Spending a day with Fauna’s arborist

During my internship at Fauna, I got the amazing opportunity to shadow Ken McAuslan Fauna’s arborist, for a day. As I am currently studying environmental science, Fauna’s commitment to conserve and restore the Nature Reserve on its land really piqued my interest. Having also completed a university course in flowering plant biology, I believed it would be quite interesting to explore the tree diversity at Fauna with the person who was responsible for carrying out all the major tree projects.

Before spending the day with Ken, he provided me with reports he had written about the projects that were underway at Fauna so as to not overwhelm me with too much information which was greatly appreciated. He also provided a couple of annexes such as a list of the of all the species of trees that can be found on Fauna property.

After reading the reports, he answered the questions I had first thing in the morning while we weeded some 1- to 2-year-old trees in pots that were grown by him from seed. It was fun to see these very young trees as I could already imagine them growing very tall in a couple decades somewhere on the Nature Reserve.

Next, he took me on a grand tour of the property, pointing out and explaining what kinds of trees were planted where and why. We visited the arboretum where he showed me many exotic trees and we also went far back into the bush where a spectacular patch of Shagbark Hickory could be found.

A moment that stands out in my mind was when I got to chew on the twig of a Cherry Birch. I hadn’t known that this tree was once the only source of oil of wintergreen, so I was quite surprised when the taste reminded me so much of candies and chewing gum.

Ken was also very proud to show me all the young Pitch Pines that he had planted on the Reserve as this species in the rarest tree in Quebec and the rarest conifer in Canada. I was happy to see the fruits of this initiative as establishing a group of Pitch Pines on protected land could possibly help prevent this species’ extinction in Canada.

I was also delighted to learn about the existence of the American Hornbeam (also called Blue Beech). It is nicknamed the “musclewood tree” because the bark is smooth and strikingly looks and feels muscle-like.

After lunch, we proceeded to repot some two-year-old trees as they needed more space to grow their root systems. While Ken prepared the earth mixture, I had to shake out the old earth from the roots very carefully so as to not tear them accidentally. It was a slow process at first, but soon we found a very good rhythm. In the end, we repotted many young Hop-hornbeams, Northern Hackberries and Miyabe Maples.

Later, we visited his atelier where he explained to me the process of seed stratification which is the process of simulating an over-wintering experience so that you can control when seeds germinate. This allows you to grow trees in pots so that you can ensure the root system is strong before planting them outside which leads to better survival rates.

All in all, during my day with Ken, I learnt so much about the incredible diversity of trees that call Fauna their home. I also got a lot more acquainted with the projects at Fauna aimed at fostering new habitats, preservation and education. A detail that really stuck with me after shadowing Ken was how he would collect seeds from cemeteries which are often areas where mature trees are left undisturbed such that some of these species grow nowhere else in Eastern Canada. I found it incredibly special that the final resting place of many could be protecting the persistence of many rare species of trees.