Journeys in ancient and old growth forests

Wolf Lake

Wolf Lake is the world's largest remaining old-growth red pine forest, with trees up to 300 years old growing on the shores of clear, aquamarine lakes.

Ontario Old-Growth Forests

A Guidebook complete with history, ecology and maps. Learn how to get to 59 old growth forests throughout Ontario.

Old Trees

Trees in Ontario can live to be over 1,300 years old. Learn about old trees in Ontario and elsewhere in North America.

The Blueberry Lake Ecology Trails


Painting by Liz Lott

Blueberry Lake is a very special place – a beautiful lake surrounded by pristine forest, and centuries-old trees. In the heart of historic Temagami, but only a few hours paddle and a short portage from the Cassels Lake landing, Blueberry Lake is Temagami in a microcosm. It’s Ojibway name is Min Dow-oways-zawning, which means a good place to pick blueberries. The tremendous variety of environments in such a small area invites exploration. Giant cedars and yellow birches; forests of red, white, and Jack pine; bogs with carnivorous pitcher plants and sundews; and a pine forest that burned in a 1996 forest fire – all these things are calling you to leave behind your canoe for a few hours and learn more about them. We invite you to do so, by following our guided tour of the Blueberry Lake trails. Just read on!

The Temagami Landscape

This “glacial erratic” boulder was deposited here during the last ice age 10,000 years ago

Temagami is the region west of Lake Timiskaming, at the headwaters of the Ottawa River. Fire and ice have shaped the landscape we see here; ten thousand years ago ice blanketed Temagami hundreds of meters thick, This glacial erratic boulder was dropped here by a glacier 10,000 years agoand scraped the ancient rock bare. Fire has periodically swept the landscape ever since the ice retreated. Disturbance maintains and renews these forests – again and again on the Blueberry Trails you will see how Temagami forests depend on a fine balance of disturbance for their survival. Too much fire, or too little, and they couldn’t exist. The forests here are in a transition zone between two extremely different forest types, and are a unique and unusual combination of each one. To the south, the maple-dominated hardwood forests are called the “Great Lakes St-Lawrence” forest type. To the north is the boreal forest, also called taiga in Russia and Europe.

Southern hardwood forests usually renew themselves with small disturbances. Older trees blow down or are killed by disease, and saplings that have been growing very slowly under the shady canopy start growing quickly to fill the gaps. Fires may occur every few hundred years, or in very protected spots only every few thousand years. According to scientists some sheltered spots in New England have never burned since the retreat of the glaciers.

Northern boreal forest, on the other hand, is created and re-created by fire. Fires in the boreal forest burn on average around every 100 to 200 years. In places boreal forest may live hundreds of years without burning, in other places much less. But when fires happen in the boreal forest, they are usually catastrophic – they kill all or most trees in the areas that burn. So boreal forest tends to have patches of “even-aged” forest. The dominant tree species in boreal forest are spruce, balsam fir, jack pine, paper birch and aspen.

red pine bark

In Temagami, and on the Blueberry Trails, in more moist undisturbed areas you will see maple-dominated forests reminiscent of southern forests, and Puzzle pieces of red pine barkyou will see patches of boreal forest that have been renewed by catastrophic fire. You will also see an entirely different forest type that thrives in the transition zone – red and white pine forest.

Red and white pine are perfectly adapted to exist in this transition zone. These species, particularly red pine, depend on fire to renew the forest – fires in pine forests are more frequent even than in the boreal forest. But red and white pine have extremely thick fire resistant bark, and most fires aren’t hot enough to kill the mature trees. The frequent fires that burn the highly flammable layer of pine needles on the forest floor and kill the competing understorey of shrubs and tree saplings, are called surface fires. Surface fires also prepare the soil for the pine seedlings to grow by exposing a seedbed and releasing a flush of nutrients that were held in the thick carpet of needles. Charcoal Trail is a good place to see a surface fire that happened just a few years ago.

Some History

The Temagami region is the homeland of the Teme-Augama Anishnabai, who have hunted and trapped here for over 5,000 years. The Teme Augama Anishnabai, who never signed a treaty ceding their traditional lands, have been fighting for recognition since European settlement, logging, mining and tourism began over a century ago. They have been virtually excluded from development decisions affecting their lands.

The Teme-Augama Anishnabai people lived with the forests for thousands of years without dramatically changing them, though they used trees to construct shelter, to build canoes, and they occasionally burned areas to get a good blueberry crop. They also used an extensive network of trails to travel the land hunting and trapping throughout the year. These trails, called Nastawgan, are often still used today as portages, though their ancient beginnings may be forgotten by most people who use them. Historically a Nastawgan lead from the east arm of Blueberry Lake, southward through two lakes and down a wetland stream to Lorraine Lake. This same portage later became part of the first portage route to the Town of Temagami from lake Timiskaming and the Ottawa River. Parts of this old portage have recently been reopened, but it has been re-routed to Rabbit Lake.

