Planting Ideas in The Pocket – A “Pocket-sized” Tree Tour

It was a muggy summer night on August 21st when a group of Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFLs) taught an eager group of residents from the Pocket neighbourhood in East York how to identify some of their local trees and about the important differences between native, non-native and invasive species.


The Pocket Community Association (PCA) partnered with LEAF over the past five months as part of the Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) program in order to reinvigorate interest in the trees in their neighbourhood and learn how to enhance their urban forest. To achieve this goal, seven YUFLs (Anindita, Anqi, Claire, Corin, Lianna, Mary and Rabib) canvassed the community to promote a limited-time $100 rebate on LEAF’s backyard tree planting services and a number of fun community events throughout the summer. The biggest one was a tree tour and shrub giveaway on August 21st.



Fortunately, the threatening rain held off as the YUFLs arrived in Phin Park to set up for the event, with ample help from LEAF staff, volunteers and PCA members, Jeff and Lori.



Rabib began the walk by discussing the differences in leaf and pod size between the native honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) tree and the non-native black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).


At the next stop, Mary introduced the northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa) tree. She described how Toronto is uniquely situated between both the Carolinian and Boreal ecological zones, making it a home for high tree species diversity.


Anqi then led participants to a stand of mulberry trees and explained how the native red mulberry (Morus rubra) is endangered as it easily hybridizes with the non-native and invasive white mulberry (Morus alba). As of 2000, there were only approximately 217 true red mulberries left in Canada! She then brought up the big questions at the root of every invasive species discussion – what happens if we lose this native species? How will local ecology be affected? This is why the protection of native species is important – we just don’t know what will happen and what we’ll lose as a result.



With these questions on everyone’s minds, Lianna talked about one of the most common invasive species in Canada – the Norway maple (Acer platanoides). She shared with the group how to identify these trees by their moustache-shaped keys, as well as how they are out-competing our native maples.



Claire then talked about how nature can surprise us and introduced the larch (Larix laricina), a conifer that, unlike most other conifers, loses its needles in winter! She then demonstrated how to identify a native white pine (Pinus strobus) and the many ways that both animals and humans can use it.



Bringing the tour to a close was Corin, who taught the community how oak trees are an invaluable source of food and shelter for a wide variety of animals year-round. She focused on how the acorns of different oak species provide different nutrients for local wildlife, emphasizing why it is important to protect a broad range of native species in our forests. She also taught the group how to identify red oaks (Quercus rubra) by their pointed leaves and smaller acorn caps and white oaks (Quercus alba) by their rounded leaves and bumpier acorn caps.


The event wrapped up with a shrub giveaway where the community members were able to receive two free native shrubs from LEAF. They had a wonderful range of choices including purple flowering raspberry, snowberry, red osier dogwood, bush honeysuckle and meadowsweet. The YUFLs spoke with community members to ensure they found the right shrub for the conditions in their yard and would provide new habitat for native pollinators. By the end of the night, 62 native shrubs had found new homes where they will be happy and healthy new additions to the urban forest!


Through the work that has been accomplished over the summer, the YUFL participants gained valuable experience in planning events, working with community groups and understanding how to tend to our urban forest.


The event was a great success thanks to the PCA, the YUFLs, LEAF volunteers and, of course, The Pocket residents, who are welcoming and ever-eager to learn about their urban forest! Lastly, a very special thanks to Lam Tran and Erin MacDonald for all the resources, organization and mentorship.


Learn more about LEAF’s Young Urban Forest Leaders program here.
Learn more about The Pocket Community Association here.
Also, learn about Backyard Biodiversity.



Written by: Anindita Basu, Anqi Dong, Claire Moulds, Corin Latimer, Lianna Lopez, Mary Fliciano and Rabib Naim, participants of the 2019 Young Urban Forest Leaders (YUFL) program organized by LEAF.

The Young Urban Forest Leaders Program is offered by LEAF in collaboration with Park People and is supported by funds from Every Tree Counts, a partnership between Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation and the City of Toronto.


LEAF offers a subsidized Backyard Tree Planting Program for private property. The program is supported by The City of Toronto, The Regional Municipality of York, The City of Markham, The Town of Newmarket, The Town of Ajax, Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro. For details on how you can participate, visit