Plants make molecules that chemists could never imagine. Chemical poisons that deter herbivores are advantageous for organisms that can’t move. For humans, depending on the dosage, these molecules can be either poisonous or medicinal. The small shrub circled here is Pacific Yew. In 1962 it was discovered that its tissues, especially the bark, contain ‘taxol’ effective in treating cancer. It took many kg of bark (in 1993 34,000 kg were harvested in BC) for a single dose – and killing the tree. Now the drug is synthesized in a lab using precursors from the needles. The seed is surrounded by red, fleshy tissue called an ‘aril’, sometimes incorrectly called a ‘berry’.
The small shrub circled here is Pacific Yew.
The seed is surrounded by red, fleshy tissue called an ‘aril’, sometimes incorrectly called a ‘berry’.
In an earlier post I mentioned that Luke Halpin was out surveying marine mammals and birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish was estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
But until the paper announcing his find was accepted by a scientific journal, I didn’t want to spill the beans and say what he had found. His research paper (Halpin et al. 2018) will be published in the spring issue of the Northwestern Naturalist.
Photo by Luke Halpin, September 5th, 2017
This picture says it all – there is no debating what this fish is – only one species that fits the bill. Swordfish are known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species right along our coast.
A Google Earth image showing where the Swordfishes from 2017 and 1983 were found relative to Vancouver Island.
A previous record from 1983 (see Sloan 1984, and Peden and Jamieson 1988) was from just inside of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and barely qualified as a BC fish. The 1983 specimen was caught as by-catch at 47°36’N, 131°03’W, during an experimental fishery survey by the M/V Tomi Maru. The rostrum and tail were preserved in the Royal BC Museum’s fish collection (RBCM 983-1730-001). I am guessing the edible bits in between were cut into steaks, and ended up on someone’s dinner table. At least Luke’s Swordfish was left alone and for all we know, is happily cruising south to slightly warmer water.
Halpin, L.R., M. Galbraith, and K.H. Morgan. 2018. The First Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) Recorded in Coastal British Columbia. Northwestern Naturalist, 99(1): XX-XX. (pages not set)
Peden, A.E., and G.S. Jamieson. 1988. New distributional records of marine fishes off Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 102(3), 491-494.
Sloan, N.A. 1984. Canadian-Japanese Experiental Fishery for Oceanic Squid off British Columbia, Summer 1983. Canadian Industry Report of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences No. 152: pp. 42.
Keep your eyes peeled for deep-sea fishes while strolling along our shores. In the last month, three King-of-the-Salmon (Trachipterus altivelis) have washed up in the Salish Sea. Two were found in September (21st and 26th) in the Oak Bay area, Victoria. One of these was still swimming when found. A third was found October 3rd in Hood Canal, in Puget Sound. The first Oak Bay specimen will be preserved for the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea in Sidney, the second was not recovered, and the third will be preserved in the Burke Museum’s collection. The Royal BC museum has 18 Trachipterus specimens, with several of these from the Salish Sea area.
The King-of-the-Salmon from Hood Channel, photographed by Randi Jones.
Is this species new to the region? No. The species ranges from Alaska to Chile, and knowledge of this species pre-dates European arrival on this coast. Is this trio of King-of-the-Salmon a case of post-spawn mortality? A sign of change in our oceans? We don’t know. Actually, when you look at the diversity of marine fishes off our coast, there is a lot of basic biology that we don’t know. We also get Longnose Lancetfishes (Alepisaurus ferox) washing up from time to time, although it has been a few years since I have heard report of a Lancetfish in the Victoria region.
King-of-the-Salmon swim by passing a sine wave down their dorsal fin – they can get a fair bit of speed just by doing that. They can also reverse using the same fin flutter. They slowly turn by putting a curve in the body. However, in the first few seconds of the linked video you can see that they also swim in a more typical fishy way (using eel-like body oscillation) when they need a burst of speed or a really quick turn. If you’d like to see this form of locomotion in person – you can see it in a pet shop. Knife fishes use the same basic locomotion method – except they use their anal fin rather than the dorsal.
Close up of the head of the King-of-the-Salmon showing the premaxillary (red) and maxillary (green) bones extended, photographed by Randi Jones.
Note also in the video that the fish has a very short face compared to the Hood Channel specimen photographed onshore. As with many fishes, the jaws of the King-of-the-Salmon are protrusible – the premaxillary and maxillary bones swing out to create a tube – the gill chamber dilates, and water rushes into the mouth along with the prey. The same sort of suction pump mechanism is used by a wide variety of fishes – from tiny seahorses to giant groupers. Once the prey item is inside the fish’s mouth, the mouth closes, water is released through the gills and the prey is swallowed. The entire sequence is lightning fast – even in pipefishes and seahorses – blink and you miss it. In some fishes, the process is even audible – you can hear a snapping sound when seahorses slurp up crustaceans (and fishes). You can’t hear the same snapping sound when larger fishes engulf their prey, but it is no less dramatic an effect.
In 2014, a Louvar and a Finescale Triggerfish were found in BC – a double-header of interesting southern fishes in our waters. But wait… it looks like 2017 is also a double-header for cool coastal fish.
This summer of 2017 (and in 2016), Basking Sharks were sighted here in BC. I think every Basking Shark is newsworthy given that they were nearly eliminated here in an ill-conceived plot to protect BC fisheries (see Wallace and Gisborne 2006 for that sad story). This year’s Basking Sharks were found in Caamano Sound in July, and near the Delwood Seamounts in August. Was it one roving shark? Or two? Are there others?
This September however, Luke Halpin was out surveying marine birds from the deck of the CCGS John P. Tully, and spotted something totally different west of Brooks Peninsula. The fish is estimated at 3.5-4 meters in length, and was cruising against the current just below the surface.
We are really fortunate that it was sunny and seas were so calm – because his picture leaves no doubt as to the fish’s identification. The best part about the story is that the fish is still out there. Don’t get me wrong, I’d have loved to have the fish as a specimen for the museum’s collection – but then again, it would require a custom vat – three to four meter fishes don’t fit in jars.
This species is known north to the southern Kuril Islands in the western Pacific, but Luke’s find is the northern-most record for the species in the eastern Pacific and is conclusive evidence of this species as a new addition to our coastal fish fauna. Which species did he find? You’ll have to wait until he publishes his observations in a scientific research paper. Consider this a trailer – a teaser – there’s a big fish out there – it is cool… and I am jealous. I would love to see this fish alive.
The Doncaster population of the European Wall Lizard probably is 6 years old based on conversations I have had with home owners. In the Google Earth image – the white dots are known locations – the green dots are new locations for 2017.
How do I know these are new? Homeowners specifically said they had no lizards in 2016 – but they certainly do now. That’s the power of local knowledge and citizen science. The green dots along Oak Crest Drive were newly reported in the spring of 2017, with at least three adult lizards now known on the property. The two green dots along Cedar Avenue to the northeast are based on sightings of at least three young lizards – probably lizards that hatched this year and got well-clear of their parent’s territory. Cannibalism is a good emigration motivation.
Based on where lizards were known in 2016, these 2017 records represent range extensions from 20 to 100 meters. Compared to their body size, that’s pretty decent dispersal given that adult lizards only grow to 21 cm (those fortunate enough to have a perfect tail), and in many cases, the dispersing lizards are young-of-the-year at 8 or so centimeters in total length.
If younglings continue to bolt at this rate and make a bee-line south, I will have lizards in my garden in 2 years. More realistically, it will be another 3 years before we see them along our raised beds or in our greenhouse – not that I’m counting.
We now have 21 orca specimens at the Royal BC Museum—the latest to arrive was T-171, a 6.07 meter female Biggs Orca which was found near Prince Rupert, October 19th, 2013. She had pinniped skulls, vibrissae (whiskers) and partially digested bones in her gut but was emaciated. Why was she emaciated?
During the necropsy, researchers discovered that T-171 had mid-cervical to lumbar vertebrae with severe overgrowth of the neural arches and lateral processes (noted as spondylosis in the necropsy) – the overgrowth looks roughly like popcorn or cauliflower – and had the effect of interlocking some vertebrae. This likely explains her emaciated state. Was she able to hunt? Was she supported by her relatives?
The skull of T-171 (ventral (palatal) view [left], right side [center], and dorsal view [right]) awaiting its catalog number and final place in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Comparison of T-171’s vertebra (left) with overgrowth of bone vs. the normal vertebra of another Biggs Orca (12844) (right). The two vertebrae are not from the exact same position along the spine, but the difference between the two is still shocking.
Many of T-171’s vertebral centra are eroded and porous – not like those of a healthy animal (12844).
The overgrowth of the neural arches pinched the spinal chord of T-171; compare to a neural arch of 12844 (right). The vertebral malformation must have limited this animal’s mobility. It is hard not to anthropomorphize and imagine the discomfort due to this deformation.
T-171 originally was prepared for exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, but they wanted a clean articulated skeleton for exhibit. In contrast, we were interested in T-171 because of its skeletal malformation. To make a short story long, we came to an agreement with the ROM to transfer T-171 to the Royal BC Museum, and since, the ROM has acquired L95 (Nigel), a 20 year old southern resident who was found near Esperanza Inlet, March 30th, 2016.
Which Orca is next? In most cases we have no clue – it is not like we hunt orca just to add them to the collection. And we don’t usually have a production line of specimens in preparation. New specimens are acquired when a body washes up, and we make a snap-decision to cover the cost of specimen recovery and preparation. However, September 15, 2016, T-12A (Nitinat) was found off Cape Beale and towed to Banfield. I was contacted September 16th to see if the Royal BC Museum was interested (obviously that was a YES), and now his massive skull is being prepared. Once degreased, Nitinat’s skull will be added to the Royal BC Museum collection – sometime in 2018 – and made available for scientific research.
As a kid I collected many things – from reptiles and amphibians to model airplanes to Star Wars cards – and now look where I am. I dress in black and white as a Stormtrooper with the 501st legion and collect black and white delphinids – Killer Whales – for the Royal BC Museum. Life sure takes you to unexpected destinations.
In the 1970s, I was aware of an old lantern slide in the Royal BC Museum ethnology collection that I later identified as a Songhees First Nation. I based my information on the original field portrait catalogue of Paul Kane – created when he was at Fort Victoria in 1847 (Harper 1971:315-317). I did not know at the time the original sketch was missing, and this seemed to be the only image of it.
Figure 1. Photograph of a missing sketch by Paul Kane, 1906. Charles Newcombe. PN17161.
Figure 1, is No. 46 in Paul Kane’s portrait log: “Ska-tel-san – a Samas Tillicum with a (grass) hat that is much worn here south of de Fuca”, and in his Exhibition of 1848 he is listed as: “124 Sca-tel-son – a Songhes Indian, Vancouver’s Island” (Harper 1971:316 & 319).
A painting in the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM912.1.870) was made from this original sketch. Harper was led into miss-labelling the latter as “A Babine chief” (1971:265). There was a mix-up of information during exhibits of Kane’s work, where various writings and collection lists, rather than his original accurate field logs, were used as source information. Incorrect identifications in publications of Kane’s friend Daniel Wilson also contributed to the confusion in names.
Figure 2. Lithograph of painting of Sir Daniel Wilson, Published in 1862.
Lister in his Paul Kane/the Artist/: Wilderness to Studio (fig.58; 2010:301) and again in his editing of Wonderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America (Plate 60; 2017: 242-243) labels this later painting (ROM912.1.87) as “A Babbine Chief. Tsimshian. Skeena River region, northwest British Columbia.” He records that the description is based on “A list of Pictures sent to Mr. G.W. Allan, March 6, 1856”. Harper’s speculation on this painting in his Catalogue Raisonne IV-587, is correct: “This canvas is probably based on an unlocated sketch. When lithographed for the frontispiece in the Wilson book, Prehistoric Man, the title was changed to “Chimseyan Chief” (Harper 1971:308).
