baumzaehlen - Primeval Forests & Their Trees

©2017copyright christoph hase

Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada


Quetico (4760 km2) and the adjacent Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW, 4400 km2) across the border in Minnesota together form a huge protected area. Thousands of clean-water lakes, lovely small rivers, no motorboats, no cottages and no logging – a canoeist’s paradise! After a long battle, a logging ban came into effect in 1973 in Quetico1 and in 1978 in the BWCAW2. 1500–2000 km2 of virgin forest remained in Quetico3 and 1520 km2 in the BWCAW4. Unfortunately, there is no map of the virgin forest areas of Quetico, the earlier logged areas being apparently not documented well enough, but a 971 km2 tract5 known as Hunter Island (not a true island) is almost totally untouched3. For the BWCAW there are accurate maps of unlogged areas. Much of the land had probably not even been penetrated by indigenous people, for their numbers were small and they stayed close to the water routes6.


The park lies at approx. 400 metres of elevation on the Canadian Shield. In the majority of Quetico, the bedrock is granitic, and soils thin and low in nutrients; consequently, the productivity is low. There are small areas of metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic rocks; forests on these bedrocks are more productive and diverse. Average annual precipitation is 744 mm and average annual temperature 2.0°C. 5


The park is in the transitional zone between the temperate deciduous forests to the south and the boreal forests to the north but so close to the northern limit of the zone that the vegetation is overwhelmingly boreal in nature7. However, there are southern elements, more or less rare, which point to the temperate zone, like Acer (maples), Quercus (oaks), Opens internal link in current windowFraxinus pennsylvanica (red ash), Opens internal link in current windowPopulus grandidentata (large-tooth aspen) and Opens internal link in current windowBetula alleghaniensis (yellow birch). Opens internal link in current windowPinus banksiana (jack pine) is the most important tree, followed by Opens internal link in current windowPicea mariana (black spruce)7. Opens internal link in current windowPopulus tremuloides (quaking aspen) and Opens internal link in current windowBetula papyrifera (paper birch) are very abundant, too5. Opens internal link in current windowPinus strobus (eastern white pine) and Opens internal link in current windowPinus resinosa (red pine) often grow on the shorelines, therefore appearing to a paddler to be more abundant than is actually the case5. Together these species comprise about 8% of the forested areas7 but about 25% prior to logging and fire suppression (the best P. strobusP. resinosa forests were logged first)2. Treed bogs are dominated by P. mariana5. In all, there are more than 30 tree species7. Most are easy to identify but e.g. Opens internal link in current windowSorbus americana (American mountain-ash) and Opens internal link in current windowS. decora (showy mountain-ash) may be difficult to tell apart.

The natural fire cycle is approx. 70–80 years 5. Between 1940 and 1976, the period of effective fire suppression, there were very few fires1. Today, some fires initiated by lightning are allowed to burn; the estimated fire interval today is about 300 years 5. Running crown fires, which burned the most area before fire suppression, are not allowed to develop2. Due to the scarcity of wildfires in recent decades, shade-tolerant and fire-sensitive Opens internal link in current windowAbies balsamea (balsam fir) is now very common in the understory2. All the main tree species are well-adapted to fires: P. banksiana and P. mariana have serotinous cones, which shed their seeds after fire has killed the parent trees, producing extremely dense regeneration, P. tremuloides reproduce prolifically from root suckers, B. papyrifera sprouts from stumps and reproduce from light seeds8, and P. strobus and P. resinosa have fire-resistant bark2.


Apart from a few short ones at the northern boundary, there are no hiking trails, most of the park being accessible only by canoe. Hiking in the forest is hard: in older forests there is dense A. balsamea regeneration almost everywhere, fallen trunks derived from post-fire dense P. banksiana and P. mariana regeneration are numerous and bogs are common, too. The heaviest use is in the southern sector by American canoeists arriving directly from the BWCAW; in the north, the heaviest use is in the sector accessible from French Lake5. Almost nobody goes from the shorelines far into the forest. The period with the heaviest use is July 25 to August 15 9. Compared to the BWCAW, Quetico is somewhat wilder with no hunting, more fires in the 1900’s 2, more stringent quotas, no latrines, no fire grates and no designated campsites1. In contrast to the BWCAW, camping is allowed anywhere in Quetico. Although motor vehicles are prohibited in the park, you cannot escape motor noise: a lot of scheduled flights go over the park and at least in the summer peak period there are many small aircraft, too (landing is prohibited).




