Naturespeak 

Why BC's Provincial Flower Doesn't Grow Here

by Bob Brett, Whistler Naturalists

It’s a strange kind of local’s pride, seeing how long you can go without a trip down to Vancouver. This past weekend we broke our winter-long streak and went to the Big Smoke.

This is a great time for some drive-by botanizing from your car. As you descend from Whistler to sea level in Squamish, a drop of 670 metres, you also advance in seasons. Whistler was still between seasons last week, covered in its drab post-winter brown. The first hint of spring showed up around Pinecrest where the alders were leafing out. By Squamish, everything was green.

One reason I love this time of year is that our flowering trees all of a sudden pop out of the woodwork. The pinkish flowers you see on small trees beside the highway are native cherries. The hanging greenish-white pendants are the flowers of broadleaf maple. The bright white clusters framed by shiny green leaves are arbutus flowers (there’s lots of them south of Furry Creek).

But the flowering tree that really signals spring to me is Pacific dogwood ( Cornus nuttallii ), our Provincial Flower. (BC’s official tree is western redcedar. You’ll have to ask someone else why Pacific dogwood is classed as a flower.)

Whistlerites have no shortage of dogwoods, but not the same one. We have bunchberry ( C. canadensis ), a small understory plant in many of our forests. And we have red-osier dogwood ( C. stolonifera ), the red-stemmed shrub common to many riversides and horticultural plantings. But no Pacific dogwood.

You’ll find Pacific dogwood on either side of the Whistler divide. South of here, you’ll start seeing them — always in sunny spots — around Daisy Lake. North to Pemberton, there’s a great display each spring across from the entrance to Nairn Falls. So why don’t they grow here? Because they need more heat and longer growing seasons than Whistler can offer.

Whistler’s not alone in its lack of representation of our Provincial Flower (I love capitalizing that!). The dogwood tree is actually a really bad choice for a Provincial Symbol — it only grows in the southwestern corner of BC, in an area probably less than 10 percent of the province. If we wanted a better choice for a Provincial Flower, why not bunchberry? It grows throughout BC. Plus, it’s not a tree.

Continuing on the same theme, isn’t it time Whistler adopted its own Official Symbols? Here are some early nominations (Oscars-style).

Flower : Skunk Cabbage.

Tree : Whistler Spruce.

Mammal : Hoary Marmot.

Fish : Dolly Varden or Cutthroat Trout (nominated by Paul Beswetherick).

Bird : Common Merganser (nominated by Heather Beresford), or maybe Green Heron.

Amphibian : Tailed Frog.

Gastropod : Banana Slug.

Insect : Mosquito.

If you have a nomination, please get it to me (932-8900; snowline@direct.ca). The Whistler Naturalists are going to lobby Council to adopt official symbols for our town. That way, we can make sure our symbols actually live here.

Website of the Week: Besides an official flower and tree, BC also has an official bird (Steller’s Jay), an official mineral (jade) and an official tartan (plaid, what else?). For more, check out www.protocol.gov.bc.ca, and click on "symbols".

Upcoming Events

Wednesday, May 8th — Nature Walk. Meet at 6:30 p.m. at the bottom of Lorimer Road for a walk through the Emerald Forest, including the areas to be replanted on Arbor Day (see below). Free for members; $2 for non-members. Call Bob Brett (932-8900) for more information.

Saturday, May 11th — Arbor Day. Join the Whistler Naturalists between 9:00 a.m. and noon as we help reforest the north gravel pit in the Emerald Forest. We’ll meet at the gravel pit. It’s likely best to park on the shoulder of West Side Road — look for the sign between Rainbow Trail and Alpine Meadows. Definitely bring gloves and, if possible, a trowel, shovel, or mattock. Post-planting family BBQ at Edgewater. Call Bob Brett (932-8900) for details.

Sightings and Memberships: NatureSpeak is prepared by the Whistler Naturalists. To become a member or to report noteworthy sightings of mammals, birds, or other species, contact Lee Edwards (905-6448; e-mail: leighe11@hotmail.com).

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