EEB 337H - Families of Vascular Plants 

Boreal Forest

Bloodvein River Survey - 29347 Bytes

Picea mariana (black spruce), Bloodvein River watershed, NW Ontario;
photo D. Metsger - © Royal Ontario Museum 1996.

The boreal forest of Ontario is made up primarily of conifers in the Pinaceae, such as black and white spruce (Picea mariana and P. glauca, the former pictured below), jack pine (Pinus banksiana), tamarack (Larix laricina), and fir (Abies balsamea). Broad-leaved trees are mainly white birch (Betula papyrifera) and poplars (Populus tremuloides, P. balsamifera), although American elm (Ulmus americana) forms gallery forests along rivers flowing through the boreal forest, and species in several other genera are also found. If you compare this species list with the tree species tabulated for the mixed and deciduous forests of Ontario you will find that the ranges of all of these tree species extend south into the mixed forest, and beyond, wherever local conditions rule out competition from other species. To the north the boreal forest becomes increasingly sparse (barrens) until it is replaced by tundra on the coast of Hudson Bay.

Byron Bog, London ON; photo L. M. Dickinson - © L. M. Dickinson

Boreal forest species are adapted not only to low temperatures and a wide range of moisture conditions, but also to conditions of very reduced nutrient availability that result from, among other things, the very young, hence nutrient-poor, soils. For this reason low-lying, poorly-drained sites (e.g. kettle bogs) in the mixed and deciduous forest regions of Ontario often are occupied by species characteristic of the boreal forest since cold air drainage, waterlogging, and acidification due to the growth of Sphagnum moss all contribute to much reduced nutrient availability. For more information about bogs, visit the super site set up by E. M. Temsch.

Only one species is identified as being at risk in the boreal forest, and even this one more likely should be ascribed to the mixed forest (see range maps).

Northern Ontario Plant Database

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Please send your comments to tim.dickinson@utoronto.ca; last updated 01-Oct-2008