Figure 2, shows a lithograph of a painting by historian and artist Sir Daniel Wilson copied from the missing Paul Kane original. This did appear in volume I of Wilson’s 1862 publication.
In the third edition (1876) of Volume 1, of Wilson’s Prehistoric Man, this person is noted as “Kaskatachyuh, a Chimpseyan” Chief”, where it is noted that Wilson drew it “from sketches by Paul Kane”. Wilson, in discussions about what are obviously Haida argillite pipes, refers to them as those of the “Babeen Indians”, and mentions, mistakenly (in the second part), that they are: “from a drawing made by Mr. Kane, during his residence among the Babeen Indians” (Wilson 1857:42). Paul Kane never went to the northern coast of British Columbia, and First Nation visitors from that region did not come to the Victoria area until after Paul Kane’s visit. A few First Nations from the central and northern coast of British Columbia did work at the Hudson’s Bay posts, but there is no indication that these were the source of Kane’s sketches.
In the mid-19th century, accurate writing about the First Nations of British Columbia was lacking. Kane’s historian friend, Daniel Wilson, kept current with the ethnographic literature of the times, such as the writings of geographer and ethnologist Henry Schoolcraft, but often lumped unrelated groups together or got their geographic locations wrong. Wilson was likely a strong influence on the use of First Nation names in the Paul Kane writings and exhibits.
This Songhees person in Wilson’s (1862, Vol. 1) frontispiece, is also the same person, but from the original Kane sketch in reverse image in my book (Keddie 2003:3). I have since realized that lantern slide RBCM PNH104 was mistakenly photographed in reverse. I have identified the person as Sketlesun, a Songhees from the old Cadboro Bay village. He is the 6th person on the Che-ko-nein treaty list of 1850. Because Sketlesun is wearing a Chilkat blanket and northern style hat, this image has been mistakenly labelled as a “Tsimshian chief” (Keddie, 2003:30). This style of Chilkat blanket was a valuable and high status trade item in the mid-19th century. Kane had purchased his own Chilkat blankets (see Lister 2010), but used designs from at least two different ones in his portraits.
In 1906, Charles Newcombe took, at least twelve, photographs of Kane paintings. In regard to three of these (not figure 1) that he published, he notes they are: “reproduced by kind permission of E.B. Osler, Esq, M.P., of Toronto, who owns the originals” (Newcombe, 1909:53). He also acquired copies of paintings that were used in Daniel Wilson’s, two volumes – Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilisation in the Old and the New World (Wilson 1862). Wilson made copies of several of Kane’s sketches for use in these and other publications.
I have now found the original negative from which Newcombe’s lantern slide was made (RBCM PN17161). Newcombe seemed to accept the naming of this image as Tsimshian because of the cape – not having access to Kane’s field catalogues at this time. It is clear that the photograph taken by Newcombe of Kane’s No. 46 portrait is a photograph of what Harper referred to as Kane’s “unlocated sketch”. I do not know where the original is, but this photograph might lead to its re-discovery.
Edmund Osler had much of his collection on loan to the University of Toronto from 1904, until it became part of the Royal Ontario Museum collection in 1912 (Harper 1971:35). We know that in 1906 Charles Newcombe was in Montreal visiting “Dr. Lowe” to see his collection on June 2, and the next day visited the Red Path Museum. On June 10, he was in New York and around that time visited the Field Museum of Chicago. Somewhere after Newcombe took photographs of the collection(s), the sketch of the Songhees man named Sketlesun, referred to in Kane’s portrait log, disappeared or lies unidentified in some collection.
Harper, Russell J. 1971. Paul Kane’s Frontier. Including Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America by Paul Kane. Edited with a Biographical Introduction and a Catalogue Raisonne by J. Russel Harper. The Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Keddie, Grant. 2003. Songhees Pictorial. A History of the Songhees People as seen by Outsiders, 1790-1912. Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria.
Lister, Kenneth R. 2016. (Editor) Wonderings of an Artist Among the Indians of North America by Paul Kane. Royal Ontario Museum.
Lister, Kenneth R. 2010. Paul Kane/the Artist/: Wilderness to Studio. Royal Ontario Museum Press, Toronto.
Newcombe, Charles. 1909. Guide to Anthropological Collection in the Provincial Museum, King’s Printer, Victoria, B.C.
Wilson, Daniel. 1857. Pipes and Tobacco: An Ethnographic Sketch. Lovell and Gibson, Toronto.
Wilson, Daniel. 1862. Prehistoric Man: Researches into the Origin of Civilisation in the Old and the New World, McMillan, Cambridge.
There is an ancient archaeological shell midden – the refuse from what was once, at least, a seasonal camp on Raymur Point at the intersection of St. Laurence Street and Kingston Avenue. Raymur Point is a raised bedrock peninsula on the south side of Victoria’s inner harbour located to the west of Laurel Point and at the east end of Fisherman’s Wharf. The site was not occupied by First Nations in historic times and appears to have had a limited occupation in the distant past.
Figure 1. Western portion of Victoria’s Inner Harbour in 1878. Shoal Point in the foreground is the start of the inner harbour. Raymur Point can be seen as a small peninsula with a house on it at the centre of the right side of this lithograph. Close up of Bird’s Eye View of Victoria, 1878. RBCM PDP-02625 .
The midden location, known as Archaeological site DcRu-33, includes the extreme northern extension of the point and the shoreline along the wider section of the point extending along the west shore to the area around lots 1291 and 1292 on the west side of St. Lawrence Street.
The site is now mostly destroyed by the building and clearance of the large Texaco Oil storage tanks that were here until the 1980s (see figure 10), and the more recent building of apartment units. Midden may still be intact on some parts of the adjoining lots 1291 and 1292. The latter locations were not included in the last Archaeological work undertaken on the site in 1998 (Hewer 1998).
The original configuration of the peninsula can be seen in Figure 2. The large home just to the right of the centre of this photograph is still on lot 1291 near the corner of St. Lawrence and Kingston Street’s.
Figure 2. Raymur Point in the late 1890s. Richard Maynard Photograph. BCA A-3457.
An 1890s, close up of the northern tip of the Point can be seen in Figure 3. This shows the area of the (then) probably undisturbed midden. The midden eroding over the bank can be seen in Figure 4. I took photographs in March 1990, during the digging out of the foundations left over from the removed of oil tanks.
Figure 3. North end of Raymur Point at centre. The house on the right is located beyond the next small bay and not on Raymur Point. Close-up of RBCM F-9653.
Figure 4. Midden eroding out of a crevice.
The house on lot 1291 can be seen in figure 5. This photograph shows the west side of the site where only disturbed midden and extensive rock fill existed in the foreground in 1990. Figure 6, shows the north end of the site where midden can be seen slumping down the bank into a tiny embayment in the bed rock. It is below this area where I collected some of the artifacts.
Figure 5. The west side of the site in 1990, showing disturbed shell midden. Grant Keddie photograph.
The east side of the site is seen in Figure 7. This area was previously destroyed and now being dug up again. The northern tip of Raymur Point is on the other side of the bulldozer in the photo. The now destroyed Lime Bay First Nations defensive site, DcRu-123, can be seen across the harbour in the form of the knoll just to the right of the backhoe.
Figure 6. The north end of Raymur Point in 1990, before the condominium development. Midden can be seen eroding down the face of the bedrock. Grant Keddie photograph.
Figure 7. Looking North on East side of Raymur Point.
Figure 8. Looking east at the black midden on the outside of the cement wall.
Figure 9. The same bedrock area seen in Figure 6, after 25 years of erosion. Grant Keddie photograph, 2015.
Figure 10. Raymur Point covered with oil storage tanks. Keddie photograph 1986.
Figure 11. Raymur Point on right with dock on north end. Keddie photograph July 29, 1993.
Figure 12. Raymur Point as it looked on March 29, 2012. Looking east from the Fisherman’s Wharf Area.
The Midden Contents
On May 8, 1986, I observed that the shell midden was composed of mostly native little neck and butter clams, and some cockle clams and barnacles. This is not the unusual kind of mollusks found in other ancient sites in Victoria’s inner harbour and those further up the Gorge Waterway. The latter contain mostly native oyster shells.
The site contained many fire-altered rocks, scattered throughout the midden. These were traditionally used for steaming or boiling food. Most artifacts found in the site were stone waste materials, such as cores and flakes, resulting from the making of stone tools. These, the other limited artifact contents of the site, and the shallowness of the cultural deposits indicate that the location was occupied for a limited time, at least on a seasonal basis, around 2000 years ago.
A single human burial was recovered from the site in 1956, when constructing a cement wall. These remains were subsequently re-buried in the cemetery on the Songhees reserve. I located and talked to the bulldozer operator who worked on the site in 1956. He told me that the burial was in a flexed or fetal position. He observed that most of the midden was concentrated toward the east of Raymurs Point, where midden can still be seen eroding down the bank today.
On May 7, 1991, I examined the excavation trench for a waterline installation around the north side of the centre line on Kingston and St. Lawrence. There was no midden under St. Lawrence Street in front of 1293, 1292 and 1291 lots or under the Kingston Street and St. Lawrence intersection.
Artifacts were sporadically collected from the surface of this site from 1956 until 1998, when the first formal site evaluation was undertaken that involved the excavation of test pits. Museum employee Micheal Kew recovered bone artifacts DcRu-33:1-2 in 1956. #1 is a portion of a ground bone that is broken at both ends. It was likely a fish hook barb; #2 is a mid-section of a deer femur with ends that were sectioned through but have extensively weathered, making it difficult to see if it might have been cut with an iron hacksaw. Butcher shops in 19th century Victoria often sold deer and elk meat. The way this bone is cut is similar to others found in historic garbage dumps, and not like those found in ancient aboriginal sites (Figure 12).
Don Abbott and John Sendey of the (then) Provincial Museum, surface collected artifacts DcRu-33:3-17. These included #3, a sawn section of a deer femur bone; #4 is a unique side indented projectile point, likely for use as a point on a spear as it is too large for an arrow point. It is a flaked basalt point that is heavily ground on both sides from the notched area near the bottom to near the top or distal end (Figure 11). #5 is a fragment of a burnt sandstone abrader; #6 is a naturally fractured basalt cobble, but is of stone tool making quality and may have been brought to the site location; #7 is a small section of a mammal bone with grinding of one edge.
Figure 11. Projectile points. Left to right. DcRu-33:4. Corner indented point. Possibly for small spear. DcRu-33:21. Unfinished projectile point that was broken during manufacture. DcRu-33: Small portion of what was once a large hexagonal slate spear point.
Figure 12. DcRu-33:3. Sawn and ground section of mammal bone. DcRu-33:20. Fragment of ground bone tool with drilled hole. DcRu-33:19. A non-artifact. Unworked deer cannon bone.DcRu-33:7. Section of a mammal bone with grinding of one edge. DcRu-33:9. Portion of a split deer cannon bone, ground on one end. DcRu-33:1. Portion of a bone fish hook barb.
Figure 13. DcRu-33:16. Two sides of a large block sandstone abrader.
