Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Garry Oak

Garry Oak
(Quercus garryana)
Written by Moralea Milne and Jim McPherson


In British Columbia the Garry oak grows primarily in southeastern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Some outliers are known in the lower Fraser Valley. Nowhere else in Canada is the Garry oak found, and it is the Garry oak, together with the Arbutus, which help make coastal British Columbia so distinguishable from the rest of the country.

Garry oak in British Columbia represent the northernmost distribution of this tree which is found as far south as southern California. The Garry oak is the only native oak in British Columbia


On the deeper soil sites Garry oak forms open parkland and meadow with Douglas-fir and a healthy growth of camas, lilies, western buttercups, and shootingstars. In shallow soil environments, Garry oak may often be associated with Arbutus.

A diverse bird community makes its home in Garry oak meadows, as well as numerous mammals and insects. Garter snakes and alligator lizards can be seen basking on sun-warmed rocks.

Garry oak and associated ecosystems are home to more plant species than any other land-based ecosystem in coastal British Columbia. Many of these species occur nowhere else in Canada. Several species have already been eliminated in British Columbia,

Garry oak ecosystems are threatened by urban development. Over 100 species of plants, mammals, reptiles, birds, butterflies, dragonflies and bugs are at risk of extinction in Garry oak and associated ecosystems. The Garry oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) and its partners are working to save the remaining endangered species and the habitats they need for survival. To discover more about GOERT, see


The Garry oak is a broadleaved deciduous hardwood with thick, grooved, greyish-black bark and a round spreading crown. The tree will grow to 20 metres in height.

According to British Columbia’s Big Tree Registry, the largest Garry oak in British Columbia is near Quamichan Lake on Vancouver Island. This specimen has a circumference at breast height of 5.09m, a height of 30.2m and a crown spread of 21.2m.

The largest Garry oak in Metchosin has been located at Rocky Point on DND lands. This specimen has a breast height circumference of 5.03m, height of 24.8m and a crown spread of 21.5m.

Leaves: The best way to describe the leaves of the Garry oak is to illustrate them. Dark green leaves in the summer turn to yellow and brown in the autumn before falling off.

Flowers: Inflorescence of tiny inconspicuous male and female flowers, these separate but on the same tree; female flowers clustered or single surrounded by a scaly cuplike involucre; male flowers numerous in catkins. (This technical description comes from the electronic atlas)

Fruits: The Garry oak fruit are small acorns illustrated in the photo below.


The Garry oak reproduces itself from acorns that fall to the ground in the autumn. It is from seed that yields the greatest success in propagation.

Nurseries increasingly offer native plants, including Garry oak, for sale. Garry oak, however, very quickly send down a tap root. Success declines markedly in transplanting a Garry oak after the first year of growth.

If you want to try your hand at growing Garry oak from seed, here’s what to do;
• Select an appropriate location for the tree recognizing the eventual size of the tree and that after it starts to grow, it will not likely be successfully transplanted.
• Collect a few acorns in late September and October. You need to beat the squirrels.
• Put the acorns in water for about 24 hours.
• Throw away the acorns that float They will not sprout.
• Place the acorn(s) you wish to try growing directly into the soil in the location you wish to have the tree.

More information on the propagation of Garry oak is available at the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team web site:


Deep soil parkland sites typically contain a variety of shrubs, trees, flowers and grasses. Very few deep soil parkland sites remain in the Victoria region. While some large Garry oak trees remain on these sites, most are isolated from native plant communities and instead surrounded by landscaped urban developments or by agricultural and recreational expanses.

Most Garry oak on Vancouver Island is found on the scrub oak shallow soil sites. Many of these are rocky sites that can not be easily developed. Where these sites remain somewhat isolated from urbanization, native flowers, grasses and mosses dominate the ground cover of these rocky environments. In other cases, some of these shallow soil communities have been invaded by species such as Scotch broom, daphne, and some grasses. On Vancouver Island, less than half of the original scrub oak shallow soil sites remain.

Since settlement began on Vancouver Island in the mid 19th century, the transformation of the land to accommodate residential, agricultural, industrial, transportation, recreational and other land uses has led to a decimation of Garry oak ecosystems. Only from 1 - 5% of Vancouver Island’s Garry oak ecosystems remain today in a more-or-less natural state.

Threats to Garry oak ecosystems include habitat loss, fragmentation of larger areas of habitat into smaller, more vulnerable patches, encroachment of woody species as a consequence of fire suppression, and invasion of exotic species that out-compete native species.

Garry oak and associated ecosystems are among the most endangered in Canada. Many of the remaining Garry oak environments are found as fragmented communities isolated from other Garry oak communities. Isolation and fragmentation reduce opportunities for the genetic mixing thereby reducing the long-term viability of the species.


David Douglas named the Garry oak to honor Nicholas Garry, secretary and later deputy governor of the Hudson Bay Company.

Coastal Aboriginal populations used Garry oak wood for fuel and for utensils such as combs and digging sticks. They also roasted or steamed the acorns for eating. They managed the Garry oak ecosystem using fire to generate a supply of camas bulbs, an important food source.

The Garry oak has not been used for timber. The wood, however, is hard and beautifully grained and has a rich look to it that makes Garry oak wood very suitable for woodworking and carving.
Craftspeople and artists display and sell Garry oak items at various galleries and studios on Vancouver Island including the Metchosin – East Sooke “Stinking Fish Studio Tour” and in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. For further information, see


We acknowledge and credit the following sources which were used to compile this brief description of the Garry oak. We encourage the reader to go to the references below for further Information on Garry oak.

