Our Carolinian trees

By Larry Cornelis – President, Sydenham Field Naturalists

Did you know we live in the most ‘tree rich’ region in Canada?

Submitted photo

Over 70 species inhabit our local ecosystems, more than twice as many as found growing in western, northern and eastern Canada.

That’s because we live in the ‘Carolinian Life Zone’ of Canada here in Southwestern Ontario, a region where the climate is moderated by the Great Lakes.

As a result, species growing in the Virginia’s and Carolina’s range north into Southwestern Ontario giving rise the name ‘Carolinian Canada’.

The Carolinian Zone is the area south of an imaginary line that runs from the Grand Bend area east to north of London, then south of Guelph and on to Toronto.

The tree species that are distinctly Carolinian (that only grow in the Carolinian Zone) include American Chestnut, American Sycamore, Ash Blue, Ash Pumpkin, Black Gum, Cherry Birch, Cucumber Magnolia, Flowering Dogwood, Hoptree, Honey Locust, Hickory Big Shellbark, Hickory Pignut, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Oak Chinquapin, Oak Hills, Oak Pin, Oak Shumard, Oak Swamp White, Ohio Buckeye, Pawpaw, Redbud, Red Mulberry, Sassafras and Tulip Tree.

Submitted photo

People living in other parts of Canada are in awe of the exotic names of some of these Carolinian species such as Black Gum, Pawpaw, Sassafras and Tulip Tree.

The Tulip Tree, our tallest and fastest growing tree with beautiful large flowers, is the poster tree for most publications about Carolinian Canada.

These Carolinian species are at the northern limit of their natural range here, and are genetically special compared to members of the same species growing in South Carolina.

This makes them (indigenous specimens) important genotypes for growing locally and for the future dispersal/spread of the species, especially considering the impacts of climate change.

It is good practice to plant these species in our landscapes and restoration projects.

These are typically rare species that we need to plant and protect for future generations.

This also protects local biodiversity as each native tree species has associations (evolutionary bonds) with native wildlife species, some of which are also distinctly Carolinian like Hooded Warblers and True Katydids.

Planting native Carolinian species is important to our environment and natural heritage as well as giving us a sense of place.

Submitted photo

Plus, they are beautiful and belong here.

I have five Carolinian species in my home landscape including the unique and showy Tulip Tree.

To quote award winning scientist and author Edward O. Wilson, “We should grow and nurture native species one by one for the deep history they hold with the land.”

I agree.

I often recommend his book titled ‘Half Earth’.

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