With the arrival of Europeans here, the future for the forest changed dramatically. From the time of the first settlers in the 1600’s until this century, white and red pine wood was considered to be the ideal for construction lumber because it is light and rot resistant. Until the mid to late 1800’s virtually all the construction lumber cut in North America was white and red pine. In that time literally millions of white and red pine trees, some as much as 2m (six feet) in diameter and 60 m (18 stories) high, were cut. White and red pine literally founded two nations – the pioneer homes, the factories, and the workshops, in Canada and the United States were made from pine for nearly three centuries. Temagami was one of the last refuges of the old growth pine forest – today most of the old growth in Temagami has also been logged, but it still has the greatest concentration of old growth white and red pine remaining in the world.

A white pine log
A white pine log

Temagami is part of the Ottawa Valley, which was home to some of Canada’s most productive pinelands. The Ottawa River was an important logging corridor for white and red pine throughout the 19th Century and after, during which time millions of pine logs were floated to mills in Bytown (now Ottawa). Because Temagami was at the headwaters of the Ottawa and hard to access, it mostly escaped logging until the turn of the century. But as other pine forests vanished, eyes turned to Temagami. In 1900 a Globe reporter wrote that Temagami ‘is one of the finest timber districts in the province, having an abundance of white and red pine in virgin forest.’ Even now after a century of logging Temagami is home to some of the oldest and most dense pine forest in eastern North America, with towering trees as old as 400 years or more. It has many of the last remnants of forests that were once common.

These forests are controversial. Many people want to cut the last old growth pine forests to create jobs in communities that traditionally have depended on logging. Corporations with head offices in Toronto and Montreal also see them as a source of short -term profits. But others in the same communities see the forest as a as a long-term investment; a source of employment for towns that, like Temagami, now earn most of their revenues from tourism. This conflict between tourist users, the forest industry, and natives, has existed for nearly a century in Temagami, during which time the forest industry has usually come out on top. Only lately, in the battle for the last fragments of old growth, is that beginning to change.

“We know one thing, if our land dies, we die. This land, along with the seasons affecting it, is our touchstone to past life and the gateway to future life, both human and non-human. To ensure future life, this road is closed forever. There will be no Red Squirrel Extension or Pinetorch Road.”

– Gary Potts, Chief of the Teme Augama Anishnabai during the 1989 protest.

In 1989, Temagami was the site of the largest act of civil disobedience in the history of Ontario (and at the time, in all of Canada), with 360 arrests of protestors blocking road-building equipment on red squirrel road. It was an event that had been building for decades, since the Teme Augama Anishnabai went to court to block a development on their sacred grounds at Maple Mountain in the 1970’s. Also since Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park was formed in the 1970’s, protecting a large wilderness area but little old growth forest. The protest had its roots in the past century that the Teme-Augama Anishnabai have been fighting for more recognition of their rights. Native people began the protest, fighting destructive forest practices and asking for more control over their lands, but it was quickly joined by conservation groups like the Temagami Wilderness Society. The non-violent protests saved the Obabika North old growth stand, the largest old growth red and white pine stand in the world, and resulted in a process that would ultimately protect more than half the remaining old growth pine in Temagami.

Logging around Cassels Lake (formerly known as White Bear Lake) began in 1946 when Gillies Bros. & Co. built a sawmill on the shore of Cassels Lake, across from what is now called White Bear Forest. You can still see evidence of this mill – a large red barn that is still standing on the north shore of the lake was used for storage, and some of the foundations of the mill can be seen farther down the shore. Most of the forest near Blueberry Lake was logged in the 1940’s, but Blueberry’s shores mostly escaped the logging. Only a part of the west shore of Blueberry was logged at the time. The portage trail between Cassels and Blueberry lake was used as a winter road to haul pine cut from the west shore and areas north of Blueberry, down to Cassels Lake, to be floated to the mill in the spring. At that time logs were carried on horse-drawn sleds, and pine trees were cut using two-man cross-cut saws. Within the next decades gas chainsaws replaced the muscle-powered crosscut saws, and horses were replaced by skidders. The old growth that’s left in the Blueberry Lake area probably survived because of a combination of luck, and steep topography that made logging difficult – at the time there was a lot of other pine that was easier to get out.

Getting There

Lakes east of the Town of Temagami, though very scenic, receive fewer visitors than those lakes to the west generally do, and you may find your Shangri-La there. Blueberry Lake is most easily accessed by canoe – you can visit it for a weekend, or make it part of a longer canoe trip. The quickest way to get to Blueberry Lake is to start at Cassels Lake landing. To get to the Cassels Lake landing, turn east just south of the Temagami train station in downtown Temagami. Shortly after crossing the train tracks make another left turn, and within a minute or two you’ll reach Cassels Lake. To reach the main canoe launch cross the small causeway and continue 4 km (5 km total from the town of Temagami). Blueberry Lake can be reached in under two hours, including a 450 m portage. Other canoe routes also pass near Blueberry Lake and continue down Rabbit Lake, or into Lorraine Lake. For more information consult Hap Wilson’s book Temagami Canoe Routes, or ask at one of the canoe outfitters in town.


