Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/5/2010 (2548 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
MORDEN — If Barbara Walters should ask you her famous question, "if you were a tree, what kind of tree you would be?" say, "the Morden tree."
It’s the largest tree in Manitoba — at least it was as of two weeks ago. It turns 120 years old next year.
Why the Morden tree grew into such a large, hulking landmark is the more germane question. No one’s sure. It was planted from a cutting mailed from New York in 1891. It’s a hybrid between a native cottonwood and European black poplar.
It was planted on the grounds of the Morden Land Titles Office. Today, it stands alone in the southeast corner of Confederation Park on Stephen Street.
From a distance, it doesn’t look like anything other than a big, old tree. But up close, one is struck by its girth — you could easily stand 10 people around it, shoulder to shoulder — and its bark that’s like concrete corduroy.
The bark is almost grotesque.
Most cottonwoods have rivulets for creases. You can lose your hand in the crevices of the Morden tree.
The furrows are about as deep as the width of your hand.
The very thick bark is one reason cottonwoods survive so well along our prairie rivers. Debris can smash into the tree and not harm it. The bark is so strong figurines can be carved from it, said Ken Fosty, Manitoba Forestry Association extension officer. Cottonwoods can also sit in flood water a long time "and just chill out until it recedes," he said.
Morden area dowser Henry Thiessen maintains all freakishly large trees grow above underground streams.
He demonstrated as much. When he approached the Morden tree, the coat-hanger he uses as a divining rod waggled like Pavlov’s dog’s tail.
Thiessen maintains the "halfway tree," a native cottonwood midway between Winnipeg and Brandon along the Trans-Canada Highway, is also above an underground stream.
Otherwise, the extraordinary growth of the Morden tree makes no sense, said Harold Janzen, Morden parks manager. It’s boxed in by an asphalt road on one side, which means less moisture for roots, and less food and oxygen.
Several boughs have been chopped to protect hydro wires.
From a distance, it doesn’t look like anything other than a big, old tree. But up close, one is struck by its girth — you could easily stand 10 people around it, shoulder to shoulder — and its bark that’s like concrete corduroy
"In a town, so much is working against a tree like that," Janzen said.
Now for the controversy. For the record, the Morden tree has been listed as Manitoba’s second largest tree since the book, Heritage Trees of Manitoba, was published in 1987 by the Manitoba Forestry Association.
But MFA’s Fosty remeasured it two weeks ago and it’s still growing. The tree is now 30.5 metres high (versus 26 metres in the 1987 book), with a crown of 30.5 metres across. "It’s just as tall as it is wide," Fosty said.
The key measure is its circumference. "That’s where the most wood is" and determines the largest tree, said Fosty.
The Morden tree is now 675 centimetres around at chest level, or about 22 feet.
That puts it about a foot wider than the previous record-holder as the largest tree. The previous record holder is a native cottonwood that lives in an oxbow along the Assiniboine River, 18 kilometres southwest of Portage la Prairie. It’s a bit of a hermit. You’ve got to either canoe there, or drive a mud trail and then hike for a kilometre.
Fosty suspects that oxbow cottonwood has continued to grow, too, and will take back the title of largest tree when he measures it this summer.
But not so fast.
What Fosty didn’t know when he was interviewed is that the oxbow cottonwood has been damaged by fire, either by a lightning strike or vandals.
Someone visited the oxbow cottonwood a week ago and reported the fire damage, said Leonard Rossnagel of Portage la Prairie, who nominated the oxbow tree in the Heritage Trees book.
That could make it a tough call for Fosty. Fire damage, depending on when it occurred, has likely stunted the cottonwood’s ability to keep pace with the Morden tree. Also, the oxbow cottonwood may not be really alive anymore, although Rossnagel reported there are still some leaves growing.
In either case, Morden would take the undisputed title of Largest Tree in Manitoba.
All in fun. Fosty is remeasuring Manitoba record and heritage trees for a revised edition of Heritage Trees of Manitoba.
The original Heritage Trees of Manitoba, penned by Vern Hildahl and Martin Benum, is a gem even in its old version. It sells for $3 at the MFA office at 900 Corydon Ave.