1. Weeping willow (Salix alba)
A native of extra-tropical Asia, from Japan and China to Egypt and North Africa, willows are known to inhabit the barren tops of alpine mountains or the equally barren plains of arctic latitudes, but it’s near water where they grow the best. There are many veterans of the species along the Beach boardwalk. This splendorous clump at the foot of Woodbine – one of the most photographed in the city – was originally a single tree that was cut down only to re-emerge as a dozen separate trunks.
2. White oak (Quercus alba)
White oaks are slow-growing and highly susceptible to climate change and disease, which is to say that they’re a low-vigour species. But this elegant landmark, which is well over 100 years old, was gracing Avenue Road even before the ROM was built and has survived, among other incursions on its greenspace, the building of the subway underneath it, which seriously cut into its root system. It’s currently under the stewardship of arborist Ian Bruce, who is seeing to its care during expansion of the museum. Still stately after all these years.
3. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
A rare remnant of the Carolinian forest, identifiable by its bark, which looks like it’s peeling off, the shagbark hickory is now seldom seen. A few big specimens still thrive in the Lower Don watershed, but this two-and-a-half-storey beauty on Euclid north of Bloor (half the roots are paved over, but it’s still alive) is thought to be one of a handful actually on a city street.
4. Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
Black walnuts are considered regionally and provincially rare, especially these remaining 150-year-olds gracing the site of the early 19th-century Falcon Inn off Kingston Road in Scarborough. Saved from the chain saw by the conservation review board in 1995 after the owner proposed redevelopment of the site, these walnuts are among a half-dozen trees in the entire province designated historically significant and protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.
5. Red oak Quercus rubra)
Protected from development, the city’s cemeteries make great sanctuaries for trees. Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the Yonge Street side in particular, features one of the most beautiful tree collections in all North America, including red oaks like this one overlooking the Beltline bridge. They hark back to the late 1800s, when sawmills dotted the landscape and original stands in the area were being cleared for timber and farming.
6. Great white oak
There are other impressive white oaks in Toronto, but this massive, perfectly scaffolded specimen on Jane north of Bloor – the trunk is more than 4 feet in diameter at breast height – is at least 260 years old and, more interestingly from a botanical point of view, is located in what used to be a black oak savannah. It’s also part of ancient oak grove named by the former Metro council in honour of Tuhbananequay, daughter of Wabanosay, chief of the Mississaugas at the time of the Toronto Purchase.
7. American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
One of the largest broadleaf trees in eastern North America, this scarce species is recognizable by its mottled bark and massive, crooked branches. Early French settlers hollowed out sycamore trunks to make barges for carrying goods. This one on Lippincott south of College is unusual, since sycamores are typically found near streams or in wetlands. Most of its natural range in Canada is limited to southern Ontario, where most urbanization has taken place.
8. Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
The Toronto Tree, as it’s dubbed, in front of the Alex Muir cottage on Laing, in the east end, is probably the city’s most famous. It’s said to have inspired Muir to write The Maple Leaf Forever. The only tree given an historical designation by the city, the ol’ maple has showed signs of decline in recent years. City parks officials and heritage staff have gathered seeds from it and grown them into saplings at a nursery at Fort York so that when the time comes to cut it down, a true scion can be planted in its place.
9. London plane (Platanus x acerifolia)
This mysterious hybrid, which has traits common to the native American sycamore (mottled bark) and the Oriental plane tree (broad leaves), is specifically bred to withstand urban eco pressures. It is favoured by environmentalists for its ability to provide shade (it towers over the ornamentals typically planted by the city) and tolerate drought, air pollution and leaf fungus. This one on Boston Avenue south of Dundas is bigger than London planes found in Queen’s Park, where what may be the most notable stand of London planes survives. Sources: LEAF (Local Enhancement and Appreciation of Forests), Toronto Field Naturalists, Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation, Friends of the Don East, City of Toronto (Urban Forestry Services), Ontario Urban Forest Council, David Orsini, Humber Heritage Committee.