Pacific Dogwood

PACIFIC DOGWOOD (Western Flowering Dogwood)
(Cornus nuttallii)
Written by Moralea Milne and Jim McPherson

The Pacific dogwood is found in temperate coastal British Columbia and south to California with a disjunct population in Idaho


Pacific dogwoods are found at low elevations in association with Douglas-fir, grand fir and western hemlock in southwestern BC, preferring sites with deep, coarse, well-drained, moderately dry to moist, nitrogen rich, acidic soils with high water holding capacities. Although they are moisture loving trees, they are also drought tolerant. They are adapted to shade but can grow well in full sun although the bark is susceptible to sun scalding. They are considered to have low frost tolerance and high flood tolerance.

Many birds feast on the fruit, bears and beavers eat the fruit and foliage and deer browse the twigs. Trees with many new sprouts (after a disturbance) are grazed heavily by mule deer and elk but black-tailed deer do not appear to favour it. Some shrews and voles eat the seeds and it is pollinated by many insects.


The Pacific dogwood is a small to medium sized deciduous tree (to 20 m) with a deep taproot.

Trunk: Trunk diameter is rarely more than 60 cm. The bark is thin, smooth and grey to blackish-brown, developing fine ridges with age.

BC’s Big Tree Registry records a specimen near Burgoyne Bay, Saltspring Island with a circumference of 3.05 m, a height of 26.75 m and spread of 16.45 m.

Leaves: Leaves are opposite, oval, pointed at the tip, and 4-10 cm long. The have prominent, curving, parallel leaf veins to the leaf edge. They are dark green above and grayish brown on the underside, turning a lovely red in the fall.

Flowers: What we think of as the spectacular flowers are actually 4-6 white, 2-7 cm modified leaf bracts surrounding a cluster of inconspicuous green flowers, flowering in April and May.

Some trees will occasionally repeat bloom in the autumn, producing trees with red leaves and fruit and large white “flowers”, this might be an adaptation to late summer water deficit.

Fruit: The fruit ripens into colourful red berries that adorn the trees in the fall.


Pacific dogwoods reproduce both vegetatively and by seed. Seed production varies from year to year and it is thought that seeds are dispersed by birds and animals. They readily re-sprout from the crown after a disturbance and layering has been observed in newly sprouting plants.


Seeds are cleaned by maceration and pulp and debris floated off (the fruit flesh is considered to contain a germination inhibitor). Seeds are dried on mesh trays. Can be stored at 1-2º. Seed should be cold stratified for 3-4 months and sown early in the spring or sown outdoors in the fall soon after harvest. Nicking the seed and allowing a 3 day period of warm (15º C) stratification before cold stratification may help germination. Some seeds may take up to 18 months to germinate although some sources say seeds will germinate in a few weeks.

Some websites claim that Pacific dogwood does not root well from cuttings or layering, others that it can be successful.

Take cuttings of new growth from the root crown in June/July or of half-ripe side shoots in July/August, cuttings of mature wood of current year’s growth, taken with a heel, if possible, in autumn in a cold frame and layering of new growth can be tried in June/July, takes 9 months.


Since the mid-1970’s, the Pacific dogwood has suffered from dieback and mortality. Dogwood anthracnose (dogwood leaf blotch) from the introduced fungus Discula destructiva, has been established as the culprit. It is thought that the fungus might have arrived with imported Japanese dogwoods (Cornus kousa).

There is a second Discula species found on Pacific dogwoods that is probably a native, less virulent pathogen. The disease readily attacks young seedlings and trees in the forest understory but all trees are susceptible. Most infection occurs during cool, wet weather. Stressors like drought and winter injury seem to increase the likelihood of infections. Some trees do appear to have a natural immunity. Infections begin with brown leaf spots which can coalesce into large splotches and shot holes. The infection can travel to the twigs, causing cankers and girdling, and eventually progress to the main truck, killing the tree.

Some sources recommend the following treatments: clean up fallen leaves, prune and destroy all infected parts, prune to open the canopy, spray with lime sulfur, copper and/or fungicides in spring at budbreak (usually 3 treatments at 2 week intervals).

Other sources warn against any unnecessary pruning. Do not over-fertilize, which will encourage succulent growth. Mulch trees to conserve moisture. Don’t use overhead watering devices. Consult with a professional before treatment.


Pacific dogwood has been British Columbia’s floral emblem since 1956 and was at one time protected by provincial law. That law was repealed in 2002.

First Nations used the fine-grained, heavy wood in the production of bows, arrows, implement handles and clothing hooks and the Cowichan people have used it for making knitting needles. The young shoots can be used to make baskets and the boiled bark was used to make a brown dye. Medicinally it was prepared to alleviate stomach troubles, as a blood purifier and a lung strengthener.

The Pacific dogwood makes a beautiful specimen tree but dogwood leaf blotch has restricted its use.


Clark, L.J., 1976. Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest. Evergreen Press, Vancouver, BC.
Douglas, G. et al, 1999. Illustrated Flora of British Columbia, Volume 4 (Dicotyledons). Crown Publications, Victoria, BC.
Klinka, K., et al, 1989. Indicator Plants of Coastal BC. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC.
Parish, R and Thomson, F. The Tree Book, Learning to Recognize Trees of B. C.
Pojar, J. and A. Mackinnon, 1994. Plants of Coastal BC. Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, BC.


CASCARA (Buckthorn)
(Rhamnus purshiana)
Written by Moralea Milne and Jim McPherson

Cascara is native to western North America, occurring in British Columbia on the southern part of the coast, Vancouver Island and in the Columbia Valley. It ranges south to northern California and east to Montana.


