Do you know the history of Mont-Saint-Hilaire? This large mountain situated along the Richelieu river was named the “First Biosphere Reserve in Canada” by UNESCO. Why did the mountain receive this title? Among others thanks to the unique quality of its fauna, flora and its forest. Originally called “Mont Fort”, the mountain you admire today is as rich and quiet as it was in 1609 when it was discovered by Samuel de Champlain. We are looking forward to welcoming you in this paradise on a visit to Strom! As a proud partner of the region, Strom spa is pleased to present you the history and the peculiarities of the flora and fauna that inhabits this beautiful mountain. Happy reading!
The Nature Centre of Mont-Saint-Hilaire
How the mountain was formed
125 million years ago, a rising column of magma broke through the Earth’s crust and cooled to form hard rock at approximately two kilometres below the surface. Over millions of years, the more friable sedimentary surface rock was slowly worn away by passing glaciers, exposing the denser igneous rock underneath.
When the glaciers had fully retreated, water from the ocean flowed into the region to form an inland sea, known as the Champlain Sea. As the Earth’s crust gradually rose, the sea receded and left behind the topographical features we see today.
How the forest came to be
Since the glaciers’ retreat about 12,000 years ago, the mountain’s vegetation has changed considerably. At the very beginning, it was primarily covered by tundra with mosses and lichens. Soon after, spruces, pines, ashes, oaks and birches appeared. About 8,000 years ago, the two most abundant tree species on the mountain—the maple and the beech—began to grow here as well.
Today, the forest on Mont Saint-Hilaire is very similar to how it would have looked to Samuel de Champlain when he set eyes on it 400 years ago. Some of the mountain’s older maple trees were witnesses to his passage.
Trees of the mountain
Mont Saint-Hilaire has an exceptional variety of trees and shrubs. Around 70 species have been identified. The mountain’s forest is mainly composed of deciduous tree species. The sugar maple, the beech tree and the red oak are the most common trees here. There are also conifers, the most common being the pine, which grows on the southern slopes, and the hemlock, which grows along streams. Trees over 400 years old have been found on the mountain!
Some trees, such as the white walnut and the shagbark hickory, are rare in Quebec. The white walnut has seen a sharp decline due to a fungal disease, while the shagbark hickory’s habitat is threatened by urban and agricultural sprawl.
The Gault Nature Reserve is known throughout the province for its plant diversity. 850 plant species have been identified so far, and we’re still discovering new ones! These plants include rare flowers such as the magnificent long-spurred violet; ferns such as the broad beech fern, which only grows in the Monteregian Hills; shrubs such as the beautiful serviceberry, which grows on summits; aquatic plants in Lake Hertel; and rare mosses that grow on the ground, on trees or even on dead wood.
Some plants, like sedges, may not seem very remarkable; they just look like tufts of grass. However, one sedge species—the slender woodland sedge—doesn’t grow anywhere else in the province. Mont Saint-Hilaire is bursting at the seams with rare plants!
In spring, before trees regrow their foliage, spring plants in the underbrush are not idle. They must take advantage of the sunlight that reaches the ground to carry out photosynthesis, produce seeds and store up for the coming year. Then, a remarkable floral procession bursts forth: trilliums, trout lilies, dutchman’s breeches, spring beauties, bloodroots, violets, etc. This succession of shape and colour lasts for about one month. For certain species such as the white trillium, flowering is a result of a long maturation process, which takes at least seven years. Some white trillium plants can live up to 100 years if their habitat is left undisturbed and they are not picked.
Mont Saint-Hilaire is home to almost 250 species of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). Bryophytes are small plants that generally bear green leaves; they have neither roots nor flowers. In old forests, bryophytes cover trees and rocks. It can be also be found on the ground, or even floating on top of water!
Most bryophytes can survive long periods of drought. The next time that it rains, they will soak up as much water as they can and regain their healthy appearance.
First Nations people used moss as mattresses, baby diapers, dressings for wounds and as sanitary napkins. During the First World War, doctors applied dried moss to soldiers’ wounds.
Night on the mountain
Some species are well equipped for nocturnal life. The darkness is advantageous for animals with a keen sense of hearing or night vision. Red foxes become active at dusk, searching for small rodents. Owls use the shape of their facial disks to direct the sounds made by small rodents into their ears, and swoop down on their prey withoutasound. Batsemitultrasonicsounds—inaudibletothehumanear—thatbounceoffof objects in their path. This technique allows them to detect insects as they fly. One single bat can catch 600 mosquitoes within one hour. In a night, a colony of 500 bats will eat one million insects.
Mont Saint-Hilaire is home to over 800 species of Lepidoptera, more commonly known as butterflies and moths. As they gather pollen from flower to flower, they help pollinate plants. On the mountain, you’ll encounter butterflies, called Rhopalocera, which have club-shaped antennae, wings that are perpendicular to their bodies and rich colours. You’ll also see some similar insects that are less colourful with feathery antennae; these are moths, also known under the scientific name Heterocera.
Each year, monarch butterflies migrate by the millions to Mexico, a trip that’s about 4,000 kilometers long.
– Nature Center of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, all rights reserved