#8 and #18 are very small siltstone beads. These types of beads are only found in sites pre-dating 1800 years in this area; #9 is a portion of a split cannon or lower leg bone of a deer which is ground on one end; #10 is a broken portion of what was once a large thick hexagonal slate point. This type of point, like the stone beads, is not found in sites dating in the last 1700 years in this area; #11 is an extremely fine flat bar shaped abrading stone ground on both surfaces; #12 is a thicker rectangular sandstone abrader ground on two sides.
#13 and #17 are large fractured beach cobbles from the disturbed surface of the midden. It is possible that they are both rocks smashed by heavy machinery working at the site during the time that the large Texico oil tanks were installed on the property. This is a common pattern I have observed in urban areas around construction sites. The edge damage does not suggest that they were used as cobble choppers and the flake patterns are inconsistent with intentional human flaking patterns for this type of raw material. The type of stone is not the same as that found in the flakes at the site, which suggests they are not cores from which intentional flakes were removed (Figure 16).
#14 is a stone flake with the original cortex on one side; #15 is the mid-section of a very fine abrader with similar dimensions to # 11; # 16 is a very large block sandstone abrader that has been heavily abraded on both sides. This is an artifact that may have been used to grind items such as shell, slate or wood. Barnacle attachments indicate it was found on the beach (Figure 13);
Figure 14. Bottom row L. to R.: DcRu-33:12. Rectangular sandstone abrader. DcRu-33:5. Triangular portion of a course grained abrading stone. DcRu-33:11. Smooth, shaped slate abrader. Top: DcRu-33:15. Fragment of shaped sandstone abrader. DcRu-33:14. Stone flake.
On December 4, 1986, I found artifact #s 19 to 21 in disturbed midden on the surface at the north end of the site. #19 is an unworked deer cannon bone; #20 is a fragment of a mammal bone tool. It is a broken flat piece of bone with a bi-conically drilled hole near its intact end. This is possibly a netting needle fragment; #21 is a portion of a bifacial tool that was started, but broken during manufacture and not finished.
On May 8, 1986, I found 103 stone flakes eroding out of the midden and fallen on the beach at the edge at the north end of the site. #22 includes a group of 35 stone flakes with no original outer cortex – indicating they are secondary flakes struck after the outer cortex of the original stone was removed; # 23 includes 68 stone flakes with remnants of the original outer cortex of the rock. Another eight flakes I collected from disturbed surface midden on February 15, 1991, included 6 with portions of the cortex and two without. This assemblage indicates a practice that likely involved collecting local cobbles and flaking them in the process of tool making on the site.
I. R. Wilson Consultants Ltd., working under permit in 1998, recovered 23 stone flakes in excavation test pits and in disturbed midden areas. #24a included 8 stone flakes and #24b to # 38, another 25 stone flakes.
None of the flakes from this site show any signs of intentional secondary flaking or unintentional use wear. Some slight breakage on a few very thin edges is not a produce of tool use but of tool manufacture.
Figure 16. DcRu-33:17 and DcRu-33:13, are large fractured stone cobbles. DcRu-33:6. A naturally fractured basalt cobble.
Figure 17. Top: DcRu-33:23. 68 stone flakes with portion of the original outer cortex of a stone cobble. Bottom: DcRu-33:22. 35 secondary flakes.
Figure 18. Left: DcRu-33:24b-38. Stone flakes collected by I.R. Wilson excavations in 1998. Right: DcRu-24a. 8 stone flakes collected by author in 1991.
Hewer, Tony. 1998. Archaeological Inventory and Site Evaluation 129 Kingston Street, DcRu-33, Victoria British Columbia. Heritage Conservation Act Permit 1998-050.I.R. Wilson Consultants Ltd. Prepared by Tony Hewer.
A little while back I was musing over a spot on my Wall Lizard map that shows a large expanse east of Highway 17 between Cordova Bay Road to Mt Newton Cross Road that appears to be Wall-Lizard-free turf. Wall Lizards are crawling everywhere just the other side of the highway on Tanner Ridge. Either no one has reported lizards from this area – and it seems unlikely given how many reports I receive each year, or lizards have not been able to cross HWY 17.
Cedar Hill Road in the Southeast Cedar Hill area also seems to be a decent barrier even though it is not a particularly busy road. Lizards have been in that area for about 6 years(as of 2016) and have crossed Derby Road without a problem – but not Cedar Hill Road. Cedar Hill may be just busy enough to limit the survival of adventurous lizards.
It seems interesting that a lizard as fast as the Wall Lizard could not cross – but then again – why would they? Young ones disperse to avoid cannibalism, but perhaps the noise, vibration and sight of passing vehicles is enough to dissuade all but the most suicidal of lizards.
I recently tripped across an article detailing road crossing behaviour in snakes (Andrews and Gibbons 2005). In their study, smaller snakes seemed to avoid crossing roads, whereas larger snakes have no problem with the concept. I wonder if the same is true for Wall Lizards? Interestingly, all snake species they studied crossed perpendicular to the road’s length – an adaptive behaviour minimizing distance and time on the tarmac. Some species froze in place when a car passed – that is maladaptive – and significantly increased an animal’s exposure to vulcanized rubber.
I have not seen Wall Lizards crossing a street – but would be interesting to see if they too cross perpendicular to the curb, and whether they blast across or dart and pause – unintentionally increasing their risk of catastrophic z-axis reduction.
Andrews, K.M., and Gibbons, J.W. 2005. How to Highways Influence Snake Movement? Behavioural Responses to Roads and Vehicles. Copeia 2005(4): 772-782.
Another lizard arrived in BC last week. We can add Brown Anole (Anolis sagrei) to our list of accidental imports – but this certainly is not the first one to have arrived by accident in BC. Many lizards travel the globe as stow-aways. This one travelled here in its egg along with a Snake Plant (also known as the Mother-in-Law’s Tongue). Sansevieria are popular houseplants – Snake Plants are easy to keep and look neat. My wife bought one for our living room – no lizards in our plant though.
Even if it got loose, this anole would not survive our winter. It was no real threat to our environment or fauna, but does show that the transport of exotic species is ridiculously easy – an egg in the soil in a plant pot. This time we are fortunate. Only one egg was present. Anoles are light-weight arboreal lizards which lay one egg at a time, and they are not parthenogenetic. Anole eggs develop in alternate ovaries at about a two week interval – if I remember correctly. This ensures the female lizard is not excessively encumbered, and for us it meant that only one egg likely was present in the pot (or any other pot at the home hardware store).
Brown Anole eggs are a bit bigger than a Tic-Tac candy, so no wonder they are overlooked – they also are buried a centimeter or so in the soil – so they’d be out of sight. As long as the soil was not disturbed, was warm and moist – but not too wet, and the egg was not rolled, the developing embryo would survive transport.
I wonder where this lizard’s brothers and sisters ended up? They could be anywhere. Since the lizard travelled here in an egg, I vote we name it Mork. Na-Nu Na-Nu.
Just tripped across this fish while sorting out odd records in the RBCM fish database.
999-00114-001 – unidentified fish – Family Triglidae (Searobins, Gurnards)
Well, it turns out to be Prionotus stephanophrys – a Lumptail Searobin – and a new family, genus and species for BC. Three other triglid species (two of them are Prionotus species) are known to stray into Atlantic Canada.
This one was caught in 1998 on La Perouse Bank, it was added to the RBCM collection in 1999, and sat there ever since. No one had taken a second look at this specimen – until today. It was completely new to our system and as such, I had to add the genus and species to our database’s taxonomic tree.
Until now, its northern record was off the mouth of the Columbia River – this new(ly rediscovered) record extends this family north about 260 km in the eastern North Pacific Ocean.
The lower three pectoral rays of this fish are almost like fingers – it probably walks along the bottom like other triglids – the walking mechanism makes me think of face-hugger Alien larvae.
I took these photos of Royal BC Museum lizard specimens with my iPhone 4 through the eyepiece of the old dissecting microscope in my lab. Then sent the photos via two emails to office thanks to WiFi – and to think – this is the “low-tech” way of doing things these days. Low-tech – sending files through the air from a hand held device… I have to laugh how technology has changed since I was a kid with my first pet lizards. The nerd in me can’t help but hear James Earl Jones’ voice – “Several transmissions were beamed to your inbox. I want to know what happened to the scans they sent you.”
In earlier blogs I have mentioned scale differences between BC lizards – so I thought I may as well take close-up shots to clearly show the differences. Under a dissecting microscope (diss-secting, not die-secting), you can easily see the shape of the bead-like back scales of the European Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis). It’s like a microscopic cobblestone pavement. Each scale is about the diameter of a standard sewing pin.
European Wall Lizard (2112)
The larger back scales of the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulescens) are painfully obvious, and each scale has its own raised keel. The keel gives each scale an angular appearance.
Northern Alligator Lizard (1358)
The Pygmy Short-horned lizard (Phrynosoma douglasii) has a really complex squamation with tiny granular scales interspersed between clusters of larger keeled scales. The larger scales are raised into spires above the general scale-scape (the lizard equivalent of landscape).
Pygmy Short-horned Lizard (323)
Western Skinks (Plestiodon skiltonianus) by contrast are painfully even and smooth – yawn. It’s a good thing they have speed-stripes and a bright blue tail to make them stand out in a crowd.
Western Skink (1964)
Western Fence Lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis) have scales each with a trailing spine – characteristic of all Sceloporus species. Some, like the Crevice Spiny Lizard in the United States have really robust spines on their scales, others like the Sagebrush Lizard have tiny spines. Cordylids in Africa take spiny scales to a whole new level.
Western Fence Lizard (705)
Sorry, I forgot a scale bar in the photos, but the images were fairly close to the same magnification.
While working with archival documents it is always of interest to look at the other side of the page.
In today’s example, A person needed to publish several legal notices in the local paper.
Luckily, the entire newspaper page was submitted.
The following article appeared on the back of the page (The Province [Vancouver], Friday, 10 November, 1972.)
It describes how Pacific Western Airlines was able to ship live beef to Europe, because its cargo plane could return with a cargo of grapes which were now available throughout BC and Alberta.
The article also explains how the plane was cleaned, presumably before the grapes were loaded on to the plane.
The Wikipedia page for PWA mentions the following:
Boeing 707 equipment was added to the fleet in 1967… The addition of a cargo model Boeing 707 meant that livestock and perishables could now be carried all over the world, and the name Pacific Western became synonymous with “World Air Cargo”. The company aircraft visited more than 90 countries during this period of time.
Pacific Western operated a worldwide Boeing 707 cargo and passenger charter program until the last aircraft was sold in 1979.
This is in the era where container shipping was beginning its world wide adoption.
Air cargo was expanding during this time as well, when “Boeing launched the four engine 747, the first wide-body aircraft” in 1968.
As the newspaper report explains, transportation of people and goods only makes sense if the airplane is loaded to maximum capacity at all times.
This was the thinking behind the Triangular trading system of the 19th century.
Moving people extended this thinking to modern day hub airports such as Toronto Pearson, London Heathrow and Dubai UAE.
Even today with airplanes that can travel half way around the world, the take off and landing locations are the national hub airports.
Air cargo has undergone the same thinking.
In the 1972 news report, it only made sense to Pacific Western Airlines to undertake this one-off trip once the entire route was fully booked.
The article goes on to describe how the airline was looking for other opportunities. They recognized the potential, but the tipping point (the development of an airport hub for cargo) had not yet arrived.
To see what kind of completion PWA would face today simply go to an airplane tracking app and filter for FedEx planes, or track the Memphis airport.
UPS has a similar hub in Louisville. Here is an example of one airplane in the UPS fleet that revisits the hub city regularly. This particular plane left Louisville on 28 May 2017 and travelled around the world via Honolulu, Hong Kong, Dubai, Cologne, and Philadelphia, before returning to Louisville three days later.
