by John Brouwer
The cucumber tree is the only native species of magnolia in Canada and the only Canadian trees grow in southwestern Ontario. The tree is more common in the Carolinian forests of eastern United States though more southern varieties can not survive our local climate.
The tree's name comes from the shape of the mature fruit which is an elongated group of pods and bears a slight resemblance to cucumbers. These fruits turn red in late summer. The flowers, although large, are light green and blend in with the long elongated leaves. The leaves are exceptionally long, up to 30 cm.
Cucumber Tree is listed as an endangered species in Ontario and protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act. There are only twelve remaining natural stands of a few trees, located in Norfolk and Niagara counties. Evidently only a couple of these stands are still reproducing. The nearest trees I am aware of are in the Guelph arboretum. Land clearing and habitat loss are the primary culprits for the decline of the species. In order to encourage preservation of its habitat, the Ontario government forgoes land taxes on lands which host a cucumber tree stand. In order to reduce expenses, our finance committee should consider designating some of our acreage, thereby eliminating some $70,000 in annual expenses.
Cucumber trees are considered to be excellent shade trees in Appalachian states. Our local park administrators have generally ignored the potential of native trees. I have never seen a cucumber tree in an Ontario park setting.
The tree was used for native medicine although most specific references appear to be lost. In the 1800's the fruit was used to treat rheumatism. A recent reference notes that a drug now used in heart surgery was first isolated from the bark of the cucumber tree. This illustrates how plants provide a unique pharmacopoeia which have been developed and used by people for thousands of years and continues to be the basis for modern medicine. Habitat destruction and loss of species destroys this heritage.
Last spring a small seedling was planted on the left as one enters the co-op. Another seedling is being planted along the road opposite block 2. Both will require a bit of TLC to become established.