There are two established campsites on Blueberry Lake, both located in ancient pine forest. The north campsite near the wetlands is large enough for at least 3-4 tents, though the landing is poor. Follow a well-used trail from the shore to the body of the campsite, which is at the top of the slope where the ridge flattens out. The site has a nice campfire area with stone benches. The site on the east shore opposite the large island has space for 1 or 2 tents, it is marked by a big rock that is fracturing into tall thin slices, and looks like a loaf of bread. Land just to the left. The swimming is good here. There are a few other campsites on Cassels and Rabbit Lakes that are fairly close to Blueberry. There is a good site on Cassels Lake, in old pine forest just across from the head of the Cassels-Blueberry portage (see map). If you camp on Blueberry you will be camping in pristine forests – please be respectful. Follow these guidelines:

Stick to established trails when moving around the campsite. Especially avoid walking on areas of lichen, which are very fragile and slow-growing.
Always burn (preferable) or bury compost, and pack out all plastic, metal, and glass.
When you do your business, dig a hole which is 6-8 inches deep (deeper is not better). Locate at least 30m (~100 ft.) away from bodies of water, and avoid steep slopes or saturated soils.
Use soap sparingly and rinse off on land.

Introducing the Trails


Blueberry Lake is outstanding for its ecological diversity. The ecology trails explore some of this diversity.

The Old Growth Trail explores several distinct forest types, and will help you to understand why each of them is there, and what is happening to this day. It is the longest trail, and has the greatest interpretive value of all the trails; it explores a greater diversity of old growth forest than any other trail in the Temagami region. A number of interpretive trail signs lead you on the old growth tour. Allow 2-3 hours to hike the entire trail.

Blueberry Trail climbs onto a high red-pine ridge; a rare opportunity to spend time in a pure red pine forest, and a nice place to relax and enjoy a great view after the climb. Careful: sections of the trail are steep and rugged.

Charcoal Trail explores an area of mixed red and white pine forest that burned in 1996. Most of the mature trees survived, but the shrubs and understorey plants were killed. Don’t miss this opportunity to see a great illustration of red and white pine fire ecology in action! You can see it in as little as half an hour.

The wetlands north of Blueberry lake (near charcoal trail) are a good spot to see three carnivorous plant species: pitcher plant, sundew, and bladderwort. No hiking is required

If you follow the portage at the end of the east arm of Blueberry, you’ll see a beautiful old-growth cedar and yellow birch forest.

Old-Growth Trail


A Large White Pine Tree Pileated Woodpecker Cavities Bark Beetle Galleries Fire Scars on Red Pines lightning strikes Jack-pine Cones Old Red Pine Trees Old Poplar Forest Reindeer Lichen

Explore old-growth red and white pine forest, and jack pine, poplar, and sugar-maple forest along this trail. Have you wondered what old growth forest is, how old it is? Or what’s the difference between old growth and ancient forest? The answers to these and many other questions await you…

As you hike the old-growth trail, you’ll follow the portage to Dalton Lake for the first 50 meters or so. The aluminum portage sign here was posted just after World War II. To follow the interpretive trail look for a turn to the right. You’ll climb out of the cedar valley and into pine forest. Cedar and yellow birch trees thrive in the moist valley, while pine is more common on the drier uplands. A white pine giant a metre across greets you to the old growth forest.

White Pine


White pine needles grow in bundles of 5

White pine is eastern North America’s largest tree species. Historically they were known to have grown over 60 m (180 ft) tall and to reach 2m (6 ft) in diameter. Nearly all of these giants were cut during the early period of logging, mostly before loggers even arrived in Temagami. A 19th Century lumberjack describes the felling of one of the great white pines this way:

“It’s trunk was as straight and handsomely grown as a moulded candle and measured six feet in diameter six feet from the ground… in length 140 feet, about 65 of which was free from limbs, and retained it’s diameter remarkably well. I was employed about an hour and a quarter felling it. It is thrilling business to bring those great pines down. The ground trembles under the strokes, while the reverberating echo of it’s fall, as it rings through the mountains and valleys, may, on a still morning, be heard six or eight miles.”

White pine can be recognized by it’s relatively long (5-7 cm), soft needles growing in bundles of five. They stay on the tree for only two years before falling, which is quite a short time for a conifer. The bark of young trees is smooth and grey-green, but as they age white pines develop thick ridged bark that is light grey in colour. If you look closely you’ll see that it is made up of small platelets that are very tightly stuck together. White pine seedlings grow best in light shade. The seeds are a favourite food for many animals.

