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Heritage Tree Profile: Celebrating a Tree Thriving Far From Home

Posted: July 11, 2018

by Alex Walker

Trees are a vital part of the world around us. Not only do they serve an important ecological function, they also serve as markers of our cultural heritage. Forests Ontario’s Heritage Tree Program recognizes unique and historically significant found across the province. The goal of the program is to highlight and celebrate the valuable role trees have played in shaping communities.

This series of blog posts will highlight several of the 100 trees that are already part of the program. We hope these stories will inspire individuals and communities to share significant trees in their region. 

The Cucumber Magnolia (HT 2017-202-214) was recognized through the program in October 2017. Commonly referred to as a cucumber tree, this tree is a native of the Appalachian Belt, although isolated populations are found in the southeastern United States and southern Ontario. It’s remarkable that such a large and robust specimen is growing as far north as Owen Sound, Ontario, well outside its Carolinian Zone. Additionally, the Cucumber Tree is listed as an endangered species in Canada and, as such, is protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. It’s no wonder this tree is widely admired across the county.

This glorious tree dominates the front of the historic John MacLean House,  the home of a well-documented and prominent family in Owen Sound. Archival accounts of the home and family often reference trees and include an interesting glimpse into early life in the city. In an interview with the Owen Sound Sun Times, Elizabeth MacLean, at the time the oldest resident, recounted that, “Passenger pigeons roosted by the thousands in the trees, and young men went out each morning and shot them by the hundreds.”  Anecdotes like this serve as reminder of human history that Heritage Trees have witnessed.

Not only does this tree have an amazing story, but the ecological impact of a tree that is almost 100 years old is also significant in itself. In just one year, this tree intercepted around 27,742 litres of rainwater. That is almost 2.7 million litres of water over its 100 years on the earth. The process of interception is very important in an urban context, reducing the risk of flooding as well as improving water quality (Kermavnar and Vilhar, 1). Over its lifetime, this cucumber tree also sequestered 9,429 kg of carbon dioxide, which is enough carbon dioxide to power a house for a year.

Being able to share the incredible stories of these trees and further understand how embedded these trees are in the communities we inhabit is a large proponent of the Heritage Tree Program. If a tree comes to mind with an important historic story that you would like to celebrate through the heritage tree program, we’re always looking for nominations.


Kermavnar, Janez and Urša Vilhar. “Canopy precipitation interception in urban forests in relation to stand structure.” Urban Ecosyst, no. 20 (2017):1373–1387. DOI 10.1007/s11252-017-0689-7.


Alex is currently working towards her Masters in Landscape Architecture at the University of Toronto, where she was introduced to and gained an appreciation for urban forestry. Alex is spending the summer as a Forests Ontario intern, assisting with outreach and promotion of the Heritage Tree Program.