Cascara is a shade tolerant inhabitant of mixed woods and a coniferous forest understory tree. It prefers nutrient rich soils with moderately high summer moisture conditions. It tolerates fluctuating groundwater levels and can be found in riparian areas and wet sites as well as in drier locations, at low to middle elevations. It is often associated with lady fern, sword fern, red alder and vine maple.

Cascara is found in widespread and scattered occurrences but is never very abundant. It is a winter browse food for deer, elk and bears but is not a preferred food item. The fruits are consumed by birds, including band-tailed pigeons and ruffed grouse.


Cascara is a deciduous, deep rooting, small tree or shrub that can reach 15 m but is more commonly 5-10 m in height.

Trunk: The trunk is usually 20-30 cm in diameter and the bark a silvery-grey colour, smooth when young and becoming scaly with age. Inner bark is a bright yellow and the sapwood is orange. The bark is aromatic and has an extremely bitter taste.

Leaves: The leaves are alternate, egg-shaped to oblong, finely toothed with 10-12 pairs of prominent veins. The leaf surface appears rippled. The leaves turn a lovely yellow in fall.

Flowers: The flowers are inconspicuous, 3-4 mm long, in clusters in the leaf axils.

Fruit: The fruits are dark blue-purple berries, 5-8 mm across, apparently edible but perhaps with laxative qualities.


Most reproduction is through seeds that are dispersed by birds and squirrels, having traversed through their digestive tract.

Trees are able to re-sprout from crowns after low-intensity fires and can vegetatively reproduce from layering.


Seed can be collected from July/September. Separate the fruit from the seeds, dry, store seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator or at 5ºC. Needs a cold, wet stratification, at 1-5ºC for 90-115 days or sow outdoors in the fall.

Hardwood cuttings can be taken in September and October

Cascara can be layered in situ (branches nicked and pegged into soil, where they will produce roots), layer in early spring. Keep soil moist.


Cascara bark has been used since the late 19th century in natural laxative preparations, This has resulted in overharvesting in many areas. Threats to cascara have diminished with the development of synthetic drugs, although there are few mature trees remaining.


First Nations used cascara for its laxative properties; stripping the bark and allowing it to cure for a year before being pulverized and boiled. Fresh bark can cause severe nausea. Other medicinal uses includes as a wash for sores and swellings, treating heart and internal strains and lately, as a wash for cold sores. It was also used to flavour some products and in the production of yellow and green dyes.

The fine-grained wood is excellent for wood turning.


Douglas, G. et al, 1999. Illustrated Flora of British Columbia, Volume 4 (Dicotyledons). Crown Publications, Victoria, BC.
Klinka, K., et al, 1989. Indicator Plants of Coastal BC. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC.
Parish, R and Thomson, F. The Tree Book, Learning to Recognize Trees of B. C.
Pojar, J. and A. Mackinnon, 1994. Plants of Coastal BC. Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, BC.
Tilford, G.L., 1997. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.
Turner, N.J., 1995. Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC.


(Arbutus menziesii)
Written by Moralea Milne and Jim McPherson


The Arbutus (known as madrone in the U.S.) is one of the most unique trees of Canada’s west coast. It is found from Mexico to southern Vancouver Island. In British Columbia it is found within about 8 kilometres of the shorelines of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia. It is usually found on exposed rocky bluffs overlooking the ocean, but the tree will grow well on deeper soils as well.
Arbutus have been found as far north as Quadra Island and Discovery Passage and on the west coast of Vancouver Island at the head of Nootka Sound.


The Arbutus needs little in the way of tender loving care. The tree is found on very dry, excessively drained sites, such as exposed rock and rocky soils. It loves the sun and has adapted to survive the prolonged summer dry spells of southern Vancouver Island. The arbutus is a very useful for erosion control on disturbed sites.
Rufous Hummingbirds and bees are both attracted to the flowers. The berries are food for waxwings, robins, thrushes, band-tailed pigeons, and woodpeckers. Secondary cavity nesters such as tree swallows use the natural cavities created by broken branches for nest sites.
Arbutus may be associated with other species such as Garry Oak, Douglas-fir, oceanspray, salal or Oregon-grape.
The rare mushroom, Tubaria punicea (Christmas naucoria) only grow from the hollowed and rotting centres of ancient arbutus trees. These dark red mushrooms of late fall and early winter have been found on arbutus trees in Metchosin.


Arbutus is the only native broadleaf evergreen tree in Canada – it does not lose its leaves in winter. The largest member of the heath family (Ericaceae), the arbutus is also related to rhododendrons, blueberries, kinnikinnick, manzanita, heather and salal.

The Arbutus will grow up to 30 metres tall. It often has a crooked or leaning trunk that divides into a number of crooked branches. It can survive the harshest west coast storms in the winter withstanding high winds and pounding ocean waves. The main stems of arbutus are rigid and seldom break under the strain of vicious winter storms. But a thick accumulation of heavy wet snow may weigh so heavily on branches that one or more branches might snap off

According to British Columbia’s Big Tree Registry, the largest Arbutus in British Columbia is located on Thetis Island. The circumference at breast height of this specimen is 6.64m. The tree is 35.54m tall and has a crown spread of 25m.

Metchosin's largest arbutus is located at Witty's Beach. This specimen has a circumference of 4.24m, is 28.04m tall and has a crown spread of 21.03m.

Leaves: New growth leaves are coarse, shiny green and almost waxy to the feel. The leaves are oval to egg-shaped. Since the arbutus is an evergreen, the tree sheds older leaves all the time. Older leaves turn yellow to brown before falling off. Arbutus leaves do not decompose easily. When used as a mulch, arbutus leaves should be ground up to speed up decomposition.

Flowers: Whitish-yellow Arbutus flowers are presented in large drooping clusters. Flowers are fragrant.

