University of Toronto graduate students Peter Kuitenbrouwer (left) and Joanna Yu measure trees on Sunnybrook’s Bayview site (Photography by Kevin Van Paassen)
Sunnybrook is even greener than usual this spring, thanks to a pioneering program designed to nurture and protect its unique tree canopy.
In partnership with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Forestry, Sunnybrook has embarked on an ambitious forest management plan.
Last summer, graduate students Joanna Yu and Peter Kuitenbrouwer began by assessing the woodlots and cataloguing the trees on Sunnybrook’s Bayview site.
Their inventory resulted in an impressive tally: more than 1,200 individual trees from 72 species, including two endangered butternuts. The team also checked the health of thousands of other trees in the hospital’s woodlots.
“With 42 hectares of beautiful landscape, Sunnybrook’s Bayview site is a natural healing environment and legacy property unique among hospitals in Canada,” says Kuitenbrouwer.
“It was a great summer job,” he adds, remembering crisp early mornings criss-crossing the hospital grounds in steel-toed boots.
Together with a team of forest conservation students, Kuitenbrouwer returned to plant 110 trees in early November, placing them according to each sapling’s specific needs. This effort contributed to Sunnybrook’s 2017 goal of planting 500 trees over five years.
Kuitenbrouwer and Yu are not the first researchers to take on the task of inventorying Sunnybrook’s ample woodlands.
Eighty years ago, botanist R.B. Thomson made the first major attempt to document the forest of maple, oak, elm, beech, hemlock, white pine, hickory, birch and catalpa that covers the area. He found 40 species of trees, a figure that has almost doubled in the intervening years.
One tree that made both Thomson’s list and last year’s survey is a 250-year-old sugar maple that’s older than Canada. Nearly a metre and a half wide, the massive maple is dwarfed only by another giant – a 34-metre pin oak that’s taller than the hospital’s main wing.
The benefits of such trees are more than aesthetic. Research suggests a link between healthy forests and healthy people: regular walks through greenery can strengthen immunity, lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
Considering these potential benefits, it’s encouraging to see the saplings taking root and spreading their branches wide.