By Kate Allen
Nestled into a small stamp of savannah, steps from an aquamarine shore, the nubbly pads of a cactus hug the soil. In another jurisdiction, the cacti would be unremarkable. These ones are a short hop from the 401, on a spit of sand jutting into Lake Erie.
That spit is Point Pelee, this country’s second-smallest national park. It is one of Canada’s last protected redoubts of a warm, lush forest system that, thanks to a quirk of glaciation, has more in common with Kentucky than Sudbury. As a result, its 15 square kilometres, which could fit 500 times over into Algonquin Park, hosts five dozen at-risk species, the most of any park in the country.
Sitting very close to the top of that list, hovering at the edge of extirpation, is a tree, the red mulberry. Only 200 remain in the entire country, and Point Pelee has 17 of them.
Parks Canada scientists have embarked on an experimental breeding program to try to save the red mulberry, battling furiously against a fog of invasive pollen, invisible to us but lethal to the red mulberry’s specieshood. The fate of this remarkable ecosystem is at stake.