr., 1985). The fastigiata designation refers to the cypress shape of the tree - the narrowing towards the top and the branches reaching skyward, almost as if in prayer (Merriam Webster, n.d.). Botanist J. C. Louden writes that the shape resembles that of a Lombardy poplar (McCardle and Santamour Jr., 1985).

This type of tree can grow to be 50 or 60 feet tall, and 10 to 20 feet wide. The leaves don't turn bright colours in autumn, although they turn brown before they fall, because, as an oak, this tree is deciduous. Oaks in general are fairly tolerant trees, not overly fussed by soil type or moisture (Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d.) However, they are susceptible to a variety of diseases, including powdering mildew, a fungal infection that appears as a flour-like dusting on the leaves and drains the energy of the tree (Old Farmer's Almanac, n.d.). This species of oak is well suited to urban pollution, making it an excellent choice for Hamilton, where the downtown area has the poorest air quality in Ontario (Gilman and Watson, 1993; Frketich, 2016).

This species of oak propagates sexually, relying on the wind and small animals to spread its seed (Eaton et al., 2016). It is monoecious, meaning it bears both male and female catkins. Interestingly, males can fertilize females on the same tree, perhaps bolstering the oak's reputation as a self-sufficient and sturdy tree (ODNR, n.d.). The acorns it grows are 1 to 3 inches long, and, when fresh, can display stripes from top to bottom (Eaton et al., 2016).

The cypress oak is not native to North America, and was first discovered growing wild in Germany in the late 18th century (Gilman and Watson, 1993). The quercus robur species grows natively across Europe, stretching north to the southern edges of Scandinavia and south to the northern edges of some countries bordering the Mediterranean (Eaton et al., 2016). It was likely propagated to North America via seed, as oaks are not particularly conducive to grafting. This species typically inherits its fastigiate shape, and often its leaf characteristics, from its mother (McCardle and Santamour Jr., 1985).

Oak, in part because of the strength of its wood, has become a sacred tree to many cultures, especially in Britain, where it is a symbol of yuletide, the navy, shelter for the kind during the English Civil War, Robin Hood, and even appears in the logo of the National Trust and on the nation's currency (Castelow, n.d.).

There seems to be something inherently contradictory in the idea of a cypress oak. In The Long, Long Life of Trees, Fiona Stafford writes about the associations between cypress trees and death or mourning, and the associations between oak trees and life or health or durability. She describes the cypress tree as "funereal tree" and says that it "imposes on people's peace of mind." She shares the story of Cyparissus, a beautiful little boy who plays with his pet stag in the woods. One day he accidentally kills his dear pet, and is so beside himself with grief that he turns into a tree, hair standing up on end like the shape of a cypress tree. Because this little boy was so beloved by Apollo, Apollo's grief turns Cyparissus, and by extension the cypress tree, into a symbol of companionship to those who mourn (Stafford, 2016).

Meanwhile, Stafford describes the "staying power" of the oak, its "rootedness," and its "capacity for survival" (Stafford, 2016). There is a tension here between the cypress and the oak. Perhaps combining the mourning tendencies of the cypress with the literal thick skin of an oak gives us a metaphor for our ability to be rooted and present, and withstand the pain of losing those things that don't share our rootedness and thus pass us by. Perhaps this is what it is to be human; to be made to withstand loss because we are more permanent than other things around us, but to also have that mournful quality to us.

For such a large and imposing tree, thousands of people pass it by every day walking to and from class. Why do some things make it into our frame of reference while others do not? Thoreau talks about this, as he bemoans how long it took him to realize there was a forest of ancient oaks only a few miles from where he lived. He writes about how we hear nothing of extraordinary landscapes until they demonstrate some kind of direct benefit to us as humans (Higgins, 2017). Although he wrote this piece, called Wild Fruits, many years ago, it is a very pertinent thought today as our anthropocentric approach to attaching value to nature is proving more and more damaging. It's interesting to think that this important and time-enduring way of thinking stemmed from the discovery of these beautiful oak trees.

Portrait written by Zoe Handa


Castelow, E. (n.d.). The English Oak. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from

Eaton, E., Caudullo, G., Oliveira, S., & de Rigo, D. (2016). Quercus robur and Quercus petraea in Europe: distribution, habitat, usage and threats.

Fastigiate. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster online. Retrieved from

Frketich, J. (2016, October 21). Downtown Hamilton has worst air pollution in province: Cancer Care Ontario. Retrieved September 20, 2017, from

Gilman, E. F. & Watson, D. G. (1993). Quercus Robur: English Oak. Electronic Data Information Source of University of Florida IFAS Extension. Retrieved from

Higgins, R. (2017). Thoreau and the Language of Trees. Oakland, CA.: University of California Press.

McArdle, A. J., & Santamour Jr, F. S. (1985). Cultivar checklist for English oak (Quercus robur). J Arboric, 11, 307-315.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Forestry. (n.d.). English Oak: Quercus Robur. Retrieved September 21, 2017, from

Old Farmer's Almanac. (n.d.). Powdery Mildew. Retrieved September 14, 2017, from

Quercus robur f. fastigiata. (n.d.). Retrieved September 14, 2017, from 65829&isprofile=0&

Stafford, F. (2016). The Long, Long Life of Trees. New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press.

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus Deltoides) - EC308a

Found on the McMaster campus between the Engineering and Technology Building and the Information and Technology Building, the young eastern cottonwood trees offer a subtle but comforting presence to the university. The eastern cottonwood, part of the poplar family, is an indigenous species to eastern North America, with subspecies including the plains cottonwood, and narrowleaf cottonwood which inhabit the western regions of the continent (Cain 13). The botanical name of the eastern cottonwood tree is populus deltoides. Populus is the family name for all poplar trees, and deltoides originates from the Greek letter delta, and refers to the triangular shape of the leaf (Native Plant Database).

Starting as a seed, the cottonwood sprouts shoots before roots, a feature characteristic of poplar trees (Cain 10). As the sprout grows, the roots stretch into the ground in search of water and nutrients, which are substances that the cottonwood is known for extracting with ease. The tree develops over the next few years and grows very quickly; the cottonwood can grow four to six feet each year (University of Guelph). As a sapling, the bark appears yellowish-green with a smooth texture. The leaves are triangular with 20 - 25 rounded teeth on each side. These leaves attach to the branch of the cottonwood via a flat petiole, causing the leaves to flutter in even the slightest breeze, an unmistakable characteristic of the cottonwood. The fluttering leaves are bright green throughout the warmer months, and as summer transitions into autumn, the leaves change to a distinguishable gold, and continue to brown until they fall off the tree in early winter. The naked tree stands tall in winter and waits for spring to return once again.

Early in spring, beginning in March or April, the cottonwood tree flowers bloom on long dangling catkins. Cottonwood trees are dioecious, meaning two houses, a term used to describe the separated genders of the species (Canadian Tree Tours). In other words, there are distinct female cottonwood trees and male cottonwood trees. The male flowers bloom a deep reddishpurple and the females present a delicate white and green flower. Due to the single gendered nature of the tree, it must rely on the wind to carry pollen from the male flowers to the sticky female buds who eagerly catch it for fertilization (Cain 19). The fertilized chain of flowers develop into bright green seed pods that resemble a length of a pearl necklace. Within the pods, each seed is accompanied by a white, cotton-like material designed to carry the seed in the wind (Canadian Tree Tours). As spring turns to summer, the pods open and the air around the trees fill with the white feather-like seeds, decorating the air and space around the tree with a majestic white glistening.

As seasons and years pass and the tree continues to grow into maturity, the bark darkens and furrows, creating a strongly grooved and rough surface (Native Plant Database). The mature tree can reach a height of 30m (100ft) with foliage spreading 20m (65ft) wide, and a trunk diameter of up to 1.8m (5ft). The roots stretch wide around the tree, continuously seeking water and nutrients. The roots can range 2-3 times the width of the foliage, which helps to balance the large tree (Cain 10).

The Eastern Cottonwood tree has served as comforting shelter from wind and sun for many a traveller, as well as provided humans with valuable resource and important spiritual life-form. The tree is used as the central pole in the Wiwanke Wachipi or Sun Dance ceremony of the indigenous Lakota peoples residing the in Plains. Selected men would seek a large cottonwood tree from the forest. When the tree was felled, it was not allowed to touch the ground; it was trimmed and immediately returned to the central site of the ceremony where it would be decorated and erected in the center. The dance and self-sacrifice occurs around the center pole through the day and night (Akta Lakota Museum, 1978). In other indigenous cultures, the eastern cottonwood tree was used in a variety of ways. Ojibwa people consumed the buds, seed capsules, and seeds (Arnason et al. 2225) as well as applied the cotton-like seeds to open wounds to reduce blood loss. In addition, Iroquois nations create a decoction of the cottonwood bark as an oral treatment for intestinal worms (Arnason et al. 2301).

European settlers were newly acquainted with the Cottonwood tree when they first began exploring "the new world". Before understanding the tree, settlers used cottonwood timber for starter cabins and coffins. However, the wood rots when it is near moisture, and the cabins began disintegrating shortly after they were built (Cain 17). A quote from the book The Cottonwood Tree: An American Champion describes the nature of the cottonwood timber well:

"Though technically categorized as a hardwood, the wood is soft and weak. It's not durable, it's hard to season, and it's prone to warp, crack and split unevenly. It dulls even the sharpest blade, doesn't burn well, and smells like a combination of mildew and vinegar when its tossed on the fire." (Cain 19)

Although a fast-growing tree with economic potential, the nature of the timber marks the cottonwood near-useless for architecture, and the most common modern consumption of cottonwood timber includes pulping the tree for plywood or boxwood. Although the cottonwood is rarely planted as lumber, it is sometimes planted as a wind break and to aid soil erosion (Cain 20).

In cities, the cottonwood tree is a controversial being. The seeds fly across neighbourhoods, covering yards and gardens. To a passer-by, the snow-like seed spread is magical in the summer, but to the home-owner it can be annoying and intrusive. The seed fluff can clog window screens, gutters, disrupt gardening, and even entering houses and cars. For this reason, the cottonwood tree is nicknamed the "trash-tree" (Lake and Wetland Ecosystems, 2014), and is generally undesired for urban landscaping.

In conclusion, the eastern cottonwood tree is important for eastern North American ecosystems as it grows quickly, reduces erosion, and provides shelter. It is also important in indigenous cultures with both spiritual significance, as well as practical uses. However, in urban societies it is generally viewed as a nuisance due to the high quantity of seeds that it releases each summer.

Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous


Arnason, Thor, et al. "Use of Plants for Food and Medicine by Native Peoples of Eastern Canada." Canadian Journal of Botany, vol. 59, no. 11, 1981, pp. 2189–2325., doi:10.1139/b81-287.

Cain, Kathleen. The Cottonwood Tree an American Champion. Boulder, CO: Johnson, 2007. PDF.

"Eastern Cottonwood." Canadian Tree Tours. Web. 14 Sept. 2017.

"Eastern Cottonwood." The Arboretum, University of Guelph. Web. 15 Sept. 2017.

"Populus Deltoides." Native Plant Database. Evergreen. Web. 10 Sept. 2017.

"Trees, Shrubs and Vines." Lake and Wetland Ecosystems. 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Sept. 2017.

"Wiwanke Wachipi." Akta Lakota Museum, 1978. Web. 11 Sept. 2017.

Eastern White Cedar (Thuja Occidentalis L.) - EWC137

The Eastern white cedar (also known as the Northern white-cedar, Eastern thuja, and Eastern arborvitae) or Thuja occidentalis L., is a native tree species whose range extends through the northeastern parts of the United States and southern parts of eastern Canada. Its distinctive foliage not only provides a valuable habitat for associated plants and animals, but it also adorns our urban landscapes as a widely used ornamental species. This tree has undoubtedly been an important part of our cultural heritage as well as of the native forests in its range (Campbell, 2008). This paper will examine this tree through biological, practical, and artistic lenses.


This cedar is not a true cedar as it not from the genus Cedrus. It comes from the family Cupressaceae which represents evergreen, coniferous, cypress trees. The cedar has lance-like leaves which are 4-5 millimetres (mm) in length as well as scale-like leaves which are 1-2 mm. The dull yellowish-green leaves covered in conspicuous glands transition into a bronze colour as fall and winter months approach. The twigs consist of a leaf-covered shoot complex which is usually horizontal, stiff, and fan shaped. The branchlets are yellowish-green on both sides and bear small, pale yellow flowers in April. The monoecious tree produces cinnamon brown seed cones which are ovoid and upright on a short, curved stalk. They are 7-12 mm in length and contain leathery scales or wings in 5-6 pairs. The seeds are dispersed in late summer and are shed over a period of months (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). There is a certain plasticity in the seed weight which allows the tree to become established under a range of environmental conditions whereas plasticity in wing width may assure dispersal of seeds to many favourable locations (Briand, 1992).

The cedar's bark is thin, separating into long, narrow flat strips with age. In colour, it is a shiny reddish-brown when young and becomes a striking grey-white as it matures. Its wood, which has a characteristic odour, is very light, soft, and often easily split. The light brown heartwood is resistant to decay while the nearly white sapwood is less resistant to decay. The tree reaches a height of 15-25 meters with a diameter reaching 30-90 centimetres (NRC, 2015). It has a variable lifespan ranging to several hundred years. The tree is referred to as the Tree of Life for this very reason. The current oldest living Eastern White Cedar in Ontario is 1062 years old, having germinated in 952 (Clements, 1998). Another reason for this name is the wood's exceptionally rotresistant nature.

Because the tree can be found on dry uplands such as cliffs and wet lowlands like swamps (and sphagnum bogs) where the underlying rock is limestone, its distribution is said to be bimodal (Briand, 1992). Although the tree grows primarily in pure strands and clusters, it is more often mixed with other species such as the eastern white pine, yellow birch, eastern hemlock, silver maple, black ash, and the white elm (NRC, 2015). The trees are known for exhibiting extreme longevity due to cambial dieback and slow growth rates due to adaption to the unique geology and harsh climate conditions of the Niagara Escarpment (Clark, 2010).

The form of the tree depends greatly on where it is found growing. If the cedar is opengrown, the trunk is irregular in cross-section, tapering rapidly, leaning, and curving upward. The crown can be described as being long, narrow, dense, and conical, with branches bending slightly downward and gradually turning upward towards the tips. If the tree is forest-grown, the trunk is visible through the crown, which is open and irregular with stubs of dead branches on the lower parts of the trunk. Moreover, the root system is quite shallow and wide-spreading (NRC, 2015).

Many insects are found living on and interfering with the tree. These include leafminers, emeralds, scales, weevils, mites, brocades, and other beetles. The cedar is also susceptible to two common diseases. The first, Armillaria root rot is the most destructive and widespread, involving pathogens that attack the base of trees as well as their root systems. In forest strands, the disease will kill trees singly or in patches called disease centres which can grow over time. Further, Cedar needle blight affects one-year-old foliage and appears as small whitish spots on upper leaf surfaces in spring and may turn the branchlets brown (NRC, 2015).

Uses of the Tree

An important timber species as well as a one used for a variety of applications (railroad ties, shingles, poles, posts, cabins, and lumber) that have required decay resistance since the 1800s, the tree is very popular in the construction industry (Campbell, 2008). Maibec, the largest manufacturer of Eastern white cedar shingles in North America acquired Cedar Balmoral Ltd. from New Brunswick to alleviate the issue of outpacing production capacity in recent years ("Maibec Acquires Cedar Balmoral Ltd.," 2016). This demand exists as the tree is a naturally durable wood species due to toxic compounds found in the heartwood. These compounds serve as natural fungicides to protect nondurable wood products from biodegradation. Results of a study showed that aspen samples treated with white cedar water-soluble heartwood extracts had little mold infection. Further, no mold growth was detected on any samples that were dip treated with the extracts and then brushed with a coating (Yang, Wang, Wan, & Liu, 2011).

While the cedar can be credited as being a common ingredient in construction material and household cleaning products, it has also served many other practical, medical, and spiritual purposes for the Indigenous community. The Indigenous peoples used the pith of the twigs to make soup while the inner bark was ground into a powder and used in conjunction with grains to make bread. The leaves were used to make a highly aromatic tea for respiratory problems such as bronchitis. The tea was also used for treating cystitis and bedwetting in children. The leaves were alternatively used in steam-baths for rheumatisms, arthritis, colds, as a wash for swollen feet or painful joints and for increasing blood circulation. A chew of the leaves was said to fend off colds, flu, and sore throats. Additionally, derivatives from the tree were used for assisting with the initial sweat during ceremonial sweats and saunas. Finally, wood from the trunk was used to build lightweight, long-lasting canoes and paddles (Stark, 2015).

The magical quality of the cedar depicted by the Indigenous people traces back to the latin words thuya ("to sacrifice") and thusia ("a burnt offering"). The indigenous community used the cedar bark and leaves as smudge for purifications, banishings, exorcisms, and success workings. In addition, the wood and resin were used as elements for incense which gave a pleasant woody aroma (Stark, 2015).

Studies have examined and emphasized the high concentration of vitamin C found in the tree's leaves. Per 100 grams of fresh leaves, white cedar contains 167 milligrams of vitamin C. This finding traces back to the story of Jacques Cartier arriving at Quebec with a crew ridden with scurvy and being treated by the natives with cedar, now known for its vitamin C content (Stark, 2015).

The Fine Arts

Bonsai is a traditional Japanese artform where an ornamental tree is grown in a pot and artificially prevented from reaching its normal size. The Toronto Bonsai Society, founded in 1964 and one of the largest outside Japan, is dedicated to the learning, practice, and teaching of the horticultural techniques and artistic principles of the ancient art-form. They describe that driftwood bonsai styles are popular with this tree as the wood is soft, malleable, and easy to carve. This allows for very dramatic bonsai pieces to be created (Toronto Bonsai Society, 2014).

The Eastern white cedar is a tree that has a place in natural, human, and artistic endeavours. It has allowed for and inspired a culture of creation, functionality, and strength. Although the tree is a very giving one, it is important to take a step back and admire its beauty and individuality. The Eastern white cedar is an integral part of the Canadian natural landscape and one that lives on through the changing seasons.

