Eric Jones: Past-president, Friends of the Central Experimental Farm and Current Leader of the Arboretum Team
"The public should understand that the Arboretum is a special place that needs protection. "
Photos: Chris Osler and Christine Earnshaw
Q.1. From your perspective, why are trees important?
Leaving aside the value of wood for fuel, building, transport and manufacturing through the ages; the downfall of great civilizations when their forests were depleted; the importance of trees to Canada as a nation; the huge list of products beyond wood that we get from trees; their support for birds and other wildlife; the ability of trees to cool and shelter us, to curb storm-water runoff, to capture air pollutants and to buffer noise, decreasing the cost of infrastructure needs, reducing emergency and social services costs for crime and health, and increasing community economic stability . . . what is there to say?
Q. 2. How long have you been involved with the volunteer organization Friends of the Farm, which works to preserve, enhance and protect the Farm? How closely does the volunteer organization work with staff at the Arboretum?
The Friends were started in the 1980s by former employees of Agriculture Canada (now Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada/AAFC) to help with the public spaces of the Farm: i.e., the Ornamental Gardens, Arboretum and Shelterbelt. The work is all directed by staff. I’ve been on the Board of the Friends for five years and find staff very friendly and great workmates.
Q.3. The Dominion Arboretum, which is part of the Central Experimental Farm, was founded in 1889 and contains an evolving collection of trees. Can you describe the collection of trees that exists presently in terms of approximately how many species there are and where the trees came from?
There are over 1000 varieties if you include cultivars as well as species and forma. The Arboretum collection consists of about 3000 planted trees plus stands of native woods, and thousands more trees are located throughout the Farm. They come from many different places including Europe, Asia, and all regions of Canada and the U.S.
Q.4. The Arboretum was set up to conduct research on trees. What kind of research takes place at the Arboretum today and took place in the past?
The original purpose was to test the hardiness of native and imported species and assess their usefulness in windbreaks, shelterbelts and hedgerows. Then it evolved into Ornamental Plant breeding with the development of varieties of hardy crab apples, lilacs, Weigela, etc. until this research was dropped from Agriculture Canada’s mandate in the 1980s. However, the trees are still doing their work: testing for hardiness and suitability in a changing world.
Q.5. What effect does a changing climate have on trees?
We can expect some tree ranges to shift northward, but there is much to be learned about how this works and how trees will fare in new habitats. Some species will likely disappear as conditions change and other plants move in. Climate warming has also led to increased activity by pests and pathogens that target many native tree species. There is a pressing need for more scientific research and expertise on this subject.
Q.6. What activities take place at the Arboretum that enhance the public's understanding of and appreciation for trees and their ecosystems?
The Friends and AAFC answer a lot of questions from the public and organize regular tree tours by local experts on a variety of topics. The Friends have also published a book about trees in the Arboretum called For the Love of Trees. Teams of Friends volunteers also carry out different tasks in the Arboretum for AAFC: maintenance of shrubs and beds, recording bloom times, measuring GPS locations. On the www.friendsofthefarm.ca website, there is a Location Guide that helps the public find certain species; this Guide is a little out-of-date now, but we’re working with AAFC to develop a new GPS-based map of the Arboretum. We also have many photographs online and in our newsletters.
Q.7. The Arboretum has been described as a place that has “elements that make a city a home – beauty and quiet, the sky and the trees, a safe place to wonder and ponder.” What can the public do to ensure that the Arboretum is protected, enhanced and preserved?
The public should understand that the Arboretum is a special place that needs protection. Although the Farm was made a National Historic Site in the 1980s, it is being carved off and re-purposed for other things, including development, due to municipal and federal pressures, and these pressures will increase. The public will have to be more vocal on the subject if the Farm is to be preserved.
Q.8. What is the vision for the Arboretum at this time and in the future?
The Friends see the Arboretum continuing to grow and people becoming more aware of the treasures in it. It’s free and ungated, so people enjoy it, but there is a tendency to take it for granted. In the future, we would like to provide many educational and research tools to enhance the experience.
Q.9. What do you find most satisfying from volunteering with the Friends of the Farm, in particular in relation to the Arboretum?
The changing sounds and smells and sights through the seasons. Seeing people, young and old, enjoy the place. The pleasure of being “hands-on” in helping staff with chores.
Q.10. Finally, do you have a favourite tree specimen at the Arboretum? If so, which one and why?
This is the hardest question to answer. Like everyone, I appreciate monumental trees like the famous “Bebb’s oak” located along Prince of Wales drive. But I also enjoy the more modest trees that carve out their space such as:
- The sycamore undulating upwards like smoke, or
- The river birch shedding its torn and tattered bark, like flags on a ship’s halyard, or
- The black cherry with its limbs twisted and pulled apart by some unseen giant.