Backus Woods – Carolinian Canada

At 6:30am we pulled into the near silent parking lot of Backus Woods. It’s a place we’ve been meaning to get to for years.

The sun was just rising. Yesterday afternoon’s heavy downpour and last night’s humidity have left their mark with a soft, translucent mist in the forest. And what a forest it is – not pristine in the sense that it has never been logged (good luck finding anything like that in Ontario!), but it has been “gently used” since John Backhouse, a Yorkshireman, began settling his 600-acre land grant back in 1793. Backus Woods has gone through a bit of legal turmoil since then – if you can believe it, as late as 2010 someone wanted to log it!! – but, thanks to the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation, this gem of a forest has been saved.

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)Backus Woods is just north of Port Rowan in Norfolk County, near the north shore of Lake Erie. It is Canada’s best and largest example of Carolinian Forest – a specific type of deciduous forest with black gum, tulip trees and other species found further south. There are some spectacularly huge trees here, for Ontario, and many are more than 200 years old. Backus Woods harbour the largest concentration of tulip trees in Ontario. Now, I didn’t know too much about tulip trees until earlier this year when I photographed the flower of one in the University of Guelph’s Arboretum. They are huge tress, the trunk of which you see in the feature photo. Like many of the trees in Backus Woods, there are no branches for the first 10 to 15 metres and,like oversized telephone poles, the trunks emerge from the ground and go straight up. Huge beech and maple trees are also found here along with a stand of very significant black gum tress.

The trail system here is excellent and very well-marked. From a photographer’s perspective, this is a beautiful wood with a mature ground cover of a variety of ferns, mushrooms, nurse logs and some “stands” of scouring rush (Equisitum); in other words, lots to photograph in terms of nature and landscapes. I’m sure it is spectacular in any season, but beware of the spring and fall bird migrations – Backus Woods will be filled with birders, so you may not get the solitude your looking for at that time.


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