Supported by the Edmonton Heritage Council
On the edge of downtown Edmonton, on the slopes of the river valley, grows a wild patch of goji berries, descended from seeds imported and tended by Edmonton’s early Chinese community. A few block West, surrounded by asphalt, the chestnut seed that Walter Holowash collected in Vienna stands forty feet tall, casting shade and life onto a back alley parking lot.
Heritage plants are living artifacts with stories to tell about early Edmonton and the community that cultivated them. As beings whose lives can span centuries, trees are intergenerational messengers, and the products of our shared cultural values, geography, and climate. Thus, the City’s urban forest is the product of who we were. We are living in the future they hoped to grow.
Collecting Heritage Stories
I’m fascinated by Edmonton’s heritage plants and have personally visited many of them, have dabbled in mapping their locations, and have hosted walking tours for the John Walter Museum. And still, there are so many unanswered questions: what gives a plant heritage value, and who decides? Where are Edmonton’s heritage trees most often located? How do old trees escape development and damage from disease and carelessness? Can we draw connections between trees and the cultural backgrounds of Edmontonians? Do we have any examples of indigenous heritage trees?
Mapping Edmonton’s Heritage Plants
With support from the Edmonton Heritage Council and a Project Accelerator Grant, I am exploring the question of “what makes a heritage plant?” by researching the history, backgrounds, placement, and defining characteristics of known trees.
As I locate, map, photograph, and collect narratives and samples, I will contribute to a growing inventory of heritage trees and plants. Through this process, I will create a digital herbarium on this website and a pressed herbarium of public access.
What Gives a Plant “Heritage”?
In the second phase of the project, I will identify patterns within the inventory to develop a heritage plant profile to identify new plants. With this updated inventory, I will create and publish self-guided walking tours and host public events to share the findings from the project.
Growing Tomorrow’s Heritage Plants
In the final phase of the project, I will turn my attention to the future of Edmonton’s heritage plants and create a “How to Grow a Heritage Plant” guide. This guide will take lessons gleaned from the first two phases and provide practical recommendations on how best to plant and preserve a tree for the future.
In addition to the guide, I will work with City administration to identify opportunities to protect our living heritage resources and develop policies to increase survivability and knowledge of our growing heritage plant inventory.
Project Timeline and Outcomes
Phase 1: The Past (June – October 2019)
- Curate list of existing trees identified as having heritage value.
- Research history and gather personal and cultural narratives behind individual plants
- Photograph, map locations, and gather samples for a pressed herbarium.
- Create an online herbarium to profile individual plants similar to “Faces of Edmonton.”
- Create a pressed herbarium of heritage plants for long-term storage and identification.
- Share online herbarium via social media, newsletters, and traditional media.
Phase 2: The Present (September 2019 – January 2020)
- Host a public talk on Edmonton’s heritage trees.
- Host heritage-tree walking tours.
- Compare and contrast heritage trees to find commonalities and create a heritage tree and Plant Profile Tool.
- (Completed) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 1: Time
- (In Progress) What Makes a Heritage Trees? Part 2: Novelty
- (In Progress) What Makes a Heritage Tree? Part 3: Narrative
- Use the Profile Tool to work with the community to identify unidentified heritage plants to research and add to the heritage plant inventory.
- (Completed) Create Nominate an Edmonton Heritage Tree Form
- Use the Profile Tool to identify gaps in the catalogue.
- Add newly identified plants to online and offline herbarium collection
- Create a series of self-guided walking tours of Edmonton heritage plants for print or download; explore audio or podcast options.
Phase 3: The Future (January – July 2020)
- Create “How to Plant a Heritage Tree” guide with best practices for landscapers and citizens.
- Perform a policy review of how various municipalities treat and protect heritage trees and compare and contrast these strategies with the City of Edmonton.
- (Completed) Development and the Future of Urban Forests
- Work with City of Edmonton Heritage planners to formally recognized plants as heritage resources and create a heritage resource Application to Amend that takes plant material into account.
- Work with City administration to look for possible strategies to protect existing and future heritage plants; City Plan, Breathe Strategy, Zoning Bylaw Review.
- (Ongoing) Consulting with City of Edmonton on Corporate Tree Management Policy and Draft Tree Bylaw
Heritage Plants of Edmonton in the Media
- July 24th, 2019, – CBC Edmonton, Oumar Salifou, “A tree in downtown Edmonton needs a little love for its 100th birthday.”
- October 17, 2019 – Edmonton Journal, Liane Faulder, “Tree-hugging: Dustin Bajer seeks stories about Edmonton plants to root local history.”