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Land and Resources, Plant Life

Algonquian peoples, Kentucky coffee tree, Athapaskan, cultural boundary, Mackenzie River

The flora of the entire northern part of Canada is Arctic and sub-Arctic. The tree line—the northern limit beyond which trees cannot grow—extends roughly from the mouth of the Mackenzie River to Hudson Bay, just north of Manitoba’s northern border, and continues east from Hudson Bay at approximately 58° north. The tree line is simultaneously a climatic, soil, vegetation, and cultural boundary. It divides the zone of Arctic climate and permafrost, which is the traditional homeland of the Inuit, from the sub-Arctic zone of intermittent permafrost and stunted forest, which was the northern limit of the Athapaskan and Algonquian peoples.

South of the tree line, eastern Canada was originally thickly forested, primarily with coniferous trees. The typical vegetation of southern Ontario, southern Quebec, and the Maritime provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) is mixed coniferous and deciduous forest. The only part of Canada dominated by deciduous forest is southernmost Ontario, bordering Lakes Erie and Ontario. Point Pelee on Lake Erie, at roughly the same latitude as the northern border of California, is known for its variety of deciduous trees, including southern species found nowhere else in Canada, such as the Kentucky coffee tree.

The Prairie provinces are largely treeless as far north as the Saskatchewan River system; prairie grasses, herbage, and bunchgrasses are the chief vegetation. Short grasses dominate the dry belt known as Palliser’s Triangle in the southeast portion of the prairie region; an arc of tall grass extends north and west, and this is in turn surrounded by parkland, or mixed grass and mainly deciduous forest.

North of the Saskatchewan River is a broad belt of conifers known as the boreal forest. This belt includes Newfoundland and Labrador, the regions south and east of Hudson Bay, and lands extending westward to the Rocky Mountains. Spruce, tamarack, and poplar are the principal species. The dry slopes and valleys of the Rocky Mountains support thin forests, mainly pine, but the forests increase in density and the trees in size westward toward the region of greater rainfall. On the coastal ranges, especially on their western slopes, are dense forests of mighty conifers, principally spruce, hemlock, Douglas and balsam firs, jack and lodgepole pines, and cedar.

Canada’s extensive coniferous forests constitute the plant life that is most important to its economy. This living resource provides valuable raw products, manufactured products, and thousands of jobs. The coastal and interior forests of British Columbia are particularly valuable, and that province provides 46.6 percent of all wood harvested in Canada. The smaller trees of the boreal forest are used across Canada for pulp and paper. The southeastern mixed zone in the Maritimes also supports a lumber industry. The natural vegetation of Canada also has commercial value as a tourist attraction.

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