4/05/2012

Garry Oak Habitat Threatened

Garry oak habitat, Saanich, BC
Garry oaks (Quercus garryana) are large deciduous trees with lobed leaves, grey bark, and a twisted, gnarly branching pattern that gives the trees a stately, ancient look. They are the only native oak species in British Columbia, and their showy flowering habitat is one of the most threatened in the province.

Garry oak habitat covers a tiny area found within the Coastal Douglas-fir zone covering southeast Vancouver Island, part of the Gulf Islands, and a tiny bit of the mainland. The land on which the city of Victoria was built was almost all Garry oak meadows in pre-contact times.

The grassy meadows contain relatively open forests of oak trees. These rich areas are important to the area's original inhabitants who have long collected Camas bulbs as an important food staple. The spectacular blue wildflower grows from bulbs that were cooked in pits and eaten, or dried for trade or storage.

The oak trees are surrounded by grasses that are dotted with delicate wildflowers during a 3-4 month flowering period. Companion trees in this eco-zone are Douglas-fir, Arbutus, and Shore pine.
Garry Oak Meadow Flowers

The Coastal Douglas-fir zone is one of British Columbia's smallest, covering about 4% of the province. Garry oak habitat is a smaller area within that, so has always been extremely rare.

Already, 95% of this spectacular ecosystem has been altered. They are constantly under threat of being developed since their habitat overlaps with the most populated areas of Vancouver Island.

Little studied, we may never know what we have lost in this biologically diverse area. Garry oak habitat contains more plant species than any other terrestrial ecosystem in Canada. Many of the residents can not live anywhere else, including the mighty oaks.

However, beautiful meadows endure, and remain a place where garter snakes and alligator lizards bask on sunny rock outcrops. A rich assortment of wildflowers, including Camas, flower every spring over several scented months.

The Garry oak meadows that are left can be found in the Victoria area, Duncan, Nanaimo, Comox, and most southern Gulf Islands.

To learn more about Garry Oak Preservation, see here.

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