Monday, October 13, 2008

Forty Easy Native Garden Plants

Easy to grow, Easy to maintain, Easy on the Environment

Garry oak Quercus garryana
Deciduous, full sun, needs good drainage, drought tolerant once established, young acorns have sweet scent, late to leaf out, late to drop leaves, only host plant of Propertius duskywing, a blue-listed butterfly.

Shore pine Pinus contorta var. contora
Full sun, tolerant of most growing conditions from droughty soils to bogs but check gene source for adapted plants. Not a first food choice for deer. Host plant of white pine and western pine elfin butterflies.

Seaside juniper Juniperus maritima
Full sun, drought tolerant when established, lovely bluish green foliage, not a first food choice for deer (very similar to Rocky Mt juniper but discovered as new species-grows at Albert Head).

Mountain-ash Sorbus sitchensis
Deciduous, to 4 m tall, full sun to part-shade, white flowers in clusters, red berries in fall, favoured by birds, needs adequate moisture.

Scouler’s willow Salix scouleriana
Deciduous, small tree, quite drought tolerant, fast growing. Host plant for Western tiger swallowtail, mourning cloak and Lorquin’s admiral butterflies.

Oceanspray Holodiscus discolor
Sprays of creamy white flowers adorn this hardy, drought resistant shrub in early July. Plant in full sun to part shade.

Indian plum Oemleria cerasiformis
One of our earliest shrubs to flower, with drooping racemes of white flowers in February and March, quickly followed by chartreuse green leaves. Full sun to part shade, great for early pollinators and birds love the small fruits. Effective in a hedge row. Drought tolerant but prefers some moisture to remain presentable.

Saskatoon Amelanchier alnifolia
Wonderful display of pure white blooms in April, produces small fruit which is quickly consumed by birds, can form lovely small tree. Full sun to part shade, dry to slightly moist soils.

Elderberry Sambucus racemosa
Deciduous, small tree, part shade to full sun, needs moist conditions, lovely panicle of creamy white flowers that feed various insects and hummingbirds, followed by brilliant red berries that are loved by many birds, makes an excellent jelly but must be cooked.

Evergreen huckleberry Vaccinium ovatum
Evergreen shrub with small glossy leaves, full sun with adequate moisture, part-shade to shady, quite drought tolerant once established, slow growing, delicious blue or black fruit. Not a first food choice for deer.

Oregon Grape-tall Mahonia aquafolium
Evergreen, full sun, drought tolerant when established, panicles of yellow flowers, holly-like leaves, edible blue fruit for jellies or wine. Not a first food choice for deer.

Oregon Grape-low Mahonia nervosa
Evergreen, part shade, drought tolerant when established, panicles of yellow flowers, edible fruit for jellies and wine. Not a first food choice for deer.

Salal Gaultheria shallon
Evergreen, sprawling, shrubby groundcover, part-shade to shade, some moisture needed, edible, delicious, dark purple berries, somewhat slow growing. Good for steep slopes. Not a first food choice for deer.

Manzanita Arctostaphylos columbiana also A. x media
Evergreen shrub, full sun, needs excellent drainage, somewhat slow growing, has beautiful peeling reddish bark, bonsai-like shape, white to pink flowers early in spring, supplies food for hummingbirds. Not a first food choice for deer.

Flowering currant Ribes sanguineum
Deciduous, part shade or full sun with adequate moisture, beautiful early red, pink or white (hummingbirds prefer red) flowers, somewhat drought tolerant, fast growing.

Gummy gooseberry Ribes lobbii
Covered in small single, fuschia-like blooms in late March, great for hummingbirds. Part shade to full sun, has prickles.

Mock orange Philedelphus lewisii
Deciduous, full sun, appreciates good drainage, somewhat drought tolerant but needs some supplemental watering to look good, wonderfully scented white flowers.

Sword fern Polystichum munitum
Evergreen, part-shade to shade, needs some moisture but somewhat drought tolerant, large and lush looking. Good filler. Not a first food choice for deer.

Kinnikinnick Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Evergreen groundcover, full sun to part shade, drought tolerant when established, fast growing, beautiful red berries, loved by birds. Great trailing over stone walls. Not a first food choice for deer.

Hairy/orange honeysuckle Lonicera hispidula and L. ciliosa
Vines, rambling plants, good to climb up trees and clamber over shrubs. L. hispidula with purple flowers and L. ciliosa with orange flowers, used by hummingbirds and pollinators. Drought tolerant, full sun to part shade.

Wild strawberry Potentilla (Fragaria) species
Deciduous, fast growing groundcover, white flowers and some plants fruit well. Parent of commercial strawberries. Host plants for two-banded checkered skipper butterfly. P. chiloensis, full sun, P. vesca and virginiana prefer part-shade.

Stonecrops Sedum spathulifolium, S. oreganum, S. divergens
Evergreen groundcover succulents, prefer drought conditions, full sun, yellow flowers, Sedum spathulifolium & divergens bloom May, S. oreganum blooms end of July. Sedum spathulifolium host plant for blue-listed Moss’s elfin butterfly. Sometimes host to the lovely naked broomrape (Orobanche uniflorum).

Alumroot Heuchera micrantha
Evergreen, herbaceous perennial, lovely white sprays of flowers, blooms June-early July. Not a first food choice for deer. The native version of coralbells.

Pearly everlasting Anaphalis margaritacea
Deciduous, herbaceous perennial, to 1 m tall, spreading-plant alone or in containers, silver-gray foliage, white “everlasting” type flowers, blooms mid-July-mid-August. Favourite for pollinators, native bees, butterflies (esp. skippers), beetles. Not a first food choice for deer.

Columbine Aquileja formosa
Deciduous, herbaceous perennial, part-shade, orange flowers, blooms May-June, food plant for hummingbirds.

Wooly sunflower Eriophyllum lanatum
Deciduous, herbaceous perennial, full sun, needs good drainage-add grit to soil, cheerful yellow flowers with blue-green foliage, favoured by pollinators, butterflies, low growing.

Aster Aster subspicatus, A. foliaceus, A. chilensis
Deciduous, herbaceous perennials, spreading-plant alone or in containers, lovely purple flowers with yellow centres, blooms August-September, favoured by pollinators, butterflies, native bees.

Nodding onion Allium cernuum
Semi-evergreen bulbs, full sun, somewhat drought tolerant, pinkish-purple flowers, blooms July, self seeds very freely, edible (like green onions).

Sea Blush Plectris congesta
Annual, full sun, drought tolerant, but grows taller and lusher with supplemental watering, short, bright pink flowers, blooms March-June, self seeds freely.

Farewell-to-spring Clarkia amoena
Annual, full sun, drought tolerant, but grows taller and more lush with supplemental watering, sprawling habit, pink flowers bloom June-till mid-July, sometimes till fall, self seeds somewhat.

Camas Camassia quamash and C. leichlinii
Spring bulb, blooms end of April, early May, beautiful blue flowers (hyacinth-like), full sun, C. quamash prefers drier soils, good for open areas, meadows.

Fawn lily Erythronium oregonum
Beloved spring bulb, blooms mid March, white pendant flowers, part shade, beautiful in drifts under Garry oak trees.

Chocolate lily Fritillaria affinis
Spring bulb, blooms early-mid May, brownish red, speckled with yellow pendant flowers, full sun, charming short lily.

Tiger lily Lilium columbiana
Exquisite flowering lily, approx one metre tall with orange speckled flower in early to mid June. dry to slightly moist soils, full sun to dappled shade.

Gumweed Grindelia integrifolia
Yellow flowers in late summer, need excellent drainage and full sun, wonderful plant for pollinators, member of the aster family. Might be biennial.

Broad-leaved shootingstar Dodecatheon hendersonii
Delightful ground hugging perrenial, pink nodding flowers in March-April. Prefers rich soil, moderately dry, full sun to part shade.

Satinflower Olsynium douglasii
Petite perennial with iris like leaves, purples flowers very early-February-March, great with sedums in rock gardens. Needs full sun and shrap drainage.

Fringecup Tellima grandiflora
Tall spires of odd greenish-white flowers, very fragrant, blooms April-May. Needs good moisture, full sun to part shade, prefers rich soils.

Canada goldenrod Solidago canadensis
Lovely sprays of bright yellow flowers in mid-late summer. Full sun in well drained, poor soil. Food for pollinators.

Sea thrift Armeria maritima
Tight mounds of bright to pale pink flowers, flowering late spring to early summer, can rebloom if flowers are cut back. Needs full sun, excellent drainage, poor soil. Great in rock gardens and in rock walls.

The Ethics of Plant Rescue

Plant Rescue, an Ethical Confusion

The Victoria Native Plant Study Group (NPSG) has been in the forefront of the plant rescue movement. By negotiating with developers we save native plants, even some quite rare ones, from sure eradication under the blades and tracks of land clearing machinery. Sometimes these rescued plants are used in our gardens or are donated to restoration projects. At other times the seeds and cuttings are used to propagate plants in nurseries and further the native plant gardening movement. These all seem to be activities that we can and should support.

But I wonder...

Spring 2002 and 2003 saw a huge plant rescue operation at the Langvista sites in Langford. I was an eager participant. I was delighted to be able to save native plants from certain obliteration and provide my own property and local municipal grounds with often expensive and hard to find native plants. All we rescuers carefully followed the rules laid out by the developers and stayed well out of covenanted areas, glad to know some of the site's natural beauty and plant community was protected. I did give a moment’s pause to wonder where the many birds would be nesting that year. However there was a beautiful, intact site across the road they could migrate to. I ignored the obvious: that site would already have its full complement of birds asserting their territories.

It was early 2003 that I heard this site, which backed onto Mill Hill Regional Park, was also about to be developed. Another rescue began.

This site was amazing, with an incredible diversity of native species, including some blue and red-listed rarities. There were literally thousands of Allium amplectans and many mosses, lichens and fungi.