Portrait written by Aditya Harchand


Briand, C. H. (1992). Architecture of thuja occidentalis L. (eastern white cedar) in relation to habitat (Order No. NN75589). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I. (303988099). Retrieved from

Campbell, L. J. (2008). An ecological assessment of eastern white cedar (thuja occidentalis L.) populations in nova scotia, canada (Order No. MR43976). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I. (304404797). Retrieved from

Care & Maintenance - Eastern White Cedar. (2014). Retrieved 27 September 2017, from

Clark, M. G. (2010). Paleoclimatic variability of southern ontario interpreted from 2795 years of eastern white-cedar (thuja occidentalis) tree-rings (Order No. MR58383). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I. (219935678). Retrieved from

Clements, D. (1998, Summer). Old growths 1,000 year old eastern white cedar found in secret location. Seasons, 38, 46. Retrieved from

Eastern white-cedar. (2015). Retrieved 27 September 2017, from

Eastern White Cedar, or Arbor Vitae. (2015). Partridge, Pine, and Peavey. Retrieved 27 September 2017, from

Maibec acquires cedar balmoral ltd. from balmoral, new brunswick to meet growing demand for eastern white cedar singles. (2016, Feb 08). PR Newswire Retrieved from

Yang, D., Wang, X., Wan, H., & Liu, Z. (2011). Protecting aspen oriented strand board panels from biodegradation with white cedar extracts and coatings. Forest Products Journal, 61(2),185-188. Retrieved from

Eastern White Pine (Pinus Strobus) - WP378a

Biological information.

The Eastern white pine (Pinus Strobus) is the tallest northeastern conifer, more specifically, evergreen tree. It can live up to 450 years old and can be easily distinguished by its height, leaves, and cones. Reaching a height of 30 to 50 meters tall and one to 1.5 wide when fully grown, this pine tree has soft blue-green needles which are found in bundles, or more scientifically, fascicles of five; an identifiable and unique feature of the Eastern white pine. The evergreen needles are five-15cm long and can be described as straight, slender, soft to the touch, and flexible, with finely toothed edges. These needles will remain through the seasons for two or three years before turning brown and falling off in the autumn. In addition, this pine tree produces pinecones, both female and male genders. The female cones are located further up the tree and contain dark brown seeds with membranes attached. On the other hand, the male cones are located slightly lower with softer, more reddish-brown scales that contain a pollen sac.

When the tree is young, the bark is dark green and smooth. However, over the course of the trees lifetime, the bark transforms into a dark brown to black colour. In the open field, the Eastern white pine tends to have a straight uniform trunk with wide branches in the middle and curved branches towards the top, creating an oval silhouette. In the forest, the trunk is usually straight and free of branches for two-thirds or more of its height.

The tree possesses very little invasive potential and in opposition, can help reduce and combat the effects of reforestation. It provides shelter for animals such as moose, birds and small mammals while providing a source of food for other animals such as beavers, squirrels, rabbits, deer and even humans. However, the white pine is susceptible to several diseases. In particular, a fungal disease known as the white pine blister rust where the fungus' spores attack the needle clusters of the pine saplings and spread along the branches to the trunk. This in turn chokes off the sapwood and leads to killing the tree. A predator of tree is the white pine weevil, an insect whose larvae deforms young trees by killing their tender central leader.

Fortunately, the Eastern white pine's conservation status is low risk meaning it will likely continue to survive in the foreseeable. This is mainly in part of a large conservations strategy implemented in Ontario with the goal to ensure that the white pine forest ecosystem continues to flourish by letting older trees continue to grow while permitting a sustainable harvest of young ones.

A study in 2000 examined microsatellite DNA markers from two different old-growth white pine trees, both 250 years old, and compared the genetic diversity between the pre-harvest tree and the post-harvest tree. The results showed that the total number of alleles on the post-harvest trees were reduced by on average 26% and density reduction by 75% compared to the pre-harvest trees thus emphasizing the importance of proper silviculture. The silviculture practice needs to be critically aware of the importance of the pre-harvest trees and should ensure the gene pools of remaining old-growth trees are allowed time to reconstitute and regenerate properly.

Practical uses.

The Eastern white pine tree can also be examined through its practical uses. Its needles, bark, and sap are a source of food, beverage, medication, and material. The needles can be used as a source of tinder to start a fire. In addition, they can be brewed into a tea to help alleviate sore throats and colds due to its high Vitamin C and A content, even containing a higher concentration of Vitamin C than five lemons. The second layer of the tree bark can provide an adequate source of food; the Algonquians (more specifically the Adirondacks meaning tree eaters) eat the inner bark of the tree in times of famine. The bark can also be grinded to make flour which will have a bitter pine taste with a sweet undernote. The sap, which can be found in wounds of the tree or off the pinecones, is an antiseptic agent and can be used for cuts and wounds. It can also create a sticky paste strong enough to pitch a tent when combined with charcoal and dry grass. The bark of the pine saplings can be used as a cast to stabilize broken bones if you fell or broke something or as a binding in place of stitches for deep cuts. In conclusion, there are multiple practical survival techniques that can be drawn from the tree.

Cultural importance.

This tree serves as a cultural importance in Christianity and Aboriginal religions. In Christianity, evergreen trees (due to their leaves remaining all year round) represent the life force of God that is everlasting and an act of glorifying Him for His creation in nature and everlasting love. The needles of the white Pine are said to point towards the Heaven, reminding Christians of their desire to reach God. The Eastern white pine in particular, is a common tree for Christmas as it holds its needles very well and is suitable for people with allergies as it produces little to no aroma. The branches are also widely used in making holiday wreaths and garlands.

In addition, the Eastern white pine symbolizes Peace amongst the Iroquois people. This is because a traditional myth in Aboriginal culture centers around the tree where 1000 years ago, there was great political turmoil amongst the Iroquois people and therefore a Peacemaker was called in with the goal to establish unity and balance and to distribute power in a democratic society. The Peacemaker then established a confederacy; the legislative branch consisted of Mohawk and Seneca while Oneida and Cayuga formed what is similar to the Senate and House of Congress.This intervention was called the Path of Peace and the Peacemaker used an Eastern white pine to symbolize the Great Peace that united the separate nations. The branches and needles represent protection and the roots represent safety and no more fighting as the Iroquois people laid their weapons down.

Political and economic roles.

1000 years later, the model established by the Peacemaker helped inspire the idea to transform thirteen separate colonies into the United States. Furthermore, the white pine came to be the focal point of the Tree Flag (or Appeal to Heaven Flag) during the American Revolution under George Washington because of its popularity economically; it is a very valuable softwood lumber that is great for making essential items for colonialism such as ship masts, moldings, and furniture.

Often praised for its beauty and peacefulness by the Aboriginals, the Eastern white pine has come to represent a symbol of wilderness and hope. Its soft windswept appearance, that is most famously depicted in Alfred Joseph Casson's painting "White Pine", has helped in its recognition. The practical uses of the tree in the economic, political and social spheres has resulted in it acquiring the title of the official tree of Ontario.

Portrait written by Fiona Woticky


Grant, B. (2017, April 12). How to Locate Male & Female Pine Cones | Hunker. Retrieved September 24, 2017.

Introducing the Appeal to Heaven Flag. (2016). Sons of Liberty Aleworks. doi:10.18411/d-2016-154

Muma, W. (n.d.). Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). Retrieved September 24, 2017.

Patterson, N., Jr. (2016). Great Tree of Peace: The White Pine. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. doi:10.18411/d-2016-154

Rajora, O. P., Rahman, M. H., Buchert, G. P., & Dancik, B. P. (2000). Microsatellite DNA analysis of genetic effects of harvesting in old-growth eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) in Ontario, Canada. Molecular Ecology,9(3), 339-348. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294x.2000.00886.x

Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. (1995). Eastern White Pine. Retrieved from

European Beech (Fagus Sylvatica) - EB161

Behind Hamilton Hall on Mcmaster University campus stand five middle aged European Beech trees, or Fagus Sylvatica. Aerial photography of the campus reveals that prior to 1965 there were no trees in this specific area behind Hamilton Hall, but these young trees appear in aerial photo archives starting from 1965 and their growth can then be tracked all the way to the present day (Mcmaster Campus Air Photos). Since the average European Beech lives to be 120 years old, we can expect these trees to be around for another seventy years (Connon Nurseries). The only native species of Beech to North America is the American Beech, or Fagus Grandifolia. However, the European Beech is more widely used in decoration even in North America because it does a better job of tolerating pollution (Woodland Trust, Connan Nurseries). The leaves of the European Beech are distinct from those of the American Beech because they are not even sparsely serrated unlike their cousins (Connon Nurseries).

One major identifying feature of this tree is its smooth silver bark, often likened to elephant skin. This bark is very sensitive and cannot heal itself when it is damaged. This makes Beech trees susceptible to graffiti such as initial carvings and squirrel damage (Woodland Trust). Another consequence is that Beech trees are susceptible to Beech Bark Disease. Beech bark disease occurs because of the beech scale insect Cryptococcus fagisuga and the fungus Nectria working together (Houston 27). After infection a tree will typically die within one to four years (Houston 27).

The leaves of the European Beech tree in the spring are initially lime green and hairy, but upon maturity lose their hairs and become deep green, oblong, and entire with wavy edges. They grow in an alternating pattern on the twig (Woodland Trust). In the autumn the leaves turn yellow and decay very slowly when they fall as a result of their high tannin content. In the spring the Beech tree produces both male and female blooms making it monoecious (Woodland Trust). Male beech flowers look like tassels on the ends of twigs while female beech flowers grow in a cup which turns into a beechnut once pollinated by the wind. Beechnuts are triangular and have spiky shells with four lobes. Beech trees grow upwards of forty meters in height and develop a large domed canopy (Connan Nurseries). The thick and low growing canopy of these trees is exceptional at providing shade through every season but winter, at which time beeches are bare leafed since they are deciduous trees. In the early summertime a tannin rich array of beechnuts carpets the ground under these trees providing nourishment for the local wildlife. Beechnuts are bitter in taste and not appetizing to humans although they are edible.

Linguistically the word for book in Swedish and German is also the word for Beech. This is believed to be the result of Beechwood blocks being used as early writing tools (Crew 41). Beechwood is also said to be the material Jason used when he built the mythological ship, the Argo (Coder 3).

Aside from Beech Bark Disease, another hardship facing these trees is climate change. Beech trees do not tolerate standing water which makes them vulnerable to flooding, but they are also susceptible to droughts. In Europe, the European Beech tree has been growing further and further north as a result of rising temperatures, in zones that are susceptible to future flooding (Gebler et al 1). Another consequence is that the growing season is lengthening as the global temperature rises and trees are blooming earlier and earlier in the year. This could potentially disrupt forest composition and ultimately lead to a decrease in the number of competing tree types (Bednarova et al 28).

Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous

Works Cited

Bednarova, E, J Kucera, and L Merklova. "The Onset and Duration of Vegetative Phenological Stages in European Beech (Fagus Sylvatica L.) under Changing Conditions of the Environment." Acta Universitatis Agriculturae et Silviculturae Mendelianae Brunensis 58.4 (2010): 23-30.

"Beech, Common (Fagus Sylvatica)." Woodland Trust., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

Coder, Kim D. "Cultural Aspects of Trees: Traditions & Myths." Warnell, Jan. 2013. 1-3.

Crews, J. "Forest and tree symbolism in folklore." Unasylva (FAO), 2003. 37-43.

"European Beech." Connon Nurseries., 2018. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

Gebler, A., Keitel, C., Kreuzwieser, J. et al. "Potential Risks for European Beech (Fagus Sylvatica L.) in a Changing Climate." Trees 21.1 (2007): 1-11.

"Mcmaster Campus Air Photos." Mcmaster University Library Digital Archives., 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2018.

Houston, David R. 1998. Beech bark disease. In: Britton, Kerry O., ed. Exotic pests of eastern forests conference proceedings; 1997 April 8-10; Nashville, TN. U.S. Forest Service and Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council: 29-41.

Fernleaf Beech (Fagus Sylvatica var. Heterophylla Asplenifolia) - FB517

The rich history of the fernleaf beech begins with its biological ancestor and sibling, the European beech (F. sylvatica). It has a peculiar etymology: the genus Fagus is Latin for "beech", which evolved from the Greek phegos, which alternatively means "oak" (Rhodus). Its species sylvatica denotes "of the woods" (Rhodus). The European beech was first discovered in British, Norwegian, and Mediterranean woods, and was brought by English colonists to Canada for its most noted modern use: urban ornamentation (Everett 114). As its popularity grew in both Europe and North America, botanists saw an aesthetic-driven market for the production of variants of the European beech (Everett 114).

Variation within F. sylvatica was facilitated in three ways. First, the founder effect: when a population becomes naturally isolated from its species, and must breed with little genetic variation. One of the most esteemed F. sylvatica variants, the purple-leaved copper beech, was discovered in 1660 as a small population growing in a Switzerland grove (Everett 115). The second method of variation is selective breeding for specific, desirable traits. This was often how beech variations, or "cultivars", were created, many of which were even trademarked by their creators to limit their distribution and sale (Rhodus). Third is the formation of chimaeras by grafting a species on top of another's rootstock (Thomas 306). These chimaeras have the core of one tree, and a cell-thick layer of the other tree overtop. If the chimaera were damaged, the part would heal with characteristics of the core species (Keele U). The fern leaf beech is an example of a chimaera, usually possessing the core of a European beech (Thomas 307).

The fernleaf beech goes formally by Fagus sylvatica var. heterophylla asplenifolia. "Asplenifolia" reveals the key feature of this variant: the deeply-cut leaves which resemble the spleenwort fern (Rhodus). However, these leaves may not be the only type found on a fernleaf beech; trees built from grafting often exhibit a small number of branches with leaves from their core species, in a phenomenon known as heterophylly (Thomas 307). The McMaster asplenifolia exhibits heterophylly on a low branch extending from its Northeast-facing trunk – we can see the leaves are rounded and identifiable as from the European beech. A fernleaf beech may also be identified by the line of the graft on its trunk, although it will not be visible on all specimens, and is not clear on McMaster's tree (Keele U). These trees have a slow growth rate, but can reach 60-80 feet tall with optimal conditions of moist, slightly acidic soil (Everett 115). Saplings may thrive in part or full shade, but a grown fernleaf beech requires full sun (Rhodus). Traditionally, the European beech reproduces monoeciously through flowers held within inconspicuous catkins - although the asplenifolia still holds these reproductive parts, it is usually infertile (Rhodus). In early autumn, three-sided nuts fall from the tree, providing food for birds and squirrels; however, they contain a saponic glycoside which is toxic to humans in large quantities (NC State U). Autumn also marks the leaves' colour change to a stunning copper yellow (Flint 210). The bark is grey and mottled, adding to its ornamentation, and is pliable for other uses (Everett 115).

F. sylvatica and its variants have long been entangled with European culture, and are especially important to the evolution of Germanic language. Buche was the ancient Germanic word for "beech", and from it came Buchstabe, the word for "alphabetic letter", directly translated to mean "beech stick" (Steiner). When old German communities spoke runic languages, they would express those runes by ceremoniously throwing beech sticks to the ground (Steiner). This was amongst the most primitive written languages in Europe but, even as linguistic technology progressed, the influence of the beech tree on Germanic language was never forgotten. The word for "book", derived from Buche, is Buch (Steiner). Most recently, German publisher Johann Gutenberg used beechwood to carve the printing blocks used in the invention of moveable type, perhaps as a nod to the beech's linguistic importance (Everett 115). Throughout history, the tree played an unfathomable role in the development of Germanic and, by extension, English language.

The fernleaf beech has a rich ancestry, full of biological complexities from the human pursuit of ornamentation, and entanglement in the development of Germanic culture and language. I absolutely loved this assignment, my only regret being that I could not find an art piece specific to the asplenifolia. However, I'd like to finish with the garden preferences of a certain poet:

William Wordsworth planted a collection of fernleaf beeches in his famous Rydal Mount cottage gardens; the largest of which shades a terrace built for his first wife (Buchanan 170). The gardens heavily inspired his writing, and the award-winning beeches, now near 180 years old, remain healthy (Buchanan 170).

Portrait written by Rachael Gregoris

Works Cited

Buchanan, Carol. Wordsworth's Gardens. Texas Tech University Press, Texas, 2001.

Everett, Thomas H. Living Trees of the World. Doubleday and Company Inc., New York, 1968.

Flint, Harrison L. Landscape Plants for Eastern North America: Exclusive of Florida and the Immediate Gulf Coast. John Wiley and Sons, 1997.

Keele University Arboretum. Fern-Leaved Beech - Fagus sylvatica "Asplenifolia".

North Carolina State University. Fagus sylvatica 'Asplenifolia'. NC Cooperative Extension, Department of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Rhodus, Tim. Fagus Sylvatica, the European Beech. Ohio State University Pocket Gardener.

Steiner, Rudolf. Language from a Historical Standpoint (Lecture 1 of 6). Printed lecture given in 1919, SteinerBooks, 1995.

Thomas, Peter A. Trees: Their Natural History. Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) - G392

The ginkgo biloba tree is a distinctive tree both biologically and historically. The first part of its name, 'ginkgo', is a transliteration from its Japanese name, and 'biloba' was added later by Swedish naturalist Linnaeus to refer to the feature of the leaves where the blade is notched along its leading edge (Crane 22). Indeed, this tree can be easily identified by its fan-shaped leaves, whose resemblance to the maidenhair fern's foliage have also led this tree to be known as 'maidenhair' (Singh et al. 402). The leaves are green, deciduous, and alternate or in clusters of 3 to 5, but they turn yellow and fall off in autumn (Singh et al. 403). The ginkgo tree is over 200 million years old and is therefore known as a 'living fossil' (Crane 15). Its reproductive structures and multiflagellated sperm cells differentiate it from coniferous trees, and it no longer has close relatives in the plant kingdom; instead, it has been classified in its own category, Ginkgophyta (Singh et al. 402).

Despite these classification differences, elements of the ginkgo tree's reproductive processes are familiar. Ginkgo is a dioecious species, and its male and female trees appear with approximately a 1:1 ratio and take 20 to 30 years to reach sexual maturity (Singh et al. 403). Both male and female sex organs are produced on short shoots, and pollination occurs anywhere from early April to late May depending on the climate in which the tree lives. The time of fertilization falls between late August and late September; about a month afterwards, its seeds drop. These seeds are green until they mature, at which point they turn yellow and begin to smell foul. The dispersal of the tree's seeds over time is a mystery; researchers believe that marsupial-like animals from the late Jurassic may have been dispersal agents for the tree. In present day, mammals such as squirrels and leopard cats consume and defecate ginkgo nuts, which leads to the spread of the tree (Singh et al. 404).

