Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Your Purchase Helps the Parks: Charting Lake Charleston's Pitch Pines

Provincial parks are home to some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in Ontario.

They protect unique species of plants and wildlife, some of which are not found anywhere else in the province!

Thanks to profits from our 2021 online holiday store, our staff is working hard on ecological integrity projects that help these species, like finding Pitch Pine in Charleston Lake Provincial Park.

What’s so special about Pitch Pines?

Pitch Pine is a species of provincial importance.

It is considered nationally endangered and is the only three-needle hardwood pine native to Canada.

In Ontario, it is only found in the Frontenac Axis, an extension of the Precambrian Shield where it crosses Leeds County. Charleston Lake falls right in that little region!

Pine trees growing on the edge of a lake

Since this native species is not found anywhere else in Ontario, it is important that we evaluate pitch pine populations to understand how we can best support this species.

The beautiful rocky islands and ridges of Lake Charleston provide ideal, yet harsh, conditions for pine trees to grow. They are intolerant of shade and prefer sandy soils where their deep root system can access water.

What do they look like?

From a distance it can be difficult to distinguish a pitch pine from other pine species, but there are a few key things to look for!

Pine branch close up with a pine cone attached

  • Look for pine needles in bundles of three that are 3 to 5 inches long and twisted in shape.
  • Its bark is reddish brown with long, irregular rectangles.
  • You’ll find pine trees in sunny locations, where they can grow up to 31m tall!
  • Charleston Lake is the only provincial park where you can find them.
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Green pine trees growing in a sunny place

If you see a pine tree during your visit to Lake Charleston, consider submitting your sighting to iNaturalist so it can be added to our database!

What is park staff doing with Pitch Pines?

This year, park staff continued assessment work that has been conducted in the region since the 1980s.

The goal of the 2022 Pitch Pine assessment is to survey Pitch Pine plots that have been observed over the years (1982, 1991, and 2004/05). This survey work involved looking at the number and health of tree populations.

Park ranger Merren Wagar began dedicating her time to this job once the park closed for the season. To do this, she jumped into the water to visit the 16 plots previously surveyed within the park.

A person wearing a life jacket (PFD) driving a small motorboat on a lake, with a forest of autumn colors behind.

Many sites in Pitch Pines are only accessible by water (and sometimes a long hike through the woods!).

Once on site, Merren takes measurements of already identified pitch pines, looking for young trees and evaluating the overall health of the trees.

She asks, “Are there pinecones on the trees? Or are other species impacting them, such as porcupines or other species of trees or plants that create too much shade for them to grow?

An Ontario Parks ecologist uses a tape measure around the trunk of a tree to measure its circumference.

Thanks to ArcGIS digital mapping software, recording Merren observation data is easy.

ArcGIS allows Merren to obtain a digital map of Pitch Pine’s recorded plots and easily enter new information while in the field.

So how was this year’s assessment?

Comparing the results of this year’s survey to previous assessments, it appears that the porcupine population is declining slightly, with many of the 16 surveyed plots suffering from severe porcupine tree damage.

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Porcupines feed on tree bark, evergreen needles, and twigs, which can affect the health of the trees.

A tree trunk with the bark removed.Porcupine Damage to a Pine Tree

On a positive note, many saplings were counted in this year’s report! This shows that seed germination is occurring and the pitch pine population is growing in some locations.

The Ontario Parks ecology team will use these findings to decide where management efforts are needed for pitch pine to continue to thrive in the park and will share our findings with partner agencies such as Parks Canada and the Natural Heritage Information Centre, which also They are monitoring this species.

An Ontario Parks staff member walking away from the camera into a forest of fall colors, surrounded by towering trees.

We are very proud of our environmental integrity and species monitoring work, and grateful to Ontario Parks supporters whose 2021 online store purchases funded this work.

Help us do even more in 2023! put the Ontario Parks Online Store at the top of your Christmas shopping list.