When you read this article, there will probably be more recent examples of round the world trips or forays to Asia or Europe before returning to it’s home base.
The article does not quote anyone from the BC Livestock Export Association, however Europe is again front of mind for the Cattlemen’s Association.
Mr. W. Allan Eadie produce manager for Woodward’s, and PWA cargo specialist Ken Bjorge would be impressed!
As Mister Eadie says in the report, he hoped that this operation would expand because of “this cattle thing.”
He and Mister Bjorge may have failed to realize that the problem was not to solve the “cattle thing.” They needed to solve the “hub thing.”
On a side note, The Imax movie “Living in the Age of Airplanes” has an excellent section on the transportation of flowers that is well worth the price of admission.
PWA purchased CP Air to form Canadian Airlines International in 1987.
Geraldine A. Allen1 & Laurie J. McCormick1 & Johanna R. Jantzen1 & Kendrick L. Marr 2 & Becky N. Brown3
Abstract: Phragmites australis (common reed) is a widespread perennial grass of wetland habitats, with cryptic native and introduced subspecies in North America. We determined the relative abundance of the subspecies and the distributions of plastid DNA haplotypes throughout British Columbia, Canada, at the northwestern distribution limit of common reed in North America. Of 203 specimens assigned to subspecies using molecular markers, we identified only 9 plants as the introduced ssp. australis; all remaining samples were the native ssp. americanus. The two subspecies co-occurred at only one locality. We identified four native haplotypes (one widespread in British Columbia and three others more localized) and two introduced haplotypes. Using plants of known haplotype, we assessed the utility of different morphological traits and trait combinations for distinguishing native and introduced subspecies in this geographic region. No single morphological trait was diagnostic, but principal components analysis and identification indices based on combinations of traits consistently separated the native and introduced subspecies in our sample. Two- or three-trait combinations of ligule length, lemma length and stem anthocyanic coloration gave the best separation. These indices could reduce the need for confirmation of the introduced subspecies using molecular tools, facilitating efforts to monitor and control this invasive plant.
You’d think that sharks and rays would be pretty well known along our coast. Did you know that two Hammerhead Sharks have been found off Vancouver Island? Even a Tiger Shark has strayed north to Alaska. Did it swim along the BC coast, or did it take a more direct route from Hawai’i? We’ll never know. However, in 2016 a new shark was added to our fish fauna – the Pacific Angel Shark (Squatina californica) – based on a clear photograph by Mark Cantwell and his detailed description of the dive location.
We have known since 1931 that Angel Sharks ranged north to Seattle, and there is a single record from Alaska. The specimen label for this 35 cm Alaskan female had been lost (Evermann and Goldsborough 1907) and we cannot pin down its collection location with certainty. Until now, we had no Angel Shark records for British Columbia – but it was only a matter of time.
On the 30th of April, 2016, a single adult Angel Shark was sighted by a diver off Clover Point right here in Victoria. The shark’s gender cannot be determined from the photograph since claspers, if present, are not visible. The Angel Shark was found in about 12 meters of water, about 30 meters off the point. The diver estimated the shark’s length at about 1.1 to 1.2 meters in length. The specimen was not collected, but it would have made a fantastic museum specimen.
King and Surry (2016) published the discovery of this shark in BC in a recent issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist. While this now is not breaking news – in fact it is a year late – people may still want the primary reference to our latest elasmobranch.
PDFs are available here [as a new paper, King and Surry (2016) is available by subscription to The Canadian Field-Naturalist or by contacting the primary author]:
Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) usually take fishes – why else would they be called kingfishers. They sometimes take crustaceans and frogs, and I’d be shocked if they turn their beaks up at big juicy insects. However, mammal predation is quite a dietary shift. Apparently no one explained the meaning of “fisher” to a kingfisher in the southwestern Yukon.
This female obviously read its species description. Looks like she caught a young goldfish. (From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belted_kingfisher#/media/File:Belted_Kingfisher_with_prey.jpg)
A paper came out in a recent issue of the Canadian Field-Naturalist (see Jung 2016) detailing the capture of a Western Water Shrew (Sorex navigator) by a Belted Kingfisher. That would make a decent meal and a real energetic boost for the Kingfisher. Jung (2016) mentioned that Belted Kingfishers have been known to take Eastern Water Shrews (Sorex albibarbis), and he (Jung 2013) also reported on a kingfisher trying to subdue a Spotted Bat (Euderma maculatum).
Imagine if kingfishers changed tactics to regularly prey on other small animals? Their ecology could converge on that of butcher birds (shrikes). What’s next? Lizards and snakes?(Yes, shrikes impale their prey on thorns (or barbed wire) to age a bit).
Was this an odd title? Actually I think the song went,
“On top of spaghetti… all covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meat ball… When somebody sneezed.
It rolled off the table… and onto the floor.
And then my poor meat ball… rolled out of the door.
Wow that was a dredged from deep cephalic crevices…
Anyway, I got a tip from Purnima Govindarajulu, my herpetological counterpart in the Ministry of Environment that she’d seen a European Wall Lizard on Mount Tolmie here in southern Saanich. Given how fast and far Wall Lizards are spreading, it was only a matter of time before they colonized this rock. This pocket of lizards will form another expanding sub-population – pretty-much midway between the single lizard I saw at the University of Victoria and the lizards near Doncaster School.
This morning (April 27th) was nice and sunny, and I hiked up to the summit after dropping my daughter at daycare. What did I find first? A Northern Alligator Lizard. That made me very happy – I don’t see those everyday and this lizard was more than patient with the iphone-wielding twit who wanted its picture.
Then less than 2 meters away were the Wall Lizards – five of them. A meter or so along the road, another Wall Lizard. Up along the southeast corner of the reservoir – another large male Wall Lizard.
Yep, looks like they have found a solid toe-hold in this region. Cedar Hill X Road may make a decent barrier to northward dispersal (not that Wall Lizards aren’t north of there anyway) – but they will easily spread southeast and southwest into gardens adjacent to the park. Note the small scales and green colour on this Wall Lizard’s back, compared with the larger coppery scales on the Alligator Lizard (above).
Keep your eyes on rock gardens, rock walls, woody debris, and any bedrock with decent cracks for shelter. The photo below shows just how slender the Wall Lizards are – this one with an intact tail is the largest lizard I have caught to date (21.2 cm total length). After checking the RBCM’s herps database, I see that the only months where I haven’t caught Wall Lizards are January and February – too bad that this spring was consistently cold and wet. I have missed my chance to get a full year’s worth of lizards in 2017.
Yesterday I worked with Chris O’Connor from our Learning Department – we took some children on a tidepool tour. The main point was to chat about museum collections and things we record or measure when we are out sampling. We didn’t go crazy catching fishes, only taking 3 Tidepool Sculpins (Oligocottus maculosus) in the end. But we talked about our role as museum researchers, and why we take more than 1 specimen (if possible) to get an account of variation within and between species.
You can see slight differences between these fishes – even an injury – just like the subtle, or not so subtle differences we see in each other.
The three fishes will be added to the Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection, but before that, they are fixed in 10% Formaldehyde. Researchers used to drop fishes directly into Formaldehyde – many fishes died horrible deaths. When I accidentally get Formaldehyde in a cut – it stings intensely – I couldn’t imagine being dunked directly into that chemical.
Today we are more humane, and give fishes an overdose of anaesthetic before immersion in Formaldehyde. They are dead before they are fixed, and are preserved with a relaxed posture. The primary anaesthetic I use is 2-Phenoxy-Ethanol, but it is hard to get without ordering from a chemical supply company, and the chemical is a suspected carcinogen. I still have about 500 ml of the stuff – so I will use up what I have. Do I really want to buy more? Maybe not.
Do we have safer options? Yes, Clove Oil is a good anaesthetic if mixed as an emulsion in a small volume of 99% Ethanol. But you have to carry a jug of 99% Ethanol everywhere you go – that may not go over well at a Police check-stop. The up-side to this chemical mix is that you smell spicy at the end of the day if you accidentally spill some on yourself.
People have tried Alka-Seltzer tablets. They fizz and release CO2, which knocks-out fishes – but the process is slow and some fishes (those like catfish that gulp air to survive in low oxygen conditions) are resistant and survive way too long in a stressful condition.
A few months ago I tried using Oragel (20% Benzocaine) on European Wall Lizards – colleagues had found it worked well on amphibians. They put Oragel along the spine of an amphibian and it soaks into the skin; I give lizards an oral dose. It renders bullfrogs and wall lizards unresponsive in 20 seconds to a minute. Oragel seems to be a convenient anaesthetic for these invasive herpetiles.
Yesterday, I told the tidepool group that we’d be performing an experiment – I tried Oragel for the first time on the 3 sculpins we caught. As I hoped – less than 20 seconds and the fishes were out cold. 2-Phenoxy-Ethanol takes about the same time on similar sized fishes.
The beauty of Oragel is that it is readily available, and if you run out, you can stop by the nearest pharmacy. It also is safe – we use it on sore teeth or gums. Perfect – it works fast on specimens and is safe for the researcher.
Perhaps someone needs to do a larger scientific study to see how effective over-the-counter Oragel is on larger fishes. Maybe this is an effective over-the-counter tool for preserving new museum specimens.
A specimen with no data is not worth keeping. A specimen with vague data is not worth keeping either. The Royal BC Museum’s ichthyology collection contains a vertebral centrum with cartilaginous remnants of its respective haemal arch and neural arch from a shark that washed up November 5th, 1975 (only a few months after Jaws was released in cinemas). It was cataloged as 976-00052-001 in the fish collection (with a variant of the catalog number listed as a previous number ~ B.C.P.M. #97652). Our electronic database only had a collection date for this centrum (no location, no collector).
Flip to our original paper catalog, and we find that there is indeed a collection location: Ahousaht Village, Flores Island – but this never got translated to our electronic database. The paper catalog states that the shark washed up on a beach – but there was no latitude and longitude provided for the record beyond 49°N, 125°W. If you plot the western-most limit of 125°W, it is nowhere near Flores Island – so the location is questionable. Ahousaht Village’s nearest beach is at about 49°16’N, 126°03’W.
Worse yet, the vertebral centrum indicates that this was a big shark – we don’t have a lot of big sharks here…
Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) reaches 6 meters
Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) reaches at least 9 meters
The shark centrum in the Royal BC Museum collection is about 7.3 cm in diameter – it spans most of the palm of my hand. This must have come from a decent-sized shark. Was it a small Basking Shark? A large Great White? A large Sleeper Shark? It’s not ‘reptilian’ so we can rule out Cadborosaurus (whew). Hang on, Cadborosaurus’ so-called “type specimen” was a photograph of a digested basking shark – Hmmm…
It is a shame no one bothered to take a skin sample – the scales may have been diagnostic. What about teeth? A sample of teeth – even one tooth – would have been enough to identify this fish. Sadly though, nothing remains other than this centrum and a bit of cartilage. It was fixed in formaldehyde and stored in isopropanol – so I think we can forget sending a chunk to Guelph for DNA barcoding. DNA barcoding wasn’t a thing back in 1975, so tissue samples were not preserved for future analysis.
If no one in Ahousaht has a photo of this shark on the beach, or some teeth stashed away, all I have to say is , “Sorry Charlie, the Royal BC Museum wants specimens with good data.”
This winter has been cold here in Victoria – relatively speaking. We have had lots of rain, several rounds of snow – and I even had to shovel my driveway and sidewalk. Actually I have had to shovel several times this winter. The rest of the country is not all that sympathetic to the wintery-woes of its Pacific Islanders.
