For the second year in a row, we are celebrating Earth Day at KEXMIN field station, on the Gulf Islands of south-western Canada, through learning from black hawthorn, MÁT̸ŦEN ILĆ [SENĆOŦEN] / Metth’unulhp [Hul’q’umi’num’], Crataegus suksdorfii, one of a number of disappearing native fruit trees. This species currently grows from northern British Columbia and Haida Gwaii to northern California and then across the Rockies to Lake Superior. We have much to learn about how these trees persist, recolonize and can be protected and better restored including through field research combined with social strategies rooted in contemporary culture.
ḴÁ,EW̱ [SENĆOŦEN], Pacific crabapples, Malus fusca, is an important fruit tree throughout the North Pacific region and is recorded from Sequoia National Park in California, mainly along the Pacific coast, to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula (Routson, Volk, Richards, Smith, Nabhan and Wyllie de Echeverria 2012). The extent of the far western extent of this species in the Aleutian Islands remains poorly charted.
Given that Malus fusca sometimes hybridizes with other wild and landrace species in the primary gene pool of cultivated apple, there are a number of east Asian species near adjacent coasts spanning Alaska, Far Eastern Russia, Japan, Korea and China including M. floribunda, M. baccata, M. mandhurica, M. asiatica, M. komarovii, and M. sieboldii. And with aerial pollination some alleles and genotypes move around the North Pacific region — especially along and close to areas with mild maritime climates. And many of these gene flows are vulnerable to climate change and urbanization.
Kanin J. Routson , Gayle M. Volk, Christopher M. Richards, Steven E. Smith, Gary Paul Nabhan, and Victoria Wyllie de Echeverria. 2012. Genetic Variation and Distribution of Pacific Crabapple. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science. 137(5): 325–332.
Seaside juniper, PET̸EṈILĆ [SENĆOŦEN], Juniperus maritima, is endemic to the Gulf and San Juan Islands and the adjacent Olympic Range. This is one of the rarest of the North American juniper species. The Salish relied on this conifer to to ward off disease.
This relatively young juniper, probably less than fifty years old, is on Tsawout, W̱SÁNEĆ, territory near the beach south of the southern line of the 1852 treaty. This mosaic of dunes, marsh and meadow is vulnerable to the rapid sea level rise taking place on the south-east coast of the Saanich Peninsula.
An important traditional food tree, black hawthorn, MÁT̸ŦEN ILĆ [SENĆOŦEN], Crataegus douglasii, (in Canada, Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii) is also ecologically important especially for the nectar and fruit. One of the few seaside areas where this species grows on the Northwest coast of North America is the Gulf and San Juan Islands where this fruit tree established in drier times with colder winters. Consequently, this species was more important to indigenous communities east of the Coast Range.
MÁT̸ŦEN ILĆ [SENĆOŦEN], Crataegus douglasii, (in Canada, Crataegus douglasii var. douglasii), is one of two black hawthorn species on the Gulf and San Juan Islands. This, the smaller species, generally produces more accessible fruit and grows in mesic (damper) areas in drier regions.
This beautiful small tree is highly adaptable to urban and other degraded landscapes but so far has been rarely used in Coast Salish food sovereignty, permaculture and ecological restoration initiatives.
This grove of chokecherry, [cf tuluµulhp [HUL’Q’UMI’NUM’ with this word sometimes also used for bitter cherry], Prunus virginiana, on Hwmet’utsun on Salt Spring Island, was visited on August 6, 2020 with fruit (drupes) a week before the peak of ripeness. This area has a long history of Cowichan stewardship and harvesting that has only be partially obstructed in the last half century.
This exceptional chokecherry woodland, similar to communities in the southern Puget Sound on more mesic and wetland edges of Garry oak woodland, has a subdominant vine, western white clematis, Clematis ligusticifolia. This native West Coast clematis is rare in the mid and north parts of the Salish Sea. At its northern margins , this species rarely occurs on the coast and is associated with areas of hotter, drier summers in the British Columbia Southern Interior.
Chokecherry is an important element of local efforts at food and medicinal sovereignty and has exceptional value in ecological restoration of more mesic, south-facing sites as well as well as sunny sites on the edge of wetlands.
Chokecherry, SC̸ET̸EṈILĆ [W̱SÁNEĆ and also used for bitter cherry], Prunus virginiana, is the only wild fruit tree in Canada that is native to every province and territory. On the Gulf and San Juan Islands, this small tree, that sometimes grows to over 10 metres, is a keystone species for numerous pollinators, birds, and humans.
A crucial food and medicine for hundreds of indigenous communities in the northern half of North America, this species is so under-valued in settler horticulture that plants are rarely available in commercial nurseries. Fortunately, the pits are often highly fertile and at an experimental farm plot operated by ḴEXMIN field station, trees planted from drupes just four years ago are already over 2 metres in height and flowered for the first time this spring.
There are several species of West coast mugworts or sages with the ecology of coastal sage, Artemisia suksdorfii, associated with dry maritime cliffs often with salt air and relatively uncommon, is somewhat unclear.
This pungent species had some uses for the Salish, particularly related to its aromatic oils, extending to digestive medicine.
Larger pollinators often depend on larger flowers. In this case, a relatively large wild bee is harvesting pollen, and perhaps nectar, from this wild rose — just after the peak total spring pollination of most prolific native pollinators on the Gulf and San Juan Islands.
Environmental researcher Dominic Demers on wild bee buzz pollination of thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus