Of squirrels, trees and nuts among the tombstones

The filbert nut tree was the final stop on Jeff McMann’s guided tour of the east side of Mount Pleasant Cemetery Oct. 18. At the base of the tree, I found a scraggly sea-creature-like filbert cone with one of its several nut niches occupied by an overlooked nut. I say overlooked because according to McMann this is the Mt. Pleasant squirrels’ favourite treat.

They go ga-ga over these nuts, like cats over catnip. McMann has seen them literally falling out of the tree while wrestling a nut out of a cone ‘socket’. If I can locate a nut-cracker before the end of this column, I’ll tell you if the taste-fest is worth falling out of a tree for.

This arboretum also features 47 yellow shagbark hickory trees, and the nuts from these, even stickier and messier, are almost as popular. The cemetery’s black walnut and English walnut trees, too, have their own squirrel fan clubs.

It was an ideal autumn afternoon for McMann’s walking tour, with no competing Blue Jays game, so more than 200 mostly middle-aged (or older) tree-huggers showed up. A certified arborist with more than three decades as an award-winning landscaper and for the past 20 months the Mount Pleasant Group of Cemetery’s trees specialist for all the Group’s properties, McMann is the perfect guide. He knows everything about trees, and was quite enthusiastic in imparting his knowledge, and even worked in a number of tree jokes. Pre-empting an all-too-often-asked question, he tongue-in-cheeked at the outset, “I do not have a favourite tree. I like all trees equally.”

Formerly farm-land, the soil here is excellent, to which 7,000 resident trees of 650 kinds can attest.

Amongs the many green-flagged trees of special interest, McMann pointed out: a bristle-cone pine, which can live for 4,000 years, and deserves a return visit in a thousand years to see how it’s performing in the longevity department; a horse chestnut; the hedge maple; the Larson plain (or camouflage) tree; the tulip tree (with orange tulips in spring) that rids itself of pollutants by regularly shedding its bark; the golden ash; a ginko once thought extinct that deploys birds to carry pollen from male to female ginkos (may I suggest night-time searchlight illumination to discourage such wonton ‘treesomes’?) and whose butric-acid-laced fruit reeks when crushed; the weeping willow, last to lose its leaves, which land atop the snow; 11 types of on-site ash, all potential victims of the relentless ash borer; a Japanese maple; the enormous Austrian pine that reminds us to visit an adult specimen of any sapling before planting one on our property; the beech that develops cankers that make its bark fall off; the caucasian wing-nut (not the human variety) needing wire to reinforce its weak upper branches, and like many trees, spreads laterally on open ground or narrowly upright among a crowd competing for light; the white pine—perfect for ship masts; the camperdown elm originating in Dundee, Scotland; the peeling red/green bark of the lacebark pine; the pin oak; the Turkish oak with its intricate miniature leaves; and the colonnade of littleleaf linden — just to name a few.

A portion of the property’s trees are now tagged, so you can jot down the tree-name, snap pictures of it and then go online for more info. By the way, McMann is on the look-out for a Himalayan Pine to plant here. If you spot one, with or without a yeti sitting in it, give Jeff a call.

And now the moment you’ve been waiting for: How tasty was that filbert nut? Very tasty, I imagine, but I couldn’t find a nutcracker before deadline.