Fruits: Berries, globe-shaped, orange to red, about 1 cm across; surface finely granular.

Bark: One of the most striking features of this tree, the bark is what makes the Arbutus impossible to confuse with anything else. The tree has a very smooth reddish bark which curls up and eventually falls off, revealing a fresh new greenish layer beneath.


Arbutus are best raised from seed. They are very hard to transplant from the wild because their root systems are very sensitive. Root rot can quickly set in when arbutus roots are disturbed. Arbutus are adapted to fires and their crown will resprout after a fire, giving them a competitive edge over conifers.


If you want to try your hand at growing an arbutus from seed, here’s what to do;
• Collect seeds from October to December.
• Macerate and float off the pulp. Dried seeds or berries can be stored at room temperature for one to two years and at 1-4ºC for longer periods. Air dry at 16-20ºC and rehydrate to separate seeds.
• Moist stratify at .5-4ºC for 30-90 days or stratify naturally outdoors over winter.
• Use a sand/peat medium and transplant to individual containers when large enough to handle.
• Arbutus grow quickly and should be transplanted to their final locations as quickly as possible.
• Water deeply and occasionally the first year. After that the trees are quite drought tolerant. Protect from deer with a wire cage until well established.


In BC, the arbutus is fighting a losing battle with development and urbanization. Arbutus grow in just those areas that so many people find desirable and want to build their homes and businesses.

Disease is another ongoing concern with arbutus trees. Arbutus decline is probably the result of a cumulative host of factors, including stress from environmental conditions (drought, soil disturbance and pollution) and pathogens. The possibly introduced canker fungus, Nattrassia mangiferae, is thought to be the major pathogenic agent, with other opportunistic pathogens such as Fusicoccum aesculi and Armillaria attacking stressed trees. It has been postulated that the elimination of fire as a disturbance factor has allowed these pathogens to proliferate.


Since the arbutus tree tends to be twisted and crooked, the tree has not been cut for timber. The wood, however, is hard and beautifully grained and has a rich look to it that makes arbutus wood very suitable for woodworking and carving.
Craftspeople and artists display and sell arbutus items at various galleries and studios on Vancouver Island including the Metchosin – East Sooke “Stinking Fish Studio Tour” and in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. For further information, see
In Plants of Coastal British Columbia, Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon tell us that the arbutus is very important to Aboriginal people. The Saanich used arbutus bark and leaves for medicinal purposes. Straits Salish legend has it that the arbutus provided an anchor against the great flood. Another legend informs us that if the arbutus were to disappear, the Earth would fly apart.


We acknowledge and credit the following sources which were used to compile this brief description of the Arbutus. We encourage the reader to go to the references below for further information on Arbutus.

And the following publications:

Elliott, M. et al, 2002. Role of Fungal Disease in Pacific Madrone. NWest Science Vol 76, No 4
Fenger et al, 2006. Wildlife and Trees in British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing.
Klinka, K. et al, 1995. Indicator Plants of Coastal British Columbia. UBC Press.
Pojar and MacKinnon, 1994. Plants of Coastal British Columbia. Lone Pine

Manzanita (Hairy)

(Hairy) Manzanita
(Arcotostaphylos columbiana)
Written by Moralea Milne and Jim McPherson


Hairy manzanita is found along the coast from California north to Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast.

Typically Manzanita is found in the open and in clearings, on shallow, strongly drained soils on rock outcrops and upper slopes. It will tolerate a variety of soil textures and parent materials. Occasionally it is found in open, young Douglas-¬fir forest.

Manzanita does not tolerate deep shade.


Hairy manzanita is an early colonizer of disturbed plant communities, developing after removal of the forest cover; Manzanita will continue to grow in the understory of an open forest.

Black bear, coyote, deer, and various small mammals and birds eat Manzanita fruit. The leaves and stems are unpalatable to browsing wildlife such as deer.

Manzanta can flower sporadically throughout several months allowing many invertebrates and hummingbirds to feed on the nectar. Brown elfin butterflies use Manzanita as a host plant, meaning they lay their eggs on Manzanita and the caterpillars use the plant as their food source.


Hairy Manzanita is an erect or spreading evergreen shrub. It will grow from 1 to 3 metres in height.

The bark on mature shrubs is reddish, flaking and peeling, much like arbutus bark. Young twigs and branches are grayish and hairy.

Leaves are evergreen and egg or oblong shaped. Leaves are grayish and the undersides of leaves are hairy.

Flowers: Manzanita flowers are white or pink and occur in terminal clusters.

Fruits: Manzanita berries are blackish-red, 6-8 mm across.


Hairy Manzanitas reproduce by seed. It is thought that they are adapted to disturbance by fire and seed dormancy can be broken by fire.


Manzanita is notoriously difficult to propagate, try using a very porous soil mixture, such as 4 parts perlite to one part vermiculite to ensure good drainage for cuttings. Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged and use mist sparingly, the leaves are subject to fungal diseases.

From the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team research:


Fruit and Seed Collection and Extraction

Fruits may be hand stripped or picked off the ground. Soak fruits in water and then macerate by hand or blender. Pulp can be removed by floatation, or the whole mixture may be dried and the seeds extracted by screening or a fanning mill.

Seed Storage

Seeds retain viability for long periods in nature; thus stored seeds should retain viability for ten years or more. Seeds should be dried and stored at 2-4º C.

Fruit/Seed Dormancy and Treatment

Embryo dormancy is not common. All seeds exhibit seed coat dormancy, which is broken in nature by passing through the digestive system of an animal or by the effects of ground fires. Seeds should be scarified mechanically or by acid treatment. The possible use of fire in dormancy treatment needs investigation, since it has been postulated that, while heat may erode the seed coat allowing water absorption, leachates from the burned vegetation may enhance germination.


