Trees Please Hamilton

Green Solutions to Air Pollution

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TREE TUESDAY – a little history about Redbuds

Redbuds are so cool.  Their spring presence is a welcome sight and bring such colour to our landscape.   It’s considered a small tree growing approximately 4-8 metres in height so a great option if space is limited.


But did you know that that our Redbuds (Latin name: Cercis canadensis) has it’s status as a native tree because of one single observation on Pelee Island by Canadian botanist, John Macoun in 1892.
The one Redbud was described as “it had been undermined by the waves and fallen inland, and more than half its limbs were dead.” ref:

But since then, Redbuds have become a popular tree and can be found both in urban and forested areas.

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TREE TUESDAY – Why are trees great for slope stabilization and erosion control?

One of our newest staffers, Diana is helping out with some restoration work.  She wrote this blog about erosion and trees.  Thanks Diana!

Rainfall Deterrent
Erosion on a slope like the Niagara Escarpment occurs when rainfall causes the nutrient filled topsoil to be carried off downslope. Trees stand in the way of the rain hitting the ground at full force and carrying the soil away. In particular, conifers intercept more moisture because they keep their needles all year round.

Oversaturated soil can trigger landslides. Trees can absorb large portions of that water through their roots and are used for the basic functions of the tree such as photosynthesis and nutrient transport. Any excess water is released back into the atmosphere through transpiration from the leaves.

Stabilization is maximized when there is a multi-level canopy that has trees, shrubs and groundcover because the combination provides deep and shallow spreading roots. While groundcover and shallow rooted plants are good for prevention of surface erosion, large deep rooted trees are essential to the stability of slopes. The more trees planted and growing along the slope form a lock of interwoven roots that hold the soil in place and prevent it from dislodging.

Overall Health of the Soil
Deeper roots can penetrate the lower more compacted layers of soil. As the roots help to decompact the soil, there is a greater opportunity for other plants and soil fauna (ants, worms etc.) to move in. They help create a healthier soil which in turn encourages more species to move in!

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TREE TUESDAY – Throwback Tuesday – our Kentucky Coffee Trees survived their first year

In April 2016, Trees Please organized a tree planting to launch our project.  Working with the City of Hamilton and their forestry department, we scoped out a few spots and found some space in front of United Way’s office on Rebecca Street.

Staff from Forestry arranged for two Kentucky Coffee Trees, supplied some equipment, mulch and water.  It was great to meet some of their staff and witness their professionalism and dedication to the job.

A number of dignitaries came out to show their support for our project that is supported by the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

UPDATE: We recently stopped by to check in on the Kentucky Coffee Trees and we are happy to report that they survived their first year and started producing buds.


Go Kentucky Coffee Trees!

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TREE TUESDAY – Original Trees of the Hammer

We are excited to be sharing an article by field botanist, Paul O’Hara.
A condensed version was published by the Hamilton Spectator.

Original Trees of the Hammer
By Paul O’Hara

            This Arbour Day (April 28th) I’ll be 20 years in Hamilton.  In the spring of 1997, I came to the city fresh out of college to begin a summer job as a student gardener at Royal Botanical Gardens.  I was a real keener, soaking up everything I could about the botany of Southern Ontario.  It was the study of trees that got me hooked on plants, and trees remain my primary fascination today, especially original trees.

Original trees are remnants of the natural habitats that used to occur in our cities, now stranded amid the urban and suburban neighbourhoods that have been built up around them over the last 200 years.  They’re the oldest living things in our streets and, in many neighbourhoods, the last voices of our local natural heritage.

Original trees aren’t lined up like soldiers like the planted,  (mostly) exotic trees in our streets.  They stand a little offbeat, singly and in clusters, on boulevards, highway edges and property boundaries, butted up against fences or too close to sidewalks.

They are often large trees, towering over houses and hanging over streets.  Some were saved by tree loving citizens in decades past as our cities and towns grew in a wave over remnant forests.  Others were saved by the luck of the draw, being well enough away from road and building footprints not to be a bother.  Still others were transplanted from back forty forests through government tree planting programs in the late 1800s that paid farmers a quarter for each tree that survived three years.

Naturally, the original trees in our streets are the same species that were found in our pre-settlement forests – sugar maple, red maple, white pine, red oak, white oak, bur oak, black oak, shagbark hickory, basswood, black cherry, white ash, and shagbark hickory among others.

I’ve spent the last 20 years observing the original trees of the Hammer and thought I’d share a dozen of my favourites.  Many of the trees occur on private property so please be respectful while viewing them.