All these species begs the question - what did we miss? What other rare jewels were not apparent to our non-expert eyes? Hans Roemer had recently found many more species and occurrences of rare plants on Mill Hill than was previously thought to exist there. It is logical to consider the same would be true at this adjacent site.

Last year brought a shift in my perceptions and I didn't feel quite so lucky to be involved in the "good works" of plant rescue. Rather, I felt increasingly sickened by the destruction and plunder of this hugely productive, rich, rare association of ecosystems. And why are we so focused on plant rescue? If you were to try snake rescue or alligator lizard rescue or caterpillar rescue, you would soon realize the futility of “rescues”.
When someone declared they felt like "a kid in a candy store", I really started to wonder what we were doing. This was no candy store that could be restocked with old favourites. It took many thousands of years to produce the plants and animals at this site. Nothing we attempt in our lifetimes could ever replace the astonishing environment that was lost.

When I consider the number of people who made many repeated trips to this site to rescue plants, I wonder what could have been accomplished had that same time and energy been directed towards saving the site? I have heard the developers were willing to sell the site to CRD Parks. What if we had worked with the District of Langford, CRD Parks, GOERT, NGOs, the provincial and the federal governments? Could we have preserved this immensely rich and biodiverse community for future generations? Through our ignorance and inactivity we let a piece of the best of the last remnants be destroyed. Perhaps if we had not been so focused on "rescuing" individual plants we could have rescued an entire ecosystem. What good are the plants that we saved really? They have become mere gardening material rather than part of a dynamic ecosystem. Is that a worthwhile trade?

Should we focus our limited resources on plant rescue? Or would the enthusiastic members of the plant rescue corps harness the power of their combined energies to the preservation of endangered ecosystems?

Perhaps if I could be sure we had explored all possible avenues to protect and preserve every remaining significant Garry oak and associated ecosystem site, then "plant rescue" operations would be worthwhile endeavours. At the moment I find myself sitting on the fence of indecision, staring at the crossroads of choice and I ask myself this question: if there is only a limited time left, what would I want to leave as my legacy?

Moralea Milne, VIP Warden, Devonian Regional Park. Article originally published as "The Ethics of Plant Rescue" in _The Victoria Naturalist_ 60.4(2004): 8-9.

Mistletoe Musings

Mistletoe Musings

Most people know little about mistletoe beyond the delightful Christmas season tradition of “kissing beneath the mistletoe”. Did you know the proper procedure requires that you remove a berry for every kiss, until there are no berries left and no more kissing to be indulged?

In Norse mythology Frigga or Freya, the Goddess of Love, proves the power of a mothers love when her tears raise her son Balder from death caused by an arrow poisoned with red mistletoe berries. Her tears change the berries to a pearly white and rehabilitate the mistletoe reputation. She kisses everyone who walks beneath the mistletoe plant, in gratitude for all they did to protect her son.

Revered by Celtic Druids as a sacred plant, which they called “all-heal”, mistletoe was considered a potent substance that could cure illnesses of many descriptions, serve as an antidote against poisons, ensure fertility, protect against witchcraft, lightning, and death in battle and perform as a divining rod to find buried gold. Apparently, if opposing groups found themselves in the forest beneath mistletoe, they would call a truce for a day (kiss and make up?).

Although mistletoe is known to cause gastro-intestinal distress and can be potentially fatal, it’s properties have been investigated for use in cancer research to stimulate the immune system, kill cancer cells, reduce tumours, increase survival time, decrease pain and improve quality of life.

Mistletoe, from the German, mistel for dung and the old Anglo-Saxon tan for twig or “dung on a twig” refers to the perception that birds would leave behind voided mistletoe seeds on host tree branches, ensuring successful germination. However, that view has been proven false as mistletoe germination actually decreases with passage through a digestive tract. In fact mistletoe berries have evolved a much more remarkable dispersal tactic as they eject their single sticky seed at speeds of up to 60 mph!

In an undisturbed natural environment, the hemi-parasitic (utilizes the tree for food but also able to photosynthesize) mistletoe is not the destructive pest so disparaged by lumber companies but an important component of woodland ecology as it contributes to diversity in the forest. Mistletoe causes the host tree to develop dense clusters of branches, often referred to as the evocative witches’ brooms, which provide well protected roosting and nesting sites and effective cover from predators. Many familiar and some not so common birds such as Cooper’s hawks and spotted owls use witches’ brooms to raise their young, and the phainopepla, the silky flycatcher of the American South-West, relies on mistletoe growing on acacia and mesquite trees for much of its winter food. Several butterflies, such as the endangered (in British Columbia) Johnson’s hairstreak, lay their eggs on dwarf mistletoe, which the caterpillars then consume as food. Many birds, insects and mammals, like the Abert’s or tassel-eared squirrel, either drink the nectar of the mistletoe flowers or consume the berries or plants as an important part of their diets. Even the slow death of the host trees provides home and sustenance to many wild species such as cavity dwelling birds like woodpeckers and nuthatches.

From its place as a natural component of the forest ecology, to sacred plant, to medicinal cure-all, reviled as lumber pest or fondly associated with holiday fun and romance (but watch out for those fertility powers!), mistletoe has long been a part of human culture. Looking out my living room window at a well-loved view of oaks, arbutus and firs, I now realize that a dense cluster of branches high up in the canopy, looking like a well pruned topiary, is actually my own witches’ broom. Now, the next time my husband and I have a disagreement, I’ll maneuver him under the mistletoe and we can call a truce for the day!


Trillium Ovatum

Growing up, our suburban property backed onto abandoned farmers fields, small ponds and deciduous Eastern Woodlands and this is where my naturalist inclinations first appeared. At that time it was the fauna, rarely the flora that caught my young attention and I would spend countless hours scouring the fields, finding bird nests and baby rabbits, milkweed plants hosting monarch butterflies and old coke beds riddled with snake hibernacula. I rescued a muskrat from a neighbours garage and kept it loose in my bedroom until it recovered sufficiently to bite the hand that fed it!
Every spring, small ponds reverberated with the calls of a cast of frogs, each declaring their territory and availability, almost precluding sleep. Surrounding these woodland ponds in deep, rich, moist soil were carpets of chaste white trilliums that gradually shaded to pink and rose. These quite blameless flowers inspired fear and respect as my literal childish interpretations led me to believe that even inadvertent damage to the trilliums could send me to jail. I looked but never touched these glowing woodland gems.
There is an austere beauty, nothing fussy or overblown, that adorns the classic trillium. Floral emblem of Ontario and Ohio and protected by law in several provinces and states, trilliums have leaves and flower parts in threes or multiples of threes. In its most recognizable form, the leaves and sepals are clothed in unblemished green with petals a clear white. Other species can have mottled leaves and petals that range from yellow to pink or red. Rising from two inches to two feet, it never fails to quicken the heart of a rambling nature lover.
Like many lily species, trilliums can be slow to grow from seed, taking seven to fifteen years to bloom, although some of the species more than make up for this by living to a great old age of about one hundred years. The trillium has co-evolved with ants and they have developed a remarkable relationship that ensures dispersal of trillium seeds. The seed has an oily appendage that is attractive to ants, who gladly carry it home and consume the appendage. They then toss the still viable seed onto their garbage heap where it might germinate. If you pick the flower and leaves of a plant with underground storage components, like a bulb or rhizome, you deplete it of energy reserves for the next year and it could take several years before the plant recovers sufficiently to bloom again, hence the prohibitions on picking and collection I remember from so long ago.
Overharvesting and development of woodlands has depleted many populations so that some jurisdictions have enacted laws giving protection to the species. If you find trilliums offered for sale at your local nursery, please inquire if they are nursery grown or wild collected. Resist the temptation to buy wild collected plants.
The common name, wake-robin, most likely refers to the springtime reemergence of the plant, coincident with the welcome arrival of robins. Other familiar names such as birth-root and Indian-balm hint at former medicinal uses. It was valued for its astringent and antiseptic properties that relieved birthing difficulties, eye problems and gangrene as well as its aphrodisiac qualities.
In some botanical sources the following lines from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights Dream have been said to describe trilliums:
Yet mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound,

Although this could be an exquisite description of trilliums, they are native to North America, Japan and the Himalayans, not England or Europe, which generates a little mystery if you don’t read the rest of the poem:
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Love-in-idleness which could be either Viola arvensis (field pansy) or Viola tricolor (Johnny–jump-up), native to the British Isles and a more likely plant for Shakespeare to be familiar with!
Whoever decided to borrow Shakespeare’s lines to describe our North American beauties need not have bothered, trilliums with their clean and simple form and unpretentious beauty need no embellishment.

Moralea Milne
November 1, 2004

Fairy Slippers

Fairy Slipper (Calypso Bulbosa)

Nestled within life protecting moss in the depths of a cold dark cedar swamp or encased in a thick duff on a coniferous forest floor, there can be found a fragile and exquisite orchid that can make a strong man cry.
John Muir, known as the Father of Conservation and the founder of the Sierra Club only once set eyes upon this rare jewel and it was an experience he described as one of the most memorable and impressive moments of his life. He regarded the fairy slipper as “the most spiritual of all the flower people”.
Once common enough to be consumed as food by the people of the Pacific Northwest, it has become an uncommon and memorable pleasure to any naturalist fortunate enough to discover one and they are indeed difficult to find. In late summer they put forth a single small round pleated leaf that hugs the ground. This leaf braves the vagaries of winter until it is joined, just after snowmelt, by it’s solitary nodding blossom. Painted in pink, yellow and white; spotted and striped; the slipper shape of its lower lip alludes to its common name. Permit yourself a moment to gaze at its exquisite form and then bend down, right down to fairy level, to catch the subtle scent of vanilla that wafts through the air.
Even the scientists have been beguiled by this beauty, so much so that they gave it the name “Calypso”, after Homer’s sea nymph in the Odessey, who, for seven years, seduced Ulysses from his journey.
This delicate and sensitive beauty should only be preserved in it’s likeness. To pick or transplant it means almost certain death of the plant. The fragile roots cannot withstand the most gentle tug and it thrives only in partnership with particular fungi.
Rejoice if you are fortunate enough to locate a fairy slipper and think of John Muir who cried upon finding this singular and elusive treasure.