Old Growth

A historic grove of white pine in Algonquin Park
A historic grove of white pine in Algonquin Park

Trees as big or bigger than the one you can see by the trail were once commonplace in Temagami – many have been cut in just the last 50 years. White pine can live longer than 500 years, but this particular tree is probably not more than 200 years old – so why do we call it old growth? Old growth can be defined in many ways, but generally trees are considered old growth when their rate of growth starts to slow down. For red and white pine trees this happens at around 140 years old. Old growth is becoming very rare because of the way forests are managed. Although the tight growth rings of old trees make wood very valuable, foresters manage for the high fibre production of young forests, and aim to cut trees before they reach the old growth stage. Foresters often call old growth forest “overmature,” even though many of the old growth forests we see today would be better characterised as ‘middle aged.’

In contrast, ‘ancient forest’ is forest that has never been logged. Old growth is one type of ancient forest, however, ancient forest can also be much younger since fires or windstorms naturally kill areas of forest. Both young and old ancient forest are important to science because they are a place to study natural processes, and a benchmark to measure the effects of management against. Without an understanding of ancient forest to guide us we are practicing blind forest management. Young and old ancient forests are different from managed forests in a number of ways, but most noticeably ancient forests have a legacy of dead wood from the forest that came before. Even hot fires rarely burn the trunks of living trees, they just kill them and leave them standing. The legacy of the dead trees can be as important to wildlife as living trees are, sometimes even more important!

The Life of Dead Trees

Pileated woodpecker feeding cavities

As you walk a little further up the trail you’ll see a standing dead tree (a “snag”) with deep excavations from pileated woodpeckers mining for insects in the wood. Old growth forest usually Cavities excavated by a pileated woodpeckerhas many logs and snags – pine trees can take hundreds of years to break down completely. These dead trees come to life again – some downed trees, or logs, rotting on the ground have been found to support more living cells than when the tree was alive! Logs and snags offer food and shelter for many kinds of wildlife. Woodpeckers, flying squirrels, martens, tree swallows, many owls and song-birds make their homes in cavities found in both dead and living trees.

A Quick Guide to Tree Cavities

The most prolific cavity-makers in the woods are pileated woodpeckers, since they are the only woodpecker in the region that excavates sizeable cavities for feeding. These large birds generally make large oblong or rectangular cavities, looking for carpenter ants or wood-boring beetles deep in the wood. They also excavate deep cavities for their nests which are re-used by many owls, ducks, and other animals. Pileated woodpeckers reached very low numbers a few decades ago as many of the remaining old forests were logged or cleared for other reasons. Lately their numbers have been rebounding somewhat, and they may be adapting to younger forests.

Although they don’t make cavities for feeding, hairy and downy woodpeckers, and sapsuckers excavate small, deep, perfectly round cavities for their nests. Active nests show very fresh wood. Older cavities may be taken over by a variety of other creatures, such as wrens, nuthatches, or flying squirrels.

Medium-sized cavities 5-10 cm in diameter are excavated by northern flickers, and three-toed, black-backed, or red-headed woodpeckers. These can be re-used by wood ducks, and a variety of owls, among others.

sapsuckerThey don’t make cavities for feeding, but sapsuckers leave their signature drilled into livingA sapsucker’s feeding pattern trees all over the forest. You will never mistake a sapsucker’s feeding marks, because their small round holes are laid out in rows with geometrical precision. They are not so much interested in the sap as the insects that get stuck in it. They return later to harvest the trapped insects. Cavities also form naturally as trees rot; flying squirrels are often found nesting in hollows that form as branch stubs rot out of old trees. Heart rot in old trees can make large cavities that many animals use for shelter.

Nurse Logs

The last gift that a tree makes to the forest is to complete the circle as a “nurse log” for new tree seedlings. Very decayed wood holds far more water than the soil around it, and may serve as an ideal seedbed. A well-known old-growth ecologist named Chris Maser has won bets in bars by squeezing large amount of water out of rotten wood. The moist environment under logs is a good spot to look for salamanders, which breathe directly through their skin and can’t live in dry environments. Salamanders feed on many insects and other small invertebrates. The decaying wood, and the fungi and bacteria that are consuming it, feeds a distinct food chain in and around the log.

Fungi in the Forest

p17-fungi-rd47We’ve all eaten fungi before – the most visible stage of a fungus is a mushroom. Mushrooms are a very short-lived structure that is meant to spread the spores of the fungus to new food sources. You could compare the mushroom to an apple, but the main body of the fungus (the apple tree) is hidden from sight. The body of a fungus is millions of tiny strands woven through the soil, through decaying wood, and sometimes through living plant tissue. Wood-rotting fungi are usually thought of as pests that rot our decks, houses, etc. But in nature most are beneficial, in fact forests couldn’t grow without them because of their ability to recycle nutrients trapped in dead wood. Fungi also break down the leaf litter that builds up on the floor of the forest. If you see tiny mushrooms growing out of the ground, look at the base of one and you may find that it’s growing from a pine needle that it has been feeding on.

