Alberta’s Heritage Trees: The Lonely, Leaning Jack Pine

Posted on: June 4, 2017

There’s a strange piece of Alberta’s heritage awaiting travellers on Highway 55: a tree growing at what should be an impossible angle, totally alone in the middle of a pasture. The ‘Leaning Tree’ or ‘Lonely Tree’ is a true survivor, bent at a 45-degree angle during a ferocious wildfire and still standing nearly a hundred years later.

One of the most striking things in Alberta is the seemingly barren landscape in the aftermath of a wildfire. Although the effects of a wildfire may seem to be devastating, many species depend on them for long-term survival and some have even evolved to use fires to their advantage.

Jack pines like the Leaning Tree thrive in sunlight and decline as other larger trees cover them in shade. Throughout their lives, they drop pinecones that are sealed with resin. They remain closed until the heat from sunlight or fire melts the resin and the cone can release its seeds. With the rest of the forest gone the Jack pines return and the cycle begins again.

This leaning tree probably germinated around the same time Alberta became a province, about 1906. In 1918, forest fire completely razed the area – except for the lone surviving jack pine. Yet it didn’t escape unscathed. One of the effects of the fire, or perhaps the wind it generated, caused the tree to lean at a 45-degree angle.

Fire visited the area again in the late 1940s. Again this implacable tree prevailed through the event, which destroyed the family of trees that had grown around it. Its survival is especially remarkable considering that evergreen species such as jack pine burn five to 10 times faster than trees with leaves.

The indomitable jack pine became a well-loved landmark among the neighbouring farmers, who dubbed it the “Leaning Tree” or “Lonely Tree” for its habit of leaning towards a nearby row of trees as if it were yearning to be back with its own kind.

Landmark trees are irresistible to the humans around them, and the Leaning Tree has long played a part in neighbourhood games. The legend of the hanged man, for instance, lives on in the memories of those who grew up in the area. They still laugh when they recall the girls of the nearby Schiller farm racing to unhook a mannequin from the Leaning Tree and drag it back home – only to meet the fire trucks and ambulance on their way to investigate the “body that was hanging from that Leaning Tree.”

The Leaning Tree lives on, still growing in the pasture at its impossible angle, still inspiring the neighbours, and still mystifying people on their Alberta vacations.

 

From a story by Cathy Wolters & Libby Fairweather

Location: Hwy 55 0.5 km past Range Rd 4355, 300 m off the road in the middle of a field

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