Due to its incredible age, the ginkgo tree has a fascinating history. About 100 million years ago it was widespread across the world, but climate changes caused it to retreat from the Arctic and southern continents. For unknown reasons, the tree likely began to decline approximately five to seven million years ago, and then the Ice Ages nearly extinguished it; it remained only in protected valleys in China (Crane 5). Due to this history, it is said to originate in mountainous valley regions of Zhejiang province in eastern China (Singh et al. 402). It made its way to Europe through the Dutch trading colony of Deshima in Japan and has since become common again across the world (Crane 5). Since the ginkgo is disease resistant and pollution and climate tolerant, it can flourish in many different places and makes an excellent street tree.

The pharmacological effects of ginkgo has solidified its economic importance worldwide. The leaves, either fresh or dried, and the seeds (without their outer layer) contain active compounds that improve blood circulation, discourage clot formation, reinforce capillary walls, and protect nerve cells (Singh et al. 409). Over 7 billion dollars per year is spent on botanical medicines, and ginkgo is ranked first among herbal medications; 50 million gingko trees are grown to meet this demand (Singh et al. 409).

Beyond its medicinal influence, the ginkgo tree has tremendous cultural and symbolic significance. Its symbolic meaning in Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, and Shintoism accounts for much of this significance, as the tree is frequently associated with hope for the future (Maier). In a mural from the 5th century AD, the ginkgo tree was depicted to represent the end of political strife and a new era of peace (Maier). The tree is commonly found near temples in China and Korea; one notable instance of this is one of the largest and most visited ginkgo trees in the world, which is found at Yongmunsa Temple in South Korea (Crane 11). Legends surrounding that tree include that it grew from the staff of Buddhist priest Uisang or that it was planted by Maui, the crown prince of Gyeongsun, to lament his nation's fall. The easily recognizable shape of the tree's leaves also contributes to its prominence and is a recurring motif in governments, businesses, organizations, and artwork across the world, especially in Japan (Crane 19). Ginkgo biloba signifies resilience and longevity and is therefore famously used as a commemorative tree. In New Jersey, a grove of ginkgo trees stands as a memorial for victims of the 9/11 attack (Crane 21). In Hiroshima, six of the ginkgo trees near the atomic bomb detonation site have fully recovered and stand as symbols of endurance and vitality; in fact, one of these trees, near the center of the blast site, is known as the "bearer of hope" (Maier).

In 1815, German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem entitled "Ginkgo biloba" that emphasizes the significance of the ginkgo tree's leaves. In his poem, he explores the mystery of the two-in-one phenomenon of the leaf and asks: "Is it one living being? / … Are there two who have chosen each other / So that they are known as one?" (Crane). The rich history of the ginkgo tree and its subsequent religious, artistic, and cultural significance makes it a fascinating and distinctive tree indeed.

Portrait written by Julia Cooke

Works Cited

Crane, Peter. Ginkgo: The Tree That Time Forgot. Yale University Press, 2013.

Maier, Karyn. "The Symbolic Meaning of the Ginkgo Tree | Hunker." Hunker, 8 Mar. 2018, Accessed 21 Nov. 2018.

Singh, Bikram, et al. "Biology and Chemistry of Ginkgo Biloba." Fitoterapia, vol. 79, no. 6, Sept. 2008, pp. 401–18. ScienceDirect, doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2008.05.007. Accessed 21 Nov. 2018.

Hawthorn (Crataegus) - H010a

Just to the west of McMaster's Hamilton Hall stand two midsized but unmissable trees. They are strikingly vibrant, and in the fall, their bursts of green leaves and lush, red fruit are bound to catch the eye of even a far-away observer. The pair comprises two of the several Hawthorns on McMaster's campus, and not only are the trees beautiful, but they are also enormously resilient and ecologically important. Indeed, in both the natural ecosystem and human culture, Hawthorns can play many essential roles that make it a staple tree for far more than just its showy looks.

"Hawthorn" is a common name for the Crataegus plant genus, a group composed of roughly 200 species of shrubs and trees. The genus is physically quite unique, and its members share a collection of features that make them easily identifiable. Hawthorns are dense-growing and horizontally-spreading plants, and their hard, spindly branches often form wide canopies up to 15 meters high (Britannica, 2017). Their obovate leaves have highly toothed margins, and are structured with distinctive horizontal lobes separated by deep, U-shaped lateral indents (Phipps, 2014). They grow in a recognizable pattern, where foliage is sparse and alternate-growing on inner limbs but is dense and chaotically clustered on twigs at the ends of branches, making Hawthorn crowns seem to burst with leaves (Phipps, 2014). In early May, the trees bloom with small, fluffy flowers that cluster on the outer branches, which are succeeded in the summer by brightly coloured berries - usually only a couple centimeters in diameter - that dangle in plump bunches (Plants, 2012). The trees' brown bark is rough and fissured, which sets them apart from smoother berry-producing trees (Phipps, 2014). And perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Hawthorn genus is its thorns. The thorns, which are young, sharply-pointed branches, are a couple of centimeters long, and are thin and dark purple, resembling the needle-like teeth of perhaps some monstrous creature (Plants, 2012).

It is easy to observe many of these features on the Hamilton Hall Hawthorns: their bright red berries, thorns, and bark are all typical of the Crataegus genus. Their dense, spreading crowns, however, have been heavily pruned to prevent their growing over the neighbouring sidewalk. And their leaves, though toothed and obovate, lack the distinctive lobes of a Hawthorn; instead, they have only three lobes that are separated by narrow indents. Such a structure suggests that these trees are not of the most common Crataegus species (C. monogyna, or the Common Hawthorn). Instead, the trees' subtle lobes and relatively small fruit indicate that they are perhaps Caughnawaga Hawthorns (C. durobrivensis) (Cuizhi & Spongberg, 2003).

Hawthorn trees are hardy, adaptable plants that serve valuable ecological functions in the wild. As a large genus, Hawthorns are naturally found all throughout the temperate climates of North America, Europe, and Asia, where their resilience allows them to grow in a variety of soil types and environments (Hawthorns have been known to tolerate both marshy wetlands and droughts with equal ease) (Plants, 2012). They prefer, however, to grow in small thickets or at forest margins, where they greedily consume direct sunlight (Britannica, 2017; Phipps, 2014). In these ecosystems, Hawthorns are an essential food source for animals: in the springtime, insects and small birds eat the nectar of Hawthorn blossoms, pollinating the tree in the process, and, in the winter, birds like Thrushes and Waxwings feed on the tree's fruit and simultaneously spread its seeds (Britannica, 2017; Phipps, 2014). The tree also provides shelter for some animals, and birds often use its thorny branches as a safe place to build their nests (Britannica, 2017). For other trees in its habitat, the Hawthorn is an equally helpful neighbour; it often acts as a nurse plant that nourishes and protects other deciduous trees around it (Phipps, 2014).

It is not just in the wild, however, that Hawthorns are valuable trees: they have long been cultivated by human civilization for a wide variety of uses. As in the case of the Hawthorns near Hamilton Hall, they are often planted for the ornamental value of their brilliantly-coloured berries and flowers, and particular look of their flowers - which can be a powdery white, pink or red - and their berries - which range from yellow to red to purple - is indeed truly extraordinary. With its dense branches and sharp thorns, the Hawthorn makes for an excellent barrier and so is also often planted in hedges (Britannica, 2017). In fact, Hawthorns only began to be cultivated en masse after the British Agricultural Revolution, when miles of Hawthorns were planted as hedges to divide the new plots of farmland (Britannica, 2017).

Hawthorn berries are edible, and so have become traditional foods for many of the cultures where the tree is naturally found. In regions as varied as China and Mexico, Hawthorn fruit is a popular food that is often eaten whole or dried, and is also mass produced as snacks, candies, juices, and even soft drinks (Dharmananda, 2004). Traditionally, the fruit was eaten by the Kutenai people of Northwestern North America, as well as early settlers of colonial Canada during times of famine (Smith, 1984). In Britain, the southern United States, and Iran, Hawthorn berries remain a popular fruit to eat in various jams and sauces (Plants, 2012). Their popularity is unsurprising: Hawthorn berries can be delicious - they are sometimes compared to strawberries - and seven species of Hawthorn are even grown as commercial fruit trees (Plants, 2012; Phipps, 2014). However, one must also exercise some caution when eating Hawthorn berries, as most of the species' fruit is quite bland and mealy.

Hawthorns berries are also common ingredients in traditional medicine. Several cultures, including traditional Chinese and Native American cultures, use the tree's berries as a digestive aid to treat abdominal discomfort (Dharmananda, 2004; Smith, 1984). More recently, the Hawthorn has gained prominence as a treatment for chronic heart failure. Many studies have shown that Hawthorn berries strengthen heart function, dilate blood vessels, promote circulation, and improve oxygen consumption rates, along with causing various related benefits such as diminished dizziness and increased exercise tolerance (Guo, Pittler & Ernst, 2008; Tassell et al., 2010). As a result of such findings, natural medicines increasingly use Hawthorn extracts in treating cardiovascular disease.

The timing of the Hawthorn's annual bloom, which usually falls in the first weeks of May, has given the plant symbolic meaning in many cultures. In Britain, the tree is also known as the "Mayflower," and its plays a significant role in traditional Mayday celebrations (Eberly, 1989). A sign of the coming summer, many cultures also view blooming Hawthorns as a symbol of hope and love. The positive view of Hawthorns is also present in the folklore of the Celtic and Gaelic traditions, where the Hawthorn tree is associated with magic and sometimes represents the entrance to the faery world (Kendall, 2018).

The Hawthorn tree is a plant that truly abounds with cultural meaning and natural usefulness, along with its beautiful flowers and tasty fruit. Though their population is sparse on McMaster's campus, they are hard to miss, especially during their famous bloom in early May. And indeed, as their popularity ranges all over the world - from China to Mexico to Hamilton - the Hawthorn is certainly not a tree to overlook, nor is it one to be taken simply at face value.

Portrait written by Ian McIntosh


Cuizhi, G., & Spongberg, S. A. (2003). Crataegus. Flora of China, 9(1). 111-117.

Dharmananda, S. (2004). Hawthorn (Crataegus): Food and medicine in China. Institute for Traditional Medicine, Portland, Oregon. Retrieved from

Eberly, S. S. (1989). The Hawthorn in medieval love allegory. Folklore, 100(1), 41-52.

Guo, R., Pittler, M. H., & Ernst, E. (2008). Hawthorn extract for treating chronic heart failure. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

Hawthorn. (2017). In Encyclopaedia Britannica online. Retrieved from

Kendall, P. (2018). Hawthorn. Retrieved from

Phipps, J. B. (2014). Crataegus. In Flora of North America, vol. 9.

Plants For A Future. (2012). Crataegus species: The Hawthorns. Retrieved from

Smith, A. H. (1984). Kutenai Indian subsistence and settlement patterns: Northwest Montana. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District (No. 84 10 30 137). Seattle, Washington.

Tassell, M. C., Kingston, R., Gilroy, D., Lehane, M., & Furey, A. (2010). Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Pharmacognosy Review, 4(7), 32-41.

Honey Locust (Gleditsia Triacanthos) - HL324

The Honey Locust, species name Gleditsia triacanthos, is a hardy tree native to North America. It has had a long presence on the continent, playing a significant role in the lives of Indigenous peoples, particularly in terms of their medicinal practices. It has also proven itself useful in modern times, with its robust nature making it a beneficial addition to both urban and agricultural habitats. The Honey Locust, though an intimidating looking plant due to its thorns, has interesting biological components and has featured in both past and current settings.

There are multiple biological features that help to identify and differentiate this tree species. The Honey Locust is a medium-sized tree with feather-like foliage that can grow up to thirty metres tall (Bull et al. "Honey Locust"). The feather-like appearance of the leaves comes from the fact that they are pinnately and bipinnately compound. What this means is that the pinnately compound leaves have a main stem around which little oval leaflets are attached, while bipinnately compound leaves have a main stem off of which branch smaller stems around which the leaflets grow (Garber 39). There are approximately eighteen to thirty leaflets, from two and a half to five centimetres in length, per leaf, with no terminal leaflet on the end (Bull et al. "Honey Locust"). The pinnately compound leaves of the Honey Locust can look deceptively similar to other species, such as the Black Locust and the Black Walnut. Considering the Black Walnut, though the two species have pinnately compound leaves, the leaflets of the Black Walnut are more pointed and significantly larger, ranging from five to thirteen centimetres in length (Bull et al. "Black Walnut"). Considering the Black Locust, though its leaflets are similarly smooth and oval in shape, its leaflets are much wider and its leaf has a terminal leaflet on its end (Bull et al. "Black Locust"). In terms of fruit, the Honey Locust produces long pods with a sweet pulp that start out green and then turn maroon as they mature (Garber 39). The sweetness helps attract animals to feed on the pods, as the seeds of the tree must be eaten and partially digested for them to be able to grow (Beresford-Kroeger 70). Another defining feature of this tree is that it has long thorns that mainly sprout out from the trunk. These thorns act as deterrents for smaller animals, like squirrels, that might climb the tree to feed on its pods before maturation. However, due to increased urban use of the plant, thornless varieties have been bred (Garber 39). This is why the Honey Locusts we see on McMaster's campus lack said spines. Finally, in terms of seasonal variation, the Honey Locust flowers between late May and mid-June with small, inconspicuous, fragrant flowers. The pods develop and ripen in autumn, between September and October, and usually fall afterwards, however they can stay on through winter until February. The leaves for most of the year are green, however in autumn they turn golden yellow before falling off (Kim).

The Honey Locust has quite a wide-ranging North American habitat. It originates from an extensive range in the East-Central United States, stretching approximately from Maryland, New York, and Pennsylvania in the north to southeastern Texas in the south (Burns 358). In terms of Canadian habitat, the Honey Locust in its wild form occurs only in the most southwestern parts of Ontario (Bull et al. "Honey Locust"). Despite this wide and varied range, this particular tree species thrives best in valleys along streams in southern Indiana and Illinois. However, due to the hardiness of this tree, the Honey Locust has been cultivated and naturalized beyond the eastern American range, being versatile enough to be used as ornamental and shade trees in many habitats and countries (Burns 358). It is due to this cultivation, as well as the ability of the Honey Locust to withstand a myriad of environments, that we are able to see this tree on McMaster's campus.

Looking more closely at the Honey Locust's place in environments, we see that it is a useful addition in many circumstances. Considering the Honey Locust's place in the urban setting, this tree became popular as a street tree in 1940s as a replacement when the street trees of the time, American elms, were diseased and had to be cut down (Garber 38). The Honey Locust is well suited to city environments as it can tolerate higher levels of pollution than most other trees. This means that this tree is useful in cleaning the air of cities as it helps to absorb increased levels of carbon dioxide. Its high drought-tolerance also makes it an effective city tree as it is unaffected by water shortages, and it can also provide shade for surrounding plants so as to decrease their rate of evaporation (Beresford-Kroeger 75). The Honey Locust has even been effective in rural settings, particularly during the 1930s when it was used to help stabilize farm soil in the U.S. during the Dust Bowl. Due to its tolerance of arid environments, it is effective at reducing the erosion of soil (Beresford-Kroeger 69). The versatility and robustness of this species makes it an effective aid in diverse settings.

The Honey Locust has also been a source of valuable resources. The wood of the Honey Locust has proven useful, particularly in that it is termite-proof. This meant that both Indigenous peoples and early settlers made use of the wood for building, with settlers particularly using it for house foundations (Beresford-Kroeger 69). The Honey Locust has also acted as a food source. In areas of the southern U.S., the pods of the tree have not only been used as feed for cows, but in the past the seeds were eaten by humans in a variety of ways, including cooked, made into a flour and then baked, or added into beer (Beresford-Kroeger 74-75). The pods also acted as a food source for Indigenous peoples, with evidence that they may have even transported the seeds and cultivated them according to their settlement patterns (Warren 12). Even the biblical origin of the name references food, as St. John survived in the wild on the pods of trees that later came to be named locusts (Garber 39). The numerous benefits to be had of the products of the Honey Locust also make it a useful addition among various habitats and groups.

Finally, the Honey Locust has interesting chemical properties that have made it both a significant part of Native American medicine, as well as a potential area for insights in cancer treatment. Indigenous peoples have used many different elements of the tree for a diverse variety of medical issues. The pods, pulp as well as extract, have been used to treat indigestion and measles, and tea made of the bark has been used to treat asthma and the symptoms of whooping cough, as well as stroke, colds, flus, and smallpox. The thorns of the tree are also antibacterial and antifungal, and so were used as surgical needles in treatments of neuralgia and rheumatism. Additionally, two chemicals found within the tree, fustin and fisetin, have anti-carcinogenic effects and look promising for cancer research (Beresford-Kroeger 72-73). The many remedies that the Honey Locust provides truly qualify it as a beneficial medicinal plant.

Ultimately, the Honey Locust is a rugged tree that not only improves scenery, but also proves very beneficial. Its tolerance of harsher climates allows it to help clean urban environments, as well as recover farming soil. The tree also acts not only as a source of nourishment and resources, but also as a source of medical relief. The Honey Locust is not only a beautiful tree, but also an extremely useful one.

Portrait written by Natalie Sapieha

Works Cited

Beresford-Kroeger, Diana. Arboretum America: A Philosophy of the Forest. United States of America: The University of Michigan Press, 2003. Print.

Bull, Jenny, et al. "Black Locust." The Tree Species Pages. Royal Ontario Museum, 2007. Web. 14 September 2017.

Bull, Jenny, et al. "Black Walnut." The Tree Species Pages. Royal Ontario Museum, 2007. Web. 15 September 2017.

Bull, Jenny, et al. "Honey Locust." The Tree Species Pages. Royal Ontario Museum, 2007. Web. 14 September 2017.

Burns, Russell M., and Barbara H. Honkala. Silvics of North America: Volume 2, Hardwoods. Washington, DC: United States Department of Agriculture, 1990. Web. 16 September 2017.

Garber, Steve D. The Urban Naturalist. United States of America: Courier Corporation, 1998. Web. 16 September 2017.

Kim, Kristina, Nathan Adams, and Hannah Friedman. "Honey Locust." Yale Nature Walk. Yale University, 12 March 2016. Web. 15 September 2017.