One odd feature of Victoria is that Anna’s Hummingbirds are present year-round – because people feed them. Without artificial feeding stations, they likely would migrate south in autumn with the Rufus Hummingbird and return each spring. It still strikes me as strange to see a hummingbird in winter – given that I moved here from Winnipeg.
In my neighbour’s yard there is Holly bush that is a regular nesting site for our resident male Anna’s Hummingbird – the spot must be coveted because the prickly leaves are a great deterrent to would-be nest thieves.
This nest from 2005 was near the junction of Government Street and Niagra Street in James Bay – also in a Holly bush.
Our hummingbird – yes we are possessive even though we don’t feed hummingbirds in winter – is a regular visitor to our veggie garden and flowers in summer. It stayed this winter even though it was snowy and cold. Someone nearby must have a hummingbird feeder.
Not all Anna’s Hummingbirds were so lucky this year. Today I received a nest containing two feathered nestlings which were snuggled together in their soft little lichen-cup nest. This is certainly an early nesting attempt – they are known to nest from February to August, but nesting this early in the spring is a big risk.
The fate of the female is a mystery (males don’t raise their young). Did she hit a window? Run short of food and die? Did a free-range domestic cat get her? These two nestlings were in a sheltered spot alongside a house here in Victoria, but without a parent, they didn’t last long. Natural selection can be as cold as this winter.
In 2006 I spent a month at sea on the CCGS W.E. Ricker, collecting hundreds of deep sea fishes during a Tanner Crab Survey. Most fishes were identified the traditional way using anatomical features, but we didn’t have an extensive library on board, so many ‘field’ identifications were wrong. Such is life on the high seas when you are rushed to process samples.
Several snailfishes and of course the poorly known Flabby Whalefishes were only identified to genus. One snailfish with its distinctive pelvic girdle resembling a pair of bat’s wings – was simply labeled as “Batwing.” It was a few years later while sorting out some of the samples, that I tripped across a paper by David Stein (1978) describing our “Batwing” species in detail – Osteodiscus cascadiae. Keep in mind that the last comprehensive book on BC fishes – Pacific Fishes of Canada – was published in 1973… I was 6 years old. Pacific Fishes of Canada needs an update – it is woefully out of date.
This week I have been cataloging the last of the fishes caught on the 2006 Tanner Crab Survey – Screech – I know what you are thinking. A decade has passed since these fishes were caught. I am not a slacker – well, some would argue that – but there are many reasons why I am only now sorting and cataloging the last of the Tanner Crab specimens. Forgive me if progress is slow.
Many of the specimens we collected in 2006 had a small plug of tissue removed for DNA Barcoding. Three specimens (DNA barcode field tags from left to right, G5036, INV792, and 0738-Bo2), from Queen Charlotte Sound and west of the northern end of Vancouver Island were identified as Careproctus canus. If this is correct, they are the first for British Columbia.
The same can be said for specimens (barcode field tags from left to right, R5826 and G5026), both from Queen Charlotte Sound which were identified as Careproctus attenuatus. If correct, they are the first of their kind for BC, and both species C. canus and C. attenuatus, are way-south of their known ranges in the Aleutian Islands. We also caught one other snailfish identified as Paraliparis melanorhabdus (15943) – if correct it is the first specimen for the RBCM, but not the first for BC.
When I got down to the last few unidentified fishes to catalog in the RBCM database, I found that they had tags from the DNA Barcoding project. Obviously I looked up the molecular identification, but I have to wonder whether a genetic sequence was used to identify these new snailfishes, or whether the DNA barcoding team used our field identifications. We certainly do not carry an exhaustive library at sea, and we do our best to identify fishes with what we have at our finger-tips while the decks are heaving and rolling. Since I don’t trust my own eye regarding snailfishes – these noteworthy records need to be verified – and I think I’ll send them to a snailfish expert that I know just south of the border.
However, two specimens of Gyrinomimus (lovingly known as Flabby Whalefish) were identified as G. grahami (barcode tags, left to right INV0718 and R5828), and both were from west of the northern end of Vancouver Island. They don’t look much better in person. We left these specimens identified to genus because we had no literature for Flabby Whalefishes on board. As a result, I know the species-level identification did not come from me – and had to be based on molecular information. YAY, Gyrinomimus grahami (15942, 15935) is new to BC.
These interesting records alone justify the time taken to collect and send DNA samples to Guelph for the barcoding project. I may not be a gene-jockey, but if the identifications of these fishes are correct, we will rack up another three new species for BC, boost our knowledge of biodiversity, finally have two of our whalefish specimens o-fish-ally identified. Now to compare the newly identified whalefish specimens to the other 10 jar-loads of specimens to see if we have one or more species in our collection.
Thanks all you DNA barcoders – particularly Dirk Steinke who was out with us in 2006 – couldn’t have done this without you.
Please note this link may take you away from royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
In Canada, there are no native catfish west of the continental divide and until recently, the list of extant exotic catfishes in British Columbia only included introduced Black Bullhead (Ameiurus melas) and Brown Bullhead (Ameiurus nebulosus). We report that a single Yellow Bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) was collected from Silvermere Lake in the Lower Fraser River drainage. This represents the first record of the Yellow Bullhead in western Canada, and its introduction likely was accidental with a shipment of Largemouth Bass (Micropterus salmoides) rather than dispersal from Washington. Warm, eutrophic, weedy habitat in the Fraser Delta provides ample habitat for Yellow Bullheads and other exotic fishes. A Blue-eyed Panaque (Panaque suttonorum), a loricariid catfish found in 1995 in Shawnigan Lake, Vancouver Island, probably represents a single, illegally released aquarium fish, as does a large Silver Pacu (Piaractus cf. P. brachypomus), which was found in Green Lake on Vancouver Island in 2004.
Polymerolepis whitei Karatajūtė-Talimaa, 1968 was described based on isolated polyodontode scales recovered from the Ukraine, and originally was thought to be heterostracan (Agnatha). Additional scales with neck canals were described years later, and as a result, P. whitei was reclassified as a bradyodont holocephalan because it had scales similar to those of Listracanthus Newberry & Worthen, 1870. Until now, no articulated body fossils were known, and so the classification of this taxon has remained uncertain and based only on the original author’s opinion. New specimens of P. whitei from the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada, show articulated scale patches from the head, with the best specimen showing part of an anal fin, caudal peduncle, and caudal fin. This new material confirms that the original account of scale variation was accurate, but also that P. whitei possesses an anal fin spine, a feature that, until recently, was thought to be a synapomorphy of acanthodian fishes among Palaeozoic fishes. Several primitive chondrichthyans (Obtusacanthus Hanke & Wilson, 2004; Lupopsyroides Hanke & Wilson, 2004; Kathemacanthus Gagnier & Wilson, 1996; Seretolepis Karatajūtė-Talimaa, 1968; Doliodus Traquair, 1893; Antarctilamna Young, 1982, and also problematic taxa such as Gyracanthides Woodward, 1902, and now Polymerolepis Karatajūtė-Talimaa, 1968), are known from articulated remains and show a fin-spine complement like that of acanthodian fishes. They also have placoid scales or polyodontode scales that grew by areal rather than superpositional accretion. These taxa blur the distinction that exists in historic literature between acanthodians and early chondrichthyans.
New anatomical details are described for the acanthodian Lupopsyrus pygmaeus Bernacsek & Dineley, 1977, based on newly prepared, nearly complete body fossils from the MOTH locality, Northwest Territories, Canada. New interpretations of previously known structures are provided, while the head, tail, and sensory lines of L. pygmaeus are described for the first time. The pectoral girdle of L. pygmaeus shows no evidence of pinnal and lorical plates as mentioned in the original species description. Instead, the dermal elements of the pectoral region appear to comprise a single pair of prepectoral spines which rest on transversely oriented procoracoids, and large, shallowly inserted, ornamented pectoral fin spines which contact both the procoracoids and scapulocoracoids. The scales of L. pygmaeus lack growth zones and mineralized basal tissue, and superficially resemble scales of thelodonts or monodontode placoid scales of early chondrichthyans, and not the typical scales of acanthodians. However, L. pygmaeus possesses perichondrally-ossified pork-chop shaped scapulocoracoids, a series of hyoidean gill plates, and scale growth that originates near the caudal peduncle; these features suggest a relationship to acanthodians. Prior to this study, both authors conducted separate cladistic analyses which resulted in differing tree positions for L. pygmaeus and its relationships within the Acanthodii. However, both analyses did agree that there is no evidence allying L. pygmaeus to the traditional “climatiid” acanthodians contrary to previous historical classifications.
Please note this link may take you away from royalbcmuseum.bc.ca
Mid- to Late Palaeozoic sharks and holocephalans display a wide range of armour, with bodies that range from sleek, pelagic forms to slow-swimming, chimaeroids or ray-like bottom dwellers. Despite this Late Palaeozoic diversity, there still is an expectation that early chondrichthyans will be anatomically like later species. Recent discoveries from eastern Canada (Doliodus problematicus), and several heavily spined fishes from the MOTH locality in the Northwest Territories, including Kathemacanthus and Seretolepis, described here, challenge this expectation. These fishes show scale and endoskeletal features thought to be characteristic of chondrichthyans, yet they have paired fin spines, anal fin spines, and in some cases rows of prepectoral and prepelvic spines as would be expected from primitive acanthodians. Kathemacanthus and Seretolepis do not fit neatly within the cur- rent taxonomy, demonstrating that previous distinctions between acanthodians and chondrichthyans, including scale-based criteria, fail to account for the diversity being discovered in the fossil record.
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Two new acanthodian taxa are described. The ischnacanthid Xylacanthus kenstewarti is based on large, dentigerous jaws, and Granulacanthus joenelsoni is based on isolated spines. The isolated remains of these species are similar in that they both possess pustulose denticles or tubercles, either on the mesial ridge (X. kenstewarti) or on the fin spines (G. joenelsoni). Jaws of X. kenstewarti are similar in size to those of Xylacanthusminutus, Ischnacanthus kingi, and I. wickhami and smaller than those of X. grandis. The jaws of X. kenstewarti are most similar to those of X. minutus, but are distinguished from this and other ischnacanthid species by a tapering patch of pustulose denticles that is widest midway along the jaw, mesial denticles that are simple blisterlike structures, the monocuspid, striated primary teeth that are subcircular in cross section, and a posterodorsal process that is enlarged. The spines of G. joenelsoni have distinctive tubercular ornamentation. Tubercles, or nodular ornaments on fin spines, are characteristic of primitive acanthodians, but the slender shape of the spines, the low number of spine ribs, and the fine striations posterior to the main ribs of each spine suggest that G. joenelsoni is a relatively advanced acanthodian. Xylacanthus kenstewarti and G. joenelsoni are from the Silurian (Wenlock or Ludlow) of the southern Mackenzie Mountains. Xylacanthuskenstewarti represents the earliest representative of the genus, the earliest unequivocal remains of a gnathostome from the Mackenzie Mountains, and extends the known geographical range of the genus from the Mackenzie Mountains east to Spitsbergen.
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An acanthodian, Tetanopsyruslindoei gen. et sp. nov., is described. All specimens are from Lochkovian of northwestern Canada. The body is covered with unornamented, flat scales, with two finely noded dorsal spines, finely noded anal, pelvic and pectoral spines, a high scapulocoracoid, and toothless jawbones with large, flat, crushing surfaces. Tetanopsyrus lacks pectoral dermal plates and intermediate pre-pelvic fin spines. Tetanopsyrus is classified in the new family Tetanopsyridae, and possible relationships of the family to diplacanthids are discussed.