From the Natural World to Your Home

January 5, 2004

In the natural world there exists a step by step series of interactions that occur in order to clothe the landscape we find around us. This process is known as succession. On to bare rocks and minerals the first plant life to arrive will be minuscule algae and lichens. Very slowly, over the eons, they foster the building of soil. As the soil increases, so do the numbers and diversity of lifeforms. Swaying grasses and verdant mosses promote flowering perennials, which encourages the proliferation of shrubs and finally, the canopy of trees. Even there, different species of trees arrive at different times. The pine forests of New England give way to mature hardwood forests, whose spectacle of fall colours enchant us all, just as the familiar alder of the northwest coast precedes the majestic cedar, known by First Nations as the tree of life.

Various conditions affect which plants will establish and survive. Fires bring both destruction and rejuvenation. Pine cones that have been dormant for many years respond to the searing heat by germinating and blanketing the forests with their sun tolerant seedlings. Like an army of small bottle brushes, they cover the soil, protecting and nurturing it. Complexity is added as each new plant modifies and changes the environment, creating conditions ripe for more particular species. Layer upon layer of plants develop and intermingle in an ever changing dance of life.

Clothing your home or yourself can be seen in a similar light. Beginning with the necessities and adding or removing layers as the situation or conditions warrant. A table can be a functional bare surface with only the necessary dishes and cutlery for a simple, introspective meal, or it can be made elaborate with the layering of fabric, texture and colour. Placemats upon tablecloths, prints upon wovens, saturated solids with innovative combinations of colour, centerpieces and candles, napkins and runners, provide friends and family engaging in festive occasions with a feast for the eye as well as the stomach.

April Cornell finds inspiration from the world around her, from nature and from the circumstances that have shaped her. Her muse is just outside her door, from the flamboyant cardinals flocking to her feeder to the elusive fairy slippers nestling in the forests. Just as ecological processes are dynamic, yet rooted in fundamental progressions and ever poised to engage in new plant combinations, so too flow the ideas of April Cornell; vibrant, expressive of the natural world and always graced with intriguing and novel dimensions.

Witty's Lagoon

Witty’s Lagoon CRD Park January 8, 2004

Some places have what they consider a jewel in their crown but Witty’s Lagoon CRD Park, more commonly known as “Witty’s”, has many such jewels; a King’s ransom of the grand, the spectacular, the rare and the precious.
One jewel is the Tower Point section of the park. The following is reprinted with permission from the CRD Parks VIP Newsletter:

At Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park, Tower Point has an intriguing story to tell. It’s a story that reflects the history of colonization on southern Vancouver Island, changes for people and for ecosystems. The land that forms the park has had many uses over time; a First Nations fortification and village site, a Metchosin pioneer settlement to a present day park. But it hasn’t always been known as Tower Point…

Before European contact, the small Ka-Kyaakaan band occupied the land around Witty’s Lagoon. They were part of a larger group of people, the Coast Salish. The Ka-Kyaakaan had a permanent village on the sandy spit that was protected by two fortification sites, one at Tower Point. With its steep bluffs dropping into deep, cold water, Tower Point was an ideal defensive site, one that provided expansive views in all directions. If you look carefully, you can still see evidence of the fortification today.

Spanish and British ships explored the area, providing the first European contact and in 1850, local First Nations and the Hudson’s Bay Company signed the Fort Victoria Treaties. This act marked the beginning of the formal colonization of southern Vancouver Island. In 1860, a new settler to Metchosin named Edwin Rosman purchased several adjoining parcels of land, including Tower Point. The land changed hands several times until Dr. Hart and his family purchased the Tower Point property in 1909, from the Duke family.

The Hart family had water shortage problems on their farm. They commissioned the construction of a gravity-fed irrigation system to provide a reliable water source. The system began with a cement weir above the waterfall on Bilston Creek, near the present day Nature Centre – a fair distance from Tower Point! Water flowed through carefully constructed wooden pipes along the lagoon shore to the Hart property. The wooden pilings and the weir are still visible today when hiking the Lagoon Trail. Once the water reached the Hart property, it was pumped up to a wooden tower and gravity fed to the house and farm. Tower Point now had its modern day name.

The Higgs family later bought the land from Dr. Hart and named the property Darby Farm. The land changed hands several more times until 1970, when CRD Parks purchased it for regional parkland, making Witty’s Lagoon one of the original parks in the regional parks and trails system. The wooden tower you can see today is not the original one, but is believed to be the remnant of a tower probably built by the Higgs to cover and protect the pump used for their well.

Today, Tower Point has much to offer park visitors at any time of the year. It features seaside and mountain vistas, abundant birdlife, wildflowers in spring, a rocky shoreline inhabited by an array of marine life and wildlife viewing opportunities of resident harbour seals. As well, there are stories to tell and clues to find that whisper about the history of this piece of land.

By Colleen Long, Coordinator of Environmental Interpretation

Tower Point is known in botanical circles for the occurrence of several species of rare and uncommon plants: Howell’s triteleia (Triteleia howellii), showcased by local expert Andy McKinnon in a previous edition of the Muse; Geyer’s onion (Allium geyeri var. tenerum); seaside rein orchid (Piperia elegans) and poverty clover (Trifolium depauperatum). The rocky outcrops along the shoreline are festooned with moss and lichens. These areas are extremely sensitive to foot traffic and the moss is easily dislodged at this time of year. Please stay on the paths and help us to maintain these small but crucial populations of threatened and endangered plants.
For several years there has been ongoing broom removal at Tower Point. Broom, as most people are aware, is an aggressive non-native plant that particularly likes sunny, dry locations. Left unchecked it will invade and completely dominate open sites and wipe out populations of native plants. It is not the only invader plant to establish in the park. At the entranceway to Tower Point (Dog Poo Alley as it is known to some) is a small but growing cluster of knapweed, a scourge of our Interior grasslands and the bane of cattle ranchers (it can also be found along Metchosin Rd, through the gravel pit). Himalayan blackberry is also present, leapfrogging it’s way along the hillsides.
If you are interested in volunteering with CRD Parks, as a naturalist, park warden or to be involved in restoration projects, please contact Jenny Eastman or Jane Balfour at 478-3344
To be continued……

Safe haven for migrating waterfowl, repository of First Nations archaeological sites, precarious home to rare plants, soothing balm from our frenetic pace of life, Witty’s Lagoon Regional Park encompasses 55.5 hectares (approx. 137 acres) of Metchosin landscape and a place in the hearts and spirits of residents and visitors alike. Designated a nature appreciation park and brought into being by committed people with foresight and a thoughtful eye to the future, Metchosin has been the beneficiary of those long ago decisions.
Homesteaded by Captain Cooper and Thomas Blinkhorn and family, the 385 acre property known as Bilston Farm quickly passed through several hands until it was bought by John and Charlotte Witty in May of 1867. They and their descendants raised their families and tilled the land until Yvonne Witty left during the 1950s.
The Capital Regional District began acquiring parcels of land around the lagoon in 1966 with the intention of creating a park, a process that has been extended with the recent purchase of a property adjacent to the church. This new property was acquired to secure a covenant to protect Bilston Creek and riparian area and allow possible future access to the beach. Since the remaining land is not considered to have imperiled ecological communities, the intention has been that CRD Parks would then offer it for sale in order to purchase other more environmentally at risk properties. Negotiations have been started at the behest of some Metchosin residents to purchase the property because of its place in the cultural history of Metchosin’s first European settlers.
Heading down the trail from the Nature House, watch for the giant arbutus tree on your left, recorded as the 10th largest arbutus in BC. There is another very large specimen to your immediate right. The trail quickly arrives at Bilston Creek with it’s man-made impoundment that early pioneers constructed to irrigate properties at Tower Point. It now serves as important summer habitat for the native cutthroat trout in the creek. Bilston Creek stretches 10 km from Mt Macdonald to Witty’s Lagoon and good stewardship practices are critical to maintain the health of the creek and lagoon.
Crossing the bridge, close up views of the twenty metre rocky bluff known as Sitting Lady Falls are offered from the viewing platform above the falls, but taking the fork to the north affords a more spectacular panorama of the deluge, especially in late winter and spring when the creek is at its most tumultuous..
The walk to the beach, through enormous big-leaf maples, Douglas firs and more gigantic arbutus, as well as past some ancient apple trees takes you alongside the lagoon and salt marsh. Natural ongoing processes will eventually change the lagoon from a saltwater environment to freshwater marsh, however, these processes can be accelerated by increased sediment loads from human activities.
Many birders, novice and expert alike, enjoy the multitude of bird species that use the park. Like snowbirds to Florida, huge flocks of migrating American widgeons overwinter at the lagoon during our mild rainy season while elusive marbled godwits are rare transients glimpsed by only a lucky few. In late winter great horned owls set up their territory in the park with their nocturnal Hoo!, hu-hu-hu, Hoo! Hoo! Early May brings “birder’s neck” as the quick moving warblers fly through the treetops on their way to northern breeding grounds. The secretive Swainson’s and hermit thrushes entice the females with their melodious flutelike songs before the summer brings quiet as parents are busy feeding their families and hiding from predators.
What better time to enjoy the pleasures of the long sandy beach and tidal flats? Stretching 550 metres, the beach and sandspit provide great picnic areas and the shallow tidal flats can stretch half a kilometer during low tides, providing many hours of summer fun for the exuberant energies of the young and young at heart. Unfortunately we are loving this area to death, as it appears that overuse has caused a decline in the diversity of marine life in the tidal flats.
Contrary to intuition, the natural forces of erosion can have a silver lining and the eroding bluffs to the south of the spit prove that point, as they provide the sand that supplies the beach. Without that erosion the beach and sandspit would someday disappear. Those with a botanical bent can amuse themselves searching this area for the uncommon yellow sand verbena (Abronia latifolia) and rare contorted-podded evening primrose (Camissonia contorta).
Just behind the beach area is an old abandoned field and orchard that is quickly being displaced by invasive species such as Himalayan and evergreen blackberries, broom and English hawthorn. Introduced rabbits are everywhere, perhaps keeping the owl chicks well fed.
One small section of the park, over near Duke Rd and Cliff Drive has a remnant Garry oak ecosystem on some rocky bluffs and a doctoral student from UVic has been researching camas cultivation in this area.
After arrival or before departure from the main parking lot, be sure to visit the refurbished Nature House (open weekends and most holidays 12-4 pm), stocked with fascinating artifacts and data of marine, plant and animal life and friendly volunteer staff grateful (it can be quiet!) to answer your questions. From the giant grey whale vertebrae often propping open the door on a warm spring afternoon to the great blue heron who keeps an interested eye on proceedings, the nature house is a mini treasury of natural history knowledge.