Warren, Robert J., II. "Ghosts of Cultivation Past – Native American Dispersal Legacy Persists in Tree Distribution." PLOS ONE 11.3 (2016): 1-16. Web. 15 September 2017.

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus Hippocastanum) - HC100

The Horse chestnut a simple yet peculiar tree, with its grand stature and its distinct history. The full Latin name for the Horse chestnut tree is Aesculus hippocastanum ("Horesechestnut," n.d.). The genus name, Aesculus, is the Latin word for any tree that produces fruit fed to livestock which is itself derived from the Greek word aesca, which means "nourishing." The species name, Hippocastanum, is a contraction of two Greek words, hippos and kastanon, meaning "horse" and "chestnut." Although the tree is commonly named the "Horse chestnut," the tree is not truly a chestnut tree. The Horse chestnut tree belongs to the Sapindaceae family, rather than the Fagaceae family belonging to the chestnut tree, and includes other species such as maple and lychee ("Horesechestnut," n.d.).

The reason for tree's common name is not entirely known, but there are some suggested ideas. The Horse chestnut tree may have earned its name because, when a leaf drops, the scar left on the tree is shaped like a horseshoe. Another possible reason for its name was due to the claims made of its medicinal potential for treating horses. These properties were first described in a letter written in 1957 by Willem Quackelbeen in 1957 and was sent to Pietro Andrea Mattioli who lived in Prague. Both of these men were physicians at the time, and Quackelbeen had noticed that "a species of chestnut is frequently found here, which has horse as common name, because devoured three or four at a time they give relief to horses sick with chest complaints" (Lack, 2002). The Horse chestnut tree is no longer thought to provide any sort of cure to the chest aches of horses.

The Horse chestnut tree is native to southeastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, particularly Albania, Bosnia and portions of Greece and Turkey. Seeds from the Horse chestnut tree were taken from Istanbul and introduced in Britain in the late 16th century. They were later introduced in the United States and Canada about one hundred years later. Since the Horse chestnut tree first arrived from Istanbul, it has quickly become dispersed into gardens throughout western Europe, and is now cultivated in many temperate regions in countries all around the world. Although the Horse chestnut's native land is currently accepted to be from various regions in the Balkan peninsula, its native habitat remained somewhat of a mystery for many years up until the late nineteenth century. Before then, most botanists believed that the Horse chestnut tree must have originated in Asia. Its French name, still commonly used today - marronier d'Inde - refers to a supposed Asian origin (Lack, 2002).

There are several features that identify the Horse chestnut tree. A Horse chestnut tree may grow over a hundred feet in height, and a mature tree is densely leaved in summer and is quite bare in the winter. The leaves, developed from sticky buds, are opposite and palmately compound (Crampton, 2017). There are usually five to seven leaflets in a leaf, each between 13-30cm long. Each leaflet has toothed edges and a pointed tip (Crampton, 2017). There are also flowers that bloom on a Horse chestnut tree in the spring. Their flowers are mainly white but sometimes have lovely pink and yellow blotches at their base. They are born in quite erect spikes that are sometimes called "candles" because they look as though they are lighting up the tree (Crampton, 2017). The chestnuts themselves are quite large and prickly. They are green at first and gradually turn to a shade that is closer to a yellow in the autumn (Crampton, 2017). Each fruit generally contains one horse chestnut, but may sometimes contain two or even three horse chestnuts ("Horse chestnut," 2018). In the autumn the fruits fall to the ground, often already open and the seeds, or horse chestnuts, are a beautiful, rich mahogany colour and have a glossy appearance except for a white mark at one end of each seed.

Horse chestnuts are distinct from other chestnuts. While chestnuts are edible, horse chestnuts are quite toxic (Crampton, 2017). Because they cannot be eaten, Horse chestnuts have instead been used for other purposes. One of the most common applications of Horse chestnuts is their use in a game called conkers, a traditional game popular in the United Kingdom. In order to play conkers, a hole is drilled through one of the seeds, and a string is threaded through it with a knot tied to keep the seed in place. The conkers are dangled from their string, and each player takes turns swinging their conker at the opponent's conker. The first player to break the conker of their opponent is deemed to be the winner (Crampton, 2017).

Despite the popularity in conkers, there are concerns that the conker tree could vanish from Britain due to a combination of disease and invasive moths (Muma, 2016). The moth has spread throughout the United Kingdom since it arrived in southern England approximately thirteen years ago (Eleftheriou-Smith, 2016). The larvae of the moths cause the leaves on the Horse chestnut tree to turn brown and drop in the summer, before its seeds (or conkers) have had time to develop (Eleftheriou-Smith, 2016). A second epidemic spreading across Horse chestnut trees is known as the "bleeding canker." The bleeding canker disease caused in Horse chestnut trees is caused by a bacterium called "Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculin" and it ultimately causes death in a Horse chestnut tree by clogging up the tree's veins (Webber, 2008).

The effect of these threats to Horse chestnut trees has been noted by the death of an old Horse chestnut tree that provided a sense of relief to Anne Frank while she was hiding from the Nazis. A white Horse chestnut tree stood in the courtyard garden of number 188 Keizersgracht, visible from a window in the secret annexe where Anne Frank and her family spent in hiding for a period of over two years (July 6th 1942 to August 4th 1944) (Stichting, 2010). The tree, once strong, has now become diseased and rotten through the trunk and snapped approximately three feet above ground level, crashing across several gardens, sheds, and a brick wall (Stichting, 2010). The tree was 150 years old and was suffering from fungus and moth infections that had caused most of its trunk to rot (Sterling, 2010). In 2008, the tree had been encased with steel supports in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent it from falling (Sterling, 2010). The Horse chestnut tree was first discovered to be suffering from numerous diseases in 2005, and the Anne Frank House decided to gather chestnuts, germinate them, and donate saplings to schools and organizations named after Anne Frank (Stichting, 2010).

Anne Frank wrote about the tree three times in her diary. In her last diary entry where Anne mentions that chestnut tree in the May of 1944, she writes: "Our chestnut tree is in full bloom. It's covered with leaves and is even more beautiful than last year" (Stichting, 2010). Anne's father, Otto Frank later described his thoughts when he read Anne's diary for the first time in a speech he gave in 1968: "How could I have known how much it meant to Anne to see a patch of blue sky, to observe the seagulls as they flew, and how important the chestnut tree was for her, when I think that she never showed any interest in nature. Still, she longed for it when she felt like a bird in a cage. Only the thought of the freedom of nature gave her comfort. But she kept all those feelings to herself" (Stichting, 2010). During the time spent hiding in the secret annex, a longing for nature and freedom was intensified.

The chestnut tree was mentioned in the last verse of a poem written by W.B. Yeats entitled "Among School Children". In the last stanza of the poem, Yeats writes: "O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer, Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole? O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?" (Poetic Analysis Of "Among School Children," n.d.). In this, Yeats is questioning the meaning of life itself, and beginning to accept its frailty and fleeting nature (Poetic Analysis Of "Among School Children," n.d.). Yeats is asking, what part of a tree is the essence of the tree? Is it the leaf, the blossom, or the bole? What part of a dancer is a dance, and what even is the dance itself? Yeats concludes that these two parts are not separate, and must be understood as a whole. There is no particular part of a tree that makes it so. In a similar way, Anne Frank and the Horse chestnut tree will never be separate. When one looks at a Horse chestnut tree, one is instantly reminded of Anne Frank and what the Horse chestnut tree meant to her in her lifetime. This brings the Yeats poem to mind, in which he describes the tree and its beauty to be inseparable.

Portrait written by Ava Corey


American Chestnut. (2014, July 18). Retrieved September 9, 2018, from

Crampton, L. (2017, October 22). The Horse Chestnut Tree and Conkers. Retrieved September 9, 2018, from

Eleftheriou-Smith, L. (2016, October 18). Britain is running out of conkers. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from

Horsechestnut. (n.d.). Retrieved September 8, 2018, from

J., P., R., C., & J. (-0001, November 30). Isolation and identification of Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi causing bleeding canker of horse chestnut in the UK. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from

Lack, H. W. (2002, January 01). The Discovery and Rediscovery of the Horse Chestnut. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from

Muma, W. (2016). Horsechestnut Aesculus hippocastanum. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from

Poetic Analysis Of "Among School Children." (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2018, from

Sterling, T. (2010, August 10). Anne Frank's 'beautiful' tree felled by Amsterdam storm. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from

Stichting, A. F. (2010, April 15). The Anne Frank Tree. Retrieved September 11, 2018, from

Jack Pine (Pinus Banksiana) - JP378

The tree I investigated was a jack pine, otherwise known as pinus banksiana, gray pine, or scrub pine (Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), n.d.). While I had heard of this species before, and most likely seen other jack pines before, I had never paid much attention to them. This assignment let me explore the world around me in something of a different way.

Before I could research the tree, I had to determine its species. This particular tree on campus grounds has needle-shaped leaves in bunches, or fascicles, of two, about 6 cm long. It has gray-brown strobiles, or cones, about 3 cm long. Trees with needle bunches are what we know as pines (What Tree Is That? Tree Identification Guide, n.d.). This information pointed me to one of two tree species: the jack or the scots pine.

However, in terms of colour, needle shape, and cone shape, this McMaster tree is most likely a jack pine. A scots pine has pointy blue-green needles which twist towards each other, and cones which are attached to its branches with a short stem (Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), n.d.). Its trunk is known for a very clear shift in bark colour from gray-brown to red-orange at the top (Scots pine | Trees for Life, n.d.). This tree does not conform to these identifying markers. It has blunt yellow-green needles that spread in a simple V shape, a solid gray-brown trunk, and cones which are attached straight to the branches. These markers show that it is a jack pine (Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana), n.d.).

The jack pine is, to start, a native North American tree. It is widely distributed across the continent, but mostly in Canada, all the way from the northwest territories to Quebec. These pines are also seen in the Northern USA. Most of the jack pines in Canada are in Ontario (Banks and Honkala, 1990).

Jack pines can grow up to 24 meters tall, with trunk diameters up to 60 centimeters. Banks and Honkala call it a small to medium sized tree of North America (1990). They are notably good at growing in all types of soil, requiring less fertility or moisture in their growing grounds than other trees (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry of Ontario, 2014). In perfect conditions they grow tall and straight like the typical pine, but when they grow in rocky or shallow soil, they can become gnarled and lopsided, like the tree on campus is. They require a lot of sun to thrive, which puts them in competition with other trees around them in a forest (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry of Ontario, 2014).

Biologically, the jack pine is an evergreen, which means that unlike deciduous trees it does not drop all its needle-leaves every year. The jack pine in particular can hold its needles from between 2-4 years, after which they become yellow-green, then brown, before falling. Most people do not notice evergreen trees dropping needles because generally the older, internal needles drop while the outer tips of branches remain green. The last time I visited my jack pine, during my presentation, it was very yellow and going brown even at some of the branch tips. This could just be stress from drought, root damage, or heat, or it could be a sign of a serious insect or fungal infestation problem (Natural Needle Drop, n.d.).

In terms of reproduction, these pines are monoecious, having both female and male cones. Female cones are nearer the top of the tree, while male cones are lower down. It is wind-pollinated, and can in theory self-fertilize but in practice it is more likely and more useful for the tree to cross fertilize (Banks and Honkala, 1990). The fertilized cones grow larger, but stay closed; jack pine cones are 'serotinous', or covered in resin that traps them closed except in heat. The cones only open and release the pine seeds after forest fires or during long, dry, heat waves. Jack pine saplings as a result tend to grow in fire-cleared areas without much competition, which is useful for this pine that requires a lot of sunlight to survive (Banks and Honkala, 1990). These trees are well adapted for this fire-birth; studies have shown that jack pines actually dehydrate in the spring to encourage forest fire. Jolly et al.'s research suggests that more than just water, some of the chemical consistency of these trees changes in spring to promote burning (2016).

On the environmental side, these pines are not endangered. However, the endangered Kirtland's warbler requires stands, or groups of jack pines, to breed (Banks and Honkala, 1990).

Human interactions with jack pines are in some ways shaped by the fact that they are the most common northern pine. Being found everywhere, it is a popular source of pulpwood, lumber and round timber. Sometimes jack pine can be used for furniture, but not very often since it is a soft wood (Banks and Honkala, 1990).

Jack pines are not well known for any medicinal uses, but like most other pines, they do contain resin, which contains turpentine. According to Plants For A Future (PFAF), this turpentine is antiseptic, useful for treating lesions and skin wounds, as well as being helpful for colds and other respiratory issues. PFAF also says that pine needles can be boiled to produce throat-clearing steam as well as creating a type of pine tea which is safe for humans to drink (n.d.). I researched this topic, but could not find any specific scholarly articles on these usages and therefore would not consider them totally reliable.

In terms of symbolism and cultural value, the jack pine is an appropriate symbol of perseverance and life thriving despite fire and destruction. It has also, culturally, been used as a symbol of wilderness, such as in Tom Thomson's "The Jack Pine" painting. This painting, and the derivative poems and works born after it, romanticize the ideal of a pure, yet wild and masculine nature. For instance, Henry Beissel's undated poem, "Tom Thomson's Jackpine", found in Inventing Tom Thomson by Sherrill E Grace (2004), calls this tree the "solitary jackpine" that "towers" and is "never broken by the brute winds". In contrast, Bordo critiques this usage of jack pines as not just a symbol of nature, but the denial of human presence and the erasure of indigenous peoples (2016).

While the tree itself is pleasing to look at, I think that the most interesting considerations this project has brought up are those of cultural value. The interactions between humans and trees, and trees and humans, and humans and humans, are all more complex than they might seem at first. This jack pine, seen through different lenses, takes on different roles to my perception. I think this project really came together because of how we were encouraged to look at all these factors.

Portrait written by Laura Newcombe


Bordo, J. (2016). Jack Pine - Wilderness sublime or the erasure of the aboriginal presence from the landscape. Journal of Canadian Studies.

Burns, R. M., & Honkala, B. H. (tech Coords). (1990). Silvics of North America: 1. Conifers; 2. Hardwoods. Agriculture Handbook 654, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Washington, D.C. vol.2, 877 P., 654. Retrieved from

Grace, S. (2004), Inventing Tom Thomson: from biographical fictions to fictional autobiographies and reproductions. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Matt Jolly, W., Hintz, J., Linn, R. L., Kropp, R. C., Conrad, E. T., Parsons, R. A., & Winterkamp, J. (2016). Seasonal variations in red pine (Pinus resinosa) and jack pine (Pinus banksiana) foliar physio-chemistry and their potential influence on stand-scale wildland fire behavior. Forest Ecology and Management, 373, 167-178.

Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry of Ontario. (2014, February 12). Jack Pine: Scientific Name: Pinus Banksiana. Retrieved from the Ontario Government website:

Natural Needle Drop | Backyard Farmer | University of Nebraska–Lincoln. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Pinus banksiana. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Scots pine | Trees for Life. (n.d.). Retrieved from

What Tree Is That? Tree Identification Guide at (n.d.). Retrieved from

Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) - JM465a

Standing in the garden just left of the entrance to McMaster's University Club is a small, spindly, and strikingly red tree. Its colour immediately catches the eye of the passer-by; its leaves are a deep crimson, and each grows in the pointed shape of a starburst, small and close together to form a canopy like a fiery explosion of foliage. The leaves grow in opposite pairs, each attached to its own brilliantly red stem that connects to the smooth, grey bark of the tree's branches and trunk. The canopy is shallow - the tree's leaves only grow on the upper reaches of its branches - and underneath, the smooth, bare branches twist inwards to join a narrow trunk that descends into University Club's green-leafed flower bed.

This tree is a Japanese maple, an Acer palmatum of the Acer or "maple" genus. Its deep red leaves, with a pale green sheen on their underside, make its species easily identifiable, as do the leaves' finely toothed edges and opposite arrangement that are typical of any tree of the Acer family (Hora, 1981, p. 234; School of Chinese Medicine, 2007). The smooth grey bark of the tree and its curving canopy are also identifiable features of the Japanese maple, whose canopy is often known to assume a hemispherical or dome-like shape, somewhat similar to the shape of the related Bonsai (Gilman & Watson, 1993; Missouri Botanical Garden). The most distinctive feature of the species, however, is the shape of its leaves: each leaf is divided into seven separate, pointed sections, or "lobes," each of which cuts deeply into the body of the leaf (Nelson, 2012; Hora, 1981, p. 234). The leaves are lobed "palmately," meaning that they extend radially outward from the leaf "like fingers on a hand" (Nelson, 2012). This unique leaf structure, along with the leaves' colour, lends the tree its attractive "starburst" quality and makes the Japanese maple distinctly recognizable. In fact, so distinctive is this hand-like shape that both the tree's Latin name "palmatum" and its traditional Japanese name "Momiji" refer to the shape of a hand (or, in Japanese, of a baby's hand) (Arbor Day Foundation).

While the Japanese maple is a small tree, the specimen next to University Club is particularly little for the species. The typical Acer palmatum can grow to 25, and sometimes even 50 feet in height, yet this particular tree is no more than 7 feet tall at its highest, suggesting the tree's youthfulness (Everett, 1968, p. 222). Indeed, as Japanese maples tend to grow only 1 or 2 feet in height each year, this tree is likely between only 5 and 7 years old (Arbor Day Foundation). However, standing by the tree and looking away from University Club, two more Japanese maple trees are visible – one of a medium height just a few meters down the path, and another of a full grown height spreads its canopy in the distant field. These three trees form a sort of progression from young to old, a glimpse at the future form of the small sapling.

The tree's proximity to others of its species make it especially easy to identity, which can otherwise be a somewhat difficult task – particularly if one uses a North American field guide since the tree is non-native to the Western hemisphere. While its presence has become common in North America, the Japanese maple is endemic to (unsurprisingly) Japan, and has long existed in China, Korea and Taiwan as well (Phillips, 2003). There, it grows naturally in thin forests and forest margins at an altitude of 200-1200 meters above sea level (School of Chinese Medicine, 2007).

However, the tree's natural beauty did not escape the eye of the Japanese people. For over 400 years it has been cultivated and bred in Japan for its foliage and aesthetic appeal as a garden element, and beginning in the late 1700s, Japanese gardeners began to export their colourful maples to the world as horticultural decorations (Phillips, 2003). The worldwide interest in Japanese maples was spurred by Swedish botanist Carl Thunberg, who traveled to Japan in the late 18th century and left with drawings of the tree (Arbor Day Foundation). Such drawings created the perception of the Japanese maple as the quintessential tree of the "oriental garden" - an inescapable temptation for Western Victorian society. Specimens were in demand, and the first reached England in 1820; the United States planted their first Japanese maple a few decades later (Phillips, 2003). Today, the tree has become a staple of gardening and landscaping across the world.

