Moss, Mushrooms, And Massive Trees

This mossy mushroom patch was on the shake roof of a gazebo. The photograph was taken at Francis King Regional Park, Saanich B.C., on the Elsie King Trail. The 750m accessible trail makes a beautiful loop through the tall trees.

Across the road reside some of the largest Douglas fir in the region, one of which is listed as the 13th largest in BC. Bring your camera.


Cedars: Old Timers Of The Ancient Forest

Western red and yellow cedars are the longest lived trees in the ancient coastal forest. Many of these eon-busting trees have been documented to be over 1500 years old and going strong. Older individuals are difficult to date accurately because the core of older cedars is often hollow. As the centuries pass, each tree takes on a grandly buttressed and spiky-topped character.

These persistent survivors only grow to great age in ancient forests that have been fire-free and undisturbed for a long time. Some areas along the Pacific coast have not seen large fires for up to four thousand years due to the wet and humid conditions.

The map to the right shows the range of the Western red cedar. All of Vancouver Island is prime growing territory - is a record-breaking monster cedar lurking here, yet to be discovered? Tree experts think that may be the case, and hope that the loggers don't beat them to such a tree before they discover it.

It is conceivable that some cedars have continued to live and grow for over 2000 years. No other tree lives as long in this forest. In old age these magnificent trees also become the largest tree amongst the old growth. The record cedar contains enough wood to build five 1000 sq ft houses.

Nolan Creek Cedar

As of 2009, the three largest known western red cedar were:

  1. Quinalt Lake Cedar (Quinalt Lake Rain Forest-Olympic National Park) 17,650 Cubic feet
  2. Cheewhat Lake Cedar (West Coast Vancouver Island-Pacific Rim National Park) 15,870 Cubic feet
  3. Nolan Creek Cedar (Nolan Creek) 15,330 Cubic feet http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuja_plicata

As a Western red cedar ages the crown form changes (see top diagram). The first few centuries the crown is uniform. It is only with great age that individual character and spiky, or candelabra, tops emerge. Such uniquely-shaped cedars are often seen in ancient stands.

"Cedar often has a candelabra-like appearance, because the top leader dies, as do the side branches that take over. The reason for this is not really understood, but it may be a lack of nutrients caused by growing in wet, acidic soils or perhaps drought stress caused by a shortage of oxygen to the roots, which makes it difficult for the tree to take up water."

The largest cedar in Sunriver Park along the Sooke River has a top that is difficult to see due to surrounding forest. Yesterday, while photographing a Big leaf maple just starting to bud out, I noticed a candelabra cedar top poking up from the forest.

When I got home and started looking at the photos on my computer I was amazed that I had never noticed this feature of the forest before.

Cheewhat Cedar, Pacific Rim National Park

There it was - the top of the old cedar next to the trail. And it shows the typical characteristics of an older-timer. The candelabra top lends more evidence to my feeling that the cedar is a very old tree.

I will be watching for candelabra topped cedars on my upcoming tree adventures. Such sculpted tops truly are badges of honour for these longest living, largest trees of the coastal rain forest.


Impressive Douglas Fir Snag

This is actually a huge, short snag that is broken off just up from the top of the photo. The massive bole lies down the slope to the right, and is now large diameter woody debris enriching the forest floor structure. This ancient Douglas fir probably experienced a catastrophic event during a winter storm. Perhaps it was diseased which would make it more susceptible to wind.

This impressive snag is in a very narrow strip of old forest that has been cleared on either side, which made it vulnerable to wind. Other large trees in this area are likely to blow down, too. The fire scars on the foot thick cork-like bark above my head are pretty impressive. The burns record at least one forest fire.

In the recent past the Sooke area was carpeted in trees this large and larger.


Large Old Snags Very Important To Wildlife

Snags, or standing dead trees, like the one near the center of the above photograph, provide food and shelter for a richness of life. Birds nest in snags, and small mammals make homes there as well. Moss and lichen will live on the bark, while fungus and insects soften the core of the tree. A large snag could stand for 150 years or more before it finally topples to the forest floor.

At right is a blow up of the above tree showing a large diameter hole near the top. Woodpeckers, like the Pileated woodpecker, excavate holes in snags for feeding and nesting. The woodpecker digs a new nest hole each year so in subsequent years other birds or mammals may move into old cavities.

Snags are so important to forest ecology that British Columbia has a program to tag and protect such trees as "Wildlife Trees". These valuable resources are marked with a yellow symbol which identifies and protects them.

Many forest creatures can only live in large, old trees, and snags can provide the height and structure they require. The Spotted owl is an example of a bird that requires old trees for nesting, often setting up in snags, living in the hollow of the broken top.

Bald eagles use large trees for perching and nesting, often having a second nest nearby in a companion big tree. Eagle nests can weigh up to 1000 pounds - you need a big tree to be able to hold such a massive structure of branches.

The threatened Marbled Murrelet also needs old growth trees.

