Toronto’s Celebrity Tree—Red Oak is More Than Just a Pretty Face

Red Oak of Weston
The Red Oak tree in the four seasons of its glory.

The Red Oak of Weston is one of the oldest trees in the city. Its leaves have cast shade on passersby as early as the late 18th century.

“Back then, it sat near the Carrying Place Trail,” said the Toronto Star in an article about the tree in May, “an ancient footpath between the Humber River and Lake Simcoe, [a path] that First Nations people and later French coureurs des bois used as a trading route.”

But that trail is long gone, replaced by older residential homes. As the tree grew, it squeezed against a bungalow. Now that bungalow is for sale and whoever buys the house also owns the tree.

Edith George is a powerful publicist for the tree, as well as an amateur historian. “There’s a reason why all these owners from 1840 never used the axe,” George told the Star. “They know this tree is special.”

On July 8 2015, Toronto City Council deferred a motion for the city to acquire the property and the tree until September 30, 2015.

Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker declares he “will move heaven and earth to protect this tree.”
But if historical significance and ascetic beauty are not enough to protect the tree, perhaps the amount of carbon it stores will turn a head or two.

The tree stands at about 24 metres (75 feet) and its circumference is 16.4 feet (diameter 159 cm).
In 2006, the biomass of the tree was determined to be just less than 23 tons. Since carbon makes up 50% of the dry biomass, the tree contains 11.5 tons of carbon.

“This tree is an extraordinary carbon storage container,” says Alice Casselman, Founding President of the Association for Canadian Education Resources (ACER), an organization that brings people and communities together as citizen scientists to monitor and respond to the impact of climate change.

“But what many people don’t understand is that the storage of carbon in trees only works as long as those trees are left to grow. The minute they are cut down, die or burned, that carbon is released back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.”

“Once the tree dies, the carbon stored in the tree will be recombined with the oxygen that was separated by the chlorophyll as the tree initially absorbed CO2. The weight of the re-combined elements—carbon and oxygen—is almost four times the weight of the carbon initially stored. For this red oak tree, more than 42 tons of carbon dioxide would be released. By comparison, the average car emits about six tons of carbon dioxide each year.

“There is 250 years of stored carbon in that tree. If the decomposition of the tree is slow, the release of the CO2 is slow. If the tree is burned the release of the CO2 is sudden, like all the trees burning the forest fires in Western Canada right now.”

If you’d like to calculate the carbon stored in your favourite tree, check out the carbon calculator at www.acer-acre.ca.