The aesthetic value of the tree has thus governed most of its presence within human culture. Scientifically, A. palmatum does have some medicinal properties, primarily those of relieving pain and curing skin infections, however it is most prominently treated as simply an ornamental tree (School of Chinese Medicine, 2007; Hora, 1981, p. 234). The brilliant colour that its leaves retain year round makes it a particularly eye-catching element in most natural spaces, as well as in landscape paintings and drawings. Indeed, since being cultivated as a garden tree, different varieties have been bred: some have green leaves that turn a fiery red in the autumn, some are red throughout the year but turn green in the autumn, and some stay red without changing colour (such as the one next to University Club) (Everett, 1968, p. 222).

The historical appreciation of the Japanese maple as a magnificent botanical showpiece makes it fitting that a new tree is just now beginning to grow in the small garden next to University Club. And indeed, the worldwide popularity of the species is encouraging to this small tree's future. The historical success of the Japanese maple species promises that this small tree will grow to be a widely admired organism – another of the many dramatic and breathtaking trees on McMaster's campus.

Portrait written by Ian McIntosh


Arbor Day Foundation. (n.d.). History of Japanese maples and value as a landscaping tree. Retrieved from Retrieved on September 11, 2018.

Everett, T. H. (1968). Living trees of the world. New York: Doubleday.

Gilman, E. F., & Watson, D. G. (1993). Acer palmatum: Japanese maple (Fact Sheet ST-23).

Gainesville, FL: Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida.

Hora, F. B. (Ed.). (1981). The Oxford encyclopedia of trees of the world. Oxford; Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Missouri Botanical Garden. (n.d.). Acer palmatum. Retrieved from Retrieved September 11, 2018.

Nelson, R. C. (2012). The description of leaves. Retrieved from Retrieved on September 11, 2018.

Phillips, G. (2003). Culture and propagation of Japanese maple (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia.

School of Chinese Medicine. (2007). Acer pakmatum thunb. Retrieved from Retrieved September 11, 2018.

Kentucky Coffee (Gymnocladus Dioicus) - KC434

The Gymnocladus dioicus, more commonly referred to as the Kentucky coffee tree, is a rare dioecious tree of eastern and midwestern North America (Zaya et el., 2008). The Kentucky coffee tree is the only type of the Gymnocladus genus, a member of the pea family (Leguminosae) that is native to North America (Row, 2007). Most members of the Leguminosae family form symbiotic relationships with prokaryotic bacteria (Rhizobia), where the roots provide protected nodules for the bacteria to live in. In return, the bacteria give the ability for legumes to fixate nitrogen into usable forms of energy (Wohlleben, 2016). However, the Kentucky coffee tree differs from the other members of its family as it lacks the complex root nodule system that allows for the symbiotic relationship with bacteria to exist (VanNatta, 2009). While research indicates that the Kentucky coffee tree is still capable of fixing nitrogen through an unknown mechanism, it does so at a much lower rate compared to the other members of its family (VanNatta, 2009).

The word, Gymnocladus is Greek for "naked branch," which refers to the stark yet beautiful appearance of the branches. The Kentucky coffee tree has a rather slim trunk and divides into large branches that grow twigs in a contorted shape. The trunk and branches are covered with its distinct grayish-brown bark that forms deep furrows, cleaving out plates that curl at the edges (Row, 2007.). The branches are left bare for up to nine months of the year after the alternate, bipinnately, doubly-compounded leaves fall to the ground (Chatfield, 2016). It has the largest leaves of any other native species in North America that can grow as big as 60 by 90 centimeters ("Kentucky coffee-tree (Species at Risk)," 2014). The leaves are arranged in five to nine pairs of leaflets that consist of six to fourteen pinnae that have an ovate or almond shape (Row, 2007). When the leaves emerge, late in the spring, they come out with a stunning pink-bronze shade and turn into a deep bluish-green colour in the summer (Row, 2007). Before the leaves fall early in the autumn season giving rise to its conspicuous bare branches, they turn into a brilliant golden yellow for a brief period of time (Row, 2007).

The word dioicus relates to dioecious, indicating there are male and female flower counterparts of the species (Row, 2007). The Kentucky coffee tree is an angiosperm, and the male and female flowers are distinct to separate trees (VanNatta, 2009). In general, the male and female trees must grow in proximity to each other or else the trees will not produce any seeds (Diehl, 2017). Otherwise, the tree must rely upon flowing water or animals as active dispersal agents for seed transportation. The seeds themselves also have a hard-outer shell, making it difficult for the seeds to germinate. Due to these difficulties with seed dispersal and germination, the Kentucky coffee tree's numbers are in decline, and it is currently listed as a "threatened" species, meaning that the species is not yet endangered, but is at risk of becoming so if conscious changes are not made ("Kentucky coffee-tree (Species at Risk)," 2014).

It has been suggested that the seed pods of the Kentucky coffee tree were consumed by large herbivores, such as the mammoth, towards the end of the Pleistocene Epoch (the last glacial period and the end of the Paleolithic age) in North America (VanNatta, 2009). As the changing climate became warmer, and human beings were introduced to the North American continent, these large herbivores became extinct, which historically prevented greater seed dispersal of the species (VanNatta, 2009). To this day, the Kentucky coffee tree is usually spotted only on glaciated sites (Row, 2007). Unlike the other living creatures of its day, the Kentucky coffee tree is fairly adaptable to a wide range of soils and climates and is planted today in various urban-environments ("Kentucky Coffee tree", 2018).

Due to the extinction of large herbivorous species during this time period, early human interactions between the Kentucky coffee tree and Native Americans are thought to have played an important role in the preservation of the species. It is theorized that the Kentucky coffee tree was introduced into some areas where it is currently found in today by Native Americans who used the different parts of the tree for various uses (Row, 2007). One of those uses is known to have been as a food source for Native Americans of the Great lakes region, however, the extent to which it was used for this purpose is not exactly known. The Kentucky coffee tree was used as a source for coffee by early settlers. The seeds and their pods are poisonous as they contain cytisine, an organic compound of plant origin that has noticeable physiological effects on humans, otherwise called an alkaloid (Row, n.d.). In order to expel their toxic effects, the seeds were roasted at 150°F for at least three hours in order for them to be safe for human consumption (Row, 2007). Consumption of the raw seeds themselves could be damaging or fatal as the alkaloid "causes gastrointestinal disorders that can lead to irregular pules and coma" (Bowles, 2004). Native Americans took note of these physiological effects and used this knowledge to their advantage when hunting for food. Tribes would dump the seeds into lakes and streams either to "stupefy or kill fish" (VanNatta, 2009).

In addition to food usages, native Americans also found medicinal value in the Kentucky coffee tree. In particular, the Omaha tribe originating from Nebraska (Editors or Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 2018) used "the outer covering of the hemorrhage, particularly from the nose or during childbirth. This root was also used when the kidneys failed to act...the root, powdered and mixed with water, was administered to women during protracted labor" (VanNatta, 2009).

Despite the various uses of the beans for consumption, hunting, and medicine, one of the most significant uses of the beans from the Kentucky coffee tree were for their cultural and spiritual purposes. The beans from the Kentucky coffee tree were used as dice in a game that "was found in nearly every pre-colonial culture in some shape or form" (VanNatta, 2009). However, the game became relatively rare and uncommon between the 19th and 20th century once early colonists who came to North America sought to end the game which they viewed as an "evil" practice (Oxedine, 1983).

The poor Kentucky coffee tree is stuck with a most unfortunate name. Although it was used to make a kind of coffee, its seed pods can in fact be toxic. And though it was once the official tree of Kentucky, it has lost that distinction. So the tree has little to do with Kentucky or coffee. Perhaps it should be renamed the tree of the beckoning hands. Perhaps it is beckoning for someone to befriend it. With its cracked, pealing bark and its bare branches that twist in a contorted fashion, the Kentucky coffee tree is one of the more spooky or haunted looking trees to exist. This particular tree on campus is all alone; the sole tree of its kind at McMaster. And since this type of tree needs both a male and female version to reproduce, it may be the last. Even if it managed to mate, the seeds have hard shells and the friends who used to help it propagate are gone. The large herbivores were killed off by glaciers, and the native people whose children used the seeds for games are gone also, their games long forgotten. It doesn't even have bacteria friends. It even has trouble holding on to its leaves and it sometimes is referred to as the naked tree. What a lonely tragic tale this tree tells.

Portrait written by Ava Corey


Britannica, T. E. (2018, February 27). Omaha. Retrieved from

Kentucky Coffeetree. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Oxendine, Joseph B. 1988. American Indian Sports Heritage. Human Kinetics Books. Champaign, IL. 334 p.

Row, J. (2007). Kentucky CoffeeTree. Retreived from

Species Profile: Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus). (2017, January 04). Retrieved from

Tree of the Week: Kentucky Coffeetree. (n.d.). Retrieved from

VanNatta, A. (April, 2009). Ecological Importance of Native Americans Culture to the Kentucky Coffee Tree. Retrieved from

Wcisel, K. (n.d.). Tree Topics. Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from

Wohlleben, P., & Billinghurst, J. (2018). The hidden life of trees. Vancouver: David Suzuki Institute.

Littleleaf Linden (Tilia Cordata) - LL450

The diminutive Small Leaved Linden tree at the corner of the road in front of the McMaster Art Museum does not cast a very impressive picture next to its much larger neighbours, but this tree is actually one of the most popular urban planning and development trees in the world (Raham et al 120). On McMaster's Campus alone, there are fifty-two Littleleaf Linden trees listed on the Tree Inventory. Many more have probably been planted after the list was last updated since I have identified others that have not been tagged. Although this particular tree is young, Linden trees are well known for their longevity meaning that this tree could still be over a thousand years from now if it is extremely lucky (O'Brien Horticulture). However, given the stressful urban environment, and especially since Littleleaf Lindens do not tolerate road salt well, this tree will likely have its life cut tragically short (Arbor Day Foundation).

The Tilia Cordata, or Littleleaf Linden, is not native to North America and originates in Europe where its range is from Siberia and the Caucus mountains to Norway, England, and Spain (Plants for a Future). In England it is seen as a sign of an old growth forest to see a Littleleaf Linden growing in the wild, however they are not as common as they once were and now mostly only appear in places where humans have decided to put them (Woodland Trust). This species of Linden tree is distinct from its relatives because it has smallest leaves which are only about two or three inches wide and have hairless green undersides in the summer (Deemer). The native North American variety of Linden tree is the Tilia Americana, or Basswood, which has large leaves that are three to five inches wide (Deemer). The silver leafed Linden has silver undersides to its leaves, others have varying degrees of fuzz and hair on their leaf undersides (Ketter and Shahan 1).

The Littleleaf Linden tree has distinctive heart shaped and toothed leaves that grow in an alternating pattern along the twig (Plantfacts). In the autumn the leaves turn yellow before they fall (). The bark of a young Linden tree is smooth but with age it develops vertical ridges with horizontal cracks (Ketter and Shahan 1). The crown of the Littleleaf Linden Tree ranges from pyramidal as a young tree to oval in shape and has a pleasing outline (Plantfacts 1). The wood of this tree is white and very soft so not useful for manufacturing projects, but a good choice for hobby carving and ornamental use (O'Brien Horticulture).

The Littleleaf Linden is both resistant to pollution and root compaction which makes it a good choice for a street tree (Landscape It does not have many serious predators, though it should not be planted in areas where Japanese Beetles can survive the winter (Arbor Day Foundation). This tree requires a minimum of four hours of sunlight a day and is useful for climate regulation in cities due to its dense leaf coverage (Arbor Day Foundation). Networks of Littleleaf Lindens in Munich were shown to be effective at regulating urban climate and disrupting heat islands (Raham et al 122). The rate that sap flowed through the trees directly corresponded to how cool their shade kept an area, with more sap meaning a colder and more regulated canopy (Raham et al 124). Aside from this clear benefit, Littleleaf Lindens are also popular street trees because they bloom in June, which is later than most trees, and can bloom throughout the summer (Plantfacts 1).

The flowers of the Littleleaf Linden are very fragrant, light yellow, and contain both male and female parts (Woodland Trust). The flowers grow in clusters of four to ten and have five petals each (Woodland Trust). The clusters grow from a common stem which has a long green bract that turns into a sail once the fruit is fertilized and ready to be blown away (O'Brien Horticulture). The Littleleaf Linden is highly attractive to pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds and relies on them to fertilize its flowers which means that these trees are considered good matches with gardens (Arbor Day Foundation). The honey produced from Linden nectar has a particular flavour and is cultivated for its sweet taste (Plants for a Future). The young flowers of the Littleleaf Linden are commonly made into a soothing tea, although brewing of flowers that are too mature is dangerous and can produce narcotic like effects (Plants for a Future).

The Linden tree is an ancient tree with roots in all sorts of European Folklores. In Nordic folklore the tree is associated with the fertility goddess Freya, wife of Odin (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 238). It was thought that the Linden tree could never be struck by lightning because it belonged to the wife of the head God (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 238). Old records also show that in Germany there was a time when councils were held beneath Linden trees and verdicts were delivered there (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 238). In Greek mythology Hermes and Zeus once turned a husband and wife into an intertwining Oak and Linden tree after they died as a reward for hospitality (Young). In another Greek myth Filira, the mother of Chiron, turned herself into a Linden tree after being seduced by Zeus in the form of a horse. The tree came to represent wifely fidelity, innocence and kindness (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 238). As a result of its sweet perfume however the tree also became the sacred tree of Aphrodite who is the goddess of love and beauty (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 238).

Later, in the middle ages, the Linden tree continued to symbolise love and fidelity. There was a belief in western Europe that the shade of the Linden tree made it impossible to lie (Young). Another legend from France said that if a couple passed by two intertwined Lindens on the wedding day that they would stay together forever (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 239). To this day a legend persists in many places that planting a Linden tree in front of a home will protect it from evil (Tenche-Constantinescu et al 239). Let us hope that the Linden tree in front of the McMaster Art Museum protects it for many decades yet.

Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous

Works Cited

Deemer, Amy. "Types of Linden Tree." Garden, 21 Sept. 2017. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

Ketter, Ann, and Thomas Shahan. "BUMBLE BEES, TREES, AND Neonicotinoids." Oregon Department of Agriculture., Apr. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Lime, Small-Leaved (Tilia Cordata)." Woodland Trust., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Littleleaf Linden." Connon Nurseries., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Littleleaf Linden: Tilia Cordata." Arbor Day Foundation., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Littleleaf Linden." Tree Care Made Easy., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

Raham, Mohammed A et al. "Within Canopy Temperature Differences and Cooling Ability of Tilia Cordata Trees Grown in Urban Conditions." Building and Environment 114.March (2017): 118–128. ScienceDirect. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Small-Leaved Lime (Tilia Cordata)." O'Brien Horticulture., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

Tenche-Constantinescu A-M et al. "The symbolism of the linden tree." Journal of Horticulture, Forestry and Biotechnology 19.2 (2015):237–242

"Tilia Cordata Littleleaf Linden." Landscape, n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Tilia Cordata - Littleleaf Linden." Plantfacts Database., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

"Tilia Cordata - Mill." Plants for a Future., n.d. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

Young, Pandora. "The Lore of Our Trees." Longwood Gardens., 9 Mar. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2018.

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa Speciosa) - NC772

The Catalpa Speciosa, also known as the bean tree, cigar tree or catawba, is a towering tree with a distinct tropical look to it, compared to the other more Canadian looking deciduous trees around. The name Catalpa literally means "winged head," named after the beautiful flowers that bloom in the springtime ("Catalpa"). The tree has large beans, leaves and in the spring large white flowers. Its native climate is mid-Western America, from southern Indiana and southeast Iowa, down to Arkansas and Texas. It is actually considered invasive in some states and grows in Canada through human planting ("The Average Age of a Flowering Catalpa").

The Catalpa tree is part of the Bignoniaceae family of trees, shrubs and vines native to tropical America, Africa and the Indo-malayan area. Of the family, the Catalpa, the trumpet creeper (Campsis), and the cross vine (Bignonia) are the only plants that are found in temperate regions. The family is characterized by its oppositely paired, usually bi-compound leaves and bell or funnel shaped bisexual flowers.

The Catalpa has two varieties: Northern and Southern. They are very similar, except the Southern variety is a bit smaller, and has smaller flowers and beans. This is the Northern variety, as it is quite large. I will be focusing on the Northern Catalpa, although most of the characteristics are shared between the varieties. It can grow up to 70 feet tall, and has a spread of 20-50 feet. The tree is medium-fast growing, growing at 13-24 inches per year. The trunk can grow up to 1 meter in diameter. It takes about 7 years of growth before the tree matures enough to flower ("Catalpa Speciosa"). The Catalpa trees commonly live to 50 years old.

The leaves of the Catalpa are large whorled or opposite leaves that grow two (or more) from each node. In the springtime, the Catalpa grows large flowers in bunches. They are white, orchid-like and have purple and yellow spotting along the inside ("Catalpa Speciosa"). These flowers grow in May and June, and are fragrant and beautiful. The tree looks like a giant orchid bush since the flowers are so large and dense. They are also bisexual (Reich, Lee).

The beans of the tree take the place of the flowers in the summer and early fall. They are long (8-20") and bean-like, and give the tree the names "bean tree" and "cigar tree." They are not edible, but Native Americans have used the tree as an antidote for snake bites. Additionally, a tea can be made from the seed, which is used to treat whooping cough and bronchitis. The bark has also been used to make tea, which acts as a sedative and produces a slight narcotic reaction. Its leaves can be made into a poultice for wounds.

The wood is soft and lightweight, which makes it very good for carving. When finished, it produces beautiful patterns and a soft silk feel. The heartwood is commonly used for fences, as it is rot resistant. The Catalpa spread from its native origins due to people planting it for fence posts.

The Catalpa has a very large root system which is beneficial to preventing erosion. It is resistant to changes in soil and moisture level and can grow in USDA planting zones 4-6. It can grow in many types of soil and in a variety of conditions but prefers dry conditions (Grant, Bonnie). It prefers full sun or half shade, and its large leafy cover provides shade for animals and other plants (Grant, Bonnie).