Many of the mushrooms that you see in the forest aren’t decomposing anything, but rather they obtain their energy from living plants. Sometimes they are parasites, but more often they are living in a partnership with the plants that is beneficial to both. These fungi are called ‘mycorrhizae’, which translates as ‘fungus roots’. The fungus feeds on sugars obtained from the plant, and in return, it gives back nutrients that the plant needs to grow. Fungi are better at collecting many nutrients than plants are, partly because of their very fine threadlike bodiesFly agaric: a mycorrhizal fungus which maximize nutrient absorption. Fungi can also decompose organic matter near the plant roots, freeing up nutrients and facilitating nutrient uptake by the plant. Mycorrhizae even help the plant defend against root diseases.

The Fly Agaric is a mycorrhizal fungus

From 90 to 95 per cent of plant species, including trees, typically form these mycorrhizal associations. As much as one fifth of all the energy taken up by the plant may be transferred to the fungus. It’s more important to some plants than others. For example, orchids nearly always have mycorrhizal associations. In fact, because orchid seeds are so tiny (often having as few as 10 cells!), they have no stored energy and rely on soil fungi after germination to provide sugars and nutrients for growth. The energy flow in this case actually flows from the fungus to the orchid, until it is established. Some orchids have become parasites on the fungus, and never become self-sufficient. These orchids are totally white, with no chlorophyll to capture the sun’s energy. Another (non-orchid) plant you will see that takes advantage of mycorrhizal fungi in this way is indian pipe; it’s curious-looking white stalks bend over at the top like a pipe. Many common mushrooms are mycorrhizal, for example fly agaric, which is a distinctive red or orange mushroom with white spots (it is also poisonous). Morels are mycorrhizal but can also act as decomposers.

Bark Beetles

Bark beetle galleries
Bark beetle galleries

Notice how many dead logs and snags you pass as you walk up the hill. Soon you’ll step over a log where the wood is beautifully decorated with the amazing patterns of bark beetle galleries.Galleries carved out by bark beetles on a log. Bark beetles mate and lay their eggs under the bark of dead or dying trees. The larvae burrow under the bark eating the soft nutritious tissue next to the wood. This inner bark is the growth area of the tree, and it is the same food that beavers eat. If you’re ever hungry enough you may wish to eat it yourself (poplar and birch are the most nutritious). The larvae burrow outwards from where the eggs were laid in a pattern which is often specific to the particular species of bark beetle. There are about 500 species of bark beetles in North America. The parent beetles carry spores of specific fungi in special places on their head or thorax. The beetles transport the fungus under the bark of the tree, where it grows on the inner bark and on the wood surface. The beetle larvae feed on both the decaying wood and the fungus. Not all bark beetles wait for a tree to be dead or dying before laying their eggs under the bark. For example, Dutch elm disease is carried by a bark beetle, which burrows under the bark of healthy elm trees, inoculating the tree with the fungus that causes the disease. The fungus grows in the vessels of the wood, blocking water transport and eventually killing the tree. Both the beetles and the fungus benefit from the freshly killed tree.

An Old Grandfather Tree

As you climb the slope look around at the forest. Do you notice how many pine seedlings and saplings are growing here? Old growth forest is often made up of trees of all ages, and is self-renewing, though this is not always true.

How old do you think the oldest trees in this forest are? Many of the bigger red pines here, which are up to 60 cm (2 ft) in diameter, are 250 years old. Along the trail you’ll find a tree core mounted on a sign next to the tree that it was drilled from. A tree core is a thin round section of wood that is extracted from a living tree. On the core you can see the annual growth rings of the tree – each dark line is one year’s growth.

The seed for that tree fell here and germinated after a fire that occurred around 1750. It grew quite quickly at first, and by the time Bytown (now Ottawa) was founded in 1800 it was about 20 cm (8”) in diameter. Ottawa became the centre for logging operations for most of the Ottawa River Valley throughout the 1800’s, and at one time there were nine operating sawmills in the city, mostly milling pine. By confederation (1867) this tree was close to 40 cm (14”) in diameter, and when the railway came through Temagami in 1906, disrupting native lifestyles and changing the face of Temagami forever, it had grown only another five centimeters or so (two inches). By 1946 when Gillies Bros. & Co. opened a mill on Cassels Lake and started cutting most of the

Red Pine

pine around it, trees like this one were big enough to bother with, about 45 cm (18 inches) – but they were growing on a steep slope, where it was simply too much trouble to cut them and sled them out. Only now, as pines of that size have become so rare that companies are lining up to get them, the future of the forests around Blueberry Lake are in doubt again.

Red Pine

Red pine is easy to recognize because of its red puzzle-piece bark. It has long (7-10 cm) stiff needles in bundles of two. The needles decompose slowly, and form a carpet on the ground which is often too thick for seeds to grow through, and which is very flammable. Red pine trees drop most of their lower branches as they grow, giving red pine forest a cathedral-like feel of tall columns holding up a roof of needles. The seedlings need a lot of light to grow, and the small seeds don’t have enough stored energy to grow through thick needle litter that is typical of red pine stands. Thus red pine depend on fire to prepare a seedbed by burning the litter layer, and killing competing plants.


