The mountain is home to a type of forest considered as rare on the Island of Montréal. Northern red oak stands may be found growing on the heights of Mount Royal. Typical of the higher reaches of the Monteregian hills, this plant community grows on the thin, rocky well-drained soil of the summits.
The Mount Royal oak stand
The Mount Royal oak stand has undergone enormous changes over time. Today, it still shows many signs of its past. In the 1950s, the forest undergrowth was “cleaned up” for greater visibility, so as to control activities that were judged immoral. This intervention, nicknamed “les coupes de la moralité” (literally, morality cuts), caused severe damage to the oak stand. Spruce trees, a non-indigenous species, had to be planted to control the erosion caused by the lack of groundcover.
During the 1998 ice storm, 8 to 10 cm of ice accumulated in only five days. The weight of the ice seriously damaged the Mount Royal forest. About 45,000 trees were pruned and 5200 were cut down throughout the park.
Through natural regeneration and conservation efforts, the woods of Mount Royal remain exceptionally biodiverse islands of nature within the heart of the city.
Hike over the three summits of Mount Royal and discover its great oak trees.
Oak on Mount Royal
Les amis de la montagne Collection
So let's start with the sugar maple, which gives its name to maple stands, like the sugar maple-hickory stands that we find here on Mount Royal. Sugar maple is the dominant species. The sugar maple is a tree with relatively dense wood, a high quality wood used mainly for lumber, cabinet-making and other purposes.
In front of us we see a Norway maple. The Norway maple’s leaves look a lot like those of the sugar maple. If you break off a Norway maple leaf with its stalk, you'll see white milky juice, which is a good way to identify the Norway maple. As well, the bark of the Norway maple is not as ridged or scaly as that of the sugar maple; it lies flatter against the trunk of the tree. In the park, we can find two or three cultivars of the Norway maple. Some of them, such as the Deborah variety, have redder leaves. One of the tree’s drawbacks is that it drops a lot of keys, which is what its fruit is called, and they germinate easily and compete with the keys of the sugar maple.
The Norway maple’s fall colour is drab, its foliage turns yellow and that's it, while with the sugar maple, there’s a variation of colours as the fall goes on—yellows to reds and even sometimes more purplish hues. The sugar maple has most beautiful fall colours.
This is a Pennsylvanian maple. Its leaves don’t look like those of the sugar maple, but more like the mountain maple that, by the way, has been planted on several slopes. The Pennsylvanian maple is characterized by its striped wood; you can see vertical lines pretty well everywhere along the bark, which is quite green. It’s a species that’s often found growing with the sugar maple, like other species such as hickory, ironwood, lindens and others. Its trunk is quite straight, and so it’s often used to make walking sticks.
These are silver maples; they’re trees that grow quite quickly. In Mount Royal Park, they’re confined to open and grassed areas as ornamental trees, in a way, and aren’t introduced into the forest because they behave like the Norway maple.
I’d encourage you to go up close to the summit, where large oak trees are found; the biggest oak trees in the park. Also, close by the marsh are some beautiful red oaks, which are almost a metre in diameter. They are beautiful stands. On the other side, we can see stands of spruce trees that were planted by J.J. Dumont, who was the superintendent of parks, to compensate for the damage done by the morality clear-cuts. It's kind of strange that many trees were cut down and then many other trees were planted to avoid problems of erosion. Even so, these are places that I would encourage the public to visit.