Wildlife Trees

Wildlife Trees
December 2005

Wildlife tree or firewood? Long known as snags (and we’re not talking not new age sensitive guys!), dead or partially dead standing trees have traditionally been sought after as nicely cured firewood or considered “eyesores” that require prompt removal. However, scientists, naturalists and our provincial government have realized that these seemingly lifeless trees are, in fact, biological “hotspots” that contribute enormously to the diversity of a forest and the BC Wildlife Act has provided protection to them in some cases.
Many reasons contribute to the death of a tree but a common cause is from a wound that becomes infected with bacteria and fungi, which in turn attracts insects who encourage the softening of the heartwood, making it more easily excavated by woodpeckers. As diseased and dying trees progress they provide food, nesting, roosting and denning sites and hunting perches to over 80 species of wildlife, many of which completely depend on them for some portion of their life. The larger the circumference and height of the tree, the more ecologically valuable it becomes. Old, mature Douglas-firs with strong, thick branches are preferred sites for bald eagle nests, larger diameter alders find favour with pileated woodpeckers and outsized, hollow trees can offer den sites for bears and river otters. Characteristics of valuable wildlife trees include sizeable diameter and height, thick branches, loose bark, broken tops, heart rot and other decay. To determine if your tree is a wildlife tree or if it is in use currently, look for nests, signs of feeding (owl pellets, feathers, fur), denning holes, wood chips around base, claw marks or fur on bark, food caches or bat guano around or beneath loose bark.
Just as “no man is an island”, a wildlife tree is more ecologically productive with a naturally vegetated buffer to protect the tree during storm and high wind events as well as provide a more viable environment for the wildlife that use the tree.
In the Pacific Northwest, some trees will remain standing for decades to hundreds of years after their death so careful consideration should be given before they are cut down as a “dangerous” hazard. Even after they come to their final resting place on the ground, downed logs continue to provide homes and food for smaller mammals, lizards, amphibians and insects, supply travel routes through the forest, act a “nurse” logs to young seedlings and finally contribute as nourishment to the soil.
If you are concerned about a wildlife tree for safety reasons, you can consider modifying them so that they retain some natural value. Remove the worrisome limbs or cut off the top (leave it as tall as possible) and if it is determined that the tree should be felled, leave it as a downed log rather than remove it entirely. If it is too obtrusive an eyesore, move the log into a forested area to decay.
WiTS or Wildlife Tree Stewards is a stewardship program of the Vancouver Island Region of the Federation of BC Naturalists (FBCN). The goal is to create, coordinate and assist a network of community stewards committed to conserving coastal wildlife tree habitats through volunteer monitoring, landowner agreements, and community education along the Strait of Georgia. If you are interested in their program, contact Gwen Greenwood – 250-652-2876,
Save the firewood cutting for smaller diameter trees, they’re easier to haul and chop anyways. Enjoy your wildlife trees, find a hidden spot from which you can watch the daily and seasonal wildlife dramas that make rural living so much a part of a Metchosin experience.

The Life Cycle of a Wildlife Tree:
live, healthy tree
• provides nesting, roosting and perching opportunities
live unhealthy tree with decay or growth deformities
• provides nesting, roosting and habitat for strong primary excavators (woodpeckers, sapsuckers, nuthatches, chickadees) and nesting platforms for bald eagles, etc
dead tree with strong heartwood
• provides habitat for bats, brown creepers and insects under loose bark and in cracks
dead tree with soft heartwood
• provides homes for cavity nesters: many birds, small mammals and amphibians
fallen dead tree
• provides territory for small mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians; provides travel routes for small creatures; nourishes and replenishes soil
BC Wildlife Act
Currently, Section 34(b) of the BC Wildlife Act extends year-round protection to a select group of birds’ nests that include those of Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Great Blue Herons. For other bird species, the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and provincial Wildlife Act protects nests only when they are occupied by adult birds, their young and/or eggs. For these species, the nest tree is vulnerable to removal when occupation by birds or their eggs is unknown.

Section 34 of the BC Wildlife Act states:
34 A person commits an offence if the person, except as provided by regulation, possesses, takes, injures, molests or destroys
(a) a bird or its egg,
(b) the nest of an eagle, peregrine falcon, gyrfalcon, osprey, heron or burrowing owl, or
(c) the nest of a bird not referred to in paragraph (b) when the nest is occupied by a bird or its egg.

WiTS information website:
Online Wildlife Tree Atlas:
Wildlife Tree or Dangerous Tree?

Wildlife Pond

“If you build it, frogs will find it”
May 2006

Do you enjoy the loud and raucous “konkoreeah” of the red-winged blackbird as it announces it’s suitability as a mate, the no less subdued mating calls of our diminutive tree frogs or the brilliant acrobatic flights of the territorial dragonflies? Then a wildlife pond could give you endless enjoyment and help sustain our local wildlife.
Water is one of our most basic needs and it is just as critical to most of our native wild creatures. Water not only sustains our bodies but it is a major component of the web of life. From the smallest algae-eating organisms which provide food to carnivorous insects that in turn feed fish and birds or even fat and sleek river otters, our creeks, ponds and lakes provide crucial habitat that nourish our senses as well as the biodiversity of our natural communities.
While Metchosin is blessed with a wealth of forested lands and rocky knolls abound, we have not been as gifted with wetlands. Some residents are fortunate enough to live along one of our few creeks, within the vicinity of Blinkhorn or Matheson Lake, or near a small wetland, but most of us have little more than a dripping tap or a miserly well to remind us of the delight that water can bestow.
Naturescaping your property is a concept wherein we enhance our yards to accommodate the needs of other creatures. We can supply habitat by filling a bird feeder or erecting a bat house, by planting native plants to attract birds and butterflies or by constructing a pond.
Large, small, elaborate or minimal, a pond can supply you with endless hours of interest as you watch the arrival and “settling in” of many kinds of flora and fauna. With natural water sources in short supply and competition high, it doesn’t take long for a traveling tree frog or a patrolling dragonfly to take up residence. We once created a very small pond, only about 2 x 3 ft and 18” to 24” deep. We added a few “feeder” goldfish and before we knew it we were visited by a great blue heron, who amused us immensely with it’s mime-like immobility and lightning strikes. Well worth a few fish.
However, the years have passed and we have learned that there are more “correct” ways to build ponds and supply habitat.
When considering adding a pond to your yard, you need to first consider why it is you want a pond. You can have either a fish pond or a wildlife pond but not both in the same space. Fish will eat amphibian eggs and juveniles as well as dragonfly larvae, so if you hope to attract these creatures you should not introduce fish. Of course, you can build a fish pond to attract herons, raccoons and river otters that feed on your fish! Not a bad idea either! One loud note of caution. If you have small children, you might want to consider if you can keep them away from the pond, either by fencing them in or out, until they are old enough to appreciate the dangers of water. Otherwise perhaps you could save this article and this dream until they are over the age of five.
If you have decided a wildlife pond is in your plans, then, for maximum enjoyment, place your pond close to the house so that even during a busy day you can take a moment to enjoy it’s subtleties. A small but manageable wildlife pond functions well if it is 8 ft x 5 ft and 18-24 inches deep. It is recommended to build a pond with varying depths and sloping sides so that wildlife can enter and exit (a salamander cannot climb out of a steep-sided edge). A shallow, pebbly “beach” area allows birds to safely drink and bathe. Ponds should receive at least 5 hours of sunlight a day to promote the growth of healthy pond plants and tadpoles. Heavy leaf fall can deprive the pond of oxygen, however some shade will moderate the water temperature and prevent the pond from over-heating. A shelf that is 9-12 inches deep and 12 inches wide around the edge of the pond will allow you to place plants in containers around the edge, which will probably be used by frogs as a suitable site to lay their eggs. A few stacked flat rocks on the bottom of the pond will provide cover for tadpoles in case a heron or raccoon comes visiting. Extend some logs or rocks above the surface to provide a resting place for birds, amphibians and dragonflies. If you are using city water instead of well water or fall rains to fill your pond, let the water stand a week before adding any organisms or the chlorine might prove deadly. It will naturally dissipate over one week. Some native water-loving plants include: common cattails, yellow or white marsh marigold, wild calla, the beautiful, bright pink-flowered water smartweed and our native yellow pond lily. Large paving stones around the edge of the pond can be dangerous to frogs as they will sometimes stick to hot stones and dehydrate. Native shrubs, sedges, rotting logs and rocks around the back edge will quickly naturalize the look of the pond.
To add more diversity and an added dimension, add a bog garden while you are constructing the pond. Line a shallow area next to the pond with a liner in which you have slashed a few holes. This will help supply any bog plants which sufficient moisture yet not drown them.
If your pond starts to appear cloudy, it might be suffering from too much algal growth, a result of excessive heat and sunshine and too rich conditions. Juvenile amphibians have a huge appetite for algae but you can also add a few water snails and some oxygenating plants to restore the natural balance. If you are worried about mosquitoes, dragonfly larvae (which are quite fearsome looking), have a voracious taste for mosquito larvae. Every site and book that I’ve read has recommended adding a bucket of water from an established natural pond to kick start your pond with the correct bacteria and microorganisms it needs to thrive. If you do this, please remember to NEVER transport any amphibians with the water, it is illegal and you could be introducing invasive bullfrogs or green frogs. Soon enough tree frogs and perhaps a salamander or two will find your pond, and dragonflies, during their aerial surveys, will scout out your new habitat almost before the plants are in the water.