The Catalpa tree interacts with many wildlife, providing homes and shelter for small animals. It benefits honey bees, which feed on it in early summer. The bees make nectar both from the flowers of the tree and from the underside of the leaves (Underhill, Richard). Additionally, hummingbirds visit the flowers in the springtime ("Northern Catalpa"). The Catalpa is eaten by the catalpa sphynx moth, which in its caterpillar phase eats the leaves of the Catalpa (Underhill, Richard). The leaves of the Catalpa attract ants, which in turn keep the caterpillars away.

Many people plant Catalpas for their rich flowering beauty; however, it is also a very messy tree and so not for everyone. The tree's leaves, beans, and flowers all make a large mess when they fall, and the tree take up lots of space. It's well suited to a large area with grass that you don't really care about (Reich, Lee). It is also one of the last trees to grow leaves in the spring, so looks very dead for early spring. You won't often find a lot of trees in the same space or making up a forest, as they mainly spread due to human influence and planting.

The Northern Catalpa is a beautiful tree that has spread to Canada due to its allure of flowers in the springtime. I highly recommend coming back during the spring to see what it looks like. It is a hardy and large tree that is wonderful for providing shade cover and a beautiful view.

Portrait written by Veronica Klassen


"Catalpa Speciosa." Missouri Botanial Garden,


Grant, Bonnie L. "What Is A Catalpa Tree - Growing Catalpa Trees In The Landscape." Gardening Know How, 23 Mar. 2015,

"Northern Catalpa." Arbor Day Foundation, Arbor Day Foundation,

Reich, Lee. "Gardening: A Catalpa in Bloom Is like a Tree Full of Orchid Blossoms." Global News, 8 July 2015,

"The Average Age of a Flowering Catalpa." Home Guides | SF Gate,

Underhill, Richard. "Catalpa In Bloom." The Peace Bee Farmer, Richard Underhill and Peace Bee Farm, 17 May 2009,

Northern Red Oak (Quercus Rubra) - NRO462

Standing tall and skinny in front of Alumni Memorial House with a discreet maroon plaque at its base, this tree grows in a sunny location and provides others with shade. The tree is identifiable by its leaves and inner bark: the leaves are pinnately lobed with bristly tips and the inner bark is reddish in hue ("Identify by Leaf").The Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) has about eleven lobes per leaf and the outer bark has plenty of vertical ridges along its length ("Black Oak"). It can grow up to twenty-eight metres in height, and makes acorns that have a small, round, scaly cap ("Red Oak").

While some people may consider the oak tree only for its value as lumber, or do not think much of it at all, this paper will present the Northern Red Oak from different perspectives and contexts to understand the tree as a whole and its role in a larger community.

The Northern Red Oak is native to parts of Canada and the United States: its range extends from Nova Scotia to Minnesota and all the way south to North Carolina. The oak can grow in a variety of soils with different moisture levels, preferring the sun to the shade ("Northern Red Oak"). Because of its adaptability, the Northern Red Oak is considered an invasive species in parts of Europe. The species was introduced probably in the late 17th century, and a study by Merceron et al. suggests that the source population is from the northern part of its native range. Invasive species are a nuisance because they do not have any natural predators to control its population growth. However, in a recent study by Myczko et al., it is suggested that some moth species have increased their food range to munch on the Northern Red Oak's acorns. While it is unfortunate that the acorn has to face yet another obstacle to sprout into a tree, there is now more food for the moth larvae when native species do not produce as many acorns.

In the summers, the dark green leaves provide shade for passersby while in the autumn, the red-brown leaves are part of the striking fall foliage. In the winter, the tree branches are bare, although some dead leaves may remain, clinging on to their former home. Come spring, flowers are borne in catkins and acorns start to develop, though they take around two years to mature before they drop to the ground in autumn. The acorns provide food to many animals including insects, squirrels, deer, and small birds. If the acorns survive to the spring, they germinate (Gribko et al.). As producing acorns takes a lot of energy and resources with a very low chance of sapling growth, oak trees do not produce acorns until they are old enough (at least twenty-five years old) and only produce acorns every two to five years.

The Northern Red Oak and oak trees in general have a significant role to play in various industries. The bark and inner bark of the Northern Red Oak were used in native American cultures for its medicinal effects in treating fevers, sore throats, and rashes on the skin. Galls on the leaves (abnormal growths on the plants in response to presence of insect larvae) was also used to treat diarrhea and cholera ("Northern Red Oak: Medicinal Uses"). Today, the tree is mostly planted for ornamental purposes and to harvest as lumber. The wood is used to make a lot of things, including: furniture, flooring, fences, and firewood.

The oak tree is an inspiration for one of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poems entitled "The Oak", which depicts an oak tree through the seasons. In the lines: "Look, he stands, / Trunk and bough / Naked strength.", Tennyson describes the majestic strength of the oak tree, even when its branches are bare and all the leaves have fallen. There is also a saying: "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow" that suggests that great things have humble beginnings and introduces the concept of the mighty oak. In both works, the oak tree is commonly depicted as strong and mighty, resilient and majestic. These depictions, however, portray the trees as individuals, not considering them in the wider context of its community. In The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, oak trees are not shown as individually standing majestically in a forest canopy, but rather as part of an intricate community of fellow trees, insects, and fungi. In particular, Wohlleben describes the growth of an oak tree under the canopy of its mother tree as a "pedagogical method" or upbringing. By depriving the baby trees of light in the early years, the trees' little trunks are sturdy and thus more resistant to storms and fungi. Connected by a fungi root network, the trees in the forest support each other through communication of dangers (hungry caterpillars) and nutrient sharing.

This Northern Red Oak tree was planted as a tribute to McMaster's military veterans as part of an event during Alumni Weekend, 2009. McMaster veterans were invited to a dinner to reminisce about their time at this school (Daily News). The tree is planted in a fitting location: in front of Alumni Memorial House, a building constructed from a $100 000 gift from the schools' alumni and students as a memorial to McMaster members to gave their lives in World War I and II ("McMaster History").

The Northern Red Oak can mean different things to different organisms. To many insects and animals, the fruit is a delicious source of nutrients. To people in the lumber industry, the tree might be appraised for its market value as wood and furniture. To the students that walk by on the campus lawn, the tree provides some convenient shade on hot summer days. To native oak trees in Europe, the Northern Red Oak is taking their precious land and nutrients. And yet to a McMaster military veteran, the tree can serve as a reminder of the dinner in May of 2009 and of the dedication of the community to their service. It is not one specific aspect that defines a tree, but rather the combination of its roles in different contexts that makes it an interesting topic of study.

Portrait written by Annecy Pang

Works Cited

"Black Oak." Accessed September 25, 2017.

Gribko, Linda S., Thomas M. Schuler, and W. Mark Ford. "Biotic and abiotic mechanisms in the establishment of northern red oak seedlings: a review." 2002. doi:10.2737/ne-gtr-295.

"Identify by Leaf." What Tree is it? Accessed September 25, 2017.

"McMaster History." Fast Facts. April 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017.

"McMaster welcoming its Second World War veterans to campus for Alumni Weekend." Daily News, May 19, 2009. Accessed September 25, 2017.

Merceron, Nastasia R., Thibault Leroy, Emilie Chancerel, Jeanne Romero-Severson, Daniel S. Borkowski, Alexis Ducousso, Arnaud Monty, Annabel J. Porte, and Antoine Kremer. "Back to America: tracking the origin of European introduced populations of Quercus rubra L." Genome 60, no. 9 (2017): 778-90. Accessed September 25, 2017. doi:10.1139/gen-2016-0187.

Myczko, Lukasz, Lukasz Dylewski, Artur Chrzanowski, and Tim H. Sparks. "Acorns of invasive Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) in Europe are larval hosts for moths and beetles." Biological Invasions 19, no. 8 (2017): 2419-425. Accessed September 25, 2017. doi:10.1007/s10530-017-1452-y.

"Northern Red Oak." Plant Guide. Accessed September 25, 2017.

"Northern Red Oak: Medicinal Uses." Omeka Collection. Accessed September 25, 2017.

"Red Oak." Accessed September 25, 2017.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. "The Oak." Famous Poets. Accessed September 25, 2017.

Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World. Translated by Jane Billinghurst. (Vancouver: David Suzuki Institute, 2016).

Pin Oak (Quercus Palustris) - PO155

Two majestic oak trees stand outside the John Hodgins Engineering building at McMaster University. In the season in which I write, they frame its entrance with vivid autumn colours. These trees are pin oaks, also known as swamp oaks, and are frequently planted as ornamental trees due to their beautiful foliage in the fall but they are also locally abundant in southern Ontario (Natural Resources Canada). One of the most distinctive features of the pin oak in particular is its shape: the branches in its upper crown ascend, in its centre grow horizontally, and in its lower crown actually curve downwards (Natural Resources Canada). These trees grow to approximately 20 metres in height and 60 centimetres in diameter and live up to 100 years old (Natural Resources Canada). Pin oaks grow quickly in comparison to other oaks -- about 12 to 15 feet over a 5 to 7 year period (University of Kentucky).

Not only do pin oaks have a distinctive shape, but they can also be easily identified by their leaves. These leaves have 5 to 7 lobes that are wide-spreading and separated by large U-shaped notches. The base of the leaf is shaped like a wedge, and the upper edge of the lobes forms a right angle with the leaf's midvein. The central lobe is about three times longer than the leaf's width between two opposite notches, which contribute to the leaf's distinctive shape. Pin oak leaves have a shiny dark green upper surface and a paler lower surface (Natural Resources Canada). Other noticeable features of the pin oak include its bark, flowers, and fruits. Pin oak trees have smooth gray bark that develops shallow, narrow ridges as it ages (Morton). They are monoecious, with small pollen flowers that have an inconspicuous colour and fragrance (Natural Resources Canada, Morton Arboretum). Pin oak acorns are small and relatively wide, with a short-beak at the tip and a shallow saucer-shaped cup (Natural Resources Canada). One difference between the pin oak and the northern pin oak, which is quite similar, is the acorn, which are larger and have a cup that encloses more of the nut on the northern pin oak ("Northern pin oak").

Although pin oaks are common in their natural habitat and generally tolerant of urban conditions when planted, there are a variety of conditions that are unsuitable for them. They grow well in moist, acidic soils; if their soil has a high pH they can develop iron chlorosis, identifiable by the tree's leaves taking on a yellow colour (University of Kentucky). As a result, pin oak trees are frequently found near swamps and streams, which is a likely contributor to their other name - the swamp oak (Natural Resources Canada). In addition to their sensitivity to acidic soils, using even small quantities of fill soil for oaks can kill them (University of Kentucky). Pests such as two-lined chestnut borers and gypsy moths can damage pin oaks, and the oak wilt and oak blister fungi can also harm them (University of Kentucky, Morton Arboretum). These trees are also more susceptible to diseases if mass planted together, so interspersing oak trees with other species helps protect them (University of Kentucky). Despite these challenges, pin oaks thrive in Ontario, and they do have a shallow, fibrous root system that makes them easy to transplant (University of Kentucky).

Not only does the pin oak's shape make it easy to identify, but it actually influences the economic impact of this tree. Oak trees have historically been used for timber for houses and carving, and their bark has been valued for its high tannin content (Trees for Life). However, since the pin oak has many slender branches rather than fewer heavy, horizontal branches, its wood is full of knots and therefore not as good for lumber (University of Kentucky).

Culturally, oak trees were held in high esteem by numerous European cultures. One recurring theme is the supreme god of a culture's pantheon, such as Zeus, being associated with the oak tree (Trees for Life). In another spiritual tradition, the Druids worshipped and practised rites in oak groves. Ancient kings and Roman commanders alike would wear crowns of oak leaves as symbols of power and victory (Trees for Life). It is obvious that pin oaks are beautiful, distinctive trees with a historical connections to deity and power. Whether or not McMaster University intended to communicate these cultural understandings when they planted twin pin oaks in front of JHE -- that's another question altogether!

Portrait written by Julia Cooke

Works Cited

Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada. Northern Pin Oak. 31 Dec. 2013,

---. Pin Oak. 31 Dec. 2013,

"Mythology and Folklore of Oak." Trees for Life, Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.

"Pin Oak." The Morton Arboretum, Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.

University of Kentucky. "Pin Oak | Department of Horticulture." College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, Accessed 29 Nov. 2018.

Tartarian Honeysuckle (Lonicera Tatrica) - TH161a

At first glance, the Lonicera tatrica, more commonly referred to as the Tartarian honeysuckle, looks like the perfect shrub for the Christmas holiday season with its small bright crimson berries and its deep, slight evergreen leaves arranged in an attractive opposite fashion. The berries are perfectly plump and smooth. The oval or oblong leaves are smooth and completely glabrous except for a few fine hairs on the lead margins. The tree shifts into dormancy slightly earlier than other species during the colder Fall days, trading its green leaves for brilliant orange colours, and then, synchronously drops its leaves as it settles in for the long winter months (Purdy, 2016). It seems to be the ideal plant of the North.

However, the Tartarian honeysuckle is, in fact, native to central and northeastern parts of Asia and Russia. It is thought to have been first introduced to North America in the 1750s by a number of contributors. Some of these factors include birds who carried the seeds in their beaks by flight, mammals who spread the seeds by land, and human beings who used the tree increasingly as an ornamental. The plants are adapted to "roller-coaster" changes in weather, making them suitable in a wide range of habitats. They are able to tolerate both the desiccating winds of winter, to near drought conditions in summer months, and are able to withstand temperature changed ranging from -50 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit (Purdy, 2016).

It is hardly surprising that the Tartarian honeysuckle has spread and thrived. It is now regarded as a highly invasive species all over North America. The introduction of this species has had an impact both for wildlife and the abiotic environment. The berries of the Tartarian honeysuckle contain lower amounts of fat and nutrients compared to the levels found in native honeysuckle berries. Birds, in particular, rely upon the berries before their migration. Relying upon the less nutritive Tartarian honeysuckle berries can have negative impacts for these birds in their late-Fall migration. The red berries of the Tartarian honeysuckle tree can also change the colour of the plumage on several native bird species such as White-throated sparrows, Kentucky warblers, Baltimore Orioles, and cardinals (Catling, 2016). In particular, the cardinal's plumage is artificially enhanced by the consumption of the honeysuckle berries, creating the illusion of a healthier, brighter cardinal. This has an impact on mate selection in cardinals, however, as a bright red cardinal symbolizes health and strength, making it more likely to attract a mate. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the berries are less nutritive, the opposite is true of the bird's health (Catling, 2016).

The Tartarian honeysuckle readily invades open woodlands, fields, and other highly populated sites. It can form a dense understory thicket which can, as a consequence, prevent successful native plant growth and seedling establishment of other native species. Furthermore, the tree tends to leaf out early in the spring, providing it with a competitive advantage over other native plant species, such as trilliums and bloodroot. It covers the other shrubs in the understory in shade, decreasing the light available to them. By doing so, the invasive Tartarian honeysuckle alters the habitat and depletes the soil of its moisture and nutrients ("Honeysuckle Spp., 2018).

The impact of the invasive Tartarian honeysuckle has hit close to home here on the McMaster University campus and in the heart of the Royal Botanical Gardens of Hamilton. Starting in 2015, the city of Hamilton began to make a greater effort to "search and destroy" the Tartarian honeysuckle, as well as the Amur and Morrow honeysuckles, two other invasive honeysuckle species (McNeil, 2015). There is perhaps a slight "irony to the endeavour" as the ornamental honeysuckles "used to be widely displayed in visitor areas of the Royal Botanical gardens because it was attractive and resistant to pests" and after several years, the species has become widespread across the area (McNeil, 2015). In order to prevent the decrease in biodiversity associated with such invasive outbreaks, the shrubs have been pulled out of the ground by the staff of the Royal Botanical gardens and volunteers (McNeil, 2015). It is perhaps for this reason that one of the Tartarian honeysuckle trees on the edge of Cootes Paradise on the edge of the McMaster campus, has received an aggressive streak of fluorescent orange paint on its bark. This might signify its pending removal from the area.

Despite the war waged on this "invasive" species, the Tartarian honeysuckle is a beloved species in its history, folklore, and associated magical properties. Before it obtained its current common name, the Tartarian honeysuckle was known as a 'woodbyne" in early Britain. In Geoffrey Chaucer's work, the "woodbyne" is depicted as a symbol of an unwavering dependence and trust in love. Its name later changed into its current "honeysuckle" from the tradition of children biting off the ends of the flowers to enjoy the small, sweet drops of nectar inside (Hatfield, 2008). While the flowers were used for this enjoyment, ingesting the berries themselves has had sickening, toxic effects in children. Although its medical potential, for this reason, is limited, the scent of the Tartarian honeysuckle is said to "clear the mid, stimulate psychic powers, sharpen intuition, encourage any mood, and stimulate generosity" ("Tartarian Honeysuckle," n.d.). With this in mind, it is baffling to think that the species is sought after to be removed from North America.

While the spread of the Tartarian honeysuckle must be controlled in order to prevent its dominating impacts on the life of other native tree species, the Tartarian honeysuckle certainly is a beautiful tree. In early May to June, its shoots splurge into a magnificent protrusion of bronzely tinted, pale pink flowers with creamy white tips at its petals. John Gerard, a 16th-century herbalist, compared the shape of its flowers to the "nose of an elephant" ("The appeal of honeysuckle," 2007). Though the exact resemblance to the elephant is difficult to see, the flowers of the Tartarian honeysuckle certainly do have a similar majestic appeal to them. Though they may be less stunning in their presence, the berries are also quite attractive, providing a source of colour to the bare branches of the tree against an accompanying cold, winter landscape.

The Tartarian honeysuckle has been rightly accused of being a "menace" to many native plant species in the North (Wells, 1997). However, it should not be forgotten that Tartarian honeysuckles are also a lovely tree species to look at and surround oneself amongst. We are quick to see the tree only under this "predator" label to other native plant species in the area. It should be remembered, however, that human beings are also partly responsible for their introduction to North America. Our efforts to eliminate the species from this area almost seems like an unjust punishment, given our own interference in their dispersal and proliferation. Though we are quick to label the Tartarian honeysuckle as a threat, the value of the lives of the Tartarian honeysuckle trees, should not be forgotten.

Portrait written by Ava Corey


Bush Honeysuckles. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Catling. (2016). The Canadian Botanical Association Bulletin [Scholarly project].

