Friday, May 14, 2010

Native Trees of PEI

Prior to moving to Prince Edward Island I believed there was only one type of birch.  The options as I knew them were a standard upright form and weeping.  The bark was white and papery, the leaves a light green.  I knew nothing about fall colour.  When we purchased our home I was delighted to find a half dozen of these trees gracing the lawn around the house.

Their white trunks provide a contrast from the other trees.  But I also learned something.  They have great fall colour, a bright yellow orange.  I also learned that they can become quite large.  The trunks of our trees measure from 1 to 2 feet across.  I looked them up and found that they can live to be 150 years old.  They bear long catkins in the spring.  And I also found out that they are not the only birches.

When I searched for trees native to PEI I found a whole wealth of other birches.  Grey birch, bog birch, blue leaf birch and yellow birch.  There is a lot I do not know.  My first real encounter with another birch was while taking a Sunday walk through the woods.  There is a place in King's county we like to visit called the Valleyfield Demonstration Woodlot.  There I spied something I had never seen.  It looked like candy.  Gold coloured candy!  White birches have their attractions but yellow birch stole the show.

Where the bark of a white birch is white, the bark of a yellow birch is yellow.  That's pretty obvious, don't know why I wouldn't have realized that!  But another difference is that the bark doesn't come off in full sheets like that of white birch.  It tends to fray and ruffle like a party dress.  The two photos shown here really reveal that difference.

Also, as pointed out by my husband the woodworker the yellow birch is a denser tree than white birch and the wood is much harder.  I don't want to cut up any trees but it's an interesting bit of information.  You can also see from the photos that the leaf shape is slightly different with the white birch being slightly rounder and the yellow birch more elongated.  By the way this awesome demonstration board comes from the Valleyfield Woodlot.  They have great signs and features there to point out the varieties of trees.

Other trees shown on the board include Pin Cherry, Sugar Maple, Red Maple, Striped Maple, Poplar and Beech.

I know I've seen oak trees in the past but I don't believe I have ever seen a red oak.  This fall photograph demonstrates where the name comes from as the leaves are turning bright shades of orange and red.  Red Oak is the provincial tree of Prince Edward Island but is quite rare here so I felt obligated to purchase one and help continue this species.  It's also just a great tree.  As a kid oak was one of the few trees I could identify due to the unusual shape of it's leaves.  It's a large tree that provides lots of shade and acorns for wildlife.  Although I am unlikely to see it come to maturity somebody will appreciate this tree for years to come.

While we were out driving in King's County another native tree jumped out at me.  The Eastern Larch.  This is one of the few needled trees that is not evergreen.  Isn't this an amazing photo.  I was stunned by the great numbers of larches in the east portion of the province.  Although we had driven through there before I had never noticed these trees.  Throughout the year they look like any other evergreen, the cone shape is the same, the placement of the branches but come fall they turn this lovely colour and shed their needles until spring.

Another gorgeous native tree is the evergreen Eastern Hemlock.  I think I have a soft spot for this tree simply because it reminds me of trees from British Columbia.  It is the tallest tree species in PEI growing up to 70 feet tall. The needles are small and soft and the tree has a feathery appearance to it.

I'm not the only person in my family with a love of trees.  That love is shared with my tree hugging cat Gino.  He has made himself at home in our new birches.  They are much easier to climb than a 100 foot Douglas Fir and provide ample places to lay yourself out and have a snooze on a sunny day.


  1. The yellow Birch is gorgeous! Such a different variety of trees than we find in BC. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am late to comment here, but I have been wandering around your blog enjoying discoveries. Great tree post! I absolutely love the yellow birch and have tried three times to grow it here in Connecticut. I lost all three saplings, but am going to try again. In addition to the lovely bark, the twigs taste like wintergreen!

  3. Laurrie - Better late than never!! Welcome to my blog. We planted 2 yellow birch this past spring and both appear to be doing relatively well. Although there wasn't any yellow birch on the property we do have white birch and another, possibly grey birch?, so I suspected any birch would do well where we are. So far so good.

  4. Marguerite, before you try tasting your yellow birch twigs...I made a mistake. The wintergreen-tasting birch is Betula lenta, Sweet birch. Your post is about Betula allegheniensis, Yellow birch. Oops. They're similar and both lovely but I realized later I had posted my comments about Sweet birch.

    Thanks for the welcome, I look forward to following you.