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Specimens of two new fish species were collected from the Lower Devonian ichthyofauna of the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada. These two species are interesting in that they have monodontode scales, lack teeth, and have an unossified axial, visceral, and appendicular endoskeleton. These characteristics have been suggested to be primitive for jawed fishes. However, the new taxa have combinations of median and paired fin spines which are similar to those of acanthodian fishes. The new taxa show no obvious characteristics to suggest relationship to any particular group of acanthodians, and for the moment, we will not try to determine their relationships, but to use them as outgroups in an analyses of relationships within the class Acanthodii. Our cladistic analysis results suggest that climatiiform fishes are basal relative to acanthodiform and ischnacanthiform taxa. However, in contrast to previously published analyses, the order Climatiiformes appears paraphyletic relative to the other two acanthodian orders. Lupopsyrus pygmaeus is placed as the basal-most acanthodian species, Brochoadmones milesi, Euthacanthus macnicoli, and diplacanthids are relatively derived “climatiiform” fishes, and the heavily armored condition in Climatius reticulatus and Brachyacanthus scutiger appears as a uniquely derived state and not primitive for all acanthodians. In addition, Cassidiceps vermiculatus and Paucicanthus vanelsti seem to be related to acanthodiform fishes based on fin spine structures. Cassidiceps vermiculatus originally was placed with climatiiform fishes in the original description. Given our character coding, we identified several primitive characteristics which were retained in relatively derived acanthodian taxa.
A mesacanthid acanthodian, Promesacanthus eppleri n. gen., n. sp., is described based on specimens collected from the Lower Devonian (Lochkovian) Manon-the-Hill locality of the Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada. The head and body resemble that of other mesacanthids, but unlike all other acanthodiforms, this new taxon has a small prepectoral spine anterior to the pectoral fin spine. This new mesacanthid also possesses ornamented, blade-like hyoidean gill covers, enlarged lobate head scales, fin spines with ribs and fine striations, a scapulocoracoid with a triangular coracoid portion and a dorsal blade which is elliptical in cross section, procoracoids that articulate with a rounded fossa on the anteromedial face of the scapulocoracoids, and jaws which articulate at a simple, single joint. Mesacanthids are thought to be basal among acanthodiforms and are grouped based on a phenetic argument and their shared retention of features which likely are primitive for acanthodiforms (most notably, enlarged head scales, blade-like hyoidean gill covers, and a single pair of prepelvic spines). Based on overall similarity, P. eppleri n. gen., n. sp. appears most similar to Mesacanthus mitchelli, but the relationships of P. eppleri n. gen., n. sp. within the Mesacanthidae have yet to be determined with a cladistic analysis.
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The acanthodian Paucicanthus vanelsti gen. et sp. nov. is described from six body fossils from Lower Devonian (Lochkovian) rocks of the southern Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada. This new species is unique among acanthodians in that it lacks both pectoral and pelvic fin-spines. In the absence of fin-spines, the leading edges of the pectoral and pelvic fins are reinforced by enlarged scales. The anatomy of the acanthodiform Traquairichthys pygmaeus is similar to P. vanelsti in that both lack pelvic fin-spines, although T. pygmaeus also lacks pelvic fins. Similarly, the acanthodian Yealepis douglasi lacks both paired and median fin-spines, and its anatomy resembles that of P. vanelsti based only on the loss of paired fin-spines. The lack of paired and (or) median fin-spines in these three taxa contrasts with the widely held view that acanthodian fins all were preceded by spines. The anatomy of P. vanelsti also is similar to that of the acanthodian Brochoadmones milesi in that both have a completely unossified endoskeleton, slightly elevated pectoral fins, and deep, compressed bodies. The median fin-spines of P. vanelsti have an anterior leading edge rib followed by a field of fine striations. This striated ornamentation coupled with few leading edge ribs also is seen on fin-spines of Cassidiceps vermiculatus and primitive acanthodiform acanthodians (e.g., Mesacanthus and Lodeacanthus species). I tentatively suggest that this fin-spine ornament indicates relationship between P. vanelsti, acanthodiform acanthodians, and C. vermiculatus. However, a cladistic analysis is required to test whether or not the characteristics such as fin-spine loss, unossified endoskeleton, elevated pectoral fins, deep compressed bodies, and (or) median fin-spine ornamentation are synapomorphies within the Acanthodii or evolved convergently within the class.
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New anatomical details are described for the acanthodian Brochoadmones milesi based on nearly complete body fossils from Lochkovian rocks at MOTH, Mackenzie Mountains, Northwest Territories, Canada. The body and caudal peduncle are deep, and a prominent nuchal hump is present before the dorsal fin origin. The caudal fin is correspondingly deep and ventrally, the caudal fin lies close to and is partly joined to the slender anal fin. A delicate pectoral fin trails the flattened pectoral-fin spine where previously known specimens showed only a fin spine resembling a bivalve shell. Seen for the first time in any vertebrate, each of the six pairs of prepelvic spines supports a small, scale-covered finlet. Both prepelvic spines and scalecovered finlets increase in size posteriorly. The series of paired prepelvic finlets originates ventral to the branchial chamber and anteroventral to the pectoral fin, and extends posteriorly as far as the pelvic fins. The scales of the body and fins are thin and flat, without obvious evidence of ossified basal tissue or entry point for vascular tissue. The main lateral-line canal passes dorsal to the branchial chamber and terminates at the trailing edge of the caudal fin web. Lateral-line scales are thicker than body scales and show concentric growth zones. Scales from the dorsal midline of the caudal fin are also thicker, showing few superpositional growth zones in the mesodentine of the crown together with what appears to be cellular basal tissue. The structure and position of the pectoral spine and fin, the extremely thin body scales, the slender anal fin, and the prepelvic finlets are all unique and appear to be autapomorphic features compared to those of other acanthodians. Brochoadmones milesi is derived relative to other fishes traditionally classified in the Climatiiformes. Kathemacanthus rosulentus is removed from the Brochoadmonoidei, leaving only B. milesi in a monotypic suborder.
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An undescribed genus and species of pachyosteomorph arthrodire, Squamatognathus steeprockensis gen. et sp. nov., from the Middle Devonian (Eifelian) Elm Point Formation in Manitoba is described. It was found in the LaFarge Quarry at Steep Rock, Manitoba, and is represented by the anterior portion of a large, right inferognathal with a large terminal cusp, similar to inferognathals of the family Dinichthyidae. It has unique sculpture on the lingual surface not reported from any other dinichthyid arthrodire.
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Fish remains from the Middle Devonian (Late Eifelian) were found in three limestone quarries in the Elm Point and Winnipegosis formations, near Lake Manitoba, south-central Manitoba. The arthrodire material represents a taxon previously unknown from Manitoba. Eastmanosteus lundarensis sp. nov., is described based on an articulated, nearly complete cranial roof and incomplete cranial roof, a suborbital plate and thoracic shield fragments. E. lundarensis is the oldest representative of the genus, and is the first record of the genus in Canada. E. lundarensis is most similar to the other North American and European Eastmanosteus species rather than the two Australasian Eastmanosteus species and Golshanichthys.
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Trawl samples along the British Columbia coast between 1999 and 2006 revealed many previously undetected species living in deep water. This increase in knowledge underscores the importance of survey collections for non-game fishes, which form a vital link in marine ecosystems. Although there are few records of albuliform fishes in the eastern North Pacific Ocean, Aldrovandia oleosa (Halosauridae) and Polyacanthonotus challengeri (Notacanthidae) are known from British Columbia. The notacanthid Notacanthus chemnitzii is known from off California, Oregon, and Alaska, but until now it was not confirmed from British Columbia. The ranges of these 3 albuliform fishes are updated in this paper. Until now, 7 species of true eels (Anguilliformes) were known to exist in British Columbia based on literature records and museum specimens; Nemichthys scolopaceus, Avocettina infans, Serrivomer jesperseni, Xenomystax atrarius, Thalassenchelys coheni, Venefica ocella and V. tentaculata. Two synaphobranchids, Synaphobranchus affinis and Histiobranchius bathybius, also occur in adjacent waters of Alaska, and until recently S. affinis was thought to exist in British Columbia based on a misidentified specimen. This paper provides a re-identification of the Synaphobranchus from British Columbia as the 1st record of S. brevidorsalis for the province and also adds Nemichthys larseni and Cyema atrum (Saccopharyngiformes) to the diversity of eels now known from British Columbia waters. We also provide significant range extensions for Serrivomer jesperseni, Thalassenchelys coheni, and Venefica tentaculata along the British Columbia coast.
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Cusk-eels and brotulas of British Columbia have been poorly studied, and until now, there were published records of only Spectrunculus grandis and Brosmophycis marginata from our waters. However, a single specimen of S. crassus has been identified from among the few S. grandis from British Columbia held at the Royal British Columbia Museum. Furthermore, increased sampling effort from deep-water surveys, shrimp surveys, and the commercial fishery revealed 5 additional cusk-eel species and 1 brotula offshore of British Columbia. Two specimens of Chilara taylori were collected from the southern Strait of Georgia at depths of 78 to 109 m. A single specimen of Acanthonus armatus was taken from near Triangle Island at 1778 m and is the 1st record for the eastern North Pacific Ocean. One specimen of Cherublemma emmelas was found at 1097 m in Kyuquot Canyon, west of Vancouver Island; 4 specimens of Bassozetus zenkevitchi were collected from depths of 1909 to 2125 m west of Vancouver and Graham islands; and a specimen of Cataetyx rubrirostris from 2000 m and a Porogadus promelas from 1967 m were taken in Queen Charlotte Sound, east of the Tuzo Wilson Seamounts. Because of increased sampling effort from 1999 to 2007, we now understand the number of cusk-eels and brotulas in British Columbia to be 9 species.
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Between 1999 and 2006, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans performed deep-water sampling and discovered new range records for many species of fishes. Here we report 3 species new to British Columbia: Idiacanthus antrostomus, Benthalbella linguidens and Scopelengys tristis, and update the known ranges of 7 additional species (Argyropelecus sladeni, Sternoptyx pseudobscura, Aristostomias scintillans, Opostomias mitsuii, Bathophilus flemingi, Scopelosaurus adleri, and Magnisudis atlantica) in British Columbia waters.
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Deep-sea anglerfishes were taken in trawls between 1999 and 2006. The 3 most commonly encountered species, Oneirodes thompsoni, O. bulbosus and Chaenophryne melanorhabdus, were known already from British Columbia waters, and here we report significant range extensions for these 3 species. Ceratias holboelli also had been reported from British Columbia, but until now, no specific collection localities had been published. In addition, 3 oneirodids (Oneirodes eschrichtii, O. acanthias and Chaenophryne longiceps), Melanocetus johnsonii (Melanocetidae), and Cryptopsaras couesii (Ceratiidae) are reported for the 1st time from British Columbia.
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Single specimens of Finescale Triggerfish (Balistes polylepis) and Louvar (Luvarus imperialis) were found in British Columbia’s coastal waters in 2014. Both B. polylepis and L. imperialis normally are found off southern-most California and Baja California. Although a stray B. polylepis was caught as far north as Metlakatla, Alaska, during the 1982–1983 El Niño event, and L. imperialis is known to stray north along the Washington coastline, these 2 new specimens represent 1st records for British Columbia. Both probably moved north during the warm-water anomaly that has persisted along the North American coast since 2013.
We are fortunate to have six species of attractive native flowering onions in British Columbia. Nodding onion (Allium cernuum) is widespread. But Hooker’s onion (Allium acuminatum) or taper-tip onion is uncommon BC but widespread on the continent.
