Who are Tillsonburg’s ‘tree men’?

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So what do you have when you put cucumber, coffee and tulips together?

Humm. Let’s add black gum and sassafras! No, it is not about eating. They are all trees, native to our Carolinian forest area and are species at risk.

I learned about tulip trees when the town changed our logo and used the weird looking maple leaf – actually a tulip leaf – on it. I was surprised to learn they were around town. Did you know people drink the nectar from the flower?

Can you actually make coffee from the Kentucky coffee tree? Not unless you really research this, as the seeds are toxic until roasted! The Meskwaki tribe that lived in our area roasted them to eat and make a coffee-like drink. Some settlers also used it as a substitute for real coffee, which most could not afford.

Now the cucumber tree is also a magnolia although it looks nothing like them, but it does have a big seed that looks like a cucumber while growing then turns pink-orange-red! They are tart and edible and used with other fruits, salads, ice cream, relishes.


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The black gum tree’s wood was used in the past for water pipes because of the ‘gum’ in the wood. Its berries are barely classed as edible and get put in with other foods, jams, or a lot of sugar!

Sassafras trees are really purposeful. The roots make sassafras tea; the twigs and leaves can be plucked and chewed on your walk; the leaves are also dried, ground and used as a spice. Most importantly the oil extract from the root bark is used medicinally. The colonists were so impressed by the healing powers of sassafras that they sent roots back to Europe. Back in 1602, one ton of roots sold for the equivalent of $25,000 U.S.!

All these amazing trees and more are on endangered species list (under various classifications) and are native to Tillsonburg area!

Did you know we have two gentlemen who care so much about trees that they go around planting young trees to keep the species alive!

I had a wonderful chat with Paul DeCloet, one of Tillsonburg’s mysterious two ‘Tree Men,’ who about 10 years ago started planting tulip trees for Beautification Day. He had some left over, so he just kept planting, then diversified by planting other native trees and bushes.

John Wellhauser met Paul and decided to help. John is very knowledgeable about smaller trees and shrubs, both local and native. John gathers seeds, and plants them when big enough to survive on their own.

They scout-out areas on public land to determine where and what kind of tree can be planted that would thrive. Many who walk the trails and parks have seen coloured ribbons around small trees, used so they can find them again. They do not get paid for anything they do, and they have contacts in the town and Long Point Region Conservation.

Here’s a thought. Most of us know little about our native trees and shrubs, but if there were little plaques/signs by some of the more endangered trees, we would have the opportunity to learn about them and the need to put native species on our own properties.

It would be super if the town’s Parks, Beautification and Cemeteries Committee would take that on, maybe as a fundraising project, to help pay for the plaques.