An exceptional crop of Garry oak, Quercus garryana, acorns

 

2018 September 16 Garry oak acorn, Burgoyne Bay Provincial Park, Salt Spring Island

Garry oak, Quercus garryana, is the oak species native to Western North America with the largest distribution: from a small corner of south-western British Columbia to a small corner of northwestern Baja California. On the northern margins of West Coast Quercus, in drier areas around the Salish Sea, Garry oak, and associated meadows dominated by forbs and shrubs rather than grasslands, is more often associated with a fire-dependent ‘disclimax’ the total area of which has shrunk under fire suppression. Current and historic data suggests that Garry oak on its northern margins is highly variable, from year to year, in the extent of acorn production. After progressively warmer, drier and longer summers, more similar to those in the centre of this species’ distribution, this year saw exceptional levels of acorn production, at least on the Gulf Islands. Unfortunately, the tree that has produced this particular acorn is also stressed from sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.

immature fruit of coastal manroot, Marah oregana: traditionally stewarded and used by some Salish communities

2018 June 8 immature Marah oregana fruit * photogragh by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

One W̱SÁNEĆ community nearby still protects one remaining plant and the only viable population, on Salt Spring Island, is associated with a relatively old cultural landscapes called, in the nineteenth century, ‘the Old Indian Lookout’. The richness of the reliance on this wild cucumber, for medicine, has only partially been made public.

2018 June 8 immature Marah oregana fruit * photogragh by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

Five plant species native to the Gulf Islands in rapid decline because of predator suppression

2018 May 15 Camassia leichtlinii inside the north upper exclosure, Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island

Five plant species native to Salt Spring Island have been in rapid decline in recent decades because of historically elevated populations of deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, largely because of predator suppression:
both species of native camas, Camassia leichtlinii and C. quamash;

Menzies larkspur, Delphinium menziesii;

common wooly sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum; and

springbank clover, Trifolium wormskioldii.

2018 May 15 Menzies larkspur, Delphinium menziesii, P5150151 north upper exclosure, Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island

Today, these once abundant populations are often reduced on the larger Gulf Islands, areas with large deer populations, to the following sites:

well-fenced exclosures such as the three small areas in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve constructed in the years following its 2001 expansion);

rocky cliffs difficult for deer to reach; and

some tiny strips near busy roads and urban areas that deer avoid (including Grace Islet near Ganges).

2018 May 15 springbank clover, Trifolium wormskioldii, cliff Mt Maxwell Ecological Reserve and also in the N upper exclosure, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island, Salt Spring Island

The two large predator species, that have primary ecological relationships with populations of black-tailed deer were wolf, Canis lupus, and cougar, Puma concolor. In the last fifty years, outlier wolves have had only a sporadic presence on some of the smaller Gulf Islands (recently Chatham Islands and earlier Saturna) with the last large pack on central Salt Spring Island exterminated in the 1930s. There are wolf packs not far from Salt Spring Island, above the Cowichan Valley. But those packs are separated from the Gulf Islands by the Island Highway and increased travel barriers from suburbanization. A small number of cougars survive at higher elevations on Salt Spring Island but may be isolated and quite possibly in-bred. Migration corridors away from Salt Spring Island have not been determined but may include the Stony Hill and Mount Tzouhalem just across Sansum Narrows.

2018 May 15 common wooly sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum P5150107 central upper exclosure Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island

 

2018 May 15 Camassia quamash P5150115, central upper exclosure Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island

 

blooming chokecherry trees, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island

blooming chokecherry trees, Hwmet’utsun 2018 May 3

One of the loveliest of the relatively uncommon groves of chokecherry, Prunus virginiana, the only tree (and fruit tree) that is native to every province and territory in Canada (and the northern half of the continental USA). While small clumps of chokecherry trees are common across Canada, they are uncommon on the BC Coast. The other part of the West Coast where this species occurs is in Mendocino Country in Northern California. This grove in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve in the Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area on Salt Spring Island, has relatively old trees, verging on more than a century, along with large fallen trees, and saplings.

