Province aiming to grow P.E.I.'s black ash tree population

Black ash is a rare tree in Island forests, but the province now has a cache of seeds ready to start growing next spring.

After harvesting seeds for the first time last fall, thousands of seeds are ready to germinate

Mary Myers, manager of the J. Frank Gaudet Tree Nursery in Charlottetown, holds black ash tree seeds. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Black ash is a rare tree in Island forests, but the province now has a cache of seeds ready to start growing next spring.

Last fall, members of P.E.I.'s Mi'kmaq community gathered black ash tree seeds from a site in Enmore, in western P.E.I., and forestry staff gathered seed from the Dover Tree Nursery near Murray River.

"Typically a good seed crop is produced about every seven years," said Mary Myers, manager of the J. Frank Gaudet Nursery in Charlottetown. "So last year was the year."

The harvest was small, just a few thousand seeds, according to Myers. 

"A small crop, but still a big moment for us," Myers said. "It's hard to find trees that are healthy enough to produce seed."

The seeds are now tucked away in a bed of peat moss, in snow-covered plots at the provincial nursery in Charlottetown. Come spring, staff will transfer the seeds to greenhouses, where seedlings will be grown for eventual transplant to the wild.

Forestry officials are also watching for the approach of an invasive insect species that's killing ash trees on the mainland.

The emerald ash borer has not been found on P.E.I. yet.

"We're an island. If there's any hope we can keep it at bay we'll try to do that," said Myers.

The ash seeds are spending the winter outdoors at the J. Frank Gaudet Tree Nursery in Charlottetown. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

The federal government continues to set up monitoring stations in Island forests to keep on the lookout for the insect. The province's Invasive Species Council is urging people not to move firewood from place to place. That's believed to be a source of infestation.

Some of the black ash seed collected on P.E.I. was donated to the Canadian Forest Service for its gene conservation work, according to Myers.

Black ash seedlings produced in the nursery should be ready to transplant to the wild in spring of 2021.

Black ash is prized for its use in basket weaving, and other applications.

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