For excellent, detailed plans and references:
Native Plants of the Coastal Garden by Pettinger and Costanzo, 2002

Who Who Hoo's Out There?

Who, Who, Hooo’s Out There?
Dec 13, 2006

As humans, we usually consider January and February to be a rather quiet time of the year. The holiday season is over and the gardening can really wait for another month. However, with your window left open at night, just before you drift off to sleep, you can hear, not the prancing and pawing of 8 tiny reindeer, but the hooting and calling of some lust addled owls.
This is the time when their hormonal juices dictate that great horned owls reconnect with their lifelong mates, serenading each other with their particular love hoots (is this where hootenanny comes from?), bowing and touching bills in courtship.
The male, like most raptors, is smaller than the female but he has a deeper, more resonant voice, sometimes described as “hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo”. You’ll hear him first and then her higher-pitched, enticing replies.
Great horned owls are impressive birds. The largest of all our owls, they stand 18-25 in (46-63 cm.) tall with wingspans that measure almost 6 feet (145 cm.). They are easily recognizable by their cat-like face, with yellow eyes and two large “ear” tufts (not actually part of their ears). This feline resemblance has earned them the common names of cat-owl and winged tiger as well as hoot owl.
Great horned owls forgo the chore of nest building and will use large abandoned or commandeered nests, chiefly of red-tailed hawks, crows and magpies or snuggle into sizeable hollows or the broken tops of wildlife trees. Sometimes they will settle into the tangled mass of branches that we call witch’s broom (created by the parasitic but wildlife habitat enhancing mistletoe plants). Their most common nest tree in BC is an older Douglas-fir but they also routinely use western red-cedar, ponderosa pine and white spruce. There they raise an average of two young, with both parents sharing incubation and feeding duties. The young owls fly at about 9-10 weeks but remain with their extremely protective parents till the end of the summer, as they hone their hunting skills. Most great horned owls, after leaving their nest, rarely move more than 80 km from the area in which they were born.
Owl feathers have a soft texture and the front edge of the first wing feathers are toothed like a saw or comb, attributes which help the wind pass over the wings, enabling silent flight. Their facial disks are shaped like a bowl, which acts as a parabolic dish to help funnel sound into their ear openings, which are positioned unevenly on the skull, to assist them in gauging the location of their prey. Owls can detect a left/right time difference of about 30 millionths of a second! Most owls are active at night and to enhance their vision, have developed large, tubular-shaped eyes that are locked into their sockets. To make up for this lack of eye movement, they have double the number of neck vertebrae as us (14 to our 7), which enables them to move their heads up to 270 degrees and almost upside down. They are able to see 100 times more acutely than humans and if owl to human size were correlated, our eyes would be the size of oranges! Their sense of smell, however, is much less developed and explains why a meal of skunk is palatable!
All these adaptations have contributed to great horned owls being feared and successful avian predators who have very few natural enemies. Their hunting territories encompass about 100-300 ha. Generally edge habitats are favoured, that intersection between open space and forest which supplies significant diversity, allowing more hunting and nesting opportunities. Small to medium sized mammals (especially rabbits and rodents), and birds as large as ducks and geese form their diet.
Brave, foolhardy or driven by uncontrollable parental instincts, smaller birds, particularly crows, are often seen mobbing owls. Their loud, raucous cries and repeated dives are thought to be protective strategies to direct owls away from their young.
At the end of the rearing season, male and female great horned owls will go their separate ways, having a “holiday” from each other until the next breeding season, when they seek out their former mates. Listen for them.

Barred owls are the other large owl that can be found in Metchosin. Like many of us, they are new immigrants from the east coast, showing up in BC in 1943. The first barred owls I ever saw were a pair energetically mating at the Cook Rd entrance to 100 Acre Woods in April of 2000. I know you are not supposed to transfer human emotions and behaviours onto animal actions, but they sure seemed like they were having a good time! Their calls, screams and antics were something to be heard and seen, the kind of moment that confirms your commitment to nature. Their distinctive hooting has been described as the phrase "Who, cooks, for-you? Who, cooks for-you, all?".
Barred owls stand approximately 21 inches tall (46-58 cm.), have a round, puffy head without ear tufts, dark eyes and a vertically streaked lower front chest.
They are considered secondary cavity nesters, meaning they use cavities in trees but are incapable of creating the holes themselves. They must find either large nest holes that have been excavated and abandoned by woodpeckers or natural cavities that are the result of internal or external decay.
With the arrival of barred owls has been a drastic decrease in our smaller western screech owl, some people think as a prey item for larger owls. Barred owls are opportunistic feeders, consuming that which is easy to come by. They usually eat small to medium sized mammals and smaller birds, with the occasional lizard, amphibian or insect as an appetizer. Barred owls are notorious for attacking joggers along paths, perhaps mistaking bouncing ponytails for squirrels!
Mated for life, they start breeding around the end of March and raise their 1- 4 young for 4 months in their preferred nest trees of larger Douglas-fir (greater than 50 cm diameter) or black cottonwoods. The young leave the nest at 4 weeks and remain in the branches of trees until they are able to fly, at 35-40 days. Juveniles tend to disperse short distances, usually within 6 miles. Their only natural enemy is the great horned owl. Many of the larger owls have long life spans, 10-13 years in the wild and up to 29 years in captivity.
Whether enjoying a hike at dawn or dusk or resting at home with the windows open, Metchosin forests might provide you with the opportunity to see or hear these magnificently adapted birds of prey.

Water Flows Downhill

Emergency Preparedness and Reliance on Well Water

By John Webb

A couple of years ago when we moved from relatively urban south Metchosin to the more frontier like north end of town we discovered that we would move off the CRD water supply and onto a well. There was a drilled well on the property but no infrastructure attached. I met with a well contractor who explained the two pumps we required: one in the house to maintain water pressure and one down the well to bring up the water. It occurred to me that if the well began to run short of water in late summer or the power went out, this system design provided no backup. We could be stuck with little or no water. Instead I asked for a system where the water from the well is not pumped to the house, but to a 3,000 gallon tank up the hill from our house. This tank is automatically kept full. It then feeds downhill to the house – with or without power.

The system has worked flawlessly over the past few years, we have lots of water when we need it for daily use or in the case of extravagant summer watering, the system can then take a day or two to catch up. There is a good reserve for fire-fighting if we ever need it and in the event of lengthy power outages like those we have all shared over the past months there has been a more than adequate supply of water, albeit somewhat colder than wished.

This has been so effective I would recommend those without a holding tank to consider retrofitting if your terrain provides an adequate spot for a tank. A tank mounted on a water tower would be another idea but don’t discount the weight of the water and make sure the tower engineering compensates – a building permit would be required as well.

Tap Dancing With Maples


The Duncan Forestry Centre was overrun with excited children and their intrigued parents on February 2 when they held a Maple Syrup Festival. Did you know that there is an association of maple syrup producers “Up-Island”, known as “Sapsuckers”, who are converting the sap from our bigleaf maples into a delicious amber syrup?
Lawrence Lampson from Glenora Farm and Gary Backlund from Backlund’s Backwoods are leading the maple syrup revolution on the island. Glenora Farm has been selling limited quantities of their award winning maple syrup from their shop at Glenora Corners, near Duncan and Gary and Katherine Backlund have written “Bigleaf Sugaring, Tapping the western maple” which provides excellent information on how to become involved in producing your own maple syrup.
After touring the displays, watching a tapping and syrup making demonstration and buying a 100 ml jar of syrup for $10.00, I too became caught up in the enthusiasm that permeated the show. I was ready to try my hand at maple tapping and syrup making. Although there were tapping kits for sale at the Forestry Centre, they had all been sold by the time I arrived at noon. Buckerfield’s was also sold out, so I called on Ian Mackenzie, known for his fabulous wooden buckets for sale at Luxton Fairgrounds, and asked for his assistance. He used his lathe to produce a number of wooden spiles and donated one sample collection kit, so that I could start my new hobby. Of course these kind of things never run smoothly for me and I had several trips to the hardware store before I had all the proper equipment together to collect sap. One half inch auger-type cordless drill with bit and charged battery, several “IV” type bags that I scrounged from the Candlelight and Wine shop and a couple of yards of one half inch plastic tubing that is sold in the plumbing section of Slegg’s.
There is something so quintessentially Canadian about tapping maple trees; perhaps it awakens a remnant pioneer spirit. Whatever the reason, I found myself grinning ear to ear as I gently hammered the spiles into the maple’s trunk and watched the first clear drops of sap drip through the plastic lines. So far, in about three days, I have collected 1.25 gallons of sap from five collection sites, which I have processed into one quarter cup of sweet, thin syrup (the general ratio is approximately seventy three parts sap to one part syrup). There just wasn’t enough sap to boil down into a thicker syrup without burning my pots (again). However, it is still delicious and I am inordinately proud of my accomplishment! One word of caution, if you decide to boil sap into syrup, do NOT go and answer emails while the sap is boiling on the stove, it is amazing how you can forget the time and how difficult it is to rescue a crusty burnt pot for future use!
Some people who tap maples do not bother with producing maple syrup and use the sap in place of water; for making rice, beer or wine. I drank a cupful right from the collection container and it was like drinking a very pleasant, slightly sweet glass of water. I’m sure there are going to be great health benefits from consuming a substance that causes trees to grow, buds to burst, leaves to unfurl and flowers to bloom (I’m hoping it’s the elixir of youth)!
Researchers are studying the bigleaf maple but as yet there are no hard and fast rules on when to tap, the sap appears to be flowing to its own particular beat, and no combination of conditions has explained when to tap or which trees are sweeter or more productive. One general guideline I found, written in 1972 “points toward choosing open growing trees with vigorous growth. The research points away from choosing trees in dry sites. The presence of sapsucker holes almost always indicates a good tapping tree. An interesting footnote to tapping is that it was found that holes drilled when sap was running produced much more sap than holes drilled when sap didn’t run for a few days. Later on when sap started running, these “dry” holes wouldn’t produce, yet adjacent older holes in the same stem would” (
Tapping season is November through till March, be aware that at times the sap will flow, then stop, then start again. When the buds begin to break, the sap will develop an unpleasant flavour and it is best to put away the spiles and buckets until next season. If you are fortunate enough to be collecting too much sap and find you don’t have time to boil into syrup, the sap can be frozen for later use.
Are you interested in participating in the 100 Mile Diet movement? For now, try the early bigleaf maple flowers, before they are fully open, and savour their distinct broccoli-like flavour. Then, late next fall, join the sapsucker brigade and complement your slow food diet with a delectable local sweetener..


Spotted Knapweed

Spotted Knapweed and Other Invasive Species
or Out, Damn’d Spot(ted)! Out!
By Moralea Milne Nov 9, 2007

For many of us, fall means innumerable soccer practices and endless hours ferrying our children from one activity to another. For others, cooler weather and shortening days creates the incentive to travel, to seek out warmer and drier climes.
To some of us involved in environmental do-goodism, it is a time for duty. The autumn rains soften the summer baked concrete soils, signaling that it is time to head to Devonian Park or other areas that are rife with invasive species and begin again the Herculean task of rescuing our flora and fauna from the death grip of introduced, invasive species.
Invasive species, alien invaders, dog-gone weeds! Almost more than development and land use changes, they tear at the resolve of environmentalists everywhere. Insidiously they show up, skulking about for years before they seemingly leap out of the blue and claim their territory, decimating meadows, woodlands and wetlands alike. There is an invasive specie for every situation.
Walk through East Sooke Park or parts of Witty’s Lagoon and find the forest floor overrun with that rhodo wannabe, spurge laurel (aka daphne) and that creeping, climbing, suffocating, green menace-English ivy. Meadows that were once clothed in blue camas are now defiantly yellow with broom and gorse. Wetlands throughout the continent have come under ferocious attack by that siren, purple loosestrife, some has recently been spotted in Metchosin. There are bloated bullfrogs, copulating rabbits, raucous flocks of omnipresent starlings and literally millions of proliferating black licorice slugs. There are relatively new weeds like spotted knapweed, tansy ragwort and spartina as well as the older foes like broom, gorse and hedgehog dogtail (grass).
Without too much difficulty you can get me to rant on interminably about introduced, invasive species, no doubt ensuring some eye-rolling and probably causing some people to duck when they see me coming! Why all the furor?
Introduced, invasive species are organisms that have, through no fault of their own, arrived in a new landscape. A landscape that is conducive to their growth and reproductive success and one that does not include any naturally occurring forces that could provide some restraint on their burgeoning populations. Meaning perfect growing conditions and no predators of consequence.
New plants and animals-wouldn’t that add to biodiversity-the buzzword of the times? Unfortunately what happens is that the new organisms, be they of the air, earth or water, act like kids in a candy store. With no natural limits (parents or shopkeeper) they multiply at such a rate that they outcompete the existing flora and fauna (decimate the candy store). They muscle out the highly adapted native species. Instead of a meadow with thousands of plants and dozens of species, you have an impoverished site, a grassland with a only few species and most of these not recognized by the local insects, birds and animals as being edible or supplying habitat values. Adding insult to injury, these newcomers often come equipped with the ability to change their surroundings to be more to their liking. Some release poisons that stop plants from germinating, giving themselves more space to grow; some change the soil components so that there might be more nitrogen, making it harder for plants adapted to poor soils to survive; some use up all available moisture; some, like the introduced grey squirrel, use up the available nesting sites and eat the young of other species.
How do they get here?
They come in a variety of ways. Homesick for the old country? Bring over a few of your favourite species to make you feel more at home in your new landscape, that’s what happened with broom and starlings. Sometimes they arrive inadvertently in a shipment of agricultural seeds (knapweed); sometimes they hitch-hike a ride on a passing ship (rats); or in the ballast water picked up in one port and jettisoned in another (zebra mussels). Sometimes we invite them in, thinking they will take care of a problem (cane toads in Australia or English sparrows which were first imported to help fight agricultural insect pests, although they are primarily grain and seed eaters!) or they come by accident in nursery stock (many pathogens such as Chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease and black licorice slugs). Sometimes the nursery stock itself is to blame, English ivy is used extensively in landscaping and purple loosestrife is a beautiful garden ornamental.
There has been a slight shift in the thinking of those professionals entrusted with the task of designing management strategies to tackle invasive species. While not abandoning the battle to control more established weeds like broom, gorse and ivy, there is now an effort afoot to recognize new invasive plants (and animals!) before they become an entrenched problem. The expectation is that if we can identify and deal with an invasive introduction while it is a relative newcomer, it will be easier to control or even eradicate.
One of our newest invasive species is spotted knapweed. Only a few years ago there were a handful of plants along the road by the gravel pit and at the entrance to Tower Point. Unfortunately no one recognized the danger in time and the large field in the park is now chock-a-bloc full of the weed. If you have ever traveled to the southern interior you will know what a huge problem this can become. There, knapweed is universally hated as it invades pasture and crown land grazing areas, reducing them to knapweed deserts, unfit for livestock or deer and elk. Knapweed is a displaced member of the aster family and one of the plants which secrete a toxin that prevents other plants from growing in the area around them.
At a casual glance it looks somewhat like a smaller variety of thistle and it has a stiff, thistle-like flowerhead, usually purple, with narrow, divided leaves, the layered bracts surrounding the flower are tipped with a triangular black spot-hence its name. Flowering from July till October, it is capable of producing 400 seeds per plant in its normal, dry, growing conditions and up to 25,000 seeds under irrigation! It is a strong competitor on disturbed lands but can also invade natural landscapes.
The most effective and least time consuming way to handle invasive species is to prevent their establishment. Promote healthy native plant communities, disturb soil as little as possible and learn to recognize these alien invaders. Once an infestation is found, a control strategy should be mapped out. Decide where to spend your energy to get the greatest returns. Generally it is recommended to deal with the smallest areas of new invasions on the least disturbed sites, working towards the largest infestations on the most disturbed areas. It is crucial to success to limit new seed production and to deplete the seed bank.
In the case of spotted knapweed, it may be hand pulled, usually three times a year. Once, while the soil is still moist and pulling can remove the taproot; secondly, after the remaining plants have bolted (they form ground hugging rosettes-somewhat resembling dock- that will send up a flowering stalk)-usually in late June; and thirdly before seeds are dispersed. Mowing and cutting can be somewhat effective and should be carried out in the early flower stage; plants are less likely to resprout if allowed to bolt before cutting. Cutting must be repeated over several years to deplete the seedbank. If you are interested in using a chemical solution, non-selective herbicides will need repeat applications (a wipe-on application of Round-up is recommended) but first consult an accredited professional for advice. New plants will germinate, so remember to keep visiting the site and remove of any newly emerging or resprouting plants.
Other new invasive plant species are: carpet burweed, orange hawkweed, giant and Japanese knotweeds, dalmation toadflax, yellow flag iris, giant hogweed and butterfly weed. Contact the Coastal Invasive Plant Committee for more information at or 857-4272.
Too numerous and too successful and sometimes it seems, on a particularly disheartening day, too impossible to even contemplate controlling. However, some Sunday mornings during the winter months, we manage to have some fun and share good times at Devonian Regional Park as we continue our “duty” at the park. It will be seven years this season that we have been involved in removing broom from the park and we are making a difference. If you would like to join us, contact Moralea at 478-3838 or

Scorpion Comes To Stay

Scully the Scorpion
Strange Bedfellows!
Sept 14, 2006

Taxes and scorpions make strange bedfellows.
Going through your tax papers is not an activity most of us would find very exciting, but for Johan Wessels, of Galloping Goose Sausage Co fame, it brought both excitement and a surprise guest.
No, the taxman has not taken up residence, but as Johan was rummaging through his papers in July, an unusual and somewhat alarming visitor made it’s presence known by falling onto his lap. Perhaps it hitchhiked in a box of Okanagan fruit or stole a ride in his son’s truck, returning home from Alberta. Scully, a Northern Scorpion, however, is remaining mute on that issue.
Northern scorpions, looking like miniature lobsters with an attitude, usually reside in the hot, dry, south facing hillsides of the Southern Okanagan and Alberta. Their upturned tail comes equipped with a poisonous stinger that can cause pain and swelling much like a hornet’s sting. Active at night, they feed on spiders and other small insects, by day they hide under rocks and bits of bark. Live-born young spend the time before their first molt riding on their mothers back. They take up to 5 years to become adults and can live up to 25 years.
Not particularly common even in their natural habitat, in Metchosin it is one of a kind! Scully is living comfortably, though caged, in his new home, being fed various insect delicacies by the Wessels family.
Sad news reached me late in 2008 that Scully had passed away. Strangely enough, the family had become quite fond of their unusual housemate and he is missed.

Sheep Moth

Sept 14, 2006
Moralea Milne

One of the things that is the most rewarding about writing articles for the Muse is the feedback from people who have something of interest that they want to show me in the hope I will share their excitement and interest. And I do! Several times lately I have had occasion to visit a nearby home and discover something new and fascinating. One was the unexpected scorpion at the Wessels’ home and another was an exquisite sheep moth that had been rescued from the grill of a car by a Metchosin resident. A Halloween mixture of black, orange and pink, the 2 ½ inch moth with it’s feathery antennae is a reputedly common (I’ve never seen it before) day flying moth of the silkworm family. This species of moth will overwinter as an egg, spend next year as a caterpillar feeding on snowberry and members of the rose family (don’t touch the caterpillars-those spines can sting!), overwinter again in it’s chrysalis and finally emerge in all it’s mothly glory the following summer to breed and die. The adult moths have taken a decidedly different evolutionary tract from most other creatures, focusing on procreating to the point they have evolved without the ability to eat in their last life stage as a moth. They have no mouthparts and only live a week or two after emerging from their cocoons. But their beauty, while around, is incomparable.

Septic Savvy

$$$$$$ DOWN THE DRAIN $$$$$$

Have you thought much about your septic system lately? Ever? If you are like many of us, you moved to a rural area from an urban environment where we didn’t really think about what we poured down our drains or flushed through our toilets. It is only when an unmistakable odour comes wafting up from the direction of our drainfield, a toilet backs up or some very suspicious sludge starts moving across the lawn that we wake up to the consequence of an ill-treated septic system. And what a rude awakening that can be!! Fixing a failed septic system can run into many thousands of dollars, pose serious health risks, lead to polluted wells, streams, lakes and groundwater and strain relations with neighbours, especially those downhill.
What is a septic system? There are many different systems, but they generally follow the same basic principals.
A pipe leads from your home to a septic tank. Many older systems have 600 gal (what’s that in metric?) tanks, while newer models for a single family three bedroom residence are now 900 gallons. If installing a new tank, purchase the largest size you can afford, the larger the tank size, the cleaner the wastewater leaving the tank. Older models are single chambered while the newer models are double chambered. Wastes separate and settle out in the tank and bacteria work to decompose the solids. A call to Ken’s Septic revealed that the decomposition occurs at the top of your tank. When the tank cover is removed, there should be no odour until the sewage crust is broken. Some crusts are so thick, a 200 pound man could stand on them! The ideal crust will look like rich, black compost. The wastewater then flows through a distribution box from where it is directed into the drainfield, through a network of pipes with small holes. The water gradually seeps into the soil, where further filtration and microbial activity occur, rendering the wastewater harmless and recharging the groundwater.
Anke Bergner, CRD Environmental Education Coordinator, pointed out the do’s and don’ts of septic system management. Maintenance and monitoring, reduce and refrain are the bywords. They can be summed up quickly as:
• Have your system inspected and pumped out regularly
• Check for signs of failure, such as odours or lush growth in the drainfield
• Reduce the amount of water flowing through the system
• Refrain from putting inappropriate materials down your drains
Perhaps the single most important lessons is what is allowed in your septic system, “yellow and brown flush it down” along with the strongest toilet paper. Paper that disintegrates too easily clogs pipes. That’s it. Anything else can either clog the drainfield or destroy the microorganisms that decompose the effluent. Anke illustrates the perils of improper disposal with a journey of a Q-tip that eventually lodges in a drainpipe, becomes entwined with hair or dental floss and causes a blockage which leads to a system failure. Money down the drain. An effluent filter is highly recommended to reduce clogging and protect your drainfield and can usually be added to your existing system for a reasonable rate. The filters are approximately $70.00 and installation can vary from $0-$300.00. For an additional two dollars you can buy “hair catchers”, which fit over your sink drains to prevent hair and other particles from entering your sewage disposal system. These could also eliminate the expense of callouts to help locate everything from false teeth to diamond rings!
Toxic substances from grease to paint can wreck havoc on the microorganisms that flourish in septic systems, busily digesting and decomposing our wastes. Granular drain cleaners are one of the most toxic substances you can put into your system. Only 2 tablespoonfuls can kill all the beneficial bacteria in a 1000 gal. tank. Instead, if your drains are plugged, try using a plunger, a plumber’s snake, or a recipe of one half cup of baking soda followed by one half cup of vinegar. Cover and let sit 5 minutes and then flush with 2 litres of boiling water. Medications can disrupt the fauna of the septic system. People using strong antibiotics for long periods (which work to kill bacteria) can find they need to pump out their septic tanks more often.
Another common cause of failure is hydraulic overloading of the system. Three teenage kids and two parents having showers, maybe a load or two of laundry and then set the dishwasher, all before leaving for work and school doesn’t leave enough time for the solids to settle or the microorganisms to do their jobs before the wastewater is flushed through the system. Try to space water use throughout the day, so as not to overload your septic system and cause sewage particles to enter the drainfield.
About that drainfield, the best thing to plant over it is grass (some camas, shooting stars and fawn lilies could probably be included) as trees and shrubs will clog the drainage holes in the pipes. Those “good” bacteria in the drainfield need some help too. Don’t saturate the ground over the drainfield with excessive watering (max. 10 minutes), it reduces the oxygen they need to function properly. No buildings, carports or swimming pools, divert stormwater and keep out livestock to have your drainfield functioning properly for decades.
It’s a good idea to draw a map of your system so that you know where your tank, distribution box and septic field are located. It saves money when someone comes to pump out your tank and they don’t have to take a shovel and spend time and effort finding and uncovering the tank cover. It’s helpful information to pass onto a new owner if you decide to sell your property.
There are 30,000 septic systems in the CRD and 700 new permits are issued a year. Twenty-five percent of septic systems in use are thought to be malfunctioning. The average life expectancy of a septic system in the CRD is 19 years but a properly managed system should last as long as your home. Those numbers have the CRD worried and they are considering implementing a bylaw that would regulate septic systems. By 2005 an inspection of all septic systems would be undertaken and pump-outs would be required every 3 to 5 years. Regular maintenance has been stressed by all the companies contacted as crucial in maintaining the health of your septic waste management system. Certification would be mandatory for all service operators and will ensure a high degree of professionalism in the industry. That would decrease the faulty advise one participant received when her tank was recently pumped. She was advised to add some yeast to jump start the microorganisms. While the yeast won’t damage the system, it is unnecessary, all you need are your own waste products. Our guts come fully inoculated with all the right organisms to get things going. No need for dead chickens, cats or fish heads and certainly no need for packaged biological agents. The chemical agents sold to activate a septic system can actually harm it by damaging the structures themselves.
Another way to reduce the flow through your septic system is to use a composting toilet. Michael Rouse, formerly the UK's chief drinking water inspector, recently said that if Britain were planning sewage disposal from scratch today, "we wouldn't flush it away - we would collect the solids and compost it". An interesting idea and perhaps the subject of a future article.
If you would like more information about how to maintain and monitor your septic system, try these websites:

For information on composting toilets try:

Say No To Drugs (pesticide use)

Say No To Drugs (pesticide use)
June 3, 2003

The federal government’s new pot bill is in the news these days, with many people voicing concerns for and against. But what about the use of other drugs in our community, ones that are proven to cause serious health problems?

Pesticides are likened to drugs for our lawns and gardens and pesticide reduction, integrated pest management (or IPM) and pesticide free are the new catchwords.
Why should we care? How about these numbers from the World Wildlife Fund? 50,000,000 kilograms of pesticide are used each year in Canada, 70% of which are used on crops. A conventional 18 hole golf course is sprayed with 700 kg of pesticide annually, 700% per hectare more than is used on farmland. On average an apple is sprayed 12-20 times before harvest. Big numbers.

Some members of our community are worried about pesticide use in Metchosin, especially where it can affect the most vulnerable among us, our children and seniors. Pesticide use can contribute to soil and groundwater pollution, it can wipe out beneficial predators and microorganisms as well as the target species and it can affect the health of ourselves, our pets and our loved ones.

Your children are most susceptible because:
• Their small size means that per kilo of body weight they can absorb more pesticides than an adult.
• They are closer to the ground resulting in higher levels of pesticide in their breathing zone.
• They play on the ground where pesticides are more likely to be applied and they put contaminated objects and fingers in their mouths.
• Their defense mechanisms are not fully developed, leaving them more vulnerable to toxic effects.

The federal and provincial governments as well as the CRD and our municipal council have all looked at pesticides and their effect on us and on the environment. Each level of government has recognized the dangers of pesticide use and addressed this issue. Ever the trend setters, our council passed a guideline restricting cosmetic pesticide use on municipal grounds in 2001. Now the CRD Roundtable on the Environment has produced an excellent guide to pesticide alternatives titled “Playing it Safe: Reducing Pesticide Use in Our Community”.

Just as a proper diet is considered an effective preventative measure to reduce the chance of certain cancers and chemotherapy is the mighty drug arsenal used to defeat cancers, so healthy growing conditions prevent most pest outbreaks and pesticide use should be the last resort to fight serious infestations.
There are measures we can all take to reduce or eliminate pesticides in our lives.
• Eat organic and if that is not always possible, these are 12 of the most heavily sprayed foods:
Apricots Bananas Bell peppers Cherries
Grapes Cucumbers Green beans Cantaloupe
Lettuce Potatoes Spinach Tomatoes

When gardening:
• Build healthy soils by fertilizing naturally. Nourish your garden and lawn with compost, manure, grass clippings and/or slow release organic fertilizer.
• Aerate your lawn in spring or fall to relieve compaction.
• Overseed annually to keep your lawn thick and healthy, this helps the grass outcompete the weeds. Although this doesn’t work so well if you are trying to create a native wildflower meadow, where native plants need space to grow amongst the grasses!
• Choose plants and grass seed mixes suitable for your area. Native shrubs like mock orange and flowering currant are beautiful and need little care.
• Use a mixture of plants. There is less chance of a serious pest outbreak when the garden is planted with many different species.
• Some plants, such as marigolds, are said to deter pests.
• Use crop rotation in your food garden.
• Use mulches to prevent weeds from germinating and to protect the soil. A thick layer of newspaper with an added layer of leaf mulch can effectively convert an area of grass to a flower bed without the use of Round-up.

