December 27, 2020 – Leafless Trees at High Lonesome with Erik Pohanka

Ok, so as I did not attend this outing, I can no longer say that it is me bringing the magical good weather.  Participants found the weather on this two-hour MFNC outing with Erik on Sunday December 27th to be from good to perfect and “cold but not killing”.  The small group of 7 enthusiastic participants plus Erik seemed to all get along (I had no reports of anyone being pushed over a cliff – LOL) and as Erik had previously scouted the area, he managed the pace, points of interest and level of walking difficulty well.  There were however a few challenging places on the trail where poles came in handy and a heads up regarding the conditions was appreciated.

If, as with at least one of the small group of participants, you have never been to High Lonesome Reserve, participants recommended that you go early in the day to avoid the “hordes” of people with dogs.  Going early is also of benefit to score one of the limited parking spots on the road outside the Reserve and is a beautiful place that people liked and to which they looked forward returning.

Erik had done his homework about both the trail and the trees on a previous scouting trip and, with some extra study after a long day of the Packenham-Arnprior CBC the day before.  Participants really appreciated Erik’s guidance:  He was “very pleasant, very knowledgeable and encouraged questions.”  His “trained and discerning eye was able to see so much more than a forest of seemingly similar trees.”  Erik “was full of interesting tidbits about birds and fish as well as invasive and native trees and shrubs.”  Apparently one participant also learned that it is OK (“OK” meant not considered cheating) to check the leaves on the ground to add to the information when trying to identify a tree.  Also, according to Erik it is sometimes easier to identify the trees when they have no leaves.  Erik showed “examples of the many clues beyond leaf shape and colour that can identify a tree.”  “the colour of the twig’s bark, structure of stems – round of multi sided, arrangement of the fruit, shape of the tree and bark distinguished by patterns and colour.”

The rare little Canada Yew tree seemed to be a highlight for a few participants.  Its plain green (rather than white) undersides of the leaves distinguished it from Balsam Fir or Hemlock (which has a bit of a stem on each leaf).  Erik discussed a range of interesting things about the group’s observations: how the trees observed fit into the ecology of where they were growing, how farmland reverts back to natural forest once farming ceases and the difference in the ways cultivated fields and pasture revert.

Thank you to the participants for all the comments you sent.  Whether I am there or not, it is super helpful to have them (and your photos) since my experience is not necessarily the same as yours and it makes writing the blog so much easier when I can steal your comments.

Erik’s very detailed trip summary with highlights and details of the route and what was seen follows:

They should be in chronological order according to our walk.

  • A group of 8 (including myself) showed up and were enthusiastic about learning about trees and shrubs.
  • We began by looking at some common native and non-native shrubs around the barn and welcome centre including Staghorn Sumac, Common Lilac, Red Elderberry, and Common (European) Buckthorn. I noted that most of these species (except the Red Elderberry) were very adept at colonizing disturbed areas where trees have not established, whether they are native (sumac and lilac) or non-native (buckthorn).
  • We headed up the White Pine Way but stopped quickly to take a close look at a 2-meter sapling of a Butternut which is one of two native walnuts in Ontario. This species is designated as a species at risk in Ontario (endangered) due to the Butternut Canker fungus that is ravaging the population. I was able to point out a very large, mature Butternut at the junction of the Bear Trail and Spooky Marsh Trail. I pointed at the black canker that was impacting the individual.
  • We took a small detour up the Sam Hill’s Trail to observe an area that was managed as an old pasture for many years prior to the land trust acquisition. Old pasture areas are identified in this area by the open areas with abundant Common Juniper and sapling and mature Pin Cherries and Choke Cherries.
  • The Bear Trail was dominated by poplar trees (mostly Trembling Aspen) which is indicative of a pioneer forest regenerating from historical clearing.
  • We backtracked down the Wolf Trail through a Sugar Maple forest where Sugar Maples were beginning to grow higher. Mixed in with the Sugar Maple was Eastern White Pine, Red Oak, Ironwood, and a grove of American Beech. This is all indicative of the beginnings of a climax forest which occurs after pioneer species have run their course.
    • It was here that we took a close look at the American Beech trees and found two widespread pests: egg and pupae casings of Gypsy Moths which ravage deciduous forests (particularly oak and maple) and a pest that is working westward from the Maritimes, the Beech Scale. This insect sucks sap by piercing beech trees and the fungus it carries enters underneath the bark and destroys the tree in a few years.
    • I pointed out and noted that it is not cheating to use dead leaves still hanging on certain tree species (Red Oak, Sugar Maple, Ironwood, American Beech) or found on the ground to identify trees in the winter. It is a good way to confirm the identification of a tricky tree that isn’t obvious.
  • Back on White Pine Way, I pointed out a couple prickly shrubs including the Common Blackberry, Wild Red Raspberry, and Ontario’s only native citrus, the Common Prickly-ash that hosts swallowtail caterpillars.
  • We entered the Joel’s Pond Trail which includes a wide variety of coniferous species in a Balsam Fir forest. I pointed out small saplings of two easily confused species: the Balsam Fir and Canada Yew. I explained that the Canada Yew is a highly toxic plant that is known to kill livestock and horses, but our native deer species are able to eat the leaves. The flesh around the poisonous seed is also edible to birds. The chemical Taxol is derived from this plant which is used in anti-cancer drugs.
  • We found a shrub called Leatherwood that has very flexible wood and twigs as I demonstrated by wrapping it around my finger.
  • The west end of Joel’s Pond opened up into another pasture with some deciduous trees on McWatty Trail. This included a large mature Bitternut Hickory. Saplings from this parent were growing around it and I pointed out the sulphur yellow buds to identify the species. The mature individual was riddled with galls.
  • We ended the trip by walking through more Balsam Fir forest and ended right on time.


Thank you again, Erik and participants for your wonderful comments and photos.

Respectfully submitted,

Janet McCullough, MFNC Field Trip Coordinator