Skunk cabbage, c’aqwa’ [Island Halkomelem], ȾO₭I [SENĆOŦEN], Lysichiton americanum, blooms in the early spring

2020 March 29 skunk cabbage along Beaver Point Road, Salt Spring Island P1010013

Skunk cabbage, c’aqwa’ [Island Halkomelem], ȾO₭I [SENĆOŦEN], Lysichiton americanum, is not just pungent and beautiful but as a species that begins flowering in the early spring is central to many insects becoming energized in the first warm afternoons.

2020 March 29 skunk cabbage along Beaver Point Road, Salt Spring Island P1010013

An old Douglas fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii, tree that survived after nearly being cut down

2020 March 29 old cut Douglas fir that healed itself and survived on Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island P1010025

This old Douglas fir tree, Pseudotsuga menziesii, germinated in the eighteenth century and was nearly cut in the early twentieth century. And after far more than an exploratory cut, perhaps around World War I, the cutters did not come back.

When this tree was established at the end of the eighteenth century, the area was primarily open grassland dotted with large ‘parkland’ Douglas fir and Garry oak. Directly up the south-west slope of Reginald Hill from W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ village, this landscape was dominated by Salish horticultural, burning, and other stewardship practices. Today, the area is forest dominated by Douglas fir trees less than fifty years old.

close-up of the cut and healing,
2020 March 29 old cut Douglas fir that healed itself and survived on Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island P1010025
2020 March 29 old cut Douglas fir that healed itself and survived on Reginald Hill, Salt Spring Island P1010030

Salmonberry (ELILE [SENĆOŦEN], Lila’ [HUL’Q’UMI’NUM’], Rubus spectabilis) the most ecologically important of the flowering species in early spring

salmonberry, 2020 March 28, Reynolds Road, Salt Spring Island

Salmonberry (ELILE [SENĆOŦEN], Lila’ [HUL’Q’UMI’NUM’], Rubus spectabilis is one of the most ecologically important of the flowering species in early spring because it produces so much nectar particularly for insects, including native and introduced bees, and vertebrates most notably, rufous hummingbird. Selasphorus rufus.

“Be the fire that changes the world” * Low temperature, preventative burning, as homage to traditional Salish practices, as part of ecological restoration strategies


“Be the fire that changes the world.”
Dominic Demers 2019 October 31

Many of the most vulnerable species and ecosystems on the Gulf and San Juan Islands are associated with areas with very little disturbance, such as the precious fragments of old-growth forest, and the dynamic edges of forests, woodland, and savannahs often conflated as either ‘wetland’ or ‘Garry oak meadows’. And these dynamic edges and habitat mosaics have been particularly vulnerable to invasive species. In the case of a historic Garry oak, Quercus garryana, meadow, below the main ḴEXMIN field station building, a still persisting orchard was planted more than a century ago, farm animals browsed the remaining native plants, and as the soil and organic layer was degraded, the two most common invasive, Eurasian species moved in: Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparius, that has gradually been shaded out, followed by Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus, that has largely died on drier slopes as the winters and summers have become more extreme. Similarly, Eurasian hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, had invaded these degraded areas and have been having a bit of an ecological standoff with the more successful tree-form of native black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var. suksdorfii and sometimes labelled Crataegus suksdorfii. And by the summer of 2019, it became clear that small, low-temperature bonfires were necessary in order to keep this huge amount of dead plant material from contributing to a apocalyptic wildfire.

The Halloween bonfire of 2019, playfully hosted by researcher Dominic Demers, was intended as a creative way to celebrate the re-introduction of ‘cool’ fires in small patches, evocative of traditional Salish burning that continued in the region as late as the 1960s, and as importantly to clear ground smothered by dead blackberry cane in preparation for planting native grasses and forbs. These kinds of fires are slow and patchy. Too much fuel can burn too hot and kill the seed bank and damage the soil. Low intensity burning sculpts more than kills. For example, the Eurasian hawthorn was not killed outright (leaving some as a homage to Marcel Proust and his love for this species) but was trimmed back. And curiously, a large Garry oak stump, that had been dead for decades, was uncovered through the burning of the piles of blackberry cane.

The bulk of successful, restorative plantings on southern slopes on Gulf Islands take place in early autumn especially in October and early November. Grasslands dominated by native species are particularly in decline on the Gulf Islands and while Eurasian grasses will continue to be present, clumps of these original bunchgrasses are ecologically strategic for a number of bird species. So the following native grasses were planted after the Halloween bonfire:

Roemer’s fescue, Festuca roemeri;
California oatgrass, Danthonia californica;
Lemmon’s needlegrass, Achnatherum lemmonii;
Junegrass, Koeleria macrantha; and
Sanberg’s bluegrass, Poa secunda.

As the autumn drizzle intensified, a great deal of ḴEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule, was planted in mixtures with lupine, both the edible blue-flowered, Lupinus bicolor, and the more invasive, yellow-flowered, Lupinus arboreus. The last stash of our seed of deltoid balsamroot, Balsamorhiza deltoidea, from a source in the Klamath Mountains was planted with seeds of both native species of Aster, Symphyotrichum chilense and S. subspicatum; yarrow, Achillea millefolium; and yampah, Perideridia gairdneri often with clumps of live springbank clover, Trifolium wormskioldii. For trees in the longer-term, hundreds of Garry oak acorns were planted along with the other native species of black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii and Pacific crabapple, Malus fusca.




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Celebration & restoration

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Our socially distant COVID19 pandemic Spring Equinox Bonfire, on March 21, 2020 was quite effective at removing the last of the blackberry cane but there were only six of us, all rooted in the neighbourhood, and with six foot distances, we tended to shout at each other.

Spring planting after the winter fires is problematic in this Mediterranean sub-humid ecosystem at the same latitude as Paris. There simply is not sufficient time for a seed to germinate and grow sufficient root systems to survive the dryness and heat of a south-west facing slope in July and August. Thus, the planting that we did do in late March was of more native grasses and the following species thought to be able to can cope with sun and heat:

Farewell-to-spring, Clarkia amoena;
coastal sage, Artemisia suksdorfii (in a mesic spot);
the native subspecies of self-heal, Prunella vulgaris subsp. lanceolata;

starts of Menzies’ Larkspur, Delphinium menziesii and
ḴEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule.

For this plant material, planted so late, light watering will be necessary through the summer of 2020 (only). In addition, the two native West Coast species of tobacco, Nicotiana quadrivalvis and N. attenuata, with the former probably cultivated on the other side of Reginald Hill at the village of W̱EN,NÁ,NEĆ, were planted in micro-swales of wood ash. The clumps of Nicotiana quadrivalvis that germinate will require some hand-watering.

with the bulk of the next planting, in the gaps between the grasses and forbs that

Osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis, shifting from blossoming to leafing

2020 March 8 Osoberry, Dallas Road, Victoria, British Columbia P1010001

Osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis, shifting from blossoming to leafing Dallas Road Victoria British Columbia. This shrub, confined to milder parts of the Pacific Coast from Santa Barbara to Campbell River signals the beginning of spring around the Salish Sea.

2020 March 8 Osoberry Dallas Road, Victoria, British Columbia P1010009