Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Wolf Tree Pair

Neil Carleton 2by Neil Carleton

Trees are in constant competition with each other for water, sunlight, and nutrients. Some trees in the forest capture most of the light and moisture to become the largest and healthiest. An indication of a tree’s competitive success is the size and shape of its crown.

In the forest the dominant trees have crowns that reach above the general level of the canopy. These supercanopy trees receive full light from above and partial light from the sides. Canopy trees, or codominants, form the continuous ceiling of a forest. Full sunlight is received at the crown, but little reaches the sides. The intermediate or understory trees have small crowns and receive some light from above but none from the sides.

There’s an opportunity to look for different sizes and shapes of tree crowns the next time you’re heading into a forest for a hike.
There’s an opportunity to look for different sizes and shapes of tree crowns the next time you’re heading into a forest for a hike.
Bur Oak 1 February 10 2010 Beside The  R. W. MacGregor Memorial Ball  Field On The Old Perth Road
Trees that grow in the open conditions of fields are known as wolf trees. With large crowns nearly the whole length of their trunks, they receive full lighting all around. This fine bur oak is a good example of a local wolf tree. It’s growing beside the R.W. MacGregor Memorial Ball Field on the Old Perth Road, near the Mississippi Mills Town Hall.

My source for the origin of the wolf tree term is Northern Woodlands, the trade name of the Center for Northern Woodlands Education in Vermont. It’s understood that the idea of a wolf tree was popularized by foresters during the second half of the 20th century. This was when many old pastures grown into forests had reached an age for first-cutting. “These early foresters suggested that the wide-spreading, old trees were preying on forest resources and, like a wolf, should be culled to make way for merchantable timber. Though no wolves roamed the landscape then, the idea of wolves still haunted people and ran into their management metaphors.”

Twin Oaks Highway 15 August 29 2012 B
Viewed from the fence on the north side of Lanark County Road 29, almost opposite the Carleton Place Nursery, this young bur oak is another easily observed wolf tree in our area. With a full crown, little of its trunk is exposed during the growing season.
Twin Oaks Highway 15 August 29 2012 C - Copy
A closer view reveals that this month’s Shady Character is in fact a wolf tree pair. Bur oak, Quercus macrcarpa, is an intermediate shade tolerant tree which doesn’t require full sunlight.
Twin Oaks Highway 15 August 29 2012 A
Local drivers on their way into Carleton Place may be more familiar with this highway view if they’ve had reason to slow down or stop for a car turning onto the Nursery driveway. Only a quick glance is needed to see that the two trees are growing very close together.
Twin Oaks Highway 15 March 18 2012
A silhouette view with the leaves off reveals that the growth of each tree has been significantly affected by the presence of its twin. The sprouting of two acorns stashed by a squirrel could account for this unique arrangement.


Being curious about the phenomenon of twin oaks, I asked Professor Google to help me the other day. She knows so much. A simple search for ‘twin oaks’ turned up about 6,890,000 results in just over half a second.

Who would have thought there’d be a twin oaks camp, census-designated place, commune, condo, co-op, farm, golf course, hospital, inn, industrial park, lodge, motel, plantation, resort, school, subdivision, and tavern. I also discovered a twin oaks auto shop, foods corporation, management service, savings bank, software company, towing operation, and woodworking business. There must be, or have been, a lot of inspirational twin oaks across the continent. Alas, it would take in the order of 26 years, non-stop, to conduct a 2 minute review for each of the Professor’s search results.

In the meantime, here are the links for two oak stories of interest. One is about the famous twin oaks of Texas, where a young man with an arrow in his back sought safety from a conflict. The other is about a retired Canadian nurse who fell in love with an oak and travels 7,000 miles each year to visit the tree in England.

Do you have a notable or favourite tree? Readers are invited to submit their nominations for an honor roll of trees in our area that could be featured in future articles. You can contact me at 613-256-2018, <>, or Neil Carleton, P.O. Box 1644, Almonte, Ontario, K0A 1A0. I look forward to hearing from you.

My volunteer columns started in March 2010 to support the tree planting and tree awareness initiatives of the Mississippi Mills Beautification Committee. The contact for the Tree Committee is Ron Ayling, 613-804-4617. In Carleton Place, the contact for the Urban Forest / River Corridor Advisory Committee is Jim McCready, 613-257-5853.

Until the next time, you’ll find me looking for and hanging out with shady characters.




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