The art of sprouting the forests of tomorrow

Despite being built on a busy road in the Lanaudière region for 114 years, the Pépinière de Berthier is still very little known to the general public, as is its contribution to the regeneration of Quebec’s public forests.

Long known as the Provincial Nursery of Berthierville, the nursery was founded in 1908 by Gustave Clodomir Piché, the first French-Canadian forest engineer. It is now the oldest of the six existing public kindergartens in Quebec.

“We often hear about logging, but we are really a forest incubator,” explained Jasmin Gagnon, director of the tree nursery and forest seed center Berthier, and guided us through the 155-hectare site in Sainte-Geneviève-de-Berthier along Route 138 of the St. Lawrence River. This type of kindergarten is not well known, it’s an aspect that people know less about.

The art of sprouting the forests of tomorrow

Simon Dessureault / QMI AGENCY

More than 4.5 million tree seedlings are produced on the Pépinière de Berthier every year. Originally it only produced to reforest the sandy soils of the Berthierville area, but currently it is the only public nursery producing noble hardwoods (such as black walnut, red oak, bur oakfruit, sugar maple, and American ash) for reforestation in Quebec.

And the place where nearly a hundred people work is also home to Quebec’s only forest seed center.

During our visit, staff transplanted hybrid poplars – another hardwood species grown in Berthier – into the ground, i.e. 15 cm cuttings that were harvested in late November 2021.

“They will have an average height of 1.80 meters in November 2022, it’s a fast-growing tree,” Mr Gagnon told us.

Hardwoods are graded and packed in the fall for delivery a few months later. “You must wait for the leaves to fall [vers l’Halloween] and we have three weeks before it freezes, Mr Gagnon added. We put them in a cold room all winter and deliver leafy plants in the spring.”

On the softwood side, the Pépinière de Berthier produces white, red, black, white and red pine.

The art of sprouting the forests of tomorrow

Simon Dessureault / QMI AGENCY

Quebec breadbasket

At the Berthier Forest Seed Center we discovered a truly state-of-the-art laboratory, equipped with equipment from Sweden, a world-renowned seed country.

“It’s a seed factory, this is where Quebec’s attic is stored,” Mr. Gagnon told us.

“You can make thousands of trees with a full bottle like this,” he said, showing a small bottle filled with seeds supplied by specialized orchards.

The art of sprouting the forests of tomorrow

Simon Dessureault / QMI AGENCY

Distribution as needed

It is the Directorate-General for the Production of Forest Seeds and Seedlings (DGPSP) of the Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks that takes care of the follow-up.

“The DGPSP will examine where logging has taken place and where there is a need for reforestation,” our host explained. The DGPSP manages the distribution of seedlings produced by 18 nurseries, the 6 public ones – that of Berthier and those of Saint-Modeste, Sainte-Luce, Normandin, Grandes-Piles and Trécesson – and 12 private ones.

The distribution is based on ecological regions. “For example, the white pine that was caught in Abitibi can be treated here, but it will be reforested in its ecological region because it does not have the same genetics as the white pine in Berthier,” Mr Gagnon said.

Pépinière de Berthier’s softwood seedlings are distributed in the regions of Montreal, Lanaudière, Laurentides, part of Mauricie, Outaouais, Estrie and Montérégie, while the hardwoods it produces are in turn distributed throughout Quebec.

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