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Collecting with a Caring Hand

Collecting with a Caring Hand

Green Leader Wilma Johnson leaves a legacy of walnut trees across the province

Thornton, Ont., January 21, 2015 – From the kitchen in her home, Wilma Johnson has a good vantage point for bird watching. A large window faces out onto a thriving plot of trees, giving Wilma a perfect spot to indulge in her hobby. Wilma’s deep connection to her land is clear – the farmhouse where she resides is deeply rooted in the area’s history. Built in the 1890s, Wilma herself has lived there for more than 65 years.

It is from this farmhouse that Wilma and her entire family have fostered their great affinity for nature. Wilma and her husband John enjoyed the solitude of the country and for years farmed hay and grain on their land. Her husband John worked as a logger in and around the Cookstown Marsh, clearing areas in the early days by horse. Wilma’s son George also enjoyed the outdoors and went on to obtain certification as a Forest Technician from Algonquin College.

Over the years, the family has planted trees on their property for beauty and function. Their most ambitious planting project, in 2004, saw the planting of 1,700 trees of varying species including white pine and black walnut.

“Trees give me privacy, solitude, peace,” says Wilma. “I’m a birdwatcher and the trees attract all kinds of birds-woodpeckers, cardinals, finches, blue jays. The trees also help with the snow in the winter. They create a shelter belt to help protect my property.”

Adding more walnut trees to her property has also allowed Wilma opportunities to work with her son to hand collect fallen seed. After developing a relationship long ago with Somerville Seedlings in Alliston, Ontario, Wilma has collected the fallen walnut seeds from her property and sold them to the nursery for the last 16 years.

“We have a lot of seed collectors, but Wilma’s situation is unique,” says Dave Harbec of Somerville Seedlings. “Because she collects on her property, she has a deep connection to the land.” Wilma’s diligence and hard work have resulted in huge gains for the government of Ontario’s 50 Million Tree Program and for Somerville, which relies on the competencies of seed collectors to provide viable seeds for development.

“When the 50 Million Tree Program began back in 2008, we know we needed reliable sources of seed to supply trees for the program,” says Harbec. “We’ve long held a great relationship with Wilma and we always knew that the seed coming from her property would be high-quality, viable seeds that would produce great seedlings, benefitting all Ontarians far into the future.”

Records going back to 2004 show that over 100 hectolitres of walnuts (over 10,000 litres) have been collected from Wilma’s property, amounting to more than 60,000 walnut seedlings. These seeds have been cared for and grown by Somerville Seedlings. The yield of these walnuts has been close to 30,000 shippable seedlings (1 year old seedlings, 8″ tall or greater). Of this, there have been over 20,000 seedlings used for planting under the 50 Million Tree Program since 2008. The 50 Million Tree Program, in its mandate, tracks all seeds of all varieties planted under the program through an online mapping tool available on the Trees Ontario website (

“I’m so overwhelmed to learn that the seed I’ve collected has made such an impact and left such a legacy across the province,” says Wilma. “It’s amazing to know that through the 50 Million Tree Program we are able to track where those trees have been planted.”

“Wilma’s seed collection efforts have had a tremendous positive effect on the 50 Million Tree Program,” says Rob Keen, CEO of Forests Ontario. “With one simple action, Wilma has made an incredible impact on the landscape of our province. We are thrilled to call her a ‘Green Leader’ and to acknowledge her incredible legacy.”

“Each person can play a role in creating a healthy, sustainable environment,” said Bill Mauro, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. “I would like to commend Wilma Johnson for her amazing actions. Her efforts will leave a lasting legacy and will help to fight climate change and protect the environment.”

For Wilma, planting and caring for trees is a no-brainer. Despite knowing the huge contribution she has made, Wilma remains modest and humbled by her accomplishments. “I love tending the trees. It’s fun and good for the environment,” she says. In fact, the trees have brought her so much joy that she has plans to plant more trees on her own property. Wilma also encourages others thinking about seed collecting or planting to do their part. “We need trees,” she says. “Without them, I’m certain we’d all be in trouble.”

For more information about the 50 Million Tree Program and other tree planting programs, as well as local tree planting workshops, visit:


About 50 Million Tree Program

Trees Ontario administers the Ontario government’s 50 Million Tree Program, part of the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign. The United Nations’ goal is to plant one billion trees worldwide each year. Ontario is committed to plant 50 million trees by 2025.

The goals of the program are to sequester carbon, enhance and diversify southern Ontario’s landscape, increase the capacity to withstand climate change, and increase wildlife habitat. The 50 Million Tree Program is designed to significantly reduce the costs to landowners of large-scale tree planting and thereby increase the number of trees planted across the province.

About Forests Ontario
Forests Ontario was created in 2014 as a result of the merging of not-for-profit organizations Trees Ontario and the Ontario Forestry Association (OFA).Trees Ontario is the forest restoration arm of Forests Ontario. Forests Ontario is committed to the re-greening of Ontario through tree planting efforts on rural lands and in urban areas, as well as the renewal and stewardship of Ontario’s forests through restoration, education and awareness.