7 Notable Flora & Fauna to find in Strathcona Park
Guest Blogger: Strathcona Park
Strathcona Park encompasses 250,000 hectares of wilderness area. Along each trail blooms thousands of plant species. It was challenging to choose only seven plants to highlight in this article. But we have put together a few that are fun to look for on your next hike. Strathcona is home to all five biospheres found on the island. This makes it an ideal environment for identifying the the unique and beautiful plant species of Vancouver Island. We spoke to one of our Park Technicians, Pete, who worked in Strathcona last year maintaining the trails and backcountry campsites. His unique local knowledge and eagerness to identify every plant he encounters made him an ideal resource when putting together this list. He enlightened us to a few of his favorite plants that are a part of the unique ecosystems within the park. Look for these on your next hikes and share your photos with us on our Instagram and Facebook pages!
1. Yellow Cedar
Finding a Yellow Cedar (Chamaecyparis Nootkatensis, commonly referred to as Cypress) is catching a glimpse at one of the oldest trees still standing on Vancouver Island. This type of Cedar grows extraordinarily slow, some trees you will encounter are over 1000 years old! The species grows alongside Mountain Hemlock, Red Cedar and Amabilis Fir. On a hike in the Bedwall area and along the Forbidden Plateau Trail you can find it in subalpine areas. Look for their distinctive grey papery bark and unique resinous smell to identify one. To pick out the oldest, look for enormous girth and bulbous trunks that expand erratically with age.
There are seven species of Vaccinium (the Huckleberry and Blueberry family genus) in Strathcona Park. All are edible, and produce fruit during the late summer. Different species grow in different parts of the park. You can find the Evergreen Huckleberry on the West Coast of the park, in some of its least visited corners. Black Huckleberry, as well as Alaskan, Oval Leaf, Bog and Dwarf Blueberries are all plentiful up in high elevations at Bedwell and in the Forbidden Plateau. The Red Huckleberry is more common in lower elevations like Elk River Valley. A hunt for all seven species makes for a tasty weekend challenge!
3. Olympic Onion
The elusive Olympic Onion… a plant that is not endemic to Vancouver Island. In fact, Strathcona Park is the only place on the Island that you can find the species. Some people have spotted a few Olympic Onions around Mount Betcher at higher elevations in the subalpine. The species is native to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and therefore is rare to see in the park. It is edible but very rare so please leave plants intact and don’t be tempted to snack!
4. Columbine Flowers
Our personal favourite, the Columbine Flower with it’s brilliant hues and geometric, origami-like shape, this flower will stop you in your tracks. It is usually found up at higher elevations, in meadows and woodlands. The one pictured below was growing at Crest Creek Crags. This species is also plentiful in the Paradise Meadows, with other beautiful wildflowers that blossom in early summer. July is a great time to go on a hunt for wildflowers endemic to the area. Gorgeous flowers like Drummond’s Cinquefoil, Buckbean, Deer-Cabbage, Alpine Speedwell and Northern Starflowers can all be found. The paradise meadows trails are great for families, and feature several short boardwalks with interpretive signs.
Krumholtz is not really a plant species, and is a bit of a stretch from the purpose of this article. However, don’t let that dissuade you from identifying a few of the Krumholtz that still stand in the park. Many have staked their claim throughout the alpine and subalpine areas of the Forbidden Plateau. German for Crooked Wood, these are the trees that have been stunted, misshapen and modified from the snowpack over centuries. They are extremely old and tell the stories of winters past in their deformed branches, crooked trunks and withering bark. When venturing beyond the snow-line on long summertime hikes be sure to keep your eye out for this “species.”
6. Chanterelle Mushrooms Mushroom identification has been a popular pursuit for ages. Many species make their home within the park boundaries. Vancouver Island alone is home to several thousand different types. One particularly popular variety, the Chanterelle, is sometimes found in Strathcona by the conscientious seeker. Look for them in late summer, when they begin to pop up in old growth forests around the Bedwell area below sub-alpine. Few and far-between, if you patiently look for little orangey coloured caps with skinny stems you may find a few of these tasty treats close to your footprints.
Buckbean is another stunning wildflower that grows in the meadows and bogs of the park. One beautiful spot for botany enthusiasts to find this species is the less visited Marble Meadows. It is a high elevation area that actually was once at the bottom of the ocean years ago. Wildflowers of all types grow amongst deep cravasses, sinkholes and pristine lakes. It is a magnificent area to camp in for a quiet weekend trip, with a small cabin called the Wheaton Hut available for public use.
That concludes our list of the 7 Notable Flora & Fauna that can be found in Strathcona Park. Hope you enjoy your searching! Follow Strathcona Provincial Park on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates.
Photo Credits in order:
Yellow Cedar Photo Credit:Vancouver Island Big Trees
Blueberries Photo Credit: Strathconapark
Olympic Onion Photo Credit: Science Hally Hosting
Columbine Flowers Photo Credit: Strathconapark
Krumholtz Tree Photo Credit: Akfrost Writer
Chanterelle Mushroom Photo Credit: Mushroom Collecting
Buckbean Photo Credit: Strathconapark