Vegetative propagation from stem cuttings is the most effective means of propagating this species. Dormant winter cuttings are best taken between January and March. Cuttings should be terminal shoots with about 2-4 cm of woody stem from the previous season's growth. Cuttings should be dipped in rooting hormone, planted in a moist peat/perlite (2:1) mixture and misted until roots develop. Since Hairy manzanita does not transplant well, rooted cuttings should be planted directly into one gallon pots and grown to planting size.

Softwood cuttings Good March to early summer
Semi-hardwood cuttings Good Mid summer to October
Hardwood cuttings Good Nov-Jan (when the plant is dormant
Suckers Good Cuttings of side shoots of the
current season's growth, 5 – 8 cm with a heel, Aug to Dec in a frame- takes one year


Plant into organic-rich soils or use acidified fertilizers in urban plantings. Do not plant in areas subject to water-logging to prevent crown rot. Water every four to six weeks during establishment but avoid overhead watering which may cause foliage diseases. Rock mulches may be used to control weeds and stabilize the soil.


The primary threat to Manzanita is urbanization and the conversion of natural environments suitable for Manzanita to man-made environments. Manzanita often grows on rocky bluffs that afford excellent viewpoints and prime house building sites. It is thought that Manzanita seed germination is closely associated with fire disturbance and fire suppression has probably curtailed the germination of young plants.


Manzanita leaves were used medicinally, as a tea, for the treatment of diarrhea. The bonsai like nature of the twisted stems and red bark make it an attractive landscaping plant for use in full sun to light shade in well drained sites. The wood is used for small woodworking projects and it has potential for restoration purposes on sunny, dry, sites in a mild climate.

Thanks to the Native Plant Propagation Steering Committee of GOERT for the use of the propagation information.

Pacific Yew

(Taxus brevifolia)
Written by Moralea Milne and Jim McPherson


Pacific yew is found from southern tip of Alaska to California and as far east as Alberta primarily at low to mid elevations. On the northern coast of BC and Alaska it is generally restricted to within a few kms of the coast.


Pacific yews have the ability to efficiently capture and use light, water and nutrients in a wide variety of conditions. In coastal BC, yews are usually found in moist to wet coniferous forests, often in areas of higher soil nutrients, most commonly on water receiving sites but also on water collecting and (less commonly) on water shedding sites. At one time it was thought that they needed high levels of soil moisture but it has lately been discovered that they are tolerant of seasonal drought. They are able to grow in both the full sun of clearcuts and the deep shade of old growth forests. A shade grown yew that finds itself growing in full sun (from logging or other disturbance) will compensate by the needles changing colour to a bronze hue.

Pacific yews often grow in association with Douglas-fir, western redcedar, western hemlock, salal, Oregon-grape and skunk cabbage.

Yews are a small component of coniferous forests, usually found as single occurrences, a yew inventory from Quatsino Sound found 1.5-2.1 yew trees/ha.
They are considered a slow growing understory species and can live up to 400 years, although 200-300 years is more common.

Yew seeds are eaten by birds and rodents and deer, elk, moose and caribou browse the needles. However all parts of yews except the arils (soft fleshy part of the fruit) are highly toxic to humans and possibly to livestock.


Pacific yews on the coast are small to medium sized trees, 2 to 15 m tall, with widely spreading, drooping branches. They rarely exceed 60 cm dbh (diameter at breast height) or 15 m in height although larger specimens have been recorded (one of the largest on record is 142 cm dbh and 18 m). The roots are deep and wide spreading. The bark is thin, purplish-reddish to brown, papery or scaly, flaking to expose a reddish underbark.

Trunk: The trunk of the Pacific yew is often twisted with a wide base.

Needles: Needles are flat, 2 cm long, 1-2 mm wide, the tip is abruptly pointed, yellow-green above, paler on underside, twisted but arranged to appear as if growing in two rows.

Cone: Male pollen cones are yellow, globe shaped, 3 mm long, usually appearing from February through June.

Fruit: Female seeds are comprised of a red aril surrounding a hard 6 mm long seed, fruits ripen over a span of months, from August to October.


Pacific yew is dioecious, meaning that there are separate male and female trees. Some Pacific yew trees have been reported as co-sexual, meaning the fruits and seeds have been found on male trees. It produces abundant seed crops that are dispersed mainly by birds and rodents. The trees are able to re-sprout from cut and burned stumps and can vegetatively reproduce through layering.

Pollen is dispersed by wind.


To propagate, seeds should be extracted from the fruit as soon as possible as the fruit will promote mold. They can then be dried (1-2 weeks at room temperature) and then either sown, cold stored or stratified. Seed need to be stored at 1-2ºc in sealed containers.

Pacific yew seeds need warm plus cold stratification, 150-210 days at 16-18ºc, followed by 60-120 days at 2-5ºc. They are slow to germinate. In a forest seed sprout best in heavy organic forest litter in the second spring. Cover seeds with 1-2 cm of soil and mulch the seedbed. Shade beds during the summer, there is usually high germination after the second winter, so don’t throw out the seeding beds until after the second year. Shade seedlings (55% shade) after they emerge for one to three years.

Semi-hardwood cuttings can be collected in mid-May, just after leafbud break, cuttings have second year wood at base. Cuttings are 12 cm in length and 8 mm in diameter and treated with 8000 ppm liquid IBA Cuttings are placed in outdoor mist beds (6 second intervals every 6 minutes) with bottom heat of 21ºc (36% rooting success). Rooting media is 50% perlite and 50% sand. Mist bed is shaded.

