Doug Larson was not looking for old trees. The ecologist started working on the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment because, like the tundra where he had studied mosses and lichens, they were relatively untouched by humans. It didn’t hurt, either, that his new research spot was close to his home in Guelph, Canada, a university town just over an hour west of Toronto.
Even after he and his students started studying the ecology of cliff face, it took them three years to discover a startling fact, hiding in plain sight—that the cliff’s small and gnarled cedar trees were hundreds of years old. No one would have imagined that there could still be an unknown old growth forest so close to a major urban area.
“They were overtly struggling to survive, but we thought the struggle was 60 years old, not 600 years old,” he said.