|These three whispy Jack pine, behind Michel Saulnier's "Echo" sculpture, are but one of the highlights of the Domtar Garden, located at the southwest corner of Bleury Street and President Kennedy Avenue. Created in 2002 out of an old City parking lot, purchased by the Domtar paper company, the forest includes elements of both the boreal forest, including Jack pine (Pinus banksiana), black spruce and white birch, and of our local mixed forest: sugar maples, Northern hackberry (easily distinguished by its pale brown warty bark), serviceberry and red-osier dogwood. Note the tightly sealed, comma-shaped cone of the Jack pine. It takes considerable heat to coax it open, which, clearly, Montreal summers are capable of producing, as you can see by the open cone. The sparse needles of the Jack pine come in bundles of two and measure 2-4 cm. This garden was designed by Montreal landscape architect Malaka Ackaoui. Illustrations by Charles L'Heureux.|
Saturday, January 22, 2011
island of trees: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Still, planted as an ornamental in downtown Montreal, as you see illustrated here, the tree does well. Accustomed to the extremes of temperature, as well as the rocky and sandy soils of the boreal forest, the Jack pine is unperturbed by the salt and occasional droughts of life close to the street. Which is nice for those passing through the Domtar Garden, just behind the northern Bleury Street exit for the Place des arts metro; at this time of year, the light green, wispy branches of the Jack pine are a welcome visual relief from the linearity of the built environment and the naked greys of the largely broadleaf street trees.
In fact, this week as I walked to the Domtar Garden - admittedly with a conifer on my mind - I was struck by the general dearth of evergreens in the downtown core, especially in the new developments associated with Le quartier des spectacles. My walk began well enough, greeted as I was by an earful of birdsongs emanating from a grove of Eastern white cedar trees, planted on the de Maisonneuve Street side of Les Habitations Jeanne Mance – which, back in the late ‘50s, was very well planted with broadleaf trees and conifers alike.
But that was the end of the music for a good few blocks. Continuing east to the new outdoor concert space across from the Red Roof Church, the landscape was barren except for the slim, grey trunks of the recently planted Siberian elms, red maples, crabapples and honey locusts. On a cloudy, winter day that means a lot of white on white, framed in the greys of buildings. Bleak, especially if the winds are high. And yet, this area and the redesign of the median in between de Maisonneuve Street and President Kennedy Avenue is clearly to encourage people to walk close to the young broadleaf trees.
As I looked west, the dark green forms of distant conifers cloaked in white was something of an oasis to behold. There’s something warming about snowclad conifers. At Jeanne-Mance Avenue, the situation improved dramatically; stout Austrian black pine, slim white spruce and the more robust Colorado (blue) spruce, as well as a few crabs and a hedge of cedar, frame the exterior of the City parking lot on this section of the median. Once again, the chatter of sparrows resounded.
As I crossed Bleury into the Domtar Garden, I felt a certain continuity, an intensification of the diversity of plant life. Here was the Jack pine, alongside its boreal companions, the white birch and black spruce. All three trees have been important to the paper industry, and the black spruce continues to be the most important species in the pulp and paper sector.
Providers of windbreaks, habitat and visual interest, each conifer also has its own story. The Jack pine’s is Fire and Fertility. Because the cones can takes years 10 -20 years to open and yield their seeds, the tree was subject to derision by woodsmen. According to the late Donald Culcross Peattie, in A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (1966), French Canadians feared women walking close to the Jack pine would become sterile!
Forest fire, on the other hand, turns Jack into a quick and nimble reproducer. The heat melts the resin sealing the cone and the ash and reduced competition with other species provides the perfect conditions for germination and rapid growth. In northern Canada, the Jack pine forms pure forests following fire. But the tree is quickly the victim of its own success. Intolerant of shade as it is, the second generation, following a forest fire, can’t thrive in the shade of its parents. Other species, however, such as the shade tolerant red pine, take advantage of the shelter provided by the small and scrappy Jack, and live to replace their protector. It’s unlikely the Jack pines of the Domtar Garden will suffer this fate!
Other sites for the Jack pine:
Mount Royal Park: