In Search of Ontario Red Spruce – Part 2

By Owen Clarkin

23 February 2020

Rockland Area, on Clark Road

iNaturalist Observation 39116940 (O. Clarkin).

A new and possibly isolated population has been discovered near Rockland!  I saw at least 3 or 4 trees which looked to be Red Spruce within a general area, but only one of them was close enough to the public road to photographically “prove” this claim:


This Rockland-area population is approximately 10km or more northwest from the nearest Ontario Red Spruce which I have seen in person, which were also discovered today (discussed below).

The rest of the Red Spruces found today were within relatively close proximity to each other, and in the same general area as the first two populations of Red Spruce discovered two weeks ago.  The findings from today and two weeks ago appears to confirm that there is an extensive population of the species located in the large forest between Plantagenet and Saint-Pascal-Baylon, with Red Spruces observed east of County Road 19, from approximately Concession 5 to Concession 7.  West of County Road 19 there is basically no road network as the land is apparently wetter; presumably this area also has Red Spruce present but I have not to date accessed this land.

Three, non-Rockland populations were found today:

Population 2, near the intersection of County Road 19 and Concession 5

iNaturalist Observation 39118726 (O. Clarkin).
Close-up of same tree (O. Clarkin).







Population 3, on Sarazin Street near Concession 6

These trees are essentially an extension of the “Population 1” discovered two weeks ago (see In Search of Ontario Red Spruce – Part 1).

iNaturalist Observation 39120796 (O. Clarkin).
iNaturalist Observation 39120571 (O. Clarkin).







Population 4, Concession 7

iNaturalist Observation 39121860 (O. Clarkin).

One isolated and healthy-looking early-maturity tree was discovered along Concession 7.

Surely one could find more trees in this general area, especially if leaving the road network or exploring the wetter region west of County Road 19.  But I am pretty satisfied with these results, I feel this is pretty comprehensive already and would like to now give a similar half-day treatment to the other target forests.

In Search of Ontario Red Spruce – Part 1

By Owen Clarkin

Following our visit with Norbert Lussier on Super Bowl Sunday to discuss Red Spruce (Picea rubens) in Ontario, I decided to take a trip to the Plantagenet area.

I had wanted to check out the Plantagenet area more thoroughly even before we had visited Norbert, as I figured that the forests on either side of the town both had a good chance of Red Spruce being present.  I had driven through this area on the way home from Montreal once in May 2017.  Up to this point, there was something of a “gap” here, with the closest Red Spruce being at:

  1. SNCA property at north end of Garlandside Road (a large population here): e.g.
  2. Lavigne Natural Park North; both plantation trees and probably at least one wild older tree along with seedlings/saplings:
  3. Alfred area: I had found two individual trees previously, one in the town of Alfred and one northeast of the bog:

On a very cold sunny morning (9 February 2020), Swampy (aka Mike Leveille) and I left Ottawa early to search the backroad forests on both sides of Plantagenet for Red Spruce and anything else of interest.  As preparation, I had scouted for several hours on Feb 7/8 what I could of the area on Google Streetview, and had already noted areas which looked promising and/or appeared to contain Red Spruce.  Much of the area hasn’t yet been documented by the Google Streetview car.  From approximately 9am-10am we ended up finding four (“new, to me at least, and apparently as yet undocumented by anyone) populations of Red Spruce, three of which I had suspected to be RS from Google Streetview homework.  It is likely that more Red Spruce can be found here by continuing to search the backroads.

I will briefly summarize what we found, by population.  I don’t know the ownership situation of the properties, but would all appear to be private as a guess.  See Map 1 for the population locations.

Map 1 – Four populations of Red Spruce found on 9 Feb 2020 (map from iNaturalist).

Population 1, West of Plantagenet on Concession 6

iNaturalist Observation 38484845 (O. Clarkin).

The first population is the only one of the four I hadn’t noted on Google Streetview during my “homework”, but doing so would have been impossible anyway as the Google car hasn’t yet gone down this road.  Four mature trees were noted, two on each side of the road within a short distance of each-other.  The two trees on the south side of the road would be virtually impossible to see from road during the growing season, while the ones on the north side are adjacent to the road and could have been spotted any time of year.  The trees are:

Population 2, West of Plantagenet, approximately 2 km NE of Population 1, on Concession 5

Red Spruce on Concession 5 (O. Clarkin).

This population consists of at least two trees which were photographed with links to observations below.  Finding these trees caused me significant confusion, as I was expecting to be in a forest on both sides of the road, and the Google satellite indicated I was in a forest as well.  It turns out the the forest on the south side of the road had been cut down and completely removed since the Google Streetview and satellite images had been taken.