Country Life. (2014, June 16). The appeal of honeysuckle. Retrieved from

FrankOnABike. (1970, January 01). Honeysuckle: Really Quite Terrible for Wildlife. Retrieved from

McBride, B. (n.d.). Chromatography reveals man is responsible for changing the colour of Northern Flicker bird feathers. Retrieved from

Mcneil, M. (2015, November 24). RBG officials launch offensive against the ornamental honeysuckle. Retrieved from

New YorkInvasive Species Information. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Shrubby Honeysuckles. (2011). Retrieved from

Tartarian Honeysuckle. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Tartarian Honeysuckle Chokes Out Spring Ephemerals. (2016, April 02). Retrieved from

Wells, D. (1997). 100 flowers and how they got their names. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Witchipedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris) - SP463

The Scots Pine is the national tree of Scotland where it grows straight and tall and has a plenitude of natural predators (Marinich & Powell 8). However, in Ontario this species is actually invasive and harmful to many of our fragile ecosystems (Marinich & Powell 2). The environment of Ontario is not ideal for the Scots pine which tends to grow warped and sparse looking on this side of the Atlantic (Marinich & Powell 8). For landscaping purposes this tree is popular because of its windy appearance, its peeling orange bark which gives it an interesting aesthetic in winter (Conan Nurseries). Since the Scots pine is a conifer, the needles remain green all year, which means that it is an attractive tree when the rest of the forest is bare. Of course, this appeal is one of the reasons Ontario now has to publish reports about managing the Scots pine as an invasive species.

Scots Pines owe their presence in Ontarioto the 1920s and 30s when agricultural lands were suffering severe soil erosion because farmers weren't rotating their crops properly (Marinich & Powell 1). The Scots Pine is very good at growing in sandy eroded soil and revitalizing it, so saplings were brought over from Europe (Marinich & Powell 1). After World War 2 when families were a little more affluent and the Christmas Tree market was expanding, the Scots Pine was initially the most popular type of Christmas tree (Marinich & Powell 1). Until the 1980s the Scots Pine was farmed extensively as a Christmas tree. To this day most Scots Pine plantations are former Christmas Tree farms (Marinich & Powell 1). Eventually, various species of Fir tree took over as Ontario's favourite Christmas tree because they did not take as much pruning (Marinich & Powell 1). Ever since, Scots Pine has been colonizing fragile meadow and roadside ecosystems.

The Scots Pine has a shallow root structure that crowds out competition. This is compounded by their quick maturation rate which gives them a serious competitive advantage not only over other trees but also over wildflowers and grasses (Marinich & Powell 11) . The Scots pine does not tolerate shade well and so prefers to grow in meadows and fields that contain grasses and flowers necessary for local wildlife (Conan Nurseries). The fast-growing seedlings that sprout at the base of the Scots pine provide a ground cover that dominates the area (Marinich & Powell 11). For this reason, Ontario Parks systemically remove Scots Pines from vulnerable and rare areas (Marinich & Powell 19). Several Ontarian flowers are directly endangered as a result of the Scots Pine such as Skinners False Foxglove and Purple Twayblade (Marinich & Powell 13). The Scots Pine is also a common carrier for Pine Wilt Disease and other dangerous infections (Marinich & Powell 2).

These three McMaster trees are part of a landscaped area so the only threat they pose would be if they were infected or if their seeds blew into Cootes. Scots Pine seeds are protected by pine cones until they begin to emerge in October and through until spring (Marinich & Powell 8). Their seeds themselves look similar to maple helicopters and tend to fall directly at the base of the tree but could be blown or buried elsewhere by an animal (Ontario Trees and Shrubs). The Scots Pine is monoecious and so all trees produce fruit. The male anthers are yellow, and the female flowers start off purple but turn green once fertilized (Marinich & Powell 4,5). The female cone turns brown with maturity and points inward along the branch (Ontario Trees and Shrubs).

Scots Pines have many native lookalikes. One of these is the Jack pine. However, while both trees have needles that grow in bunches of two the Scots pine's needles twirl around each other and the Jack Pine's needle pairs split apart in a V (Ontario Trees and Shrubs). The Scots Pine, when it is kept healthy, should be able to live up to 80 years old and it can reportedly continue to reproduce up until the age of 200 (Conan Nurseries). In Scotland and other parts of Europe this tree is harvested for lumber to produce long straight poles as well as to produce paper and flooring (Marinich & Powell 2).

These three trees were planted in the 1980s which makes them around 30 years old. They will most likely die within the next 50 years from due to the nearby path being salted (McMaster Aerial Photographs).

Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous

Works Cited

"McMaster Campus Air Photos." McMaster University Library Digital Archives., 2013. Web. 23 Nov. 2018.

Marinich, Allison and Powell, Kate. 2017. Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) Best Management Practices in Ontario. Ontario Invasive Plant Council, Peterborough, ON.

"Scotch Pine." Connon Nurseries., 2018. Web. 23 Nov. 2018.

"Scots Pine." Ontario Trees and Shrubs. Web. 23 Nov. 2018.

Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus Phaenopyrum) - H840

Two trees pulling apart from each other share a canopy on the side of the road on the north side of Mcmaster Campus. Stern Drive passes the athletics building and Togo Salmon Hall, to curve northwards, and as McKay Hall is passed on the East side of the road, these trees appear on the West. These trees stand out in the winter landscape as a splash of colour against the white ground. The red fruits cling to their branches long after frost has convinced Mcmaster's deciduous leaves to abandon their chilly posts. These trees are Hawthorns and their blood red berries and long thorns have earned them a grim reputation.

The hawthorn tree has between 100 and 1100 species and countless hybrids (The Canadian Encyclopedia 2006). The fruit of these two trees is round and red with multiple nutlets inside each berry, the trees are both a reasonable height and have rough and gnarled bark, and the thorns are slender, straight and around 3 inches in lengths. Based on these characteristics it is very likely that these two trees are Washington Hawthorns (Morton Arboretum; Arbor Day Foundation). Washington Hawthorns are noteworthy for their abundance of long thorns and small rounded fruit (Burrell). They are native to North America but are popular as a landscaping tree around the world, growing in USDA hardiness zones 4-8. Of course, the only true way to tell is by measuring the lobes of the leaves which will have to wait until spring (Beaulieu 2018).

Washington Hawthorn flowers contain both male and female parts within each flower which blooms in late May and last for around a week (Boyer 2012).The flowers are foul smelling with white petals and pink stamens (Breen 2018). After being fertilized, a bloom turns into an apple like fruit with a high pectin content (The Conservation Volunteers). These fruits are called haws and have both the texture and taste of a soft, overripe apple. The seeds of the Hawthorn tree contain cyanide bonded with sugar that is broken down in the human digestive system and is deadly poisonous. The poison stays within the seeds even while cooking, so there is no danger of being poisoned by the rest of the fruit (The Conservation Volunteers).

Hawthorns have a fascinatingly morbid history of association. The daggerlike thorns are often said to be the thorns that were worn as a crown by Christ (Ruben). In the 1980s the Folklore society found that one quarter of all reported unlucky plants in the UK are about Hawthorns (Hemming 2012). The spines are dangerous since they are so long and can easily pierce skin. Although the thorns are not poisonous, they contain several pathogens used by the tree as a defense mechanism which can lead to an irritated and painful wound (Ruben). These thorns are the result of Hawthorn trees being members of the Rose family, although not all species of Hawthorn bear thorns anymore due to cultivation (Spengler 2018).

The blooms of the Hawthorn tree give off trimethylamine, which is one of the first chemicals to be produced when flesh begins to decay (Treftz 2013). This is to attract the tree's pollinators which are mostly carrion insects such as flies and carrion beetles (Boyer 2012). There was once a folk belief in the United Kingdom that Hawthorn blooms bore the scent of the Black Death and that they should not be brought into dwellings for fear of infection (Treftz 2013). More broadly, Hawthorn trees were believed to be harbingers of death in English folk traditions, despite their association with Christianity. In the Middle Ages, Hawthorns were associated with carnal love in contrast to other purer types of love (Treftz 2013). In Ireland, legends link Hawthorn trees to fairies that would seek revenge if the tree was felled (Simon 2000). Hawthorn boughs were also an important part of May Day celebrations in Britain and Ireland because of their association with Christ (Simon 2000).

William Wordsworth uses the Hawthorn tree in his poems frequently paired with tragic children such as Robin in Peter Bell or Lucy in Lucy Gray (Treftz 2013). Children who are the products of carnal love interact with the Hawthorn branch when they are confronted with death. In Peter Bell, the use of the Hawthorn branch is also to foreshadow Peter's redemption which is prompted by Robin coming upon his dead father's donkey with blood on its forehead and a cross on its back while he's holding a hawthorn branch (Treftz 2013).

"What ails you now, my little Bess?
Well may you tremble and look grave!
This cry--that rings along the wood,
This cry--that floats adown the flood,
Comes from the entrance of a cave:

I see a blooming Wood-boy there,
And if I had the power to say
How sorrowful the wanderer is,
Your heart would be as sad as his
Till you had kissed his tears away!

Grasping a hawthorn branch in hand,
All bright with berries ripe and red,
Into the cavern's mouth he peeps;
Thence back into the moonlight creeps;
Whom seeks he--whom?--the silent dead:

His father!--Him doth he require--
Him hath he sought with fruitless pains,
Among the rocks, behind the trees;
Now creeping on his hands and knees,
Now running o'er the open plains."

- Excerpt from Peter Bell by William Wordsworth

Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous


Beaulieu, D. (2018, August). Washington Hawthorn Trees. The Spruce. Retrieved from

Boyer. (2012, May). Hawthorn: the Tree of May. Living in Season. Retrieved from

Breen, P. (2018). Crataegus phaenopyrum. Oregon State University. Retrieved from

Hawthorn. (2006, February). The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Hawthorn. (n.d.). The Conservation Volunteers. Retrieved from

Hemming, J. (2012). Trees of Britain and Ireland: History, Folklore, Products and Ecology. Folklore, 123(2), 246-247.

Ruben, B. (n.d.). How Dangerous Are the Thorns on a Hawthorn Tree? Home Guides | SF Gate. Retrieved from

Simon, B. (2000). TREE TRADITIONS AND FOLKLORE FROM NORTHEAST IRELAND. Arboricultural Journal, 24(1), 15-40.

Spengler, T. (2018, March). Thornless Cockspur Hawthorns - Growing A Thornless Cockspur Hawthorn Tree. Gardening Know How. Retrieved from

Treftz, J. M. (2013). The Significance of the Hawthorn Branch in Wordsworth's Peter Bell. Journal ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 26(1), 27-30.

Washington Hawthorn. (n.d.). Arbor Day Foundation. Retrieved from

Washington Hawthorn. (n.d.). The Morton Arboretum. Retrieved from

Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica) - WW130

Willow trees, with their adaptive characteristics and inherent useful properties, have flourished in environments around the globe. Their unique biological qualities have also made them the object of human imagination for thousands of years, captivating artists, inspiring revolutionary healers, and facilitating essential craftwork. It is this diversity in application that makes the willow important, both biologically and culturally. The willow, planted on McMaster's central field, then serves as a steadfast symbol of beauty, creation, and overcoming adversity for the students.

Understanding the biology of the willow tree allows for greater understanding of its relationship with humans through time. Willows, of genus Salix, have some important general characteristics, like strong, pliable wood and salicin rich sap, but are otherwise quite variable. There are around 450 species in the genus, and they range in size from large deciduous trees, to small semi-evergreens, to creeping shrubs only a few inches tall (Stafford 215). Willows of many sorts are common and endemic across the northern hemisphere.

The species relevant to my inquiry, however, were the white willow, Salix alba, and the weeping willow, Salix babylonica. The white willow is native to Europe and central Asia, the weeping willow is native to northern China, but has since migrated with traders along the Silk Road towards Europe, and again to North America with the settlers (Missouri Botanical Garden). These species are medium to large deciduous trees, growing up to 70 feet tall (Missouri Botanical Garden). Willows grow incredibly quickly, both in the length of their shoots and their roots; their growth is so exuberant that a mere shoot cutting from a willow can be planted in the ground and grow into a new tree (Stafford 213). A distinctive characteristic of the weeping willow is the long, sweeping branches that hang about the trunk like a curtain, often all the way to the ground (Missouri Botanical Garden). It was this characteristic primarily that led me to believe that the tree on McMaster's campus is in fact a weeping willow, and not a white.

The weeping and white willow have similar leaves, which are long and slender, and have smooth edges and no lobes (Missouri Botanical Garden). White willows have fine, silky hairs covering the leaves, which make the color slightly paler than their weeping relatives (Missouri Botanical Garden); this, too, was an indicator of the species of the tree at McMaster. These willows' leaves range from 4-16cm in the length, and hang laterally off the slender green branches in an alternating pattern. These green leaves turn a magnificent yellow in the fall, and lose this head of golden locks in the winter months (Missouri Botanical Garden). Both trees are dioecious, meaning each tree possesses either the male or female reproductive flower, or catkin. These catkins can be green or orangey-yellow, and are pollinated by insects in the early spring; by midsummer, the seeds are dispersed by the wind (Missouri Botanical Garden).

These properties allow for many different uses of willow trees. The wood of willow trees, in many different and separate cultures, has been used in the creation of tools in the style of wicker (Stafford 217). Wicker work involves using branches or cut strips of branches in the weaving. Willow is used specifically for its strength and pliability, and for thousands of years has been used to create baskets and fishing nets, traps, and furniture (Stafford 217).

More contemporary uses of willow wood are less varied, as other materials have taken precedent in the creation of furniture and the like. However, willow is still the primary wood used in the creation of things like wooden shoes known as clogs, and the double bass instrument, but notably for the creation of cricket bats, which require English, female white willow wood (Stafford 219). The high strength to weight ratio is what allows willow to still be a viable material for such uses.

In less physical applications, willow is still incredibly useful. The strong, branching root systems of the tree can be used to stabilize stream banks (Aronsson 293). This property is used to combat erosion, but the tree is doubly useful because of its ability to filter water before it passes into waterways. Willows can intake toxins and heavy metals through their roots, trapping them in their leaves and bark with no harm to the tree (Aronsson 295). Because of its properties, then, the willow is used as a primary means of biofiltration and remediation (Aronsson 293).

The most famous, and potentially most important, application of the willow's properties comes from its sap. For thousands of years it has been used medicinally, dating back to ancient Egypt and Greece, where the likes of Hippocrates recommended the sap and bark as a means of mitigating pain and fever (Jeffreys 14). There are other plants that have high salicin content, but the willow was the most well known (Jefferys 10). Around the year 1800, the medicinal properties began to be better understood, as salicin was isolated as a chemical and shown to have medicinal effects. Reverend Edward Stone was one of the pioneers of this endeavor, and derived his compounds from the willow tree itself (Jeffreys 283). Later advances were not linked directly to the willow, but the pursuit of the chemically stable medicine we now know as aspirin began with the willow. The simple ingredient in its bark inspired the creation of a new form of medicine, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which represent an important modern household treatment (Jeffreys 229).

Many cultures have used more romantic applications of the willows unique features, particularly in relation to art. In the Psalm 137 of the Bible, heartbroken poets are described as hanging their harps in the boughs of willows; while accurate translation reveals these trees were in fact poplars, the association with melancholy and anguish has lingered (Stafford 207). Many later poets echo this sentiment in their work, including Shakespeare, Pope, Yeats, and Herrick (Stafford 207, 208; Herrick 3).

Artists have also included this in their imagery. Notably the French impressionist Claude Monet took willows as his study in the later years of his life, as he dealt with the horrors of the First World War and his own impending death (King 175). His work mirrored the pain of the biblical poets, as he hung up his traditional light and optimistic style and instead painted in dark, contrasting tones to show his sadness and fear (King 176). The drooping, ominous branches of his willows make the observer feel his grief.

While its artistic applications have historically been pessimistic, its unique uses through time and across cultures paint a more optimistic understanding of this great tree. It has inspired creation that enabled societies to function and progress, has provided healing and comfort, and can bring environmental stability to important ecosystems. I find it inspiring that the willow can be so diversely used, and so universally revered; we are certainly lucky to have such a tree on our campus.

Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous


Aronsson, Pat. "Willow vegetation filters for wastewater treatment and soil remediation combined with biomass production." The Forestry Chronicle, 2001, 77(2): 293-299, Date Accessed September 20, 2017.

Herrick, Robert. The Complete Poems of Robert Herrick, Volume 2. Chatto and Windus, 1876.

Jeffreys, Diarmuid. Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2008.

King, Ross. Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lillies. Bloomsbury, 2016.

"Salix alba." Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d, Shaw Nature Reserve, Date Accessed Sept 15, 2017.

"Salix babylonica." Missouri Botanical Garden, n.d, Shaw Nature Reserve, Date Accessed Sept 16, 2017.

Stafford, Fiona. The Long, Long Life of Trees. Yale University Press, 2016.

White Birch (Betula Papyrifera) - WB118

In their quest to capture the Canadian landscape, Tom Thomson and members of the Group of Seven travelled throughout Ontario and Quebec to paint the scenery they observed. "In the Northland", by Tom Thomson and "October Gold", by Franklin Carmichael are two paintings that highlight the beauty of the white birch tree. Thomson's painting is of a blue lake surrounded by hundreds of birch trees with white bark and bright yellow leaves, while Carmichael chose to focus on two solitary birch trees standing on a hill in front of a green and orange coloured forest. These are just two paintings among many by these artists that contain the white birch tree. The incorporation of the white birch in so many pieces not only illustrates the abundance of these trees in Canada, but also shows that these trees are an integral part of the Canadian landscape. White birches are highly important to this region of the world, both ecologically and historically, and these paintings provide a striking visual representation of this idea.

The white birch, Betula papyrifera, is a deciduous tree native to North America that grows throughout Canada and in the northern United States (Natural Resources Canada, 2015), giving it the largest geographical distribution of all birch trees native to this continent ("Saskatchewan - White Birch", n.d.). It is a medium-sized tree that will grow to a height of 20-35 metres with a maximum lifespan of 120 years (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). The key features that distinguish it from other species of birch are the bark and leaves. The bark is white and peels off the tree in sheets while the leaves are round, about five to ten centimetres in length, and form a triangular-like point at the end (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). Each leaf has up to nine veins running across the leaf with a central crease that spans the length of the leaf. The edges are serrated, rather than smooth, and there are three to five teeth per vein (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). The leaves grow on alternating sides of the branch. The white birch also requires full sun in order to grow (Natural Resources Canada, 2015).

