Walking in Memorial South Park to Learn About Its Trees – June 22, 2024

Walking in Memorial South Park to Learn About Its Trees – June 22, 2024

Submitted by Nina Shoroplova

Few of us Nature Vancouver members knew Memorial South Park when we first met at its Cenotaph on Saturday, June 22, to learn more about its trees (https://covapp.vancouver.ca/parkfinder/ParkDetail.aspx?InParkId=186).

Memorial South Park opened on May 22, 1926, almost a hundred years ago, before South Vancouver, Point Grey, and Vancouver amalgamated into the City of Vancouver in 1929. The park seems primarily to be a sports park, offering tennis courts, soccer fields, a baseball diamond, a field hockey pitch, a cricket pitch, exercise equipment, and an oval running track. But we twenty-six NVers weren’t there for the sports; we were there for the trees, some of them a hundred years old (like the park), some native trees that are older and some ornamentals that are quite young.

We walked north from the Cenotaph along the avenue of silver maple trees on the west side of Windsor Street (See the leaves’ long sinuses between the lobes?) and reached the park’s northern border at East 41st Avenue.

We looked at a falsecypress, namely a Lawson falsecypress, Chamaecyparis lawsoniana, and we admired this year’s female cones (blue and something like tiny soccer balls), last year’s female cones (brown and open, their seeds dispersed), and this year’s spent male pollen cones (brown and tiny).

We talked about the process and reasons for grafting as we looked at one grafted cherry tree that was showing signs of aging. 

From there to the stand of native western redcedars in the northwest corner of the park, East 41st Avenue’s traffic was noisy, so we retreated to the interesting trees around South Pond: weeping katsura, China-fir (not a fir), dawn redwood, baldcypress, and three shore pines (two-needle pines).

Dawn redwood is named thus because it was alive at the dawn of time, before the ice age wiped those conifers off the face of the Earth. One of the group mentioned he has dawn redwood fossils collected from locations in Canada. The story of dawn redwood’s rediscovery in south-central China is interesting (See https://arboretum.harvard.edu/stories/how-metasequoia-the-living-fossil-was-discovered-in-china/). The tree’s scientific name is really not helpful: Metasequoia glyptostroboides, because Metasequoia means it is with or after or beyond sequoias. It is actually a distant relative of giant sequoias and coast redwoods. The cones bear a striking resemblance. The species epithet of glyptostroboides means it is similar to a Chinese swamp cypress, Glyptostrobus pensilis, but is not one. So both genus and species names mean it is like these trees, but not them. This makes “dawn redwood” a great name to use.

We looked at a solitary tamarisk tree, Tamarix (not to be confused with tamarack, Larix laricina, American larch). Tamarix, the genus, comes from some of the hot areas of the world: southern Europe, Africa, Iran, India, China, and more. Because many of the species flower profusely, one plant can bear hundreds of viable seeds. I was unable to determine the species of this tree, but it is worth watching, because the Invasive Species Council of BC includes all Tamarix spp. in its list of invasive plants (https://bcinvasives.ca/invasives/tamarisk/), knowing how such plants can take over any moist soil, partly through the genus’s ability to absorb and then release salt, a chemical that discourages most other plants from growing. For that reason, one of its common names is salt cedar (not a cedar).

From there we looked at a horsechestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum, now growing its spiky fruit (inedible) and some of us remembered playing conkers in the playground as children; I just collected the big seeds because they were so shiny and brown, before they wrinkled.

Finally, we walked around three sides of the running track, admiring catalpa trees (not on the list), western redcedars, giant sequoias, a Colorado blue spruce, a now-gone-to-seed common laburnum, and a walnut, likely to be a butternut, which is native to eastern Canada rather than the black walnut (on the list), which is native to southern states in the US.

Finally, we gathered under the fernleaf beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Aspleniifolia’ and admired its smooth trunk and its beautiful leaves.

Oh, and we looked at a little ginkgo tree, whose leaves were each one lobed, ignoring the tree’s scientific name, which is still Ginkgo biloba.

This is a park that has something for everyone, and for us it is the trees.

Article and five photos by Nina Shoroplova

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