Saturday, January 29, 2011

Provincial Post - British Columbia

British Columbia is our most western province lying next to the Pacific Ocean. It is blessed with warm maritime weather and until the last couple of years saw more rain than snow. The winter 2010 Olympics were held in Whistler and for those who watched would have seen the majesty of the mountains, the Canadian Rockies. Gardeners in the Vancouver area of British Columbia are fortunate to enjoy zone 7/8.

British Columbia has chosen two trees (some may consider one a shrub) to represent the province; the floral emblem of B.C. is the Pacific Dogwood and the tree is the Western Red-cedar.

Pacific Dogwood

Photo from Wikipedia

The Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) is also known as Western Flowering Dogwood, Mountain Dogwood. It is a large shrub or small tree found at lower elevations of southwestern B.C. It prefers dry to moist, rich, acidic soils. It is an understory tree and therefore is well adapted to some shade. In full sun the bark is susceptible to sun scald. The dogwood is attractive to birds for the fruit, beavers for fruit and foliage and deer will browse the twigs. It can also be grazed by mule deer and elk.

It grows to a height of 15 m (50 feet) tall. The dogwood flowers in spring and sometimes again in the fall, like its many relatives. There are four to six showy bracts or modified leaves that encircle the actual flower, which are in clusters of 30-40 small green flowers. These flowers will form edible red fruit in the fall. The leaves are dark green, oval with a pointed tip and are held oppositely on the branch. They can be 4-10 cm long and may turn red in the fall. Pacific Dogwoods reproduce both vegetatively and by seed. 

This dogwood is prone to dogwood leaf blotch or Anthracnose a disease that may have been brought over on the Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa) in the 1970's. Anthracnose causes dieback and death. It is also known to be susceptible to a native Discula  non -virulent pathogen, which attacks young seedlings and trees in cool, wet weather.

The wood of Pacific Dogwood has been used by the First Nations peoples in the form of various implements, such as, knitting needles, bows, arrows, handles and clothing hooks. It has been used medicinally for stomach ailments, and as a blood purifier. It takes its name from the Sanskrit word dag which means skewers.

Western Red-cedar
Western Red-cedar or Thuja plicata is actually not a true cedar but is an arborvitae (from the Latin 'tree of life') like its cousin Thuja occidentalis. It is an evergreen conifer found predominantly on the Pacific coast and in central and southern B.C. and northwestern U.S.
It often forms pure stands on floodplains and wetlands and can be found with western hemlock, Douglas fir, amabilis fir and spruces. It prefers cool, mild and moist climates and is tolerant of shade. The western red-cedar is very long lived and can live over 1,000 years, with the oldest verified being 1,460 years.

The western redcedar grows to 60 m (200 feet) tall, with drooping branches and a trunk that is fluted and buttressed at the base. The foliage has flat sprays of scale-like leaves that are quite aromatic and can smell of pineapple when crushed. It blooms in spring and produces small brown seed cones when mature. Its pollen cones are tiny, reddish and numerous which shed yellow pollen.
The aboriginal peoples of the Northwest coast have a long history with the western red-cedar and it holds great spiritual significance for them. All parts of the tree were used most notably for dugout canoes, totem poles, house planks and smaller items such as bentwood boxes, masks, paddles and a variety of tools. In fact woodworking tools have been found that date back 5000-8000 years. Red-cedar was used to make dugout canoes, or monoxyla canoes, to take out to sea to hunt whales. Many of these canoes were over 18 m (60 feet) long.
 The aboriginals also harvested the bark from living trees that would be made into rope, clothing, mats and baskets. This could be done without harm to the tree until such point that the tree would be felled for other purposes. The harvesting of the tree was often accompanied by ritual ceremony and was most often harvested by the women, who climbed 10 meters (32 feet) in order to do so.
A ceremonial dugout canoe
Today red-cedar is used in house siding, decking, fencing and outdoor furniture. It is light and very durable and is resistant to insect damage and decay due to Thujaplicin a natural occuring fungicide in the mature wood.

Where is British Columbia ?
B.C. is the orange province on the far left


  1. Good info. I am doing a series on tree ID and when I do the cedars, will be linking to your post here.

  2. Thanks GW. I look forward to reading your post.

  3. A lot of good information. And love the canoe too

  4. The dogwood is such a pretty flower. I wish I could grow it in my garden, but I am sure that my conditions are too dry for it to prosper.

  5. Nice profile on two VERY deserving plants...and indeed very representative of the PNW!

  6. Great article just in time for my re-emigration (is that a word?). Very much looking forward to the spring in Vancouver :-) So Not using Social Media yet? Gonna dump your LinkedIn account? Here - I am becoming a guru!