"Throughout the murrelets’ North Pacific range, most occupied nests have been found in tall trees. They were simple cups in the moss on thick branches, 20 to 40 m above the ground. Only fairly old Douglas fir and Sitka spruce have branches thick enough for murrelet nests, although other trees may offer suitable platforms or cavities.

Trees with thick branches near the top usually occur in stands of old growth and mature forests that are rapidly being cut for timber. If it turns out that British Columbia’s murrelets are not concentrated in colonies and have no alternative nesting habitat, the need to protect sites for murrelet nests will be another reason to preserve more of British Columbia’s coastal old-growth forests. However, a great many areas still remain to be explored for nests." http://www.hww.ca/hww2.asp?id=55&cid=7

When we save large old trees, whether they are dead or alive, we are also saving a vast richness of life that depend on such trees. Each ancient tree is an ecosystem to itself, and we are just now realizing their true importance. The snag pictured at top enriches Francis/King Regional Park, Saanich B.C.


Big Leaf Maple Epiphytes

An epiphyte is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically. Big leaf maples provides a scaffolding for
moss, fungus, ferns and other plants. Rather than take from the tree, all the accumulated debris and plants are a benefit. Over time small roots grow up from the maple's branches to infiltrate the material growing on them, receiving water and nutrients.

Old maples often hold more kilograms of epiphytes than kilos of maple leaves, creating a (heavy) multi-coloured garden in the air. (Click on photo to enlarge.)


Francis/King Regional Park: Trees and Trails

One of the moss-covered, deeply fissured, centuries old Douglas firs
in the Heritage Grove of Francis/King Park.

Francis/King Regional Park is a very accessible and beautiful park in Saanich, BC. At about 200 acres, it sits just north of the Trans Canada highway, and preserves some of the biggest and tallest Douglas fir trees in the Victoria area.

A few of these sky-scraping giants are upwards of 500 years old. As they are protected within the park, they could live another 500 to 1000 years. The park is a welcome natural landscape in an area that is increasingly under pressure from development.

This sanctuary is ideal for all levels of mobility and fitness, and for all ages. Children will love the nature center, and parents can enjoy a stroller-friendly interpretive loop trail that begins and finishes right by the parking lot and nature house.

There are 11 kilometers of trails running through the park, ranging from a 750 m wheelchair accessible trail, to rough single track trails through the forest many kilometers in length.

This regional park also offers a nature center, pit toilets and a picnicking area.

Francis/King Regional Park borders on Thetis Lake Regional Park to the west (1600 acres of lake, swamp, and woodland landscape), and Mill Hill Regional Park to the southwest.

An eager hiker could link up longer hikes that take in a combination of all the parks. Wet swampy areas harbour big Western red cedars, and dryer rocky areas have beautiful groves of threatened Garry oaks and rare wildflowers.

The biggest trees are in the Heritage Grove of Francis/King. This magnificent grove is on the opposite side of Munn Road from the parking lot, and is well worth the short 5 min hike. Signage at the parking lot area will help you find this grove of survivors.

The thick trunks of these big trees are massive (3 m/10 ft), as is their height (75 m/245 ft.). From some of the trails in the park you can see the tops of the tallest trees in Heritage Grove emerging from the surrounding canopy, revealing their location.

As you cross Munn Road and head into the forest and toward Heritage Grove, you descend into darkness, even on a sunny day. The canopy overhead gathers up much of the sunlight leaving the open forest floor sparse with vegetation.

Look up through the gnarled branches of these old timers, and see the light breaking through almost 300 feet up. These trees were hundreds of years old when Europeans first gathered on the shores of this land. That they still stand today in all their woody glory is somewhat of a minor miracle, and we have two nature enthusiasts to thank.

James Francis and Freeman King stepped forward years ago and donated the lands that they loved so deeply so that we could enjoy them now. Their forward thinking ways have ensured that visitors will be able to enjoy this spectacular natural area for generations to come.

Directions to Francis/King Regional Park

Follow the Trans-Canada Highway from Victoria, and take the Helmcken Road exit. Turn left on Burnside Road West, then right on Prospect Lake Road. Turn left on Munn Road, which leads to the park entrance on the right. About 20 minutes driving time from Victoria.

View Larger Map


Giant Douglas-fir In Sooke

This is the biggest Douglas fir I have found within the Sooke, B.C. town boundary. It is a healthy, robust specimen that is easily several hundred years old. Although I think it is within a park, it has a gravel pit on either side of it, one of which is still active and is getting closer to encroaching upon this ancient survivor all the time. Photo: by author


New Forest, Beach, and Waterfront Parks For South Island

CRD, conservation groups buy controversial Jordan River lands

By Judith Lavoie , Times ColonistMarch 5, 2010

The Capital Regional District has negotiated a massive deal with Western Forest Products to buy more than 2,300 hectares of high-profile waterfront and forest land, days before much of the southwest corner of Vancouver Island was set to go up for sale.

