Nature from home: 24 trees to look for in your neighbourhood | Great Lakes Guide

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Nature from home: 24 trees to look for in your neighbourhood

Published May 6, 2020

Index:

1. Alternate-leaved Dogwood: shrub or small tree with a low, horizontally spreading crown, and dark green lance-shaped leaves

2. American Beech: broad crown, dense, sturdy canopy, and large, oval leaves with straight veins

3. American Elm: fountain or vase-like shape, dark green oval, tough and asymmetrical pointed leaves

4. American Mountain Ash: rounded foliage, lance-oblong, dark green leaves, white flowers in the spring, or red or orange berry-like clusters of fruit

5. Balsam Fir: tall and narrow, growing into a skinny, spire-like tip at its highest point with shiny dark green needles

6. Balsam Poplar:tall and somewhat slender with a thin trunk and shiny, pointed, oval-shaped leaves

7. Bitternut Hickory: tall and oval-shaped with light green, lance-shaped leaves

8. Black Walnut: low branches and an open crown that gives a round shape and oval-shaped single leaflets

9. Black Willow: irregular crown and narrow, long, and pointed leaves

10. Bur Oak: often tall with a straight trunk and large shiny green leaves with lobes and variable shapes

11. Butternut: wide foliage that branches out and lance-shaped leaves that bear large, cylindrical nuts

12. Chokecherry: oval or round shrub or a small tree with broadly oval leaves with short tip and tiny teeth

13. Eastern Hemlock: conical with shiny green needles with pale undersides

14. Eastern White Cedar: conical shape with densely layered, arching branches that grow scale-like yellowish-green leaves

15. Jack Pine: irregular, spreading shape with light yellowish-green needles

16. Red Mulberry: rounded foliage with large, rough, oval-shaped leaves and red or dark purple berries that look like stretched out blackberries

17. Sassafras: tall and bushy shrub or tree with varied leaves, which can be oval-shaped, mitten-shaped, or three-lobed

18. Sugar Maple: round and full with smooth and yellowish-green leaves with 3-5 pointed lobes

19. Sycamore: very tall with an upright trunk, crooked branches, and round foliage with large, rough leaves with 3-5 lobes and teeth

20. Tamarack: conical with sparse, spread out branches and soft, pliable, green needles

21. Trembling Aspen: slender, straight trunk and narrow foliage with round or oval leaves growing into a sharp tip

22. White Ash: round or oval foliage with branches that have between 6 and 9 dark green leaves with pale undersides

23. White Birch: slim trunk with a narrow, oval or pyramid-shaped crown and triangle-shaped leaves with fine hair underneath

24. White Spruce: large a conical with a narrow crown and stiff, sharp, four-sided bluish-green needles

"This oak tree and me, we're made of the same stuff."

– Carl Sagan


And it’s true. We are made of the same stuff as trees. Our bodies are made up of 60% water, and trees are similarly 50% water. Water is all around us, even when we can’t directly see it.

Not only are we alike in our composition, but we share another intimate connection with the towering plants that surround us. A symbiotic relationship that we so often forget. While we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, trees breathe in that carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.

Trees are everywhere, cycling our water, providing shade, air to breathe, and beauty, too. Trees are the biggest plants on our planet, and with so many different species, it can be hard to know which ones are growing around us.

We are lucky to have an abundance of trees in the Great Lakes region. The glaciers that formed the lakes left behind rich soils that support a wide array of tree life. In fact, Toronto alone has more than 200 different tree species.

Did You Know?

The Great Lakes are home to four different forest regions: The Hudson Bay Lowlands, the Boreal Forest, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Forest, and the Deciduous/Carolinian Forest.

On your next walk, take a look at the trees around you. What do you see?

To help you identify the trees in your area, we’ve created a descriptive list of 24 common Great Lake trees. Download our Backyard Tree Bingo and see how many you can spot!


