Common Hoptree also known as Wafer Ash
by John Brouwer
At the entrance to the co-op, protected by a circular orange plastic fence, is a young hoptree. In Ontario hoptree is a rare Carolinian tree found in some 20 sites along the Lake Erie shoreline and isolated stands in the southwest. Hoptree is a protected tree under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA).
Hoptree grows as a shrub or small tree reaching up to 20 feet in height. Leaves are composed of three leaflets (hence the name trifoliata). Hoptree can grow in extremely tough conditions such as sand beaches as it has a very dense fibrous root system which can anchor itself in sand and extract the last bit of moisture from it. The tree was planted at this particular site in the co-op because the spot is very dry and other saplings did not survive.
Although largely unknown in its native North America, hoptree is a popular landscape tree in Europe.
When crushed the leaves smell very citrusy. It is this citrus smell which results in the tree having a long history of use in native medicine. Infusions made from the bark were used to treat lung ailments and roots were prized as sacred medicine with multiple uses. The clusters of winged fruit produced in the fall are also highly scented and were used as a hop substitute by beer brewers in the last century (origin of the English name).
It is noted in the literature that caterpillars of the rare Giant Swallowtail butterfly feed on the leavers. It may be a few years before we can confirm this. It would be quite an event to see a rare tree supporting a rare butterfly!
The largest population of hoptree in Ontario is found in Point Pelee National Park where they receive habitat protection both under SARA and the National Parks Act. In other areas along Lake Erie populations have been decreasing due to cottage development and beach grooming activities.
Two hoptree saplings have established themselves in the development area between Pine Ridge and Westmount Roads. It will be interesting to see how a developer of the site will be able to accommodate these protected trees within the site design.