This tree has two fire-scars, marking an intense fire history
This tree has two fire-scars, marking an intense fire history

Near the top of the ridge the forest is younger and made up mostly of red pine trees. West-facing ridges like this one often have frequent fires because they are dried out by the hottest afternoon sun, and because prevailing west winds feed fires as they burn up the slope. Signs of fire are everywhere here – charcoal on snags, and church door fire scars at the base of living trees. Fire scars are caused when fires sweep along the ground and kill the bark on one side of the tree, usually the up-wind or up-hill side (not all fires are hot enough to cause a fire scar). Because of their fire-resistant bark, and high branches that stay above the fire, red pine trees often survive and start to grow over the fire-scar. On this ridge you’ll see many trees with two fire-scars. While the trees were growing back over the first scar, another fire occurred and killed the bark again. The more frequent these surface fires are, the more red pine you’ll find, since few trees can survive fire as well as red pine can. Red pines have been known to have six or more fire-scars and still be healthy.

Fire suppression has reduced natural red pine regeneration throughout the range of the species. If we want future generations to be able to enjoy natural red pine forest, we may have to consider letting some forest fires burn.

You’ll walk past a number of wind-thrown and wind-snapped trees from a 1999 windstorm, then you come out on a view over Dalton and Blueberry Lakes. This view is featured in the cover painting by artist Liz Lott. The forests you walk through now, along the east of the ridge, were started by a catastrophic fire. Fires haven’t burned here since that hot fire about 120 years ago. You’ll see pioneer tree species, including poplar, birch and jack pine, some of which have begun to die. These are gradually being replaced by the much longer-lived white and red pine, and shade-tolerant red maples, balsam fir and spruce trees.

The red maples and the nearby ridge-top wetland have attracted many moose to feed here. If you search the ground you should find moose scat (feces), which looks like over-sized deer scat (or chocolate-covered almonds). You’ll also see snapped over red maples (“moose rubs”) that bull moose rub their antlers against to get off the velvet. And you’ll see red maples stripped of patches of bark where moose have ripped it Lightning left a long spiral scar on this paper to eat in lean winter months.

Struck by Lightning

Typical scar left by a lightning strike
Typical scar left by a lightning strike

What causes the fires that have renewed the forests for millennia? Human carelessness is usually blamed, and it is a big culprit. But lightning strikes are the greatest cause of fires, responsible for nearly three quarters of forest fires. However, most lightning strikes DON’T cause fires, and trees often survive being struck by lightning. You’ll find a particularly destructive lightning strike on a white pine tree beside the trail. This one is very fresh, but if you keep your eyes open along the trail you should see old lightning strikes that have nearly completely healed over, leaving only a long vertical scar spiraling around the trunk of the tree. Imagine all the lightning strikes that happen in a single thunderstorm – isn’t it amazing that fires happen as infrequently as they do?

Jack Pine Cones

Another tree that depends on the fires that occasionally sweep the landscape is jack pine. Jack pine can be distinguished from the other pines by its short, twisty needles in bundles of two, and brown, flaky bark. Jack pine is almost entirely dependent on fire for its continued survival, but unlike red pine it has thin bark and is easily killed by most fires. Red pine depends on frequent surface fires to survive, but jack pine needs infrequent hot, catastrophic fires to renewJack Pine Cones itself. The cones of jack pine are the key. They are completely sealed shut, trapping the seeds inside, and they hang onto the branches waiting for a fire to come along. The cones are sealed with resins which usually only melt in the heat of a fire, letting the seeds rain down to the scorched

ground beneath to start a new forest. After a fire, jack pine seedlings form amazingly dense carpets, as years of accumulated seeds rain down and germinate. Without a fire, even if the cones eventually open in the hot sun the small seeds can only rarely grow through all the leaf litter accumulated on the soil surface, which fires will usually burn away. Jack pine and red pine, both fire-dependent species, have evolved these very different strategies to deal with fires.

Jack Pine

A Windthrow

Walk down the hill and alongside the tipped up roots of a wind-throw. Note how the roots were very shallow, spreading across the soil surface but not digging deep into the ground. This is because the soil here is too wet for the roots to grow deep, which made the tree more vulnerable to being blown over in a windstorm.

Forest Succession

A little further along you come into an old poplar forest. Poplar trees live relatively short and intense lives that are typical of pioneer tree species. They grow very quickly and are one of the first trees to leaf out and begin growing in the spring. The bark of poplars has a greenish tinge because it absorbs the sun’s energy and photosynthesizes. The tender fast-growing leaves are protected from insects by a simple but ingenious method. The stem of each leaf is flat, not round like on most plants. The flat stems let the leaf twist back and forth, to tremble and shimmer in the wind, and insects simply fall off.

