Published October 12, 2017 in Glebe Report. Link to original article
by Jennifer Humphries
Only 10 of the 150 species of maple trees worldwide are native to Canada. So what is it about the maple that makes it quintessentially Canadian?
I spoke with Ken Jewett, founder of Maple Leaves Forever (MLF), a charitable foundation that advocates and supports the planting of native Canadian maples in rural and urban Ontario, and Carl Mansfield, an arboreal adviser to the organization.
Jewett was inspired early in his life to plant maples for their beauty and hardiness. When he retired from business he decided to promote their planting by others. MLF has given over $2 million since 2000 to individuals and groups for planting initiatives and promoting education. The Maple Leaves Forever program provides a Rebate to eligible rural landowners who plant a minimum of ten native maples on their properties. The Rebate covers 25 per cent of the purchase cost of the saplings.
MLF also supports the Ontario Envirothon, an educational experience that engages Ontario high school students in learning about trees and forests.
Maple Leaves Forever is a founding member of the Highway of Heroes project, “A Tree for Every Hero”.
But why native maples? “We want to reintroduce and restore Canada’s maple tree as a symbol of national pride,” says Jewett. “It’s our arboreal emblem and there’s a native maple in every province. But in our cities and parks, we’ve been planting non-native maples as often as native maples.”
A case in point is the National Capital Commission (NCC), which had been sourcing maples from Oregon. A seven-year campaign by MLF culminated in 2015 with the decision by the NCC to switch to Canadian trees. The NCC proclaimed, “When a planting on NCC lands calls for a maple tree, it will be a native Canadian maple tree.” A sugar maple was planted by NCC CEO Mark Kristmanson, then chairperson Russell Mills and Ken Jewett to commemorate the decision – you can see the tree and plaque in Major’s Hill Park.
When the red maple leaf was ensconced on our flag in 1965, it became more than ever our signature tree. It was stylized but still evocative of the sugar maple. Surprisingly, the maple was officially adopted as our arboreal emblem only in 1996 but maples have always figured in the lives of Canadians as a source of beauty, brilliant colour, protective shade and, of course, delicious syrup.
Mansfield says that native maples are a natural choice for Ontario residents. Over time, they have adapted to the changing complexities of the environment and its biodiversity. They are resistant to many pests and tolerant of others, unlike most non-native species that have a low pest resistance.
Jewett doesn’t dismiss the importance of other native tree species and encourages a diverse mix. But we’ve been taking our native maples for granted and by our neglect threatening their continued prominence.
The maple tree and its distinctive leaf represent Canada both inside and outside our borders. Jewett wants to make sure their presence is strong, substantial and sustainable.
Take a look at MLF’s website and be inspired by its Canada 150 YouTube video (link on the homepage):
Jennifer Humphries is co-chair of the Glebe Community Association’s Environment Committee. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org