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

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 we 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 provide the answer? Owen Clarkin, of course… our go-to expert on trees and shrubs in Ontario!

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 the trees.

In his background notes Clarkin mentions 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 he encountered on a trip, and additionally 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, he had 37,043 observations of 2,024 species.

He’s had a strong interest in trees as a focus and other aspects of nature since childhood but began to take research interest in trees and shrubs more seriously as gaps in conventional wisdom regarding trees in Ontario became apparent. His main interests are documenting uncommon trees and shrubs where they occur in the wild and thinking about associated habitat requirements and conservation implications and secondly, observing the naturalization of exotic trees and shrubs in early stages of escaping. 

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 the 61-year-old tree unsafe to Galilee Retreat Centre visitors and began cutting it down this week, projecting it would take three days.

Arnprior does have another “claim to fame” tree:

In May of 2015, the National Capital Commission declared the Gilles Grove pine the tallest tree in Ontario finds its home in Gillies Grove. Measuring 47 metres (147 feet) high and more than 100 centimetres in breadth, this magnificent giant stands taller than a 13-story building.