Caring for the Valley Legends: The Mighty Oak

Nov 6, 2018

It’s hard not to feel hopeful when you hold a tiny acorn in your hand. Especially when it’s collected from an old growth, white oak tree right here in Toronto. A species that only produces their acorns every 5 to 15 years.

A white oak acorn from

The Evergreen Team felt a sense of awe, wonder and amazement followed by a rushed feeling of "we need to get these in the ground,” when Eric Davies, University of Toronto Forestry PhD research candidate, brought a handful of white oak acorns. Davies presented an incredible opportunity to plant acorns from a parent tree which has withstood ice storms, droughts, disease and urban pressures.

Davies has been studying the ecological health of the Toronto ravine system for many years. With native tree species in decline making up only 40 per cent of the Toronto ravine canopy, Davies embarked on a project to raise awareness and get people thinking outside of the box.

In fact, he built one.

Putting together the acorn box.

It's a four meter by four meter reclaimed wood nursery box on his front lawn, which have become home to over a thousand white oak acorns. Davies easily collected over 3000 acorns from around the city because this year was what botanists called a rare "mast year" when trees such as oak and hickory produced an overwhelming amount of acorns and nuts to ensure succession. Then, with the help of a few neighbours and students, he began a project which engaged the entire local community and sparked a wave of interest in planting native trees.

The acorn box on Davies' front lawn.

The reason Davies chose the white oak to be the ambassador for this project is simply because they are the strongest, oldest trees in the city and, as far as he is concerned, they are in decline. They are pillars of biodiversity attracting high levels of bird and insect life but also less prone to disease and rot. Instead of Norway maples, which Davies refers to as the “McTree”, we believes we should be planting stronger native species which play an active role in increasing biodiversity.

Evergreen’s unique position in the Don Valley allows for a perfect collaboration opportunity to engage communities in restoring the ecological integrity of the Toronto ravines.

Davies and friends built boxes from fallen and salvaged Toronto white oak supplied by Just Be Woodsy. The acorns that will be planted in these boxes were collected by Davies from nearby Nordheimer ravine next to Casa Loma.  

Over the next few weeks, Davies and Evergreen will be planting the white oak acorns in these boxes. A symbol of hope for our ravines. Stay tuned for updates on this story over the course of the year.

Photos from Jo Bowers, the white oak acorn found at