Here are 24 trees you might see in your backyard or neighbourhood:




1

Alternate-leaved Dogwood (You might also see Eastern Flowering Dogwood):



Article image
Photo Credit: David J. Stang (Wikimedia Commons: Link)

Alternate-leaved Dogwood habitat: understories of forests and the edge of woodlands in southern Ontario

Alternate-leaved Dogwood size: 8-10 meters tall, 5-7 meter spread

Alternate-leaved Dogwood shape: shrub or small tree with a short, slender trunk, flat topped, and a low, spreading crown that extends horizontally with its long branches

Alternate-leaved Dogwood leaves: dark green lance-shaped leaves, white flowers in the spring, and clusters of blue or black berries in the midsummer

Article image
Photo Credit: Kent McFarland (Flickr: Link)

Alternate-leaved Dogwood bark: green or reddish brown bark that is rougher in older trees and smoother in younger trees

About Alternate-leaved Dogwood:

  • Alternate-leaved Dogwood has alternate leaf arrangement rather than opposite leaf arrangement (like every other type of native Dogwood).
  • Summer birds, such as cedar waxwings, American robins, and wood thrushes love to eat the berries.



2

American Beech:



Article image
Photo Credit: Katja Schulz (Flickr: Link)

American Beech habitat: forests, bluffs, wooded slopes, riverbanks, and drier areas of swamps in southern and central Ontario, growing as far north as Georgian Bay’s north shore

American Beech size: 20-35 metres tall, 12 meter spread

American Beech shape: broad crown and a dense, sturdy canopy

American Beech leaves: large, oval, alternate leaves with straight veins

Article image
Photo Credit: Katja Schulz (Flickr: Link)

American Beech bark: smooth and light bluish-grey, occasionally with horizontal scar-like lines

About American Beech:

  • Many different birds and animals (and sometimes even people) enjoy eating American Beech nuts.
  • American Beech trees are threatened by Beech bark disease, a problem caused by beech scale insects and canker fungi.



3

American Elm:



Article image
Photo Credit: Devon D'Ewart (Flickr: Link )

American Elm habitat: southern and central Ontario, as far west west as Kenora and as far north as Timmins

American Elm size: can grow from 12-35 meters tall, 20 meter spread

American Elm shape: branches spread in an arched, fountain or vase-like shape

American Elm leaves: dark green oval, tough and asymmetrical pointed leaves in alternate arrangements

Article image
Photo Credit: CameliaTWU (Flickr: Link)

American Elm bark: furrowed and gray

About American Elm:

  • American Elms are threatened by Dutch Elm Disease, a fungal disease spread by bark beetle larvae that tunnel beneath the tree’s outer bark.
  • Due to its nearly odourless wood, containers for food were often made out of American Elm.



4

American Mountain Ash (You might also see Showy Mountain Ash):



Article image
Photo Credit: Chris M Morris (Flickr: Link)

American Mountain Ash habitat: south of Hudson Bay across Ontario, near swamps and the edges of forests

American Mountain Ash size: 3-9 meters tall, 3-5 meter spread

American Mountain Ash shape: rounded foliage

American Mountain Ash leaves: alternate, lance-oblong, dark green leaves, white flowers in the spring, and red or orange berry-like clusters of fruit in the summer

Article image
Photo Credit: WhatsAllThisThen (Flickr: Link)

American Mountain Ash bark: grey, smoothish bark with small horizontal linear markings

About American Mountain Ash:

  • Wildlife, such as butterflies, birds, bees, and even moose, love American Mountain Ash for its fruit, bark, twigs, and leaves.
  • During fall frosts, the fruit ferments and birds can get intoxicated after eating it.



5

Balsam Fir:



Article image
Photo Credit: Kent McFarland (Flickr: Link)

Balsam Fir habitat: all across Ontario, but does especially well in cold climates

Balsam Fir size: 13-23 meters tall, 8-9 meter spread

Balsam Fir shape: tall and narrow, growing into a skinny, spire-like tip at its highest point

Balsam Fir needles: shiny dark green needles and barrel-shaped greyish brown cones

Article image
Photo Credit: Richard Droker (Flickr: Link)

Balsam Fir bark: generally smooth and grey but cracks slight in older trees, marked by resin blisters

About Balsam Fir:

  • Balsar Firs are often used as Christmas trees or wreathes.
  • Balsam Firs can blow away in strong winds because their roots don’t expand very far into the soil.



6

Balsam Poplar:



Article image
Photo Credit: Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Flickr: Link)

Balsam Poplar habitat: all across Canada and Ontario, except Hudson Bay’s northernmost outskirts

Balsam Poplar size: 25 meters tall, 15 meter spread

Balsam Poplar shape: tall and somewhat slender with a thin trunk

Balsam Poplar leaves: shiny and pointed alternate oval-shaped leaves with underside dotted by resin

Article image
Photo Credit: nz_willowherb (Flickr: Link)

Balsam Poplar bark: grooved and grey

About Balsam Poplar:

  • Bees can use the tree’s waxy resin to disinfect their hives and seal it off from other creatures.
  • Balsam Poplar is one of Ontario’s hardiest deciduous hardwood trees.



