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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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Garry oak, Quercus garryana, leaf in front of the sun on this morning’s 89% eclipse in the south-western corner of Ruckle Provincial Park, east of Grandma Bay, down the road from KEXMIN field station on Salt Spring Island.
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.
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.