Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Great trees on NAIT campus

Hardy specimens that are perfect for yards and landscaping in Alberta

For things that are always just standing around, trees do a lot of work. As Landscape Architectural Technology associate chair Beverly Bruyere points out, they suck up CO2 and give back vital oxygen, lower urban temperatures, provide privacy and shade, and much more.

Not all the work they do is as tangible, adds the admitted “tree-geek.” Trees help soothe the human psyche, she suggests, by softening the hard edges of the built environment.

“They provide a sense of well-being and a spiritual connection with nature,” says the Landscape Architectural Technology grad (class of '79). More simply: “They give us something pleasant to look at.”

Here, Bruyere points out a few of NAIT’s botanical highlights and explains the work they do for Main Campus, tangible and otherwise.

Mayday (Prunus padus)

mayday tree at NAIT campus in edmonton

With its profusion of fragrant white blossoms, the mayday “is a sign of spring for me,” says Bruyere.

This is among the first trees to leaf out and flower. It’s extremely hardy and can be found in single- or multi-stem varieties that grow to 9 to 12 metres (30 to 40 feet) tall and wide.

They also happen to be perfect for climbing, Bruyere adds. “They’re a great old-fashioned tree.”

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)

scots pine on nait campus, edmonton

Bruyere calls the Scots Pine “one of the best evergreens we have” for northern Alberta conditions.

They’re drought tolerant and can handle poor soils (though they should still be babied with regular watering in the years immediately after planting).

They’re also attractive. Bruyere points to the pine’s open, natural appearance, the fall colour of yellow needles in inner branches, and the texture of the orange-grey, peeling bark. Over a lifespan that can stretch to a century, this tree might reach 25 m (80 ft) tall by 6 m (20 ft) wide.

Columnar blue spruce (Picea pungens 'Fastigiata')

columnar blue spruce at NAIT campus in edmonton

Columnar trees are great for residential use, says Bruyere, especially where space is limited. Among the tall and skinny, however, nothing matches the blue of this conifer, which can reach 9 to 18 m (30 to 60 feet) tall while spreading just 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft).

This is another hardy choice for our climate but still needs extra care after you put it in. “Trees are not something you can just plant and walk away from.”

Swedish columnar aspen (Populus tremula 'Erecta')

swedish columnar aspens at nait campus

Though Bruyere thinks they're overused, she believes this aspen variety has value when properly placed. Like the columnar spruce, they’re well suited to small spaces and can make great screens when planted in groups.

Also, with their slender form and shimmering leaves (not to mention bronze colour in the spring) “they’re very good at drawing the eye,” says Bruyere. Plant Swedish columnar aspens strategically to highlight architectural features such as walkways or doorways.

Expect quick results: these trees can put on 2 m (7 ft) a year, maxing out at 9 to 14 m (30 to 45 feet) tall and 1.5 to 2.5 m (5 to 8 ft) wide.

Little-leaf inden (Tilia cordata)

linden tree at nait campus in edmonton

The linden, particularly the “little leaf” variety, is Bruyere’s favourite tree, owing to its straight trunk, heart-shaped leaf, fragrant blossoms and uniform shape.

The variety of our campus specimens isn’t certain, but they have similar qualities, making them fine landscape choices. Unlike columnar aspens, says Bruyere, “I think they’re underused.”

Long-lived, slow-growing trees, lindens can reach heights of 15 m (50 ft) and widths of 10 m (33 ft).

Thunderchild ornamental crabapple (Malus x 'Thunderchild')

ornamental flowering crabapple at nait campus, edmonton

As one of the region’s few “4-season trees,” ornamental crabapples have dense summer foliage, good fall colour, small fruits to feed overwintering wildlife, and, in the spring, a cloudburst of pink, red or white blossoms.

“When they bloom, there’s not a lot of leaves – just flowers.”

While there are dozens of varieties of these compact trees, the “Thunderchild” is most prominent on Main Campus. This pink-blossomed variety can grow to 7 by 7 m (23 ft) and is great for attracting birds. Plant it away from decks and sidewalks to avoid sweeping up dropped fruit.

Brandon elm (Ulmus americana 'Brandon')

brandon elm at NAIT campus in edmonton

It could be said that elms are to Edmonton what maples are to Ottawa. Their broad, vase-shaped canopies can be found across the city, stretching over streets like natural arches. And their coarse, shiny, sharply serrated leaves contribute texture to landscapes, adds Bruyere.

Main Campus hosts several Brandon elms, a smaller version of the American elm; Bruyere estimates it could reach heights of 18 m (60 ft) and about half that wide.

Resistant to Dutch elm disease, which has ravaged the species worldwide, the Brandon will fulfil its job of providing staff, students and visitors to campus with something pleasant to look at for decades to come.


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