1       Nelson, J. (2009): Quetico, Near to Nature’s Heart. Natural Heritage Books.

2       Heinselman, M. (1996): The Boundary Waters wilderness ecosystem. University of Minnesota Press.

3       Frelich, L. Pers. comm. (2008)

4       Frelich, L. (1995): Old Forest in the Lake States Today and Before European Settlement. Natural Areas Journal 15: 157-67.

5       Quetico Background Information. 2007. Ontario Parks.

6       Ahlgren, C. & Ahlgren, I. (1984): Lob Trees in the Wilderness. University of Minnesota Press.

7       Walshe, S. (1980): Plants of Quetico and the Ontario Shield. University of Toronto Press.

8       Agee, J. K. (1998): Fire and pine ecosystems. In Richardson, D. M. (ed.): Ecology and Biogeography of Pinus. Cambridge University Press.

9       Clark, J., Canoe Canada Outfitters. Pers. comm. (2013)


Official site:

Pinus resinosa (red pine) stand at Elisabeth Lake. Also Sorbus decora (showy mountain-ash) seedling, bottom; Pinus strobus (eastern white pine) seedling, bottom centre; Abies balsamea (balsam fir) seedlings, bottom left and background.
Fred Lake. Mainly Pinus banksiana (jack pine) and Picea mariana (black spruce, narrow crowns). Also a few wide crowns of Pinus strobus (eastern white pine), background.
Fred Lake. Mainly Pinus banksiana (jack pine) and Picea mariana (black spruce, narrow dark crowns).
Picea mariana (black spruce) dominated forest. Also a thicker Pinus banksiana (jack pine, left), Betula papyrifera (paper birch, right foreground) and small Abies balsamea (balsam fir, right centre).
Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen) forest, background. Also plentiful small Abies balsamea (balsam fir), three thicker Pinus banksiana (jack pine), Acer spicatum (mountain maple, foreground) and Betula papyrifera (paper birch, left centre).
Pinus strobus (eastern white pine, left), Pinus resinosa (red pine, right) and plentiful small Abies balsamea (balsam fir). Further large P. resinosa behind A. balsamea.
Old-growth Pinus stand at Sturgeon Lake with P. strobus (eastern white pine, with long horizontal branches) and P. resinosa (red pine, other tall trees). Fraxinus pennsylvanica (red ash) along the shore.
Fraxinus nigra (black ash, dark trunks) - Betula papyrifera (paper birch, white trunks) forest along a small creek. Also a small Ulmus americana (American elm, left centre).
Fraxinus nigra (black ash), also background and foliage top left. Acer spicatum (mountain maple) foliage top right.
Fraxinus nigra (black ash) stand. Also white trunks of Betula papyrifera (paper birch, extreme left), Picea glauca (white spruce) and small Ulmus americana (American elm, left and right centre).
Thuja occidentalis (white-cedar) and Fraxinus pennsylvanica (red ash, right) along the shore. Pinus banksiana (jack pine) and Picea mariana (black spruce, dark crowns), background. Also white trunk of Betula papyrifera (paper birch, right).
Acer rubrum (red maple), left, backed by Fraxinus nigra (black ash). Alnus incana ssp. rugosa (speckled alder), right foreground. Picea mariana (black spruce), right background.
Allan Creek. In the wetland Pinus banksiana (jack pine) and Larix laricina (tamarack larch, sparse narrow crowns, left).
Stunted Pinus resinosa (red pine) at unnamed small lake. Two small Pinus banksiana (jack pine), bottom right. The same species in the background, P. resinosa with long needles.
Unnamed small lake. Pinus banksiana (jack pine), Pinus strobus (eastern white pine, with long horizontal branches), Abies balsamea (balsam fir, small conical trees), Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen, broadleaf trees with white trunk).
Some broadleaf trees of the park.