The agreement in principle, with a pricetag of $18.8 million, includes more than 3.5 kilometres of shoreline along Sandcut Beach and the Jordan River surfing beach and townsite. It also takes in land beside Sooke Potholes regional park and areas, such as Weeks Lake, that will add to the buffer around the Greater Victoria water supply’s catchment area and complete the Sea-to-Sea Greenbelt.


This is such good news for recreational types on the south island, not to mention all the thousands of visitors that come to enjoy everything the wild west coast has to offer. It is an example of our elected officials doing things that will benefit the people for generations. Thank you to everyone involved in this very positive outcome.

One of my favorite big tree areas alongside the upper Sooke River is one of the parcels involved. A few years back while biking up there I saw flagging outlining boundaries and marking trees. The Galloping Goose Trail, which I was riding on, is a linear park and is therefore very narrow and protects a very small bit of land and trees. Ancient trees hundreds of years old that survived the first, second, third and subsequent waves of logging looked like they might finally be coming down. It depressed me.

Now, with this latest acquisition, it looks like a wider area on both sides of the upper Sooke River will be preserved as a park.

There are individual giant trees in the Sooke River valley that will be saved because of this forward thinking decision-making. I look forward to being able to visit them until they fall down, or until I do. I will be devoting future posts to the tree-hunting possibilities within the new parks systems.

See you in our new parks, and don't forget about Muir Creek, still one of the best possibilities for preserving a nice bit of old growth. It would be a shame to gain all of this, and lose Muir Creek.


World's Largest Known Douglas Fir In Danger?

The Victoria Times Colonist reported troubling activity around the world's largest known Douglas fir, back in January. Close to the Red Creek Fir, east of Port Renfrew, were clear markings outlining a cut block. The RCF is a BC Big Tree Registry Champion.

The same article mentioned the increased logging that south west Vancouver Island has seen over the past few months, reigniting old battles over how our forest lands should be used.

After being largely abandoned by both logging companies carving out lucrative real estate divisions, and governments that promote the cutting of the depressingly tiny remains of the old growth, activity in the forest seems to be stepping up.

Red Creek Fir:

This time, though, it is without jobs in the forest or the mills.
The forestry sector in BC saw over 20 000 jobs and 60 mills disappear over the past decade. Now, thanks to whole log exports, trees are disappearing, too.

The Colonist reported again that the Red Creek Fir area was showing signs of logging preparation. The champion Douglas fir is not the only large, ancient tree in the surrounding forest. Nearby are some very large, old Western red cedars.

As I posted here, Champion Trees on BC's Big Tree Registry have no real protection beyond their familiarity to local people. A champion specimen could conceivably be cut down by a logging company without repercussion. That scenario is highly unlikely... I hope. There is a fear, though, that if they log the area around the Red Creek Fir the tree will be more susceptible to the wind.

Forest edges bordering clear cuts experience blow down. That fact puts the 1000 year old RCF at risk of toppling and becoming a 74 m/242 ft. nurse log. That is, of course, any wild tree's destiny, but humans have a way of dramatically hastening that process.

The tree farms that have replaced the old growth ecosystem will be allowed to live for less than 100 years before they are harvested. For a Douglas fir, this is about 1/10th of their natural lifetime. What about wildlife that requires trees older than 250 years old? The trees, unfortunately, are not the only things disappearing.

Sunriver development seen from park

I was recently hiking in the Sunriver Parks area of Sooke, and witnessed for myself a very graphic example of blow down as a result of removing the protection of surrounding forest. Development of this area began with removing all of the trees over a large area. A small strip was left beside the Sooke River. Here there are a few large, old trees struggling to survive. It is a mix of Douglas fir, Hemlock, Western red cedar, and the occasional Sitka spruce. With nothing but houses across the street these trees are very susceptible to wind storms.

Area of blow down in park

The storm of 2006 took out many trees here and everywhere along the coast. Before long many of the trees on the upper portion of this little park will be lost to storms. Already, many of the oldest trees have been topped, and the number of trees down increases each year.

Old Douglas fir in park

Could this be the fate of the Red Creek Fir, 1000 year old Champion?
Forests Ministry spokeswoman Vivian Thomas said there are no immediate plans to harvest in the Red Creek fir area. She also said that the "tree itself is part of a public recreation site and it and the surrounding area is protected from logging."

But Ken Wu points out that it is obvious that logging will be taking place here in the future, that falling boundaries are within a tree-length of the RCF, and that the Ministry dissolves public recreation sites all the time as part of its work in the forest.

The area should be protected as a park, perhaps as an extension of Pacific Rim National Park (as proposed by MP Keith Martin), and promoted to boost tourism in the area while sharing our global treasure - some of the biggest trees on the planet.

Trees like this, increasingly rare as they continue to fall to the chain saw, are worth much more standing than cut down. Let your elected representatives know you care about our trees and forests. Politicians need to get the message, and the sooner the better. Without us they will liquidate everything.