The seeds are produced in caterpillar-like structures called catkins, which are monoecious (Natural Resources Canada, 2015), meaning they contain the male and female reproductive organs in the same structure. The pollen catkins remain about three centimetres in length during the spring and summer but elongate to nine centimetres in September before the seeds fall to allow the tree to propagate (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). In the winter the tree is bare, since all the leaves fall off during October and November. The buds form and the catkins begin to elongate in spring (Natural Resources Canada, 2015). By summer, the leaves are dark green. Fall is arguably the prettiest season for these trees, as the leaves turn bright yellow.

The paintings by Tom Thompson and the Group of Seven depict the white birch trees as integral parts of the environment and these trees do in fact make substantial contributions to the ecosystems in which they live. The seeds produced by the catkins are an important source of food for many birds and in total, over 30 types of mammals and birds rely on these trees for food ("Paper Birch", n.d.). Without birch trees, these species would be forced to find food elsewhere. These trees are also pioneering species (Theriault, Nkongolo, Narendrula, & Beckett, 2013), meaning that in recently disturbed areas, these plants are among the first to grow. Since white birches can grow in a range of soils and require full sun (Natural Resources Canada, 2015), these trees grow successfully in regions recovering from clearcutting or a forest fire. As pioneering species grow, they aide in the cycling of nutrients and alter the soil composition, creating the appropriate conditions for subsequent plants to grow (Molles & Cahill, 2014). Thus, the white birch plays a key role in bringing disturbed areas back to life.

A 2013 study published in Chemistry and Ecology examined white birch tree growth in the Sudbury area, a region that was deforested and poisoned with heavy metals due to extensive mining that occurred during a large part of the 20th century. Reforestation initiatives included liming, a process where magnesium limestone is spread on the ground to neutralize the soil and allow plants to grow (Theriault, Nkongolo, Narendrula, & Beckett, 2013). The researchers from Laurentian University examined species abundance and richness in regions that were both limed and unlimed, in addition to examining the genetic variation of the white birch trees in the area. They noted that in both limed and unlimed study sites, white birch trees were the most abundant species present (Theriault, Nkongolo, Narendrula, & Beckett, 2013), illustrating the ability of these trees to repopulate destructed areas. After observing substantial heavy metal content in the leaves, the researchers concluded that white birches have biological mechanisms that allow them to take up heavy metals from the soil and store the metal in their leaves without being poisoned. This mechanism could explain why these trees can grow successfully in polluted areas (Theriault, Nkongolo, Narendrula, & Beckett, 2013). Multiple studies have concluded that heavy metal exposure from the soil causes a decrease in overall genetic variation within populations of some plant species, which puts the survival of the plant population in jeopardy. However, an analysis of the genetic variation of white birch trees in the Sudbury area revealed high levels of genetic variation within populations despite heavy metal exposure (Theriault, Nkongolo, Narendrula, & Beckett, 2013). High levels of genetic variation suggest that the birches will likely continue to thrive in these areas. Thus, through its natural ability to remediate damaged land and provide food for other organisms, the white birch is a key species within the Canadian environment. Taking the time to consider the ecological contributions of one specific tree species is crucial. It is easy to state that 'all trees are important' without taking the time to examine the unique and vital contributions each tree makes to the greater ecosystem.

Birch trees are commonly associated with birch bark canoes used by the Indigenous people of North America and these trees were historically an integral part of the lives of these groups of people. For example, several myths and stories from different Indigenous groups explain how the birch got the black marks on its trunk. In addition, bark was traditionally also used to make containers, some of which were used to transport water, and baskets (Turner et al., 2009). White birch bark contains waxes and oils, is resistant to decay and can be bent easily, making it an ideal material for making these items (Turner et al., 2009). Smaller sheets of bark were commonly used as a writing material (Turner et al., 2009) and as a canvas for birch bark biting, a form of traditional art. Artists fold a piece of birch bark several times and then bite into the bark, leaving tooth mark indents in the shape of the image they wish to create (CBC News, 2016).

Using birch bark is a sustainable practice, as removing the bark in reasonable quantities does not harm the tree. Birch trees have two layers of bark, so when the outer layer is removed, the inner bark and a layer of tissue, called the cambium, protect the tree (Turner et al., 2009). White birch sap can be consumed and the bark has medicinal properties for curing rheumatism and colds ("Paper birch", n.d.). Interestingly, the chaga mushroom, which grows on birch trees, has medicinal and anti-cancer properties (Metis Nation of Ontario, 2010). These examples illustrate how versatile this tree is in its uses. Thinking about birch trees from this perspective allows one to gain a real appreciation for the white birch. It is incredible that a living organism can provide so many useful things, like an art and writing medium, medicine and a material for containers and canoes, in a sustainable way. It is also impressive that people have been using the products of the white birch for hundreds of years. And people continue to use the products today. In 2010, an Ontario power company was proposing to build a nuclear power plant on some land in the southern part of the province. AECOM conducted a Traditional Ecological Knowledge study for the Metis Nation of Ontario to research how plants in this region are used by the Metis in order to predict how the power plant might affect Metis practices. The white birch was one plant species highlighted in the study and participants noted the medicinal uses of the tree and the importance of the bark for making containers (Metis Nation of Ontario, 2010). They explain that the plants and products from the plants are "an integral part of how they see themselves, of who they are as Metis" (Metis Nation of Ontario, 2010). Just how the paintings depict the white birch tree as an integral part of the Canadian landscape, the importance of these trees goes beyond that, as white birches are also an integral part of a traditional way of life.

Portrait written by Sarah Sandor


CBC News. (2016). Indigenous artist uses birch bark biting to heal after residential school, cancer. Retrieved from

Metis Nation of Ontario. (2010). Metis Nation of Ontario - Southern Ontario Metis Traditional Plant Use Study. Retrieved from

Molles Jr., M.C., Cahill Jr., J.F. (2014). Disturbance, succession and stability. In Ecology: Concepts and Applications (Third Canadian Edition) (pp. 491-492). Whitby, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Education.

Natural Resources Canada. (2015). White birch. Retrieved from

Paper Birch. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Saskatchewan - White Birch (Betula Papyrifera). (n.d.). Retrieved from betulapapyrifera/

Theriault, G., Nkongolo, K.K., Narendrula, R., & Beckett P. (2013). Molecular and ecological characterisation of plant populations from limed and metal-contaminated sites in Northern Ontario (Canada): ISSR analysis of white birch (Betula papyrifera) populations. Chemistry and Ecology, 29 (7), 573-585.

Turner, N.J., Ari, Y., Berkes, F., Davidson-Hunt, I., Ertun Z.F., & Miller A. (2009). Cultural Management of Living Trees: An International Perspective. Journal of Ethnobiology, 29(2), 237-270. Retrieved from

Stories about Birch Tree's Marks

Ojibway Legend: Winabojo and the Birch Tree

Minaajim: Nanabozho and the Birch Trees

Why the Birch Tree Wears the Slashes in its Bark

How the Birch Tree Got Its Burns

White Oak (Quercus Alba) - WO1100a

Biological Features

The tree I was assigned to present on is a white oak tree, a species native to eastern and central North America. It has many ecological and economic uses, and is a cultural symbol that spans centuries and countries. Its Latin name is Quercus alba, which literally translates to "white oak", although its bark is often light gray (Canadian Tree Tours, n.d.). The white oak is a deciduous tree from the Beech family, and can be distinguished from other oak trees by its distinct leaf shape (Canadian Tree Tours, n.d.). It is tolerant of a variety of climates, but prefers well-drained, moderately acidic soil, and lots of sunlight (Hinckley & Bruckerhoff, 1975). White oaks can live up to 300-600 years in ideal conditions, and there have been reports of a 950 year old white oak living in Norfolk, England (Government of Ontario, 2014). The white oak has a very deep tap root, making it sensitive to urban pollution and road salt. It should be planted in open space with plenty of room to grow (Canadian Tree Tours, n.d.).

Distinguishing features of the white oak include scaly gray bark, a light-coloured hardwood, and oblong leaves with 7-9 deep, rounded lobes that grow in an alternate growth pattern (City of Toronto, n.d.). White oak leaves are smooth and dark green, with a pale underside. The leaves will become reddish-brown or reddish-purple before they are shed in autumn. The tree grows wide, spreading branches, and can reach over 35 metres tall (Government of Ontario, 2014). It is a monoecious, wind-pollinated species, growing pollen-bearing catkins in the spring and female flowers in late winter. Reproduction begins when a female flower is fertilized by male pollen and begins developing an acorn (Botts, 2015). An acorn is the embryo of a potential tree, and it consists of a hard-shelled nut with a short-stemmed cap. Acorns grow in the summer and will ripen until autumn, when they fall from the tree (Botts, 2015).

White oak acorns are sweeter than those of other oak species, and many animals including woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels, and deer rely on them as a food source (Government of Ontario, 2014). Thousands of acorns are produced by one tree every year, but their survival rate is low because many are eaten or dispersed to areas where they cannot sprout (Botts, 2015). Certain animals may facilitate in the dispersal of acorns, such as jays, who bury acorns underground for storage. An acorn that survives autumn will send an embryonic root deep into the soil to anchor it, and in the following spring, the acorn will burst out of its shell and begin sprouting. It will feed off its cotelydons (the embryonic first leaves) until it has developed leaves and can feed itself through photosynthesis (Ohio DNR, 2017).

Ecological Significance

White oak trees play an important role in the ecosystem at many levels. Their expansive and deep root systems maintain watershed integrity and limit erosion, while their wide canopies distribute rain and prevent surface level erosion (Lewington & Streeter, 1993). Many animals and insects rely on the tree for survival and reproduction, including deer, who eat young oak twigs, moths, who hatch eggs on oak leaves, and certain funguses and lichens that grow on the outer bark (City of Toronto, n.d.).

Economic Significance

White oak wood is waterproof and rot resistant, due to the special structure of the thyllae in the wood, making it ideal for the construction of barrels to age whiskey and wine (Chatonnet & Dubourdieu, 1998). The wood also gives flavour to the alcohol by turning tannins into acetals, and changing acetic acid to fruity esters (Chatonnet & Dubourdieu, 1998). White oak wood is valued for its density, strength, and resilience to splitting, and is used exclusively in Japanese martial arts to craft weapons. White oak wood is also an important hardwood for the lumber industry, because it can be made into flooring, railway tracks, furniture, and beams (Ohio DNR, 2017).


Historically, the oak tree has been an important cultural symbol for many groups of people. Sometimes referred to as the "King tree" in Celtic mythology, the oak is characterized as wise and noble (Lewington & Streeter, 1993). The Norse called it "Thor's tree" due to its high propensity for being struck by lightning. Modern studies reveal that lightning prefers to strike tall, pointed objects, and that lightning bolts will follow the shortest path of conductance to the earth's surface (DeRosa, 1983). Oak trees are often the tallest trees around, and have a high internal water content, making them very good conductors. Unfortunately, lightning can cause a tree to burn, explode, or split down the middle, and will often kill the trees it strikes (DeRosa, 1983). The oak symbolizes longevity and fertility, because it has such a long lifespan and produces a large crop of acorns every year. Some cultures also see oak trees as witnesses to important historical events (Lewington & Streeter, 1993).

Indigenous peoples

White oak tree acorns were an important source of food for some Indigenous peoples living in Canada and America before wheat cultivation was widespread (Lewington & Streeter, 1993). The acorns are high in fat, carbohydrates, and vitamins, and were often roasted or ground into flour and baked into breads and cakes (Lewington & Streeter, 1993). Modern foragers continue to use acorns in cuisine, and there are many online resources with recipes and explanations on how to harvest and process acorns (Shaw, 2017).


The oak tree has been the subject of many poets, including Alfred Lord Tennyson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and has been a source of inspiration across centuries and cultures. One poem that I thought was concise and compelling was this short haiku written by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho in the 1600s, as found on the Silver Birch Tree blog (Basho, 2013). I believe it reflects how the poet esteemed oak trees, which he viewed as simple and regal, in contrast to the frivolous and showy cherry trees that bloom every spring in Japan.

The oak tree:
Not interested
In cherry blossoms
Portrait of a Tree written by a student in ARTSSCI 3TR3 Trees Inquiry who wishes to remain anonymous


Basho, M., & Silver Birch Press. (2013, October 20). The Oak Tree Haiku [Web log post]. Retrieved September 22, 2017.

Botts, B. (2015, February 17). Evolution of an oak tree: It all starts with an acorn. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 22, 2017.

Canadian Tree Tours. (n.d.) White Oak. Retrieved September 23, 2017 from

Chatonnet, P., & Dubourdieu, D. (1998). Comparative Study of the Characteristics of American White Oak (Quercus alba) and European Oak (Quercus petraea and Q. robur) for Production of Barrels Used in Barrel Aging of Wines. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture,49(1), 79-85.

City of Toronto. (n.d.). White Oak. Retrieved September 21, 2017.

DeRosa, E. W. (1983). Lightning and Trees. Journal of Arboriculture, 9(2), 51-53.

Government of Ontario. (2014). White Oak. Retrieved September 22, 2017 from

Hinckley, T. M., & Bruckerhoff, D. N. (1975). The effects of drought on water relations and stem shrinkage of Quercus alba. Canadian Journal of Botany, 53(1), 62-72. doi:10.1139/b75-009

Lewington, R. & Streeter, D. (1993). The natural history of the oak tree. London: Dorling Kindersley

Ohio Department of Natural Resources. (2017). White Oak. Retrieved September 22, 2017, from

Shaw, H. (2017, January 30). Eating Acorns - How to Collect, Process and Eat Acorns. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from

White Spruce (Picea Glauca) - WS376

The picea glauca, also known as the white spruce, is a type of spruce tree that can be found in nearly every part of Canada, including McMaster University's campus. It is one of many coniferous trees, commonly referred to as "evergreen" trees because they do not lose their needle- or scale-like leaves in the winter. Coniferous trees are also differentiable from deciduous trees by their seed cones, which are present on the surface of the tree (Owens). Within this coniferous categorization, spruces belong to the pine family, which among others includes pines and firs.

Despite similarities between these types of trees, there are certain features that help differentiate spruces. One example of this is that spruce needles are arranged around the twig while fir needles look more flattened (Coulber). Another is that fir cones are erect while spruce cones are not (Petrides 173). Spruce trees can also be identified by their needles -- almost all spruce needles are four-sided and are pricklier than either fir or pine needles (Coulber). Once identified as a spruce, there are several observable characteristics of the picea glauca specifically. White spruces have blue-green needles, their branchlets do not droop, and upon inspection they have hairless twigs and buds (Petrides 175). They also like moist soil and are shade tolerant (Coulber). As evergreen trees, white spruces undergo a series of changes in order to survive the winter. Once spring arrives, their cones pollinate, ripening by the end of summer or early autumn (Coulber). Upon maturity these cones turn brown and eventually drop (Petrides 175).

There are also some pests that can affect white spruces. As these trees can be shallow-rooted, when blown over they provide a place for spruce beetles to breed (Parish 63). Once born these beetles can attack healthy white spruces. These trees are also affected by the Eastern spruce budworm and spruce sawflies (Coulber).

White spruces can be found all across Canada. Although there are certain areas in Canada (such as the southern part of British Columbia) where they do not grow, they are native to every province and territory in the country and are even the provincial tree of Manitoba (Coulber). Researchers have examined the spread of the white spruce through North America by examining pollen and macrofossil records and noticed certain irregularities in movement (Ritchie 527). Tracking the growth across the continent, they observed that white spruces moved from Pennsylvania to the Maritimes at an average rate of 200-300m per year and similarly from Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois to the Great Lakes at an average rate of about 200m per year, but that the tree travelled across the western interior of Canada at a substantially faster rate of 2000m per year (532). Their hypothesis for accounting for this discrepancy is that strong winds with relatively uniform direction in relation to the flat terrain could have had a significant effect on the tree's movements (537).

White spruces have a variety of cultural, economic, and environmental uses. First, spruce trees in general are popular as Christmas trees (Petrides 173); young white spruces tend to have a conical shape that Canadians associate with the figure of a 'classic' Christmas tree (Coulber). Spruces also have many economic uses. Native Americans use spruce wood to make baskets, canoes, snowshoe frames, and bows and its gum as a glue (Petrides 175, Parish 62). Its wood is also used for paper and lumber, for construction and as sounding boards in pianos (Petrides 174). The bark, shoots, and needles of spruces have been used to make food such as flour or tea, and wildlife ranging from squirrels to deer also eat parts of the tree such as its buds and shoots (Coulber). In addition to their nutritional benefit, spruces are valuable to wildlife as a place to nest or hide from predators (Coulber).

Finally, trees are a frequent element in art and this includes spruce trees. In the late fifteenth century, artists began depicting trees more realistically; in particular, painter Albrecht Dürer believed that artists should observe nature and represent it diligently, consequently painting studies of particular trees including a depiction of a spruce in 1497 (Watkins 14). Due to their religious and spiritual significance, trees are also featured in some religious artwork. For example, some of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich's works juxtapose religious buildings with trees nearby, including a work called Winter Landscape with Church which depicts spruce trees in the winter (Watkins 126).

The picea glauca is not only known as the white spruce, but also as the Canadian spruce. Not only is this tree a valuable and distinctive part of Canada's landscape and vegetation, it contributes to the country's ecosystems, businesses, artwork, and cultural practices.

Portrait written by Julia Cooke

Works Cited

Coulber, Sarah. "Spruce Trees of Canada". Canadian Wildlife Federation, n. d. Accessed 12 September 2018.

Owens, John N.. "Coniferous Trees". The Canadian Encyclopedia, 28 March 2018, Historica Canada. Accessed 12 September 2018.

Parish, Roberta, et al. Tree Book: Learning to Recognize Trees of British Columbia. Canadian Forest Service, 1994.

Petrides, George A., et al. A Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Trees : Eastern United States and Canada, Including the Midwest. vol. 1st ed., expanded. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998. The Peterson Field Guide Series.

Ritchie, J. C., and G. M. MacDonald. "The Patterns of Post-Glacial Spread of White Spruce."" Journal of Biogeography, vol. 13, no. 6, 1986, pp. 527–40. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/2844816.

Watkins, Charles. Trees in Art. Reaktion Books, 2018.