7

Bitternut Hickory (You might also see Shagbark Hickory):



Article image
Photo Credit: Leonora (Ellie) Enking (Flickr: Link)

Bitternut Hickory habitat: southern Ontario

Bitternut Hickory size: 15 to 20 metres tall, 12-15 meter spread

Bitternut Hickory shape: tall and oval-shaped

Bitternut Hickory leaves: alternate, light green, lance-shaped leaves

Article image
Photo Credit: Dan Keck (Flickr: Link)

Bitternut Hickory bark: gray-green bark with narrow grooves

About Bitternut Hickory:

  • This tree’s strong wood is used to make tool handles and sports equipment.
  • Bitternut Hickory can be easily identified by its bright sulfur-coloured buds.



8

Black Walnut:



Article image
Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks (Flickr:Link)

Black Walnut habitat: southwestern Ontario’s moist bottomlands

Black Walnut size: about 30 meters tall, 30 meter spread

Black Walnut shape: low branches and an open crown that gives a round shape that grows almost as wide as it is tall

Black Walnut leaves: oval-shaped single leaflets

Article image
Photo Credit: Willamette Biology (Flickr: Link)

Black Walnut bark: dark greyish brown furrowed bark

About Black Walnut:

  • Black Walnut trees produce a compound called juglone that can injure or kill other plants.
  • Indigenous people used Black Walnut for food, dyes, and medicine.



9

Black Willow:



Article image
Photo Credit: Endercase (Wikimedia Commons: Link)

Black Willow habitat: across southern Ontario, growing west to the Bruce Peninsula and north to Pembroke

Black Willow size: 9-18 meters tall, 6-18 meter spread

Black Willow shape: irregular crown

Black Willow leaves: narrow, long, and pointed leaves

Article image
Photo Credit: Matthew Beziat (Flick: Link)

Black Willow bark: smooth dark brown bark becomes grooved with age

About Black Willow:

  • Black Willow is the largest native willow in Ontario.
  • Black willow grows quickly, as does it’s root system, making it a good tree to plant along waterways to control erosion.



10

Bur Oak (You might also see White Oak, Red Oak):



Article image
Photo Credit: Ellen Macdonald (Flickr:Link)

Bur Oak habitat: all across Ontario

Bur Oak size: 30 meters tall, 24 meter spread

Bur Oak shape: usually tall with a straight trunk, though in shallow soil it can grow to be gnarled

Bur Oak leaves: large shiny green leaves with lobes and variable shapes, brown acorns

Article image
Photo Credit: Mary PK Burns (Flickr: Link)

Bur Oak bark: grey, rough, and scaly

About Bur Oak:

  • Bur Oak is the most common oak tree in Ontario.
  • Bur Oak’s bark is so thick it’s been known to survive forest fires.



11

Butternut:



Article image
Photo Credit: Greg Blick (Flickr:Link)

Butternut habitat: southwest Ontario, as far north as the Bruce Peninsula and south of the Canadian Shield

Butternut size: 30 meter tall, 9-15 meter spread

Butternut shape: wide foliage that branches out

Butternut leaves: alternate patterned, lance-shaped leaves that bear large, cylindrical nuts

Article image
Photo Credit: Dan Mullen (Flickr: Link)

Butternut Bark: pale gray and rough

About Butternut:

  • In the fall, Butternut produces edible nuts.
  • Butternut is endangered in Ontario due to fungal disease.

If you see a Butternut tree, report the sighting.




12

Chokecherry:



Article image
Photo Credit: Dan Keck (Flickr: Link)

Chokecherry habitat: southern and central Ontario

Chokecherry size: 9 meters tall, 3-6 meter spread

Chokecherry shape: oval or round, can be either a shrub or a small tree

Chokecherry leaves: broadly oval leaves with short tip and tiny teeth, when in flower, it has white elongated clusters of flowers with five petals

Article image
Photo Credit: Dan Mullen (Flickr: Link)

Chokecherry bark: dark grayish-brown and somewhat rough

About Chokecherry:

  • Chokecherry berries and twigs provide important food for birds, deer, and other animals.
  • Chokecherry trees are used to break wind on farms and around fields.