Pacific yew can root from winter struck cuttings in 3 weeks to 4 months. Obtain cuttings from the youngest trees possible and use tip cuttings from 1-2 year old branches. Dip the end in rooting compound and stick into a well drained soil mixture that maintains a high moisture content.. Use a bottom heat as above.

Yews can be layered in situ (branches nicked and pegged into soil, where they will produce roots).


Overharvesting has been considered a threat as research into the benefits of yew-derived taxol was ongoing. Taxol is used in the treatment of cancer and research is ongoing into its benefits in treating arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Since taxol has been chemically synthesized and cultured yews are used to produce semi-synthetically derived compounds, wild yew populations (never abundant to begin with) can recover.

Almost all Pacific yews in the coastal regions are infested with the yew big bug mite. This mite is thought to have been introduced from Europe, probably during the 19th century when immigrants brought over many species of their favourite plants. Damage occurs in the leaf bud, where symptoms ranging from swelling to death of the bud can occur. Infected plants display an erratic and asymmetrical shape. Interior yews have not yet been infected and the Pacific Forestry Centre website cautions against transporting coastal yew material into the interior.


Pacific yew wood is hard, heavy (comparable to oaks) and resistant to decay, these attributes made it ideal for use by First Nations in the production of bows, paddles, digging sticks, snowshoes and other implements. It is also prized as carving material and as a trade item. Apparently the Haida believed that eating too many berries (the aril portion) would result in sterility. Ground yew wood was a component of a red paint.

It is also used in the making of furniture, musical instruments, fenceposts, boat decking and for Japanese ceremonial poles.


Douglas, D., et al, 1998. Illustrated Flora of BC. Volume 1, Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons. Crown Publications, Victoria, BC.
Klinka, K., et al, 1989. Indicator Plants of Coastal BC. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC.
Parish, R and Thomson, F. The Tree Book, Learning to Recognize Trees of B. C.
Pojar, J. and A. Mackinnon, 1994. Plants of Coastal BC. Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, BC.

Monday, November 17, 2008

John Robert Webb 1946-2007

John and Moralea on last date to Sooke Harbour House

John and Kirsten

John with Gala and grandson Max

John and Gala in Mexico, Christmas 2005

Portrait of John by his friend Frank Mitchell


At daybreak on Saint Patrick’s Day, surrounded by his wife and family, John Robert Webb, a devoted husband, father, brother and friend, left this world far too early.

Born in Victoria in 1946, John was raised on the West Coast. He loved the landscape, the sea, the culture and the people of British Columbia. Growing up in the fishing industry, his family spent many years in northern coastal communities and this time had a life-long impact on John. He learned early the importance of hard work and developed an enormous respect for First Nations’ peoples and a love of their culture and art.

The roots of John’s ardent relationship with technology grew from his love of music. Beginning with the local concert scene of the late 1960s, through to working for Kelly-Deyong Sound; in concert promotions (ask about the story of John being confronted by an enraged Mohamed Ali at a BB King gig); as part of the Addled Chromish Light Show and travelling the country as a sound engineer and road manager for numerous prominent musicians, including Dan Hill, John developed and honed his organizational, personal and technical skills. He was one of the organizers of the original Easter Be-Ins in Stanley Park and served as music critic in the early days of the Georgia Straight – a period with many interesting tales. After his stint at the Straight, his position was filled by Bob Geldoff and John, with a wink and a nudge, claimed that he smoothed the way for Bob. One of his early, rather short-lived ventures was as co-owner of the infamous Harry Krishna’s Last Chance Saloon on 4th Avenue in Vancouver.

John was an accomplished cabinetmaker and for years, working from Toronto, built many of the La Cache and April Cornell stores. There are kitchens sprinkled throughout Toronto and Metchosin which bear the hallmark of his woodworking skills. He knew that the way to a woman’s heart was through his ability to craft beautiful and well made furniture and piqued his future wife Moralea’s interest when he proceeded, throughout a weekend visit, to build her a much needed deck, supplied with only a hammer and saw (which was of rather dubious quality).

He loved sports and in the year he lived with lung cancer, he was able to indulge in watching them to his heart’s content. While he lived in Toronto he was an avid Blue Jays fan and season ticket holder and in Victoria he enjoyed watching baseball and soccer at the Centennial arena. While his daughter Gala was young, he enrolled her in fastball with Langford Lightning and never missed one of her games. From the seat of his chair he had just started teaching his grandson Max how to throw a football, a sport he played with relish in his high school years.

John was a bonafide news junkie, he craved information; finding it, understanding it and sharing it – from political news to recipes, John was not shy to impart some new discovery. He was surrounded by books his entire life and through his constant reading and as a subscriber to many news sources (and the food and sports channels) John had an encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything - he was our own personal Google engine.

After arriving back in Victoria, John found his ideal job in the Office of the Chief Information Officer, where he seized the opportunity to help the rural and First Nations communities of BC connect to the information highway. His interactive, questioning and open style of leadership allowed him to forge bonds between individuals, communities, private businesses, industry and governments that has given British Columbia a unique, envious and respected global position in bridging the digital divide. With his quick wit and focused determination, he could provoke some deputy ministers to sigh, as he headed in their direction: “Oh, oh, here comes trouble!”. Until his last days he remained almost umbillically connected to his work through his laptop and blackberry.

For his 50th birthday, John was determined to tackle the West Coast Trail. For weeks he would arise before dawn, load his pack with forty pounds of rocks and hike from our home on Rocky Point down to Taylor Beach. For someone with severe asthma this was no mean undertaking. However, the day dawned when two equally crazy but indomitable friends from Toronto (Terry Sullivan and Sid Tabak) and a local acquaintance (Jim Dakin) joined him and they all drove off for their adventure. Five days later the scruffiest looking group of grey-breaded guys you could imagine sat at the old Port Renfrew Hotel. As they quaffed a few cold ones and started trading tales, the most memorable (and truthful) declaration emerged “The best thing about this trip is that I never have to do it again!” Apparently there are some stairs along the trail that can make a strong man weep.