Hooker’s onion of the Lily Family (Liliaceae or more recently Amaryllidaceae) grows as a bulbous perennial. The generally creamy to light brown true bulb has the shape of a slightly flattened globe. It is small, less than the size of a thumb nail on average 1.5 cm (0.6″) across. Wild, bulbs occur in clusters of about the size that would fit easily into the palm of a hand. Each bulb bears two to four channeled leaves which are predominantly grey-green with a reddish base. At first the leaves stand erect, but by the time they reach 15 cm (6″) long they reflex. By onion standards, the leaves seem nearly insignificant reaching a maximum of scarcely half a centimetre across and 30 cm (12″) long or less. Leaves usually dry out and break off by flowering time.
Hooker’s onion flower from bulbs grown in pot by Richard Hebda. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Flowers are borne on a firm rounded stalk which ranges from 10-30 cm (4-12″) tall. Two papery bracts surround the bud which contains five to 30 flowers. The blooms sit upon more or less equally long stalklets (called pedicels by botanists), so that the head forms a loose umbel reaching about 7.5 cm (3″) across. Each flower consists of six perianth segments, three petal-like sepals and three petals. The lance-shaped petal-like sepals reach about 1 cm (0.4″) long. Their tips notably reflex especially with age. Six short anthers surround a slightly crested ovary which bears a clearly visible stigma. Mostly the sepals and petals are pink, but may vary from intense rosy purple to nearly white.
In mild coastal climates the first signs of life appear in early February as leaf tips emerge. In Victoria, this occurs well before the end of winter, and sometimes the snow and frost may freeze back young shoots. During April, leaves continue to get longer and reach their maximum length. By the end of the month the first flower stalks poke out of the ground reaching up to 30 cm (12″) tall in June when flowers open. Capsules split in July to reveal black seeds which are easy to harvest by sharply shaking seed heads into a bag.
By Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA (Allium acuminatum). CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Hooker’s onion ranges from southern British Columbia to northern California and eastward to Colorado and Wyoming then southward to Arizona. In BC its distribution includes dry parts of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland extending into the Fraser Canyon. In our region Hooker’s onion clearly favours dry rocky sites, typically growing in pockets of soil on rocky knolls and coastal headlands. Sometimes it survives in only about 5 cm (2″) of mossy crust cover over bedrock, yet it flowers reliably every year. Occasionally this onion thrives under Garry oaks (Quercus garryana), albeit in very shallow stony soil.
These bulbs are little cultivated and rarely available, yet they thrive under appropriate conditions and produce a pleasing display. The site must be in full sun, sharply drained and with a sandy soil. Avoid summer watering. Rock gardens, the front of dry perennial beds and pots of gritty soil suit Hooker’s onion well in the milder parts of southern B.C.
Plant bulbs about 5 cm (2″) deep about 5 – 7.5 cm (2-5″) apart so that the flower heads touch. Divide the clusters every five to ten years in late summer.
Order Hooker’s onions from specialist native plant suppliers or grow them from fall-sown seed. Do not dig this relatively rare plant in the wild.
First Nations of coastal British Columbia savoured various wild onion species including Hooker’s onion. Bulbs were eaten raw or steamed in great pits. In some areas the pits were lined with pine boughs and covered with lichens and alder boughs. Bulbs and shoots have a mild onion flavour and smell.
Hooker’s onion may be hardy to as low as zone 4 in BC, but its natural distribution suggests zone 5 or higher. We have several native onion species in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal B.C. Museum which flower mainly in June
Flowerhead of cow-parsnip showing flat-topped form and typical huge leaf bases. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Many of the vegetables we eat came originally from Europe, Asia and Latin America. The aboriginal peoples of British Columbia were unfamiliar with these food plants, nevertheless they feasted on several indigenous green vegetables. The most widely eaten among these was the cow-parsnip (now called Heracleum maximum, recently known as Heracelum lanatum), also referred to as Indian rhubarb or wild rhubarb.
Cow-parsnip belongs to the Parsley Family (Umbelliferae or Apiaceae) and grows in the form of a gigantic perennial herb. A thick hollow stem stands 1-3 meters (40-120”) tall and bears large broad leaves. Stems are lightly ridged and woolly. Each leaf is divided into three segments with coarse teeth. Leaves occur at the base of the stalk and along it. Sometimes you will see big swollen structures at the leaf bases. These are flower buds just waiting to emerge.
The stem top is crowned by several handsome, flat-topped flower heads. Each head consists of numerous umbrella-like clusters of small white blossoms that vary in diameter from 0.5 to 1 cm (0.2-0.4”) across. There are five creamy-white petals in each flower. The blooms circling the outside of each cluster are usually larger and often slightly irregular in form. Five spindly stamens bearing greenish anthers surround a greenish pistil. Cow-parsnip produces robust flattened seeds which remain on the stalk well into the summer.
Cow-parsnip thrives in rich moist soil along streams and rivers, roadsides and in meadows. You will often find it forming large colonies. It has a wide climatic tolerance, growing from sea level to the alpine zone. The Parsnip River in east central British Columbia is named after this plant. Cow-parsnip may be seen almost anywhere in North America in suitable habitats.
Damp alpine meadow habitat of cow-parsnip on the west side of Hudson Bay Mountain near Smithers, BC. Flower-topped stalks of cow-parsnip are visible in the middle of the image to the right of and above patches of purple lupine blooms. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Almost every First Nations group in British Columbia ate cow-parsnip as a green vegetable. Before the flowers appeared in spring, young stalks and leaf stems (petioles) were peeled and eaten raw. Sometimes they were boiled, steamed or roasted. Bruised cow-parsnip plants emit a strong smell but the stems are sweet and juicy, somewhat like celery. Coastal people ate cow-parsnip with eulachon fish grease.
According to Saanich Elders Violet Williams and Elsie Claxton, the stalks had to be collected for eating before the flower buds opened. Otherwise they were tough to chew and tasted too strong.
Be aware that members of the parsley family, especially water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii) and poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) contain terribly strong poisons which can kill a human. You must be certain that the plant you intend to eat is a cow-parsnip.
Peeled young cow-parsnip shoots ready for eating. Photo Dr. Nancy Turner and Robert D. Turner. Used with permission.
Cow-parsnip plants can make a bold addition to your garden but you must give them room. They are best raised from seed, collected as soon as it is mature, and planted in a rich moist soil. You may be able to carefully transplant very young seedlings too, but I suspect that this technique is not often successful.
Cow-parsnip has one characteristic you should be wary of. Like its gigantic relative, giant cow-parsnip or hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), cow-parsnip contains chemicals that may cause severe skin inflammation known as dermatitis. The sap of the plant has particularly strong activity. Ultraviolet rays from the sun activate the compound and may cause the skin to redden and even produce permanent discoloration. Not all people are so affected but be warned to handle the plant carefully especially on a hot sunny day.
The plant supposedly obtained its name after the Greek god Heracles (Hercules). The previously-used species name “lanatum” refers to the “woolly” leaves and parts of the stem.
As you see great stretches of cow- parsnip along our province’s highways, think of it not as a roadside weed but as a valuable food of British Columbia’s First Nations. Cow-parsnip is hardy to zones 2-3 in Canada.
Wild nibbles make a pleasant treat while hiking in the bush. Most often the tasty treat consists of berries of one sort or another, but the occasional green provides a refreshing chew. Mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) can spare a leaf or two for the adventurous alpine wanderer.
This delightful hardy herb grows from the top of a tenacious stout tap root. Fleshy, kidney-shaped leaves arise on leaf stalks attached to a short erect stem. Leaf blades range from 1-5 cm (0.4-2”) wide, their stalks 4-8 cm (1.6-3.2”) long. Normally they are coloured bright green but may turn greenish red as the season advances or in really tough sites. There is usually also a single leaf on the stem. The leaves have a sour, but refreshing, acid taste, hence the botanical name Oxyria derived from Greek the word “oxys” which means sharp.
A thriving Mountain sorrel plant showing typical leaves and reddish flowers and fruits. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Like all members of the Buckwheat Family (Polygonaceae), mountain sorrel has small hard- to-see flowers. They cluster irregularly along a 10 to 60 cm (4-24”) tall, narrow flower stalk. Each green to reddish flower consists of four tiny “petals” joined at the base. Two of the petals are keeled, the other two are not. Inside the flowers reside six stamens and a two-parted pistil. Flowers appear from June to August according to elevation and latitude. At maturity, the fruit is broadly winged, turning a showy reddish purple. The fruit is mostly translucent and literally shines when the sun’s light passes through it.
Mountain sorrel ranges throughout the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, south to New Mexico and California, and north through Alaska and the Yukon and across the Arctic. It also inhabits most of the mountains of Asia and Europe. In our province, mountain sorrel thrives in alpine scree and rock crevices and can be found in suitable habitats on almost every high mountain, to the elevation where no other plants can survive.
Surprisingly this delightful little mountain nibble will grow in lowland rock gardens. It needs a relatively moist gritty run for its root and full sun. In our coastal lowlands mountain sorrel probably needs to be sheltered from full scorching mid-day heat. Plants are best raised from seed sown carefully in the site where it is to grow. Sow the seeds in very stony and moist, but not rich, soil.
The typical harsh high mountain home of mountain sorrel at Shelagyote Peak north of Smithers BC with pink River beauty (Epilobium latifolium) dotting the slope. Photo Dr. Richard Hebda.
Okanagan First Peoples ate fresh raw leaves, but never too many at a time because the oxalic (sour) acid in the plant can be harmful if taken in large quantity. This sorrel contains abundant Vitamins A and C and was used against scurvy in Europe. Like other wild and cultivated sorrels it was widely cooked as a pot herb. A few leaves add a spritely bite when mixed into a salad.
This amazing plant has an incredible story to tell about the glacial history of our province. Studies of the chloroplast DNA by Royal BC Museum and University of Victoria reveal that the genetic makeup of the alpine herb in BC is surprisingly diverse. Within BC, the high diversity and the occurrence of ancient genetic forms suggest that high elevation mountains in the north escaped the last glaciation, contrary to widely accepted thinking.
Mountain sorrel is hardy to zone 0 in Canada. In fact,it is pretty much the hardiest of all plants in the world.
Highly ornamental flowers of British Columbia’s native thimbleberry. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda. Saanich, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
British Columbia is home to shrubs with many uses. For example our Oregon-grapes (Berberis or Mahonia species) make excellent year-round ornamentals, whose fruits produce tasty jelly. Few of our shrubs however can match the thimbleberry of the Rose Family (Rosaceae) for utility. Not only does it have tasty fruits, but this shrub produces edible shoots, soap from its stems, and is an attractive and widely-adapted subject for gardens.
Thimbleberry forms waist- to head-high thickets of numerous erect stems. The stems are thorn-free, unlike the closely related raspberries and blackberries. The bark is distinctively flaky and especially hairy on new growth. Maple-like leaves, 10-30 cm (4-12″) across occur at the ends of the stems. Each one has seven to nine lobes and a texture like soft sandpaper.
Open flower clusters, containing three to eleven blooms develop at the ends of the branches. Each bright white flower can be as wide as 7-8 cm (3″) across. Five long greenish sepals surround five clear white oval petals. A ring of many stamens encircles a central fleshy dome. This dome is the swollen end of the stem, and attached to its surface are numerous tiny greenish pistils. Once the egg in each pistil is fertilized, the pistil transforms into a tiny red fruit with a hard seed inside. The mass of little fruits forms a shallow “thimble” over the central dome, looking like a thin raspberry. The velvety thimbles are somewhat dry but usually taste very sweet.