13

Eastern Hemlock:



Eastern Hemlock habitat: cool areas in southern Ontario

Eastern Hemlock size: 30 metres tall, 7-10 meter spread

Eastern Hemlock shape: conical

Eastern Hemlock needles: shiny green needles with pale undersides, brown oval-shaped pine cones

Article image
Photo Credit: Jack Pearce (Flickr: Link)

Eastern Hemlock bark: greyish brown with deep cracks

About Eastern Hemlock:

  • Eastern Hemlock can grow to be as old as 600 years.
  • The name "hemlock" is a reference to how the tree’s foliage smells similar to the poisonous herb hemlock when crushed.



14

Eastern White Cedar:



Article image
Photo Credit: Dieter Schlack (Wikimedia Commons: Link)

Eastern White Cedar habitat: across Ontario, especially near swamps, streams, and on limestone rocks

Eastern White Cedar size: 12-15 meter tall, 6 meter spread

Eastern White Cedar shape: conical shape with densely layered, arching branches

Eastern White Cedar leaves: scale-like yellowish-green leaves fan out from branches, cinnamon-brown cones grow in clumps of 5-6

Article image
Photo Credit: Joshua Mayer (Flickr: Link)

Eastern White Cedar bark: rough and reddish-brown

About Eastern White Cedar:

  • Indigenous people taught Jacques Cartier how to boil the tree’s leaves to get vitamin C for treating scurvy.
  • White-tailed deer use the tree for shelter in the winter.



15

Jack Pine (You might also see Eastern White Pine, Red Pine):



Article image
Photo Credit: a.has (Flickr: Link)

Jack Pine habitat: widespread across Ontario because it can grow almost anywhere

Jack Pine size: 17-20 meters tall, 6-9 meter spread

Jack Pine shape: irregular, spreading shape

Jack Pine needles: light yellowish-green needles grow in bunches of two

Article image
Photo Credit: Martin LaBar (Flickr: Link)

Jack Pine bark: scaley, reddish brown or grey

About Jack Pine:

  • Canadian Group of Seven artist Tom Thomson famously captured the tree in his painting “The Jack Pine”.
  • Jack Pine cones only open and release seeds on very hot days or during forest fires.



16

Red Mulberry:



Article image
Photo Credit: Famartin (Wikimedia Commons: Link)

Red Mulberry habitat: rare in Ontario, found in moist forests, wooded valleys, and floodplains on the western edges of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie as well as in the Niagara Region

Red Mulberry size: 6-10 meters tall

Red Mulberry shape: rounded foliage

Red Mulberry leaves: large, rough, and oval-shaped leaves and red or dark purple berries that look like stretched out blackberries

Article image
Photo Credit: WhatsAllThisThen (Flickr: Link)

Red Mulberry bark: reddish-brown and flakey

About Red Mulberry:

  • Red Mulberry is a species at risk in Ontario due to cross-breeding, disease, drought, and agriculture and urban development.
  • Indigenous people used the fruit for beverages, preserves, breads, cakes, and more.

If you see a Red Mulberry tree, report the sighting.




17

Sassafras:



Article image
Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM (Flickr: Link)

Sassafras habitat: spread out across southwestern Ontario, north to Toronto

Sassafras size: 20 meters tall, 7-12 meter spread

Sassafras shape: tall and bushy shrub or tree

Sassafras leaves: varied leaves, which can be oval-shaped, mitten-shaped, or three-lobed, small yellow flowers, and dark blue fruit

Article image
Photo Credit: Ann Kucera (Flickr: Link)

Sassafras bark: orange-brown and deeply grooved

About Sassafras:

  • Sassafras leaves smell spicy, citrusy when bruised.
  • Sassafras roots were an original ingredient in root beer.



18

Sugar Maple (You might also see Silver Maple, Red Maple):



Article image
Photo Credit: F. D. Richards (Flickr: Link)

Sugar Maple habitat: southern and central Ontario

Sugar Maple size: 20-35 meter tall, 12-15 meter spread

Sugar Maple shape: round and full

Sugar Maple leaves: smooth and yellowish-green leaves with 3-5 pointed lobes

Article image
Photo Credit: Plant Image Library (Flickr: Link)

Sugar Maple bark: greyish and ridged

About Sugar Maple:

  • The leaf on the Canadian flag is a Sugar Maple leaf, and Sugar Maple is Canada’s national tree.
  • Sugar Maples produce the sap that’s made into maple syrup.



