Westmount Park’s Red Pine & Coppiced Trees


A version of this article appeared in the Westmount Independent, June 2, 2015

I have always been intrigued with the conifer, next to Westmount Park’s gazebo, that has four trunks. The tree’s long slender needles (attached in bundles) make it a pine. One can tell it is a Red Pine (Pinus resinosa) by its reddish-brown bark in armour-like plates, the needles being attached in bundles of two; and interestingly, their ability to break if one wraps them around a finger!

The species is commonly known as Norway Pine – although native to North America – it never grew in Norway.

The four trunks are an interesting story. This is commonly known as coppicing (from French couper). It is the ability of a tree, if damaged, to regenerate from a stump (“main stool”).

One can only speculate that either severe weather or insect damage caused the park’s Red Pine to lose its main trunk (the thick bark is resistant to surface fires of moderate intensity).

Coppicing produces a self-renewing source of wood (that can last for hundreds of years) and, in the past, was a sustainable form of lumber production. In fact, in Britain, the oldest trees are coppice stools that date well over 1,000 years.

This form of lumber production dates to the Neolithic (stone age) era evidenced by ancient wooden tracks, from coppiced trees, across the peat moors in Somerset Levels England.

Along the Anatolian coast (present-day Turkey), a honey is produced from Red Pines. One specific insect (Marcheliana hellenica) burrows under the bark, concealed in whitish secretions, and produces a sugary pinkish coloured honey-dew that is collected by bees.

Native Americans (particularly the Ojibwe people) used the trees’ needles to make dancing figures. The needles were cut to form a dress and arms, then placed on a sheet of birch bark – that when tilted – gave the appearance of the figures dancing.

Finally, the reverence Native Americans had to pine trees is reflected in the poignant Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) legend that tells of seven dancing brothers that one day rose from earth to become stars. One of the brothers looked back and saw their mother crying – in doing so, he fell back to earth. At the point where he entered the ground, a towering pine tree grew that pointed to the location of the other brothers in the sky.

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