British Columbia's coastal forests are known for growing some of the world's tallest, largest, and oldest trees (see the 'gnarliest' tree here). Vancouver Island is home to some of BC's record-breaking trees, including all of the top Western red cedars and Garry oaks. From dry, rocky meadows dotted with Arbutus in the south, to the wet west coast Sitka spruce, to the east coast Douglas fir belt, many significant trees are to be found here.
"Tree measuring helps conservation because public support for tree preservation is fueled by the appreciation of champion trees. In an effort to save the best stands of trees, we look for the largest specimens." - Arthur Lee Jacobson
It used to be that big tree study was the sole domain of scientists, and a handful of amateur dendrologists that enjoyed crashing through near-impenetrable bush looking for record-breakers. Recent decades have seen increasing interest in trees in general, and record breaking ones in particular. As large, old trees continue to be consumed people are taking notice.
The Internet has helped spread the word. Check out this website that features notable trees from around the world. It was on the net that I accessed British Columbia's repository of provincial champion trees. The BC Big Tree Registry, started by Randy Stoltman in 1986, lists the 10 largest specimens of 40 native tree species.
As I looked at the registry I noticed that there are still many blank spaces, and undoubtedly larger trees exist waiting undiscovered. So get out the measuring implements and set off on a big tree excursion of your own. Record breakers are out there to be found. Anyone can nominate a tree for inclusion.
I have shown the top 3 trees for several common native species from the BC Big Tree Registry (click on the table for a larger image). Measurements include an AFA rating number. The American Forestry Association considers girth, height, and crown spread when it establishes this rating number for champion trees. The methods for calculating the AFA number for a tree can be found here.
Western red cedar
All of the Western red cedar in the Big Tree Registry reside on Vancouver Island. The cool, wet climate here favours these long-lived giants. The registry's shaggy cedar champion, the "Cheewhat Lake Cedar" is not only Canada's largest tree (by volume), but more than likely its oldest as well, possibly up to 2000 years old.
Other notable champion Sitka spruce include the Carmanah Giant, Canada's tallest known tree at 96m/315ft. Found in Carmanah/Walbran Provincial Park, this pillar of wood is 5th on the list with 703 AFA points. 6th on the list is the spruce found at San Juan Bridge picnic area near Port Renfrew. If ordered by circumference this hefty contender would bounce the Carmanah Giant out of 5th place.
The champion Douglas fir, the Red Creek Fir, stands above all its neighbours not far from Port Renfrew. Also on the list of champion Douglas firs are trees at Cathedral Grove near Port Alberni, and Francis King Regional Park near Victoria. The tallest Douglas fir in the registry is in the Coquitlam watershed that tops out at 94m/310ft. It has an eighth place standing with 643 AFA points.
Most of Vancouver Island is in the coastal hemlock zone, so it is fitting that the 2nd and 3rd place champion trees are here. Quisitis Point is in Pacific Rim National Park, and Cous Creek is near Port Alberni.
Arbutus (Pacific Madrone)
The third largest Arbutus on the registry shows that not all champion trees are in the deep, dark, dripping forest. This champion is in a developed area, on the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt. Adding to this distinction is its great girth - it has the largest recorded circumference of any known Arbutus.
The number 2 Pacific yew, the champion with the greatest circumference, resides in the Muir Creek watershed west of the town of Sooke. This unprotected ancient forest includes old trees in an undisturbed setting, a salmon-bearing creek, and a host of unique plants and animals making it an ideal location for conservation.