OCTOBER 22, 2002

500-year-old cedar found 

on Lake Temagami

Photo:  500-year-old eastern white cedar on island on Lake Temagami

A stunted, bonsai-like bush found in Temagami this summer is a 500-year-old white cedar tree. 

The scraggily ancient tree was found by scientists during a biodiversity study of islands on Lake Temagami. It was found on the shore of an island in the Hub of the lake by ecologists with Ancient Forest Exploration and Research (AFER). 

This is the oldest tree ever found in Temagami, and possibly in northern Ontario. It is likely quite older, but counting stopped at 498 because the inner rings had rotted. With a 30 centimetre diameter, it grew six centimetres every hundred years. There are several centuries-old eastern white cedars around it.        

"I realized that these old cedars were out there a few years ago when I collected some driftwood for my campfire, and noticed how tight the annual growth rings were," says Michael Henry of AFER. "I counted one small piece of cedar that was less than three centimetres in diameter and found that it was over 100 years old."

    500-year-old eastern white cedar      

           Photos: Mike Henry

 Photo:  500-year-old eastern white cedar on island on Lake Temagami


Cedars are unusually rot resistant. "Cedars can practically live forever unless something kills them," says Henry. "So any cedar on an exposed rocky site has probably escaped fire and may be quite old." These are not cedars that we have saved by fighting forest fires, but rather they grow where fires seldom, if ever, burn.

"We weren't looking for them in places where they are likely to be, but found them incidentally through the island study," says Henry. "There are bound to be many many more in Temagami."







  small rocky  




  scree slopes

  rocky glades

  rocky exposed


One of the greatest risks to the cedars is from campers cutting firewood. They often appear dead or have many dead branches. The public is asked to help protect them by leaving stunted cedars and any cedars on exposed rocky sites cliffs, scree slopes, rocky islands, shorelines, rocky glades.

Cedars with very asymmetrical, "not-round", trunks are very likely to be old. Usually cedars grow this way because part of the tree has died, so it starts to grow on only one side of the trunk. The trunk becomes very oval, or ridged, or generally strange looking as a result. This asymmetrical growth often happens very slowly, gaining a few centimeters diameter in a century. 

Size doesn't mean much a little stick coming out of a crack in a cliff could be a century or two old.

AFER is a Powassan-based research institute that specializes in ancient forest ecosystems. This summer it undertook the Temagami Islands Biodiversity Study on Lake Temagami. The report is expected this fall.

   WEBSITE:   Ancient Forest Exploration and Research

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