The light seeds of poplars can blow for miles in the wind where they may find an open, disturbed spot to grow. But because they are so light they don’t have enough stored energy to grow through the layer of leaves that carpets a forest floor, and even if they do establish under their parents’ canopy, the young seedlings often die from insufficient light. Poplars are true pioneers – by the time their relatively short lifespans of a couple of hundred years are over, the poplar forest has often become some other kind of forest, unless a big windstorm, or a fire happens first. This process is called “forest succession,” and you can see it in action in the old poplar forest, which is slowly becoming a sugar maple forest. The sugar maples, with large heavy seeds, and the ability to grow slowly even in very dense shade, are gradually growing up under the canopy waiting for some of the old poplars to die and let them take their place in the sun. The sugar maples here are reaching into the canopy in places, but there are also many small seedlings and saplings. This hardwood forest, unusual for Temagami, shelters a few plant species that are rare to the region, Among them is Indian cucumber root, which has edible cucumber-like roots (but please don’t eat them here since they are regionally rare!)

Black Spruce Layering

Black Spruce layering
Black Spruce layering

Dense, bushy black spruce patches flank the trail in places after you leave the hardwood stand. One way that black spruce trees reproduce themselves is called layering. Black spruce branches often grow drooping toward the ground. branches that touch the ground are gradually covered with Black spruce layeringneedles, and start to sprout roots. In time, even if the parent tree dies, these new off-shoots will be independent. They are clones of the original tree, and remain joined. It’s common for black spruce to reproduce this way, and the large colonies that form are essentially all one tree. After passing near a small lake, you’ll find yourself in a 220 year old red pine stand. Look around for some of the old growth features you’ve already seen, like nurse logs and woodpecker cavities. Shade tolerant sugar maple and white pine are growing under these old red pines. White pine are moderately shade tolerant, and grow well in light shade. Without fire, these red pines will eventually be replaced by sugar maple and white pine trees, but this will take centuries.

A Hilltop Fen

You’ll come to a better view of the hilltop wetland that you passed earlier. This wetland is formed by a depression in the solid granite of the Canadian Shield. Little fens and bogs like this are common on broad ridges, reminding us that these forest are growing on a shallow blanket of soil over solid bedrock. A fen like this will gradually fill in with dead plant material, and be colonized with moisture loving trees like black spruce and tamarack. The process is called primary succession, because a forest is colonizing where there never was one before. Secondary succession takes place following forest disturbances like fire or logging, and you’ve seen examples of it along several parts of the trail.


Reindeer Lichen
Reindeer Lichen

Another example of primary succession is the colonization of bare rock by plants. Usually the first pioneer on bare rock are a hybrid organism, half-plant and half-fungus, called a lichen. Lichens are the ultimate cooperative venture. The main body of the lichen is the fungus, but the Reindeer Lichenfungus can’t live or grow at all without making a partnership with algae, which grow inside them. Algae are primitive microscopic plants commonly found in water and in the soil, which, like most plants, harvest the sun’s energy through photosynthesis. Some of the sugars produced in photosynthesis by the algae are taken up by the fungus. It uses the energy to grow and make more shelter for algae to colonize. Lichens have no roots, they depend on rain or dew to provide water for them to grow. Between rainfalls they dry out and go dormant – they can stay dormant for months or years if necessary. Lichens grow on rocks, trees, and thin soil where nothing else can grow, and they grow very slowly. Crusts of lichen on rocks often grow in circular patches, growing outwards from the middle. Colonies of lichen may be hundreds, or as with the case of arctic lichens, sometimes even thousands of years old. Reindeer lichen forms carpets on the ground, and looks like a pale greyish-green moss. Because of this, and because it’s an important food of reindeer (caribou) it is commonly called reindeer moss. The carpet of reindeer lichen you are walking through might take 20 or 30 years to grow as tall as it is now.
Soon you’ll be back at the trail junction where a left turn takes you back to your canoe. You may wish to visit some of the other trails on Blueberry Lake. Charcoal Trail will take you to a recent example of the fires that shaped much of the Temagami landscape. Or if you would like to see another sun-dappled red pine ridge, beautiful views, and maybe stop at a nice spot for lunch, visit Blueberry Trail.

Charcoal Trail

charcoalCharcoal Trail is a short trail that leads up to a 1996 forest fire that was started when a white pine tree was hit by lightning. The fire killed many of the trees around the lightning strike then burned along the ground under the pine trees, killing a few of them and most of the understorey of spruce, fir, cedar and birch. Most of the pine trees, because of very thick bark and high branches that stayed above the fire, were unharmed. The trail leads up the burn and then stops. Notice the difference in the shrub layer between the burned area and the unharmed forest you just walked out of. If you like, walk around in the burn – it’s open, and the walking is good, but be careful to remember where you came from so you can get back to the trail!!

Blueberry Trail

Blueberry Trail leads up the side of an escarpment and along it’s edge, through a beautiful and rare pure red pine forest. The trail is steep and difficult in spots, and flat and open in other places. Although it may seem like young forest, it has never been logged. This forest regenerated after a hot fire roughly 120 years ago. At this age we consider this a young old-growth forest. Don’t let size fool you either – at the end of the trail you’ll find a sign marking a tree that is 100 years old but only 8 inches in diameter. On the dry, thin soil, trees grow very slowly. Surprisingly, despite the small size of many of these trees, this red pine forest is currently threatened with logging. It’s one sign of the uncertain future of our industrial logging practices, which are consuming tomorrow’s today.