Bruce Park Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

There are a bunch of beautiful original trees (oaks, maples, hickories and hawthorns) on the mountain in Bruce Park, site of the home of Hamilton-born painter William Blair Bruce.  One of my favourite original bur oaks is found on a residential property in the southwest corner of the park at Brucedale Avenue East and East 6th Street – a graceful, open-grown oak with gnarly bark.

Durand Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

Most of the original shagbark hickories in the city occur on Hamilton Mountain and in Waterdown, but this one occurs on Ravenscliffe Avenue in the lower city (just look for the tree with the long, shaggy bark).  Shagbark hickory is a slow-grower so I’d put this original beauty at 150-200 years old, maybe older.

Westcliffe sugar maples

Westcliffe sugar maples.  Photo by Paul O’Hara

Westcliffe Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum)

There are many original sugar maples in the streets of Hamilton but they are best viewed in the neighbourhoods along the escarpment rim.  Some of my favourites are on Scenic Drive in the Westcliffe neighbourhood (Check out the sugar maple pair that grow on either side of West 34th at Scenic Drive).  Get to know the difference in late April/early May between the soft yellow flowers of our native sugar maple and the lemon yellow flowers of the non-native Norway maple (an invasive species and unfortunately, the most planted tree in the city).

Strathcona bitternut hickory

Strathcona bitternut hickory.  Photo by Paul O’Hara

Strathcona Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis)

This tree is a real survivor.  For one, bitternut hickory, although common in the forests of Southern Ontario, rarely occurs as an original tree in the streets of the Golden Horseshoe.  Secondly, this tree is butted up against the curb on Margaret Street in between the roar of traffic along King and Main Streets.  Here, it’s probably lived 200 winters, watching as the city was slowly built around it.

Westdale Black Oak (Quercus velutina)

There’s a monster black oak at Paisley Avenue North and Haddon Avenue North.  Stand on the sidewalk under its black boughs and try to picture the open, grassy savannas that once stretched through the western lower city at the time of settlement.  This original oak is a relic of our prairie and savanna past.

Ancaster White Oak (Quercus alba)

I have a dozen favourite original white oaks in Hamilton.  In the interests of spreading the tree love throughout the city, check out the open-grown giant on Lloymin Avenue at Wade Road in the Oak Hill neighbourhood of Ancaster.  White oak is the queen of oak trees, of all trees – tough, strong, graceful, slow-growing, and long-lived.

Oak Knoll Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)

There are many handsome original trees on Oak Knoll Drive in Westdale (mostly red and white oaks) but there’s also one mature sassafras near the western intersection of Dalewood Crescent.  Sassafras is uncommon in the forests of Hamilton Region but is extremely rare in its streets.  In fact, this is the only original sassafras that I’ve found growing in our city streets.

Highway 8 Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)

This tree has been greeting commuters along Highway 8 (King Street West) at the base of the hill in Dundas at Fisher’s Mill Park for many decades.  Look for the big tree with the funny-looking oak leaves; toothed, not lobed.  Chinquapin oak is an uncommon oak in Hamilton, restricted to the rocky soils of the Flamborough Plain and hot, south and west-facing slopes.  On tough sites, chinquapin oak can look like bonzais, but give them rich, well-drained soils and they can grow large like this lovely original tree.

Glenview West Black Maple (Acer nigrum)

This picturesque original tree is on King Street East between Summerhill and Glencairn in the Glenview West neighbourhood of east Hamilton.  Black maple is common along the escarpment forests through the city where it grows with sugar maple (and the invasive Norway maple).  Black maple looks a lot like sugar maple; it differs as its leaves have a wilting appearance and much softer lobing than that of sugar maple (the leaf on the Canadian flag).

Prairie Mountain Hill’s Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis)

Hill’s oak was only discovered in southern Ontario about 40 years ago where it grows on the well-drained soils of the Norfolk Sand Plain.  One of the easiest places to view Hill’s oak in the city is at Upper Wellington and Dragoon Drive.  Look for the oak with the small, pointed leaves and deep sinuses standing beside the fence of the old pioneer cemetery.  Like the Westdale black oak, this tree also tells the story of Hamilton’s prairie past when grasslands once covered an estimated 5000 hectares of the city.

Dundas Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Any talk of original trees in the City of Hamilton eventually ends up on this well-known tuliptree in Dundas.  It’s a giant (over 1.5m in diameter and 35m tall) and is located on Cross Street near the intersection at Melville.  Tuliptree’s range extends as far south as Florida, but Dundas is the northern terminus of this classic Carolinian tree.