19

Sycamore:



Article image
Photo Credit: tigerweet (Flickr: Link)

Sycamore habitat: primarily southwestern Ontario east to Toronto, but scattered north to Collingwood-Thornbury area and even Prince Edward Island

Sycamore size: 23-30 meters tall with about equal spread measurement

Sycamore shape: very tall with an upright trunk, crooked branches, and round foliage

Sycamore leaves: large and rough with 3-5 lobes and teeth

Article image
Photo Credit: rustyruth1959 (Flickr: Link)

Sycamore bark: flakey grey outer bark with light white or tan inner bark

About Sycamore:

  • Sycamore trees are one of eastern North America’s tallest and widest broadleaf trees.
  • The largest Sycamore tree in Ontario was 263 cm at breast height.



20

Tamarack:



Article image
Photo Credit: Superior National Forest (Flickr: Link)

Tamarack habitat: all over Ontario with high concentrations in northern Ontario

Tamarack size: 15- 20 meters tall, 4-9 meter spread

Tamarack shape: conical with sparse, spread out branches

Tamarack needles: soft, pliable, green needles grow in tufts of 10 to 60, small light brown cones

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Photo Credit: NatureNerd (probably outside) (Flickr: Link)

Tamarack bark: scaly and reddish-brown

About Tamarack:

  • Unlike most conifers, Tamarack loses its needles in the autumn.
  • Tamarack grows in every Canadian province and territory.



21

Trembling Aspen:



Article image
Photo Credit: VanDusen Botanical Garden (Wikimedia Commons: Link)

Trembling Aspen habitat: open areas throughout Ontario, except for Hudson Bay’s northernmost edge

Trembling Aspen size: 25 meters tall, 6-9 meter spread

Trembling Aspen shape: slender, straight trunk and narrow foliage

Trembling Aspen leaves: round or oval, growing into a sharp tip

Article image
Photo Credit: Eli Sagor (Flickr: Link)

Trembling Aspen bark: smooth and light coloured, gets darker and rougher with age

About Trembling Aspen:

  • Trembling Aspen gets its name from the way its leaves flutter in the wind.
  • Trembling Aspen has the widest natural range of any North American tree.



22

White Ash:



Article image
Photo Credit: Daderot (Wikimedia Commons: Link)

White Ash habitat: southern Ontario, as far north as Lake Nipissing and Sault Ste. Marie in deciduous forests

White Ash size: 15-30 meters tall, 12-15 meter spread

White Ash shape: round or oval foliage

White Ash leaves: branches have between 6 and 9 leaves that are dark green with pale undersides

Article image
Photo Credit: Virens (Latin for greening) (Flickr: Link)

White Ash bark: pale grey and ridged

About White Ash:

  • White Ash is the largest of Ontario’s native ash species.
  • The name “White Ash” comes from the pale bark and undersides of the leaves.



23

White (or Paper) Birch (You might also see Gray Birch, Yellow Birch):



Article image
Photo Credit: northofsweden (Flickr: Link)

White Birch habitat: all across Ontario, except for Hudson Bay’s shores

White Birch size: 15-25 meters tall, 10-11 meter spread

White Birch shape: slim trunk with a narrow, oval or pyramid-shaped crown

White Birch leaves: triangle-shaped and fine hair underneath

Article image
Photo Credit: Eli Sagor (Flickr: Link)

White Birch bark: smooth, peeling white bark

About White Birch:

  • Indigenous people used White Birch bark to make canoes, baskets, and cradles.
  • You can make White Birch syrup, but you’ll need about 100 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup.



24

White Spruce (You might also see Black Spruce):



Article image
Photo Credit: F. D. Richards (Flickr: Link)

White Spruce habitat: prefers cold temperatures, common in northern Ontario, but can be found in southern Ontario as well

White Spruce size: 24-30 metres tall, 3-6 meter spread

White Spruce shape: large a conical with a narrow crown

White Spruce needles: stiff, sharp, four-sided bluish-green needles that grow in a spiral pattern from twigs, light brown seed cones

Article image
Photo Credit: F. D. Richards (Flickr: Link)

White Spruce bark: rough grey bark

About White Spruce:

  • Indigenous people used warm White Spruce gum as glue. White Spruce is also now often used for lumber and pulp.
  • White Spruce can grow to be as old as 1000 years.


If you take photos of any of these trees, make sure to tag us using @greatlakesguide and #greatlakesguide.

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