Inspired by his grandfather in Saskatchewan, who shared the podium with Tommy Douglas, John was always interested in politics. He ran as a federal NDP candidate in Toronto in the 1980’s (losing to Barbara McDougall) and remained supportive of the party. John threw his hat into the municipal arena in Metchosin in 2005 after he was told by a friend that he should either stop complaining or run for office. Declaring at an all-candidates meeting that he was an environmentalist, he surprised no-one but himself by winning a seat on council. He was, for too short a time, a vocal municipal councillor for all the qualities of rural and green life choices that make Metchosin such a remarkable place to call home. He truly loved this wild, wet, west coast and to his last days he continued to participate in his community. His sense of duty and unfaltering belief in public service motivated him to the end.

He found his soulmate in his wife Moralea Milne. They met in Montreal and married in Victoria in 1990 – having 18 wonderful years together. He proposed by promising to cook for her forever, an offer she readily accepted! Like his mother, he expressed love by feeding those he cared about - and it was an enviable pleasure to sit at his table or receive the gifts of his kitchen.

Recently both John and Moralea have been navigating the paper strewn trails of conservation covenants as they have been preparing to place one on their property. John felt blessed that he was able to take part in preserving in perpetuity the rocky knolls and moss balds of Camas Hill, home of endangered ecosystems and the red-listed sharp-tailed snake.

He was a devoted and supportive partner and a loving and mentoring father to: Gala, Rian and Madeline Milne (Joel Hansen), and Kirsten Paterson Downes (Justin Downes) and Cameron Paterson and a doting grandfather to Maxwell Hansen-Milne and Hayley Downes. He was a much loved son-in-law to Florence and Jan Janbroers, and the two families spent countless happy days together enjoying great meals (prepared by John) and good times. No matter his location he remained a dedicated son and brother, always supportive and available – ready to share a common sense of humour, love of books, and many hours of laughter, debate and mutual affection with his parents and sisters. He leaves four sisters in the Vancouver area: Suzanne Newman, Peggy Whittall, Janet Webb (Ted Howell) and Sheila Brown; and numerous nieces and nephews. John was predeceased by his parents Bob and Kaye Webb of North Vancouver in 2004. As the only son in a family of 5 children, he learned early to how get along with women. John felt fortunate to have the talented sisters-in-law April Cornell and Brenda Bowle-Evans and brother-in-law Dr. Rod Milne in his large, extended family.

John’s last, heartfelt piece of advise, which he was never adverse to sharing, could be summed up in two words: “Don’t Smoke!”

John Webb Honoured with Premier’s Award

On March 27th, at the 3rd Premier’s Innovation and Excellence Awards, John Robert Webb was posthumously awarded the Special Achievement Premier’s Award for Service Excellence for his work on the Network BC Project. The entire audience rose as one with a standing ovation.
Attending the dinner and award ceremony and accepting the award from Premier Campbell on John’s behalf were his wife Moralea Milne and daughters Gala Milne and Kirsten Downes. Familiar to most people in Metchosin for his all too short term as a councillor, John had another aspect to his working life that was unknown to most of his constituents. John was nominated for the award for his “pivotal role for over eleven years in expanding Internet connectivity to schools, libraries and, ultimately, homes throughout the province by facilitating community-level participation and ensuring the success of the Network BC Project, which made BC the best-connected province in the best-connected country in the world”.
Earlier in February, John had been honoured at the 2007 Summit on Information and Communication Technologies for Communities by the people he worked with in rural and First Nation communities, in business and in governments for these same accomplishments. The first John Webb Community Networking Award was announced at the Summit as well as two access sites in BC that have been named after him, one in the Peace River area and one at St Eugene Mission Resort, near Cranbrook. John felt particularly grateful and touched by the honour bestowed on him from the people he worked so tirelessly to aid through improving their internet capability and capacity.
He is missed.

Death Preparedness Continued


October 2008

Death is a democratic master, coming eventually to all of us; almost always before we are ready to accept its immutable claim. In the lottery of death’s scenarios we usually play out our parts unaided by script, often unaware of its imminent embrace. In many families, death is treated like the black sheep, long forgotten relative; that person no-one will talk about, whose name will shut down a conversation with censorious looks. But death is only the certain last act in our lives; the claimant who returns inevitably for the final bows as the curtain falls..
Discussions with your loved ones on your death and theirs, before you perceive the need, will lighten the load your survivors must carry. For thousands of years people have known the roles they must assume in the presence of death, according to their own cultures and religions. Indeed, entire communities understood their roles and yours and deviation from the traditions was not often countenanced. However, in 2008, in our egalitarian society, we have a number of personal choices that we can make when it comes to funeral arrangements and the disposal of human remains.
Below are some options, please think about them, embroider them or pare them down, decide how much is appropriate to spend or how ecologically or humanitarian minded you are prepared to be and discuss your wishes with your loved ones. Conceive a plan that will be make the transition period of your demise easier on your loved ones and commit it to your will, if you feel strongly about your exit strategy.

The traditional western European method involves the injection of embalming fluids to slow the rate of decomposition, internment in a casket and burial in an approved location.
Embalming fluids are a mixture of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol and other solvents, they are considered extremely carcinogenic. Obviously not a problem to the deceased but something to be aware of when making your choices, studies report that funeral home workers can be at increased risk of leukemia and asthma. The casket can range from simple, unadorned pine to ornate, exotic woods with satin linings and expensive metal hardware. They can be constructed of steel and lined with copper and zinc. The casket is then encased in a cement liner, to facilitate cemetery maintenance and safety. All wooden caskets are available to conform to some traditional religious requirements.