Me and the Stinson red oak

Me and the Stinson red oak.  Photo by Paul O’Hara

Stinson Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

This Red Oak is one of my faves.  It’s located in front of the apartment building on West Avenue South at Hunter Street East, just east of the downtown.  Its trunk is a metre wide pillar that rises 12 metres before branching into a large spreading crown.  Red oak is a good grower so it’s hard to say if this tree was planted in the late 1800s/early 1900s or is a remnant of the pine-oak-hickory forests that once dominated east Hamilton.

Hope you enjoyed this little tour of the original trees of Hamilton.  And I hope they inspire you to plant a native tree for Hamiltonians to enjoy a couple centuries from now.  Planting a native tree is the best thing we can do to help our local pollinators and the City of Hamilton’s free tree program offers many native tree choices.

In the meantime, I wanna tip a pint to this incredible landscape at the Head of Lake Ontario.  Its natural history and original trees have been fascinating me for 20 years.  Here’s looking forward to 20 more.  Cheers.

Paul O’Hara is a field botanist, landscape designer and native plant gardening expert.  He is the owner/operator of Blue Oak Native Landscapes ( and lives in the Strathcona neighbourhood of Hamilton. 

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TREE TUESDAY – rainwater and role trees can play

Tree and Rain

With the recent rains, we have been thinking more about the role trees play in helping us manage urban stormwater run-off.
As many of us know, trees help slow rainwater down with their leaves, needles and bark, this water is collected and gives processes like evaporation a chance to do its thing.
And the rest of the water falls to the ground.
Leaves and plant debris play a part in regulating soil temperatures and moisture levels allowing beneficial organisms to help break down organic matter thus adding important nutrients to the soil.  This layer also keeps the rainwater in the soil and not get washed away carrying heavy metals and pollutants.  And of course the roots hold the soil in place and absorb water.

We came across some interesting articles about rainwater and trees. Including this 2004 The Guardian article that looked at stormwater and how much rain woodlots in Wales were able to absorb versus lands grazed by animals. The result?  Woodlots held 60 times more rain.  Scientists theorize that part of the reason is that the grazing animals compact the soils and that tree roots provide passages for the rain to go elsewhere versus running off.

Closer to home, a TD Bank Economics report noted that Toronto’s trees are valued at approximately $81 million in benefits, approximately 66% is how trees help manage their stormwater.   As well, for every dollar spent on tree maintenance, their urban forest returns that value from $1.35 to $3.20 in benefits and cost savings per year.

Lastly, we found this Canadian Geographic article about Elmvale, having the purest water than ice layers in the Artic. A combination of tree roots, plant materials and soil types all play a role in their very clean water supply.

Trees are so cool!

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TREE TUESDAY- Unplanned Trees

While conducting our urban forest inventories we noted that often urban trees occurred not because they were planted and cared for but rather because an area was ignored long enough for a tree to become established. The most striking evidence of this were the trees (some of considerable size) that we encountered growing into and through old fences and posts. Unfortunately, the trees established in these unlikely places were more likely to be non-native, ‘weedy’  species, such as Tree of Heaven, Norway maples, Manitoba maples and locusts. We snapped these photos of trees engulfing a fence along a property boundary. Trees along fence lines should be cut before they reach this size.

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TREE TUESDAY – Trees and water

With all of the rain that we’ve had lately, it’s good to know that trees improve the quality of our water.

In the city, most of the ground is covered in hard surfaces like buildings, concrete, asphalt, etc. Water cannot penetrate these surfaces easily, so it flows over them until it reaches storm sewers and drainage pipes. As water runs over these surfaces, it erodes what little soil is exposed, and picks up dirt and pollutants, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, metals and pesticides. These pollutants are carried with the storm water and eventually make their way into our rivers and water bodies, causing sedimentation and a reduction in water quality.

Trees help to alleviate the amount of runoff by intercepting rain with their canopies. The water can be re-evaporated, or it can run down the trunk and infiltrate the soil through the tree’s roots. The infiltration of water into the soil is also improved by leaf litter on the ground. As a result, more groundwater is available for other urban vegetation, and less runoff flows into our storm sewers. Even if the water does fall onto hard surfaces, the tree canopy slows it down and reduces its force. This lessens soil erosion and reduces the amount of pollutants that are picked up by the water. It also means fewer flooded streets and basements.

Trees also improve water quality by absorbing minerals and pollutants from the water that can be ecologically harmful. So the trees in the city aren’t just helping keep the urban area clean and beautiful. They can have far-reaching positive consequences for the entire watershed!

Water is arguably the world’s most precious resource. We use it for drinking, bathing, recreation, industry and tons of other daily activities. So let’s keep the urban forest healthy to ensure that our water is squeaky clean!

Information obtained from: