The Trees of Meadowbrook

by Sally Cole

Century-old silver maple, white elm and basswood trees are among the special features of Parc Meadowbrook, a site of beauty and a space of tranquility in Montreal.  These graceful, shade-giving indigenous trees grow up to 30 m high and live 130-200 years.  As native trees, they thrive in the wetlands and alluvial soils of Meadowbrook.  Here they offer nesting sites to wood ducks and other birds, rest for migrating birds, and dens to squirrels, raccoons and other mammals.

These five silver maples, located at the southern end of the Meadowbrook golf course, were photographed in September, 2015. Hydro Quebec has since cut them down. Photo by Louise Chenevert.

One objective of Parc Meadowbrook, in addition to preserving the existing century-old trees, is to renaturalize this 57 hectare treasure for the recreational use and aesthetic appreciation of the citizens of Montreal.

Parc Meadowbrook lies in the Upper St Lawrence – Lower Ottawa Valley zone of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest Region of Canada.  This is the lowland through which the waters of the Great Lakes system drain.  Native species in the lowland are predominantly deciduous: sugar maple, beech, red maple, yellow birch, basswood, white ash, largetooth aspen, and red and bur oaks as well as local occurrences of white oak, red ash, grey birch, rock elm, blue-beech and bitternut hickory.  White elm was once prominent but has been almost eradicated by Dutch elm disease.  Butternut, eastern cottonwood and slippery elm occur sporadically in river valleys and some pure stands of black maple and silver maple may be found in patches where soil is especially fertile.  In poorly-drained depressions, black ash is prominent. On shallow, acidic, eroding slopes or uplands, conifers may be found, particularly eastern hemlock, eastern white pine, white spruce and balsam fir. Eastern white pine and red pine may be present and, in wet or rocky sites, black spruce and eastern white cedar are found.

In addition to the large, old silver maple, white elm and basswood trees that grace the prairie of Meadowbrook, there are also several introduced species that are now naturalized in Canada, notably Norway maple, Siberian elm and crack willow. A number of other indigenous species grow along the tracks that bisect Meadowbrook, including bur oak, black cherry, ironwood, bitternut hickory and shagbark hickory.

Indigenous Trees Present on Meadowbrook

 On the prairie

Silver maple (Acer saccharinum): Medium sized to large trees, up to 35m high, 100 cm in diameter and 130 years old.

White elm (Ulmus americana): One of the largest trees of eastern Canada, maturing up to 35 m high, 175 cm in diameter and 200 years old. When growing in the open, is easily recognized by its graceful branching and vase- or umbrella-shaped crown with drooping branch tips. Dutch elm disease has destroyed large populations of white elm across eastern North America.

Basswood, also known as linden and whitewood (Tilia americana): Large trees with straight trunk growing up to 35 m high, 100 cm in diameter and 200 years old. Often found in groups, several sprouts having grown around the stump of a parental tree.  The wood is soft and light, tough and even-textured once important for canoe-building.

  1. Along the tracks

Bitternut Hickory or Swamp Hickory (Carya cordiformis): The most widespread Canadian hickory.  Medium-sized trees, up to 25 m high, 50 cm in diameter, and 150 years old.  Grows on moist lowlands and rich soils mixed with other deciduous trees.  Wood used for giving hickory-smoked flavour to hams and bacon.

Shagbark Hickory or Upland Hickory (Carya ovate): Medium-sized trees up to 25m high, 60 cm in diameter and 200 years old. On rich, moist soils mixed with other deciduous trees. Edible nut. A main source of food for squirrels.

Black cherry (Prunus serotina): Medium-sized trees, up to 22 m high, 60 cm in diameter and 150 years old.  Fast-growing in a variety of soils.  Mixes well with other deciduous trees. Shallow root system produces a taproot in the first year. Wood used in furniture building.

Bur oak or Blue oak or Mossy cup oak (Quercus macrocarpa): The most common native white oak.  Small trees up to 15 m high, 60 cm in diameter, and 200 years old.

Ironwood or Hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana): Small trees, up to 12 m high and 25 cm diameter.  Very shade-tolerant; commonly found in the understory of deciduous forests.  The strong wood is used for tool handles.

Here are more species that could be part of the renaturalization of Meadowbrook. They were identified in an inventory carried by Les Amis du parc Meadowbrook in 2005-06:

Alternate-Leaf Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoids)

Northern Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)

Vibernum (Caprifoliaceae, Honeysuckle family)

Hawthorn (Crataegus, Rose family)

Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

Black ash, or Swampy ash (Fraxinus nigra)

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina)

White elder (Sambucus Canadensis, Honeysuckle family)

Black willow (Salix nigra)

Hybrid Poplar (Populus xjackii)

Mountain Ash, or Dogberry (Sorbus)

Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)

Birch (Betula)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)

The dogwood, vibernum, hawthorn, sumac, elder, dogberry and serviceberry are particularly interesting for their production of small fruit to feed birds and other fauna.

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