Bench among the trees
Bench among the trees at the Arboretum

The Guelph area has a surprising diversity of tree species, and the Arboretum at the University of Guelph has just the thing to help schoolchildren identify them.

The Arboretum is producing hundreds of “Native Tree Leaves” sheets for distribution to more than 3,000 local Grade 6 students, and is working with the Upper Grand District School Board and the Wellington Catholic District School Board on ways to incorporate the resource into everyday learning.

The Arboretum generally shares its knowledge of trees with kids when school groups visit the expansive, park-like botanical garden on the U of G campus. But director Justine Richardson said with COVID-19 physical distancing measures in place, and with learning from home becoming the norm during the pandemic, the Arboretum is taking a different approach to sharing tree knowledge.

“There’s a biodiversity unit in Grade 6 science that connects really well with trees,” Richardson said. “All of the in-person trips to the Arboretum have been cancelled, so we wanted to put this in the hands of students, so they have something physical in the midst of all the online learning. They are still able to spend time outside, walk and find trees that are native to southern Ontario.”

The 11- x 17-inch sheets feature photographs of the leaves of 52 tree species, from various pine and other conifer species, to maples, oaks, willow, ash and hickory. Each leaf has special characteristics that distinguish it.

The sheet can be used as a guide when exploring trees in neighbourhoods, parks, conservation area trails or at the Arboretum itself, which has been open to walkers throughout the pandemic.

Tree-lined path in U of G's The Arboretum
A tree-lined path at The Arboretum

“Seeing and knowing about the world around us is really important for feeling a connection to nature. We know that connection is good for well-being, and I believe that knowledge leads to conserving nature and taking action to protect it.”

Richardson sees the Native Tree Leaves sheet having a place in home learning this fall. It is a flexible resource, with additional materials on the Arboretum website that an entire family can use, she said.

“Kids are trying to learn online, families are trying to work from home and looking for things to do with their kids,” she said. “This is a physical resource in the home that a kid could do on their own, with a parent or sibling, or a family could take it out together on a walk.”

A national leader in promoting the importance of trees, the Arboretum comprises 165 hectares (400 acres) with more than 1,300 species of trees, shrubs and vines.

Visit the Arboretum’s website to learn about other educational resources, including the many biodiversity sheets compiled by the Arboretum.

The Native Tree Leaves project is supported by experiential learning programs of both local school boards, along with the Ontario Agricultural College dean’s office and OAC Student Liaison office.