Trees of Eastern Ontario

Who you gonna call? If it’s about Ontario trees, Owen Clarkin!

Who can forget those four words from the popular Ghostbusters theme in the 1980s!

They came to mind as I followed up on a query the club received last month about the “Royal” Oak at the Galilee Retreat Centre in Arnprior. The writer asked if Arnprior’s “Royal” Oak was an English Oak, as the name Royal Oak sometimes applied to English Oaks, which were among the earliest trees to be introduced from Europe to North America.

Who could I call upon to provide the answer? Naturalist Owen Clarkin, of course our go-to expert on trees and shrubs in Ontario and the speaker for our December 1 club meeting!

Clarkin is the Vice-President and Chair of the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club’s Conservation Committee. With a PhD in Physical Chemistry, he works in the healthcare industry during the week and spends his weekends with trees his wording!

All trees are worth knowing, he says.

Supporting that belief, he describes how he takes and posts “numerous photos of trees and shrubs sporadically to the citizen science database iNaturalist, where his philosophy is to upload what he noted on a particular hike, with a goal to be comprehensive regarding trees/shrub species encountered on a trip, plus any other life forms that caught his interest.” Most recently, that equates to large chunks of close to a hundred entries each day! At the time of writing, Clarkin had 37,043 observations of 2,024 species.

His strong interest in and focus on trees and other aspects of nature developed in his childhood but his research interest in trees and shrubs developed more seriously as gaps in conventional wisdom regarding trees in Ontario became apparent.

His primary interests are documenting uncommon trees and shrubs where they occur in the wild and thinking about associated habitat requirements and conservation implications, observations especially relevant in our changing environment. National Resources Canada projects the rate of climate change in Canada will be 10 to 100 times faster than the ability of trees to migrate, resulting in impacts on forest health and productivity.

Join club members on December 1 for an informative and timely topic. And with our 2022 Great Naturalist Quiz on the horizon, you might pick up some identification clues. No guarantee!

Back to the query! The tree in question turned out to be a Bur Oak. The sapling “Royal” Oak, a heritage tree recognized under Tree Ontario’s Heritage Tree Program, was planted in 1860 by the 19-year-old Prince of Wales, eldest son of Queen Victoria, who later became Edward VII, on his tour to New York and Canada. Sadly, arborists recently determined that the tree represented a significant risk to those using the Galilee Centre property and building. and began cutting down the 161-year old oak on November 25.

Arnprior has another tree with a “claim-to-fame”: in May of 2015, the National Capital Commission declared the Gilles Grove pine the tallest tree in Ontario. Measuring 47 metres (147 feet) high and more than 100 centimetres in breadth, this magnificent giant stands taller than a 13-story building.

Karen Runtz