The bark is the source of the medicinal in traditional cherry cough drops and the berries are good to eat (for both humans and crows). While I have seen no other large groves such as this, there are many young trees on Salt Spring Island most likely because the species is poisonous to deer which here is often in relatively high numbers because of predator suppression.

trunk of older chokecherry tree in exceptional grove in Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area, Salt Spring Island 2018 May 3

This grove of chokecherries is in a landscape with archaeological sites going back well over 5,000 years and Salish (Cowichan Tribes) presence continuous until well into the 20th Century and ongoing harvesting of some food resources. The sites with the chokecherry trees have signs of historic food processing.

The lines of holes in the bark are from woodpeckers and are common for the older trees.

younger trees in exceptional West Coast grove of chokecherry, Hwmet’utsun Conservation Area 2018 May 8

flowers of Pacific dogwood, kwit-xulhp [Cowichan – Island Hul’q’umi’num’], Cornus nuttallii, in Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve, Humet’utsun conservation area, Salt Spring Island

2018 May 3 Pacific dogwood – Hwmet’utsun – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

 

2018 May 3 Pacific dogwood – Hwmet’utsun – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram
2018 May 3 Pacific dogwood – Hwmet’utsun – photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram

edible rice-root, Fritillaria affinis, at the northern end of the Cowichan village site on Burgoyne Bay

2018 April 23 blooming of edible rice-root, Fritillaria affinis, at the northern end of the Cowichan village site on Burgoyne Bay, Salt Spring Island

In rural-suburban interface areas, such as Salt Spring Island, populations of these rice-root are now too low for traditional Salish food harvesting.

Planting KEXMIN seed, Lomatium nudicaule, in the roughgarden of the field station with the waxing of the full moon

2018 March 1 KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule & Camassia leichtlinii seeds

Planting KEXMIN seed, Lomatium nudicaule, in the field station’s roughgarden, with the waxing of the full moon, with the small dark seeds of giant camas, Camassia leichtlinii

2018 March 1 KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule & Camassia leichtlinii seeds
2018 March 1 KEXMIN, Lomatium nudicaule montage of stripes in seeds

leaves of Pacific dogwood, kwit-xulhp [Cowichan – Island Hul’q’umi’num’], Cornus nuttallii, in Lhukwlhuwus, Fly-Away-Place, Humet’utsun, Salt Spring Island

leaves of Pacific dogwood, kwit-xulhp [Cowichan – Island Hul’q’umi’num’], Cornus nuttallii, in Lhukwlhuwus, Fly-Away-Place, Humet’utsun — in the southern parcel of Mount Maxwell Ecological Reserve — The bark was often used in medicines. These leaves appear to be the second leafing of 2017 perhaps associated with the first rains in nearly three months.

coastal manroot, Marah oregana, Canada’s rarest and most threatened plant species

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

Canada’s rarest and most threatened plant species, with only one viable populations on a steep ridge above Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island, is,

coastal manroot, Marah oregana (Cucurbitaceae – Cucumber family).

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

This is the more northerly of the six manroot species and this particular population is the most northerly occurrence of this species. Manroot have large perennial roots that live for centuries, can take two decades to become reproductively mature, and require two roots to reproduce (like any good cucumber!), and is relatively rare. On Salt Spring Island, the 3 to 6 metre vines extend from the roots every April and dry out and disintegrate by the time that the cucumber fruit mature in September. Unless most other cucumbers, the seeds are relatively large and heavy. From the Gulf and San Juan Islands this species occurs sporadically near the coast as far south as the mountains of Los Angeles County.

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

At the northern end of this species’ range, the Salish cultivated this wild cucumber and used the fruit as one of their most powerful anti-viral medicines — crucial after the coming of syphilis.

This population remains unprotected. This population above Fulford Harbour was declared ‘endangered’, federally, in 2009 but the Harper Cabinet could not bother to give it legal protection. A few years ago, one of the landowners for this area bulldozed some of the old roots but the population is hanging on and shifting down the hill above Fulford Community Hall.

2017 May 25 photograph taken jointly by Jan Steinman, Ecoreality Cooperative & Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

 

2018 June 5 coast manroot, Marah oregana, on Salt Spring Island late in the flowering period along with fruiting at various phases, photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station

 

2018 June 5 coast manroot, Marah oregana, on Salt Spring Island late in the flowering period along with fruiting at various phases, photograph by Gordon Brent Brochu-Ingram, KEXMIN field station