Westmount’s Trees and Their Stories /5
Westmount Park’s Oak Tree Grove
By Michael Walsh
The lofty oak from a small acorn grows.
Lewis Duncombe 1711-1730
There is a quiet, largely overlooked, area in Westmount Park where one can enjoy a tranquil moment. It’s an area that at one time was bustling with shuffle board players and people sitting on benches playing chess and checkers on oversized boards embedded on the ground.
Fading vestiges of these game boards still exist; however, today, it’s a quiet place comprising rambling bushes where a variety of birds make their summer home.
Within that area, next to the lagoon, are five massive Oaks – their huge girth suggests that they were saplings when the original Glen stream coursed through the park. Looking closely, one can notice their longevity is due in part to a concrete-like substance, applied decades ago, to fill large cracks that developed in their trunks. This type of treatment adds to the trees’ structural integrity preventing damage due to storms and pathogens. In addition, one of the trees has developed two trunks and a metal wire prevents either from breaking during strong winds or heavy snow or ice storms.
As a child in Ireland, recognizing (and drawing) oak leaves begins at a very early stage. I suspect six to seven-year-olds from the Emerald Isle can recognize the tree’s different species more easily than their North American counterparts.
For example, a primary school teachers’ book published by the Meath County Council, in Ireland (Wild Things at School) has a lesson plan for first class students (in Canada this is grade one) that includes the oak – along with the Primrose, Fox and the Woodlouse. Children were instructed to “draw outlines of the leaves so that they will learn their characteristic shape”.
Children were also taught that the tree’s Irish name is “dair” and is the origin of many Irish place names: “Counties Kildare and Derry are called after the oak as are all the place names starting with Derry such as Derrynaflan and Derrynane”.
The tree’s name can be traced to the Old English (a heavily Germanic language) word “ac”.
There is an oak in Westmount Park that bears the species’ largest leaves and acorns. It is known as the Bur Oak or by its Latin name Quercus (oak) macrocarpa (large seed). It is also known as the Mossycup Oak for the wooly fringe around the acorns – this has been described as a wooly cap pulled over the seeds.
Native to North America, the Bur Oak ranges from New Brunswick to the Central States and then North East where it grows as a small shrub.
The tree’s slow growth attributes to its longevity which can exceeded 300 years. Everything about the tree is massive: its girth, bark (which is fire resistant), branches and acorns that can grow to over 2 inches! In fact, even the tree’s root system is massive and, by weight, exceeds the portion above ground.
Finally, did you know why window blinds have a toggle shaped like an acorn? This was from the (mistaken) belief that lightening never struck oak trees.
Next time you walk through Westmount Park, spend a few minutes in this quiet corner, and appreciate these massive oaks and think of the changes they have witnessed.
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Images: Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh is a long-time Westmount resident and a higher education IT professional. A mycologist and statistician by training. While not at work, he walks his dog and tries to impart the beauty and hidden history Westmount has to offer to residents and visitors alike through his blog at Westmount Overlooked.