Old Growth Cedar and Yellow Birch

White cedar and yellow birch giants are found near the portage leading east out of Blueberry Lake (see map). Many ferns and clubmosses may be found in this moist, protected environment. Clubmosses are primitive plants that never evolved more than one vein to each leaf. Forests of clubmosses dominated the earth 300 million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period (when coal was being formed). Besides being much smaller, modern clubmosses are little changed from their ancestors. Wolf’s claw, stiff and shining clubmoss, as well as ground pine occur here. Nurse logs are very important seedbeds for cedar and yellow birch trees; keep your eyes open for the logs carpeted with little seedlings.

The Wetlands

There is no trail for the wetlands, just follow the nose of your canoe up the inlet stream that feeds Blueberry Lake. The deepest channel is along the east shore. Look for three species of carnivorous plants here – the first one is under your canoe. If you keep your eyes open you may see a lacy plant floating underwater with a network of very fine leaves and tiny pouches or ‘bladders’ attached, a millimeter or two across. These are traps for tiny unsuspecting creatures who swim by. The victims spring the trap by hitting trigger hairs that open the bladder suddenly. The suction from the bladder opening sucks in the prey, and the bladder closes just as suddenly, trapping the small creature which is then digested. Bladderworts, like all ‘carnivorous’ plants, get their energy from the sun, and catch prey and digest them only for the nutrients they contain. They don’t ‘eat’ the organisms at all, in the sense we think of it. It’s more like taking a vitamin pill. The other carnivorous plants you can see here are on the floating sphagnum mat alongside the course of the stream.

Pitcher plants are small vases, or pitchers, about 15 to 30 cm (six to 12 inches) high that fill with water. The sides of the pitcher are lined with downward-pointing hairs. Unsuspecting insects fall into the water, drown there, and are digested.

Sundews are more active at trapping insects, and are quite small – often less than five centimeters (two inches) across, and low to the ground. Their leaves are little more than a centimeter across, fringed with red hairs, each with a sticky drop on the end. These sticky little dew-drops attract insects who get stuck in them, causing the whole leaf and all the hairs to close slowly over the victim, trapping it and digesting it.

If you continue up the inlet stream that feeds these wetlands, you’ll find a rough portage to a large system of wetlands and ponds to the north-east. This is a place to explore in high water, and potentially to see moose. Along with an abundance of the carnivorous plants you’ve already seen, you’ll find cranberries trailing across the moss here. Much of the forest north of this wetland system is allocated for logging – by the time you read this, you will likely have a good opportunity to see some shelterwood logging up-close.

Shelterwood logging

Shelterwood logging is a form of even-aged logging in which some of the trees (usually half, in pine forest) are cut and the others are left to seed into new gaps created by logging. Following the germination of the next crop of seeds the remaining mature trees serve as shelter for the small regenerating trees. In about 20 to 30 years these remaining trees are cut. For this reason critics of the system often call it a “two-stage clearcut.” Since 1995 shelterwood cuts have been the harvest method used in Ontario’s white and red pine dominated stands, because they emulate the fire ecology of these forests more closely than clearcuts do. But without actual fire, the pines are often still regenerating poorly after the logging. Fire, unlike logging, naturally prepares a seedbed by burning the thick pine needle litter and killing competition.

The Future for Blueberry Lake

The forests around Blueberry Lake may have been discovered too late. Ancient and old growth forests are as valued by the forest industry as they are by the tourism and outdoor recreation industries. Poor forest management in the past has left little for anyone to use or enjoy today. Much of the forest north of Blueberry Lake and possibly even the large red pine stand that Blueberry Trail runs through, is scheduled to be logged in the next five years. The future for the stands around Blueberry looks bleak, even though it’s among the closest old growth areas to the Town of Temagami.

If you enjoyed the forest, you can help by writing to the Ministry of Natural Resources and asking to have the shores of Blueberry Lake set aside from logging. Write to:

Ministry of Natural Resources, North bay district. 3301 Trout Lake Rd., North Bay, ON, P1A 4L7


Ancient Forest Exploration & Research RR#4. Powassan, ON, P0H 1Z0

Friends of Temagami Box 398, Temagami, Ontario. P0H 2H0

Earthroots 401 Richmond St. W, Suite 410, Toronto, ON, M5V 3A8

Ontario Wildlands League Suite 380, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto, ON, M5V 3A8

About this Guidebook

Written By Michael Henry and Peter Quinby
Photos, maps and illustrations by Michael Henry
Cover painting by Liz Lott
Trail design and layout by Michael Henry and Thomas Lee

Thanks to Canada Trust Friends of the Environment Fund for financial assistance, and special thanks to all of the volunteer trail builders!