Green Burial
Reducing our human footprint has become the new mantra as people struggle with their conscience and their relationship to our environment. Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich has determined there is a public desire for green burial sites. They are establishing what might be the first green burial park in Canada; a small area within the Park where the body will be allowed to decompose naturally and give life back to the earth. Grave markers will be native wildflowers, trees and shrubs. Burial remains in this area will not be embalmed, they may be placed directly in the ground or wrapped in a biodegradable material or container. There will be no individual markers but there will be an opportunity to have the deceased’s name placed on boulders placed throughout the area. Visitation to individual graves will not be encouraged as the gravesites will eventually become part of a forest mosaic. This innovative departure from traditional North American internment is on schedule to open the last week of October and they have received tremendous public response to the concept.

This option has been embraced by over 50% of Canadians, with BC leading the way. In 2005, 79% of BC deaths were followed by cremation. There are statistics for everything and it appears that 39% of us keep the ashes (or cremains) at home, 37% have them buried in a cemetery and 22% are scattered. I don’t know what happens with the remaining 2% but maybe they are like my mom, who wants her ashes to be shot into space on a rocket!
A 2007 report by a UBC medical resident suggests that smoke from crematoria can be high in particulate matter that can aggravate respiratory conditions and has been linked to heart attacks. It recommended that crematoria not be located in residential neighbourhoods.

Many people live on the brink of death, desperately waiting for new life saving organs. Consider donating your body to help others if it is appropriate for your situation and you are comfortable with the concept. It is not an easy decision but it can be life affirming at a difficult time. In BC, over 684,000 people have registered to become organ donors and there are 301 people waiting for organs, 229 of whom are waiting for a kidney. In 2007 the average wait time for a kidney was five years, way up from 1998 when it was (only!) 28 months. 450 people are waiting for cornea transplants, imagine being able to give the gift of sight. After the organ donation process is completed the body is released to the family for their funeral arrangements.
You can find organ donor registration forms at motor vehicle offices, all London Drugs locations, ICBC Autoplan brokers, ICBC claim centres, doctor’s offices, Overwaitea and Save on Food pharmacies and online (see links at end of article).
Another way you can make a valuable contribution to your community after death is through the UBC body donation program. Medical teaching universities also need bodies so they may teach their students the fine arts of surgery, medicine and dentistry. 80-90% of the bodies are used for teaching purposes and the remainder are used in research. On the mainland the university pays for transportation of the body, embalming and eventual cremation. On Vancouver Island there is a $450.00 transport fee that you must absorb. If wanted, the cremains will be returned to the family after two to three years. Not only can you give back to your community after death, but you can save a lot of money on funeral expenses. There are restrictions on when a body can be accepted, including having infectious diseases and other problems. If you are interested in contributing in this way, please contact the Anatomy Department at the University of British Columbia at 604-822-2578.

Memorial Society of BC
Since 1956, the Memorial Society has helped BC residents obtain “access to simple, dignified, reasonably priced funeral options” as well as “performing a significant role as consumer advocate”. There is a one time membership fee of $40.00 to join. The society runs on volunteers and memberships, they do not accept payment of any kind from funeral providers and their clients receive a 15% discount from providers. In Victoria the only Memorial Society approved funeral provider is Sequoia Gardens Memorial, located next to Royal Oak Burial Park. For more information on the society please call 604-733-7705.

Funeral Services
Funerals can be anything you wish at any time that suits you. You can have a service at a funeral home or church, with a graveside viewing, if you prefer. You can have it at home or rent the local community hall or if the crowds are huge, you can use a lacrosse field and bleachers, you can restrict the attendees to family and a few friends or you can invite everyone who would care to come. There are no rights and wrongs, call it a celebration of life, a memorial service or a funeral, serve food and alcohol or not, request flowers or donations or ask people to bring nothing at all. Have it days after the death or months or years, whenever the time is right for you. Don’t feel hurried or obligated, take the time to do what is important to you and your loved ones.

Beware that prices can vary widely and when you are deeply grieving you are vulnerable and susceptible to expensive options you might not otherwise have chosen. The cost of my husband’s cremation was about $1350.00, when my sister’s husband died suddenly last January, I took over the disposal details for her. The operator at her local (and only) funeral home quoted me a price of about $1300 but quickly started adding on a couple of hundred for this, a couple of hundred for that, so it soon escalated to over $2000.00. When I pointed out that I had the same service preformed here for only $1350, he did an about face and said that is all he would charge. If you are unprepared, there is a chance you will be overcharged.
The green burial option at Royal Oak Burial Park is approximately $2600-$2900 for the lot, which includes the provincially mandated perpetual care cost that is 25% of the lot costs. There is an additional fee for opening and closing the grave ranging from $735-$795.
Traditional burials can be quite expensive with additional costs for a casket and liner, rental begins around $1300, with prices ranging from $1000 to multi thousands to buy the casket. The mandatory cement grave liner is approximately $675.00.

Please try to make these decisions now or in the days to come, well before you can even dream there will ever come a time to need them. Commit your plans to paper or in a computer document, send a copy to your executor, your kids or a dear friend, then put them away and forget about them. Take comfort in knowing your eventual death will be a little easier for your loved ones to experience because of this thoughtful gift.

BC Organ Donation
UBC Body Donation
Memorial Society of BC
The Centre for Natural Burial:
Royal Oak Burial Park: