Metchosin’s Garry Oaks
As we wind our way along many of Metchosin’s roads we are treated to a pastoral landscape as lovely as can be found anywhere. Our senses are both soothed and gratified by the natural beauty of moss-laden rocky bluffs, rolling, verdant grasslands and hedgerows alive with the songs of sparrows and the scuffing of towhees. Standing alone in their splendor or clustered like sentinels on duty are our magnificent Garry oaks.
Slow growing, gnarled and weirdly beautiful, many of our oaks have stood here since before the first European contact. One old veteran at Swanwick Ranch is thought to date from about 1550 AD!
Garry oaks are the only oaks native to British Columbia, and they have a very limited distribution that is principally on southeastern Vancouver Island and the southern Gulf Islands. They are well adapted to our mild, wet winters and drought-prone summers and can survive on sites that are too severe for our conifers. However, they are out-competed by Douglas-firs on fertile sites with deep soils. Meadows with Garry oaks are most likely the result of centuries or millennia of cultivation by First Nations people. They would set fires to clean out shrubs and conifers, thus permitting easier hunting and opening the landscape to produce better growing conditions for the camas bulbs so important to their trade and diet. Young Garry oaks are able to resprout from their root collar and, when older, their thick, ridged bark is fire resistant, helping them to withstand the frequent fires which would exact a heavier toll on the firs.
The older, massive branches and trunks are home to a hugely diverse selection of lichens and mosses as well as hundreds of species of insects. These branches are a perfect feeding ground for bark gleaning birds, such as the brown creeper and red-breasted nuthatch. The acorns are an important food for Stellar’s jays and band-tailed pigeons, and these birds play important roles in the dispersal of the acorns leading to regeneration.
Garry oak ecosystems are considered among the most threatened in Canada, with most of their original landscape having been converted to agriculture and consumed by urban development. Many groups are working throughout the Garry oak range, here in British Columbia and in Washington, Oregon and California, to help protect our remaining oaks. In the Victoria area there is a Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team researching all things “Garry oak”. They have already identified some things we can do to protect our oak ecosystems for future generations.
• Be cheap. Collect acorns and grow your own oak trees.
• Be lazy. Let mother nature do all the work; don’t rake the leaves; allow them to break down and enrich the soil.
• Be mean. Remove invasive species. Broom, ivy, daphne, and gorse are all introduced plants that will invade and out-compete our native species, leaving us with a less biodiverse landscape.
• Be greedy. Increase the value of your investment. Construction can cause a slow death. If you want to build your dream home or maybe just add on to your barn, try to place your building away from the your oaks, protecting their root zones. This will add to the value of your property, providing you with shade in the summer and a fantastic, contorted landscape in the winter.
Many of us found our way to Metchosin through happenstance and circumstance, but we have remained, seduced by the friendliness of the community and the beauty of our natural landscape so well exemplified by our Garry oaks.