Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mysterious cases: jack pine, Tom Thomson

Canada's jack pine tree holds secrets in its branches

Vancouver Sun: It's arguably Canada's most recognizable artwork, a classic Tom Thomson landscape showing a lonely tree with drooping branches, toughing out its fragile existence on a rocky northern lakeshore. But The Jack Pine, a priceless public treasure that's been on permanent display in the National Gallery of Canada for almost a century, depicts a species with long-held secrets that a team of Canadian scientists has just now unravelled.

After a comprehensive study of the boreal forest's most iconic tree, three Quebec botanists... have determined that the trees found in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan each represent genetically distinct families with separate histories shaped by glaciers from the last Ice Age... [They] evolved independently over the past 10 millenniums or so from the Ontario specimen that Thomson immortalized in his 1917 masterpiece from the shore of Algonquin Park's Grand Lake.

The vast ice sheets that covered North America during the last continental freeze-up forced a general southward retreat of jack pine forests, fragmented their populations and 'profoundly influenced their present-day distribution and genetic diversity,' the researchers, led by Universite de Laval scientist Julie Godbout, conclude in a summary of the study, published in the American Journal of Botany...

'Even if it looks like an old bonsai, jack pine is real tough,' she said. 'It regenerates through fire -- so each baby tree is an orphan. It's a real fast grower, and it can grow on rock and sand in difficult conditions.'... At first glance, she observed, 'it feels lonely and sad, 'but the tree is really more like 'an old sage that knows a lot about life and death.'

Globe and Mail: Tom Thomson's untimely death has haunted author Roy McGregor for decades. Now, 21st-century forensics may have helped solve one of our defining riddles.
Image source here.