Saturday, April 28, 2018


Majestic Growth in a Mature Forest Magically Enchants the Visitor

Morgan Arboretum (40 minutes from downtown Montreal) owned by McGill University since 1945, took over a mighty spread of land that once belonged to the wealthy Morgan family in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue. A staggering 600 acres of formidable forest encompass this tranquil haven brimming with many natural gifts – most notably –  40 different native Montreal species, and  many more from other parts of Canada, including exotics from around the world.

 I set off April 27th, knowing the ground might be wet from the rain; it had been a rainy week. Still, I wanted to learn what I could about this tremendous tree-towering site. Along with the public, it’s often frequented by students involved with various research projects from the Macdonald Campus.

There are eight  easy well-maintained walking  trails, ranging from basically 1 to 5.8 kilometres 

 Three of them allow dogs off leash, but only after each dog has been evaluated by the Arboretums’ expert in dog behaviour and sociability to ensure safety for all.

I meandered along a 2-kilometre-patch loop of sorts which brought me to forests, plantations and collections – the latter including the stunning Canada Birch Trail (more about that later).
Of course the Forest Section offered dominant species that most of us come across in urban and country landscapes.
The Blossom Corner – part of the Collections – featured magnolias, linden, willow and virburnum. Also growing within the Collections was the Dale Field where eye-catching exotics captured my attention, such as the Sassafras, Honey-locust, Sicamore and Muscle-wood. Still the Douglas fir and larch  plantations were not slouches – despite the fancy names of the others. Suffice it to say the Arboretum is a lush, gorgeous landmark of greenery and every colour in between, but there are more muted hues at this time of year. Home to hundreds of locally grown deciduous, coniferous and flowering trees, the Arboretum is a lovely place to linger.

A willow tree in the Blossom Corner

 There's a vast variety of shrubs, most from Quebec, and Southernn Ontario, but  also from Asia.  Woodland blooms were  shyly peeking out of the ground as they greeted spring; others, like the extraordinary fire bush were audaciously visible.

Colt's foot

Fire bush

A birch stands over the quarry

Anne Godbout
I was being guided around by Anne Godbout, a keenly knowledgeable botanist, who has been a liaison officer for twenty-two years with the Arboretum. She led me to these above-mentioned distinct areas, starting with a forest mix of oak, hemlock, maple, pine, fir, spruce, ash, hickory and hemlock – to mention only a few species. Anne explained that 15%  of the tree growth encompasses plantations and 5% is collections, such as the Blossom Centre where  flowering trees and shrubs thrive so well; this special spot has its own micro-climate. 
The fact that there are twenty different soil types accounts for such proliferation of growth.  

Anne pointed out two different types of magnolia trees one from China, and the other is native to Southern Ontario. “We even have a single tulip tree here, Anne revealed. “We also have buckthorns and  native butternut trees along with all kind of fruit trees, like the  Canada plum and crab apple – of particular attraction to the birds”. There are more than 180 bird species here and; the trees make for great feeding and nesting. Even at this early spring time, there's nature everywhere. My senses were awakened in a variety of ways. 

I even saw a garter snake!

Barred owl

A feast for the ears and eyes with scents such as the pepper we smelled in one small spot transported me to another world.

        A lone Japanese lilac in the Blossom Corner, waiting to sprout its cluster of flowers, exuded imminent exotica

A Paper Birch-Obsessed Professor Leaves a Legendary Trail
Fifty years ago, after Dean W.H. Brittain's retirement (1934-1955) from Macdonald College; this celebrated founder of the Arboretum dedicated his life to studying paper birch trees. For him, this tree was a true national emblem. He traveled all across Canada with his collaborator, Professor A.R.C. Jones by plane barge, diesel tug and small riverboats and car, collecting birch tree seedlings. 
They eventually were transplanted here. 

This work led to the dedication of the Arboretum’s Centennial Birch trail in 1967. Last as part of Canada’s 150th celebrations, special projects offering food and shelter to wildlife contributed to the revitalization of the trail, fittingly renamed, the Canada 150 Trail. A newly created copse and unique branchery are just some of the conservation projects that spotlight Canada’s natural historical legacy while ensuring longevity of this wondrously white-trucked trail for every generation to cherish.

A Salamander in the Hand Assures Safety
The peeping and cackling sounds I heard came from the peepers and wood frog species that live in the quarry. The shrill peeping sound that rung through the trees weren’t birds but spiny peeper frogs that live in the big pond. There are lots of wetlands at the Arboretum. I got a few soakers myself. Dry or on water, the mix harmonizes in this magical dynamic ecosystem, and sometimes humans can help Mother Nature along, especially if there’s a road blocking the natural course of things. Here’s one example: Within the past few years, Anne described a unique project that truly unites amphibians to human hands.” Every night for these past two weeks and on, we carry salamander and frog and newts by hands from the forest across the road to protect them as they make their way to the big pond down the hill to lay their eggs which happens at the end of April.”  
Anne’s, pleasant manner, patience and explanations brought me closer to contemplating the Arboretum – a gentle giant of growth.  And as I pondered the power of this tree kingdom, I realized the discoveries are endless, if not magical here. One particular comment made by Anne poignantly proved this:
 “Trees are connected underground in a network with fungi. The mature trees nurture their young and some conifers exchange sugars with deciduous trees seasonally.”
It’s a mutually symbiotic process that ensures growth even between different species. (Read more about it on the website).

Indeed the Arboretum has miracles both seen and unseen; it’s a mysterious realm that beckons us back again and again to explore.

The website:  It’s richly-informative. It includes easy-to-understand newsletters which make learning about the rich diversity of the Arboretum, guardianship and all projects most enjoyable.
For example: if you want to know more about how trees communicate and support one another underground via a fungal mycelia, go to the website, then click on  publications, and scroll to leaflets; choose the issue, fall 2016. The article about this natural neuro-type transmission is titled: Seeing the forest through the trees.  

The Arboretums' literature is excellent. Get the  trail map, and  make sure to grab the yellow Discovery Map. It's excellent!

An exciting variety of  activities for the public, including all kinds of interesting tours and learning experiences happen throughout the year – as many as four per month.
I want to attend “The Survive in the Wild Outing: Useful Plants
May 13th from 10 am to12 pm..

Call the Arboretum a: (514) 398-7811.
The address is: 150 Pine Street, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, H9X 3V9.

Thank you Anne for making everything so enjoyable!


  1. Nancy, thank you for making this exceptional place so vivid and alive. Your article makes me want to go there.

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