Google Streetview:;
Google satellite:

It is fortunate that the Red Spruce here on the north side of the road have not been cut down, but I must wonder if they are “safe”.  The trees are:

Population 3, East of Plantagenet on Boundary Road

iNaturalist Observation 38485842 (O. Clarkin).

At least four mature trees, with the fifth one that was visible on Google Streetview (the one I actually had noted as a probable RS on Streetview)  now gone.  Link to Streetview of missing tree here, it is right beside the White Pine:  Again, I wonder about whether these trees are “safe” given the recent disturbance.

The four Red Spruce trees are shown in two observations below:

Population 4, east of Plantagenet, approximately 1km SE of Population 3, on Concession 7 at Boundary Road

iNaturalist Observation 38486548 (O. Clarkin).

Approximately 10 early maturity trees observed, on both sides of Concession 7 near the intersection with Boundary Rd.  Note that houses have been built in the woods containing these trees, so their long-term protection may be questionable. The RS trees are:


All of the trees in all four populations are approximately the same apparent age, early in maturity.  This suggests they have regrown since massive disturbances across this area at a similar date, presumably an original wave of clearcutting which I would estimate probably occurred late 19th-century or thereabouts.

Note the abundance of Red Maple (Acer rubrum) visible in all of the photos from the four Red Spruce populations.  These populations appear to occur in the same kind of conditions as the rest of the Ottawa-Hawkesbury Red Spruce “belt”, i.e. acidic clay on sandy substrate.

Bonus:  Check out this lovely Slippery Elm and Rock Elm that were found on Feb 9th following the Red Spruce search (also note the “controversy” regarding the Rock Elm).


Dr. Alan Gordon: Red Spruce in Ontario

The Legacy of Dr. Alan Gordon and Norbert Lussier C.E.T.

Dr. Alan Gordon in 1987.

The legacy of Dr. Alan Gordon, distinguished scientist and forester, lives on in the records, photos, and memories of his career partner, Norbert Lussier, Certified Engineering Technologist (C.E.T.).

A mutual interest in Ontario Red Spruce (Picea rubens) connected us to Norbert, who contacted us after reading the information on the Trees Canadensis web site about a mature Red Spruce population in Ottawa’s eastern greenbelt.  We call this 145 acre parcel of land the Alan Gordon Acadian Forest.  Dr. Gordon, of Sault Ste. Marie’s Forest Research Institute, recorded the first global record of Red Spruce in Ontario in 1950.  He also conducted research on Red Spruce trees in the area of his eponymous forest and likely walked beneath their boughs there.

Now in his eighties, Norbert met us at his retirement home in Russell where he generously shared his knowledge and memories.

Norbert Lussier. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)

Norbert attended Ryerson University and studied chemistry.  He worked for Dr. Gordon as a summer student in 1960 and was offered employment in 1961 with the Ministry of Natural Resources – Ontario Forest Research Institute.

Our conversation and questions flowed from the pile of scientific publications, conference papers, and photographs that Norbert had preserved.  We now have references for many articles about spruce in Ontario that we need to track down.  One binder – only two copies exist, one with Norbert and one in Dr. Gordon’s archives – contains detailed research project information.

Batchawana Picetum near Sault Ste. Marie. (from Norbert Lussier’s collection.)

We learned many things about Dr. Gordon’s research.  He experimented with the crossability of spruce species, including the viability of hybridizing various native Canadian spruce species with two rare, high elevation species from Mexico:  P. mexicana and P. chihuahuana.  He also established various “Picetums” in Ontario (e.g. Scott Lake in Algonquin Park and Batchawana in Sault Ste. Marie), which were plantations for running experiments.


Alan Gordon, Norbert Lussier standing beside Red Spruce logs in Ontario. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)

Red Spruce was much more prevalent in Ontario than today.  Loggers preferentially cut Red Spruce due to its straight grain and its strength in proportion to its weight.  It was logged out in all but a few areas where small, isolated populations remain today.


So a delightful highlight of our visit was Norbert’s identification of scattered Red Spruce populations that we were not aware of, south and west of Ottawa.  Norbert and Dr. Gordon discovered many of these populations by cruising back roads and logging tracks and spotting the trees from the car.  Norbert remembers roads, landmarks, and intersections that will provide opportunities for many field trips to see what has happened to these trees in the last 20 to 40 years.

We look forward to working with Norbert and sharing what we find today, preserving and building on the legacy of two fine, Ontario forestry scientists.

Dr. Alan Gordon. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)
Scott Lake Plantation at Algonquin Park. (Photo from Norbert Lussier.)