If you discover a pest problem:
• Be sure you know the pest you are dealing with. Consult garden centres, our local gardening club, books, the internet. It does no good to spray for fungus if aphids are the problem.
• How serious is the problem? Are beneficial insects already attacking the pests? Give them a chance to complete their job. Can you live with a certain amount of damage? Is the damage affecting plant health or is it just aesthetics?
• Use the least harmful and most natural solution first. Are there non toxic methods to control the pest that can be used? These can range from biological controls to soaps to hand weeding to the use of disease resistant and native plants. To address fungal problems, the CRD recommends trying a formulation of one tablespoon of baking soda and horticultural oil diluted in four litres of water to be sprayed on leaves.

If pesticides are deemed to be absolutely necessary:
Consult with a professional.
Use the least amount of the least toxic product on only the target species.
Follow label directions and wear protective clothing.
Notify anyone who might be affected.
Wash thoroughly after use to lessen your own exposure.

There are other ways we can make a direct difference in our own neighbourhood.
Council has been attempting to eliminate pesticide use on our school grounds; lobby your school board to forward this initiative. Consider supporting Metchosin farmers. Visit the Farmer’s market on Sundays from 11 am to 2 pm for wholesome, locally grown produce, much of it organic.
Further information can be found online at: CRD initiatives on reducing pesticide use. World Wildlife Fund of Canada Government of Canada site
There are two excellent books by Carole Rubin: “How To Get Your Lawn And Garden Off Drugs” and “How To Get Your Lawn Off Grass”

Salamanders of Metchosin

Rough-skinned Newt

March 8, 2006

While removing broom from Devonian Park, I have several times been surprised to find a Rough-skinnned Newt partially buried in the litter. The dark brown colouring on it’s back blends in perfectly with the loamy, decaying plant material it inhabits and if it remained still, would be very difficult to find. However, my enthusiastic efforts to dislodge broom are too much for the newt as it scrambles to get out of my way. It is then that you notice the bright orange underside which warn most creatures of it’s potentially toxic secretions.
Salamanders are amphibians; creatures with thin, moist, generally smooth skin, whose eggs have a protective layer of jelly surrounding them, rather than hard shells. Many amphibians, like frogs and some salamanders, spend all or part of their lives in lakes and ponds, while some species of salamanders are fully earth-bound or terrestrial. Most aquatic species breed and lay their eggs in water, then gradually change into their adult forms (metamorphose), when they begin a life tied to forests until next breeding season.
Rough-skinned Newts are one of six species of salamanders that might be found in Metchosin. They are members of the aquatic group, breeding in water and moving onto land as adults, although some newts might remain in ponds year round. They have a grainy, bumpy skin that could led you to believe you have found a lizard, the orange belly is a dead giveaway though! Their poison is considered one of the most toxic in the world and can be passed though an open cut or through ingestion. Interestingly, our kinder, gentler, Vancouver Island newts have apparently developed without this poisonous protection.
If you notice tadpole-like creatures in your pond, you can easily tell apart salamander and frog hatchlings; salamanders are born with plumy, branched gills that noticeably fan out from the side of their bodies and remain until they change into adults, while frogs have less obvious gills that disappear soon after hatching. Salamander front legs appear before their hind ones, unlike frogs, whose hind legs develop first.
Another aquatic species is the Long-toed Salamander. It lives underground or in rotten logs, is dark gray or black with a yellow or green, somewhat broken stripe along it’s back and can grow to 9 cm (3½ inches). It seldom wanders far from water and requires abundant cover, especially vegetation along pond edges.
Northwestern Salamanders are our largest salamander and can reach 11-12 cm (4½ inches). They are generally found along the west coast but may be present in Metchosin, especially in wetter forested areas. They are uniformly brown but without the orange belly of the Rough-skinned Newt, and they have poison glands on their body which can ooze large white drops of a noxious substance. Some Northwestern Salamanders do not change into land dwellers but remain and reproduce in their gilled, aquatic state. If you find what you suspect might be this species in Metchosin, please contact
All the aquatic species benefit from having undisturbed pond edges with native vegetation, so that they can access and depart from the water without being unduly subjected to predators.
The Western Red-backed Salamander, Ensatinas and Wandering Salamanders are all terrestrial salamanders. They are lungless, breathing through their skin and the lining of their mouth and they require cool, damp conditions to prevent dehydration. This helps explain why many are active at night and use rotting logs, rock rubble and underground burrows for habitat and breeding.
During construction of our home, a large sized black plastic bag that nestled into a depression was forgotten for several months. When I finally removed it to build a small rock garden, there were four Red-backed Salamanders using it for cover, the plastic keeping the site moist. The smallest wasn’t much larger than one inch and the largest about 2½ inches, the approximate size of all our terrestrial salamanders. Although their colouration has been described as variable, all the “redbacks” I’ve found have a dark colouring with a wide stripe of reddish-gold running from their necks through to the end of their tails.
Bright colours on salamanders may function as a warning, as with Rough-skinned Newts or may serve to confuse a predator, who might grab the salamander by the tail or limb, which can break off, helping the salamander to escape. Over months their lost body part will regenerate.
Ensatinas are forest dwellers that are found in the Victoria watershed and are possibly in Metchosin. The adults are usually grey or brown with a rather orange cast, particularly where the limbs meet the body, the juveniles meanwhile can be dark with metallic white or silver flecks.
Wandering Salamanders have brown to black colouring, speckled with bronze spots and splotches and are known to jump (the only salamander species here that do so). They can be found in trees, in large downed logs, under bark and in rock crevices. Our Wandering Salamanders (formerly known as Clouded Salamanders) are a source of controversy in the zoological community. Did they arrive here by hitching a ride on bark used in the tanning industry or are they a native species with widely separated populations (the next populations are in California)?
All terrestrial salamanders produce much smaller broods than aquatic species. The females expend a lot of energy guarding the eggs and appear to be able to breed only every second year. They have very limited home ranges, from one square metre to a few dozen square metres and if their home site is destroyed they will have great difficulty in populating new areas and if even possible, this process will be very slow.
Most, if not all salamander species are quite dependant on large rotting logs (over 20 inch diameter) which younger forests often can’t supply, on thick, loose bark which only occurs on mature, dying trees or on talus slopes that can be blasted and bulldozed for fill. These requirements make them extremely vulnerable to habitat loss.
When found, salamanders seem very small and fragile and you might question their value to the environment. However, salamanders play a crucial role in forest floor ecology, eating many insects and in turn, becoming prey to many larger species. If you are fortunate enough to find one, remember that their porous skin is their lungs, so it is better not to touch them and inadvertently poison them with insecticides or lotions you may have forgotten you have on your hands. If you must handle them, use gloves or place them in a leaf to view or photograph, returning them as quickly as possible to the exact spot in which they were discovered.

Amphibians of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia (1996) by Corkran and Thoms
With assistance from Kristiina Ovaska and Christian Englestoft

Rare Plant Communities of Metchosin

March 20, 2005

The combination of the climate in our area and the varied geography of Metchosin unite to produce a series of linked landscapes within our community. From the sand and cobble beaches along Metchosin and William Head Roads to pastoral farmlands, from Garry oak meadows to upland mountain tops, we are unique on the lower island in the diversity, complexity and relatively pristine condition of our ecosystems.
Some of these are considered rare plant communities. Plant communities are a certain mix of plants that occur together because of growing conditions that include soil type and fertility, moisture, slope and light. One of the most common rare plant communities is the Garry oak ecosystem over which many words have been spent, but did you know we have other, equally uncommon and remarkable plant communities?
On gentle slopes and along ridgetops on shallow, fast draining soils over bedrock you will find the rare plant community known as Arbutus-hairy manzanita. These slopes generally face from southeast to southwest, have an exceptionally pronounced dryness and very poor to medium soil richness. Shore pines with deep ridged bark stand alone or in small groups. Rolling rocky knolls are thickly covered with a variety of mosses and lichens, and bonsai-like manzanitas with their blue-green evergreen leaves and crimson bark appear as if they were lifted from an ancient Japanese garden. Scattered on the ground you will find blue wildrye and Roemer’s fescue, interspersed with rattlesnake plantain, yarrow and wild strawberry. A few white fawn lilies, tigerlilies and death camas round out a scene of exquisite beauty.
Another rare plant community is the Douglas-fir-arbutus community. It occurs on similar dry southerly exposures or on flat well drained gravelly soils, with very poor to medium fertility. The large old growth Douglas-fir are rare as hens teeth but some younger trees are becoming mature and with arbutus comprise most of the tree layer with the occasional Garry oak, cascara, shore pine, western flowering dogwood, western yew or western redcedar. Oceanspray can be common along with snowberry, Oregon grape, baldhip rose, saskatoon, salal and huckleberry vines. The incomparable Calypso bulbosa or fairy slipper orchids as well as the wonderful variagation in the leaf of the rattlesnake plantain are jewels in the groundcover. Two of our rarest plant species, white top aster and Howell’s triteleia can also be found here.
A third rare plant community is the rock outcrop or mossy bald which often occurs as small openings in forested areas. With gentle to moderate slopes and thin soils this plant community is generally devoid of trees and shrubs but is home to kinnikinnick, junegrass, yarrow, harvest lily, Hooker’s onion and hoary rock moss. In the seepage areas and vernal pools that remain wet all winter and spring but dry out in the summer you will sometimes find the rare winged water-starwort and creeping spearwort or the delicate and lovely slim-leaf onion. The moss layer here is very fragile and the plants are easily dislodged by even a hikers boot. ATV’s, horses and mountain bikes can devestate in minutes what it took the landscape centuries to evolve. These sites often offer spectacular views as well as exceptional wildflower displays and they are rapidly being lost to development as house sites.
These remnant pieces of the coastal Douglas-fir mosaic are woth our attention and preservation. When they are gone, they will never return, so perhaps it behoves us to consider what avenues we may explore to ensure their continued existence within Metchosin.