Thimbleberry shrub blooms. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda. Saanich, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
Thimbleberry grows throughout much of British Columbia except the far north. On the continent you can encounter it from Alaska to northern Mexico and eastward to Ontario and Colorado. Typical haunts include open sites, often at the edge of woods, roadsides and shorelines. Surprisingly thimbleberry inhabits both moist and dry sites and occurs across a wide range of elevations from sea level to the high subalpine zone; a widely-adapted plant. Notably, it is one of the species to colonize early after disturbance particularly along highways.
Thimbleberries are excellent subjects for naturalizing in corners of suburban lots. They seem not to be choosy about soil conditions and will grow on raw unprepared surfaces. In fact, in some places they will appear on their own, presumably inoculated from bird droppings. They will grow in full sun to part shade. These shrubs quickly form thickets, generating wildlife cover and stabilize the soil. Butterflies love the flowers and birds relish the fruit.
Delicious fruit of thimbleberry. Photo by Robert D. Turner. Used with permission.
You can often purchase thimbleberries from the local nursery or garden centre by asking them to order it in. There are several suppliers in British Columbia. This native species has recently become available through mail-order from seed and nursery catalogues. Thimbleberries can be raised from seed sown in place in the garden in the fall for germination in the spring. Rooted offset stems will also transplant in a dormant state.
First Nations of British Columbia used thimbleberry for many purposes. Fruits were eaten fresh by most groups or pressed and dried into cakes for later. People of the west coast of Vancouver Island gathered canoe-loads of sweet and juicy spring shoots, peeled and ate them raw. Okanagan people lined their steam-cooking pits with the large leaves. Shuswap Carrier First Nations used the leaves to separate different types of berries in a picking basket. The Cowlitz of nearby Washington State boiled the bark for soap. Today hikers nibble on the wild fruit during their wanderings.
The technical name “Rubus” is based on an ancient Roman name for a related plant. The species name “parviflorus” means “small-flowered”, hardly appropriate for the large attractive blooms produced by thimbleberry.
Thimbleberry is a widely adapted native shrub for most gardens in the province; fruit, vegetable, ornamental and soil healer all rolled into one. It is hardy to Zone 3 in Canada.
Have you sometimes wondered what the wild ancestors of our highly-bred food plants may have looked like? The wild apples that spring up in hedgerows on Vancouver Island are often as large as our cultivated forms. Our cultivated crab apples, though they may seem closer to the wild than regular apples, are still the result of breeding. British Columbia’s native Pacific crab apple (Malus fusca or Pyrus fusca), however, may look very much as the ancestors of cultivated apples did many thousands of years ago. Bearing scented blooms, edible fruit and growing to a small stature, it has much potential as a garden and landscape plant.
Pacific crab apple, also known as Oregon crab apple, forms shrubs to small trees from 2 to 12 m (6½ to 40 ft.) tall. Plants branch widely and often form extensive thickets. Distinctive, spine-like, short shoots line the branches but are not nearly as vicious as those of black hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) or English or common hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). The grey bark becomes scaly or deeply fissured with age. Oval and pointed leaves look as if they are a cross between those of the domesticated pear and apple. These weakly-toothed leaves sometimes may be lobed near the base.
Delightful blooms have an apple-blossom scent and appear in flat-topped clusters in the spring. Most flowers are white or creamy, but sometimes they take on a warm pink blush and can be very showy. Each flower is about 2 cm (slightly less than an inch) across. The five petals extend well beyond the cluster of stamens in the centre. As in apples and pears, the ovary is inferior, meaning that it is located below, not on the inside of the petals and sepals. In late summer, bunches of oval to cylinder-shaped fruits dangle from long red stalks. Each fruit is about the size of the end of your little finger. An open-grown tree can be “dripping” in fruit similar to some cultivated crab apples. At first the fruits are green and shiny but within a few weeks they turn yellow, pinkish and sometimes even purplish-red. Ripe fruit clusters, especially those well exposed to sunlight, are very attractive. The fruit tastes pleasantly tart when coloured up. After frost it turns brown and mushy but sweet.
Ripening fruits of Pacific crab apple at Island View Beach, Saanich Peninsula, British Columbia. Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Pacific crab apple occurs along the British Columbia coast well up many of the main river systems from Alaska to Vancouver Island and on the adjacent mainland to elevations as high as 800 m (2600 ft.). The full geographic range extends all the way from the Aleutian Islands to northern California. The natural habitat tends to the moist side and includes damp woods, stream sides and coastal bogs. These amazing bog trees resemble large gnarled and twisted “creatures” that seem to hail from some distant prehistoric times. They also occur frequently just inland of the ocean shoreline, especially behind beaches and at the edges of estuaries, which suggests that they tolerate salt spray. On some outer coast islets, exposed to the full influence of the sea, our native crab apples may be the only broad-leaved tree among a mass of Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) and other conifers.
The hard wood of the Pacific crab apple was widely used along the coast. From it, First Nations people fashioned tool handles, bows, sledgehammers and smaller items, such as spoons and fish hooks. The Nisga’a of northwest B.C. pegged their house boards in place with crab apple wood. The fruit was harvested in early fall and eaten fresh or stored in boxes under water. Apparently, this stored fruit sweetened and softened over time. Medicines, often in combination with other plants, were made from the bark. These medicines were used for a range of internal and external ailments such as stomach problems and skin complaints. The bark and other parts of the tree release hydrogen cyanide, so use only with caution. The flesh of the fruits apparently does not produce much cyanide.
In the garden, Pacific crab apple features best as a specimen tree in an open area. Slow growing, the crown eventually spreads farther than the tree reaches in height. Leaves turn gold and then even red in the fall and combine very attractively with the colours of the ripening fruit. The fruit makes excellent jelly and can be added to other jellies as a natural source of pectin. Wild birds enjoy the ripe fruit, too. Closely planted trees can from a fine dense hedge, and might be good candidates for hedges near the seashore. Plants are best raised from seed sown in the fall in pots and left outside. Seedlings normally take two years to become large enough to plant out.
Up to now the native plant literature has not given much attention to Pacific crab apple, but it has considerable possibilities. The attractive form, flowers and potential for heavy wild fruit production all point to a valuable native species for the garden landscape. Pacific crab apple is hardy to zones 5-6 in Canada.
Details of yarrow flowers, taken along a roadside in Colwood BC in December. The petals of the white ray florets have been twisted by frost. The brownish grey disk florets are visible in the centre of each little flower head. Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Numerous plant species release strong scents when brushed. In the past, these smells were taken as a sign that the plant may have medicinal properties. Even today, some popular remedies still depend on aromatic compounds from plants. For example several brands of cough candies contain derivatives of the eucalyptus plant notable for its distinctly flavoured oil. Many strongly-scented plants thrive in British Columbia, including common or white yarrow (Achillea millefolium), a species well known around the world for its healing value.
Yarrow, a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae), grows as a herbaceous perennial with leaves and flowers arising from creeping underground or near-surface root stocks. The aromatic fern- or feather-like leaves are finely divided and feel soft. Leaves cluster mostly at the base of the flowering stalk; these leaves are mainly 10-15 cm (4 – 6 inches) long. Many soft small hairs cover the plant making it appear greyish-green.
Tiny flowers crowd into small flower heads, that are further arranged into flat-topped clusters on stalks up to 100 cm (40 inches) tall. Each small flower head in the cluster consists of three to eight tiny ray flowers with a strap-shaped petal, and disk flowers with only reproductive parts. The flowers are white to pinkish and appear from May to October depending on the local climate. On south Vancouver Island they even bloom as late as December. The flower tops dry and turn brown by the end of summer, producing many one-seeded, smooth and flattened fruits.
Yarrow occurs from low to high elevations and often becomes weedy in disturbed settings. This herb thrives in coastal meadows and the arid sage brush steppe of the interior of BC. We also encounter it often in the lower part of the alpine zone during our studies of BC’s mountain flora. You can find yarrow throughout British Columbia and over much of North America. It also occurs across northern and central Europe and Asia.
Yarrow has been valued as a garden plant for centuries. Various forms are available for you to purchase as plants from garden centres and through mail order. Seeds of many colourful selections, especially red and pink shades, are sold through seed catalogues. Plants are easily raised from seed sown into light seed compost or peat pellets in the fall or spring. Rhizome divisions transplant easily too.
Dwarf varieties thrive in rock gardens. Larger types are suitable for mixed borders, perennial beds and the cutting garden. When mowed regularly, yarrow forms a soft-scented ground cover especially valuable for dry lawns. Yarrow is also an excellent subject for the xeriscape garden. This tough plant has been suggested for erosion control on slopes too.
Finely-divided soft leaves of yarrow photographed in January in Saanich BC. Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Many First Nations Elders of the B.C. interior value yarrow as a medicine, especially to treat sores. Ulkatcho people of the west Chilcotin soak the leaves in hot water, then apply them in a poultice to sore muscles. This same poultice can also be used to treat saddle sores on horses. Washed and crushed roots were recommended for toothaches. Various teas and concoctions were prepared for internal problems and as a general tonic. Fresh leaves crushed and rubbed on the skin or put to smoke away in a fire act to repel mosquitoes.
Herbal users should be aware that yarrow is “phototoxic.” Skin exposed to crushed or rubbed yarrow may become irritated when exposed to strong sun.
The name Achillea derives from the Greek hero, Achilles, who well knew the medicinal properties of the plant. The finely divided leaves are responsible for the species name “millefolium” meaning “thousands of leaves”. Yarrow is hardy to zone 2 in Canada.
Traditional garden plants often have substitute native species, often hardier, less invasive and easier to manage. The native tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is an excellent alternative to many cultivated shrubs for mass bedding for example. With a few exceptions, native perennials have yet to replace imports or join the display in more formal settings. Woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum) is a multi-use native prospect for British Columbia and the west coast of North America.
Woolly sunflower is a spreading fibrous-rooted perennial herb, resembling a restrained version of dusty miller (Artemisia stelleriana). Several hairy stems scramble upwards from the base and bear numerous much-divided silvery leaves. Robust mature plants reach to 60 cm (24”) tall but most often wild specimens rise about 30 cm (12”).
Eriophyllum lanatum (Common woolly sunflower). Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Buttery yellow blooms, 5 cm (2”) wide, face brightly upwards like miniature sunflowers. As is typical of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) the flower is actually a flower head of numerous florets. The rays or outside flowers have narrowly oval petals 1-2 cm (0.4 -0.8”) long. About 8-13 of these frame a disc of tightly-packed inner florets without the showy rays, just as you find in a typical garden marigold. Flowers are borne singly on long stems rising well above the silvery blue foliage. Flowers appear from early May to August, generally in June in southwest BC.
Woolly sunflower populates relatively dry open habitats such as bluffs and rocky slopes, largely being confined to low to mid elevations. In BC, it ranges along the coast southward from Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland, and inland to the Fraser Canyon with a population in the southern Interior. In the United States, the range extends well into California and eastward to Montana and Wyoming. The inland occurrences of woolly sunflower suggest a strong potential for BC interior gardens.
This marvellous plant has several garden uses. First, it thrives in the dry and sunny rock garden, even on poor stony soil. Although it may take a year or two, your plants will become established, persist, and flower from year to year. A patch placed in raw subsoil mixed with gravel has grown for more than 15 years at the Royal BC Museum Native Plant Garden. I have spread it widely along my driveway where it thrives! Woolly sunflower grows well in pots too, as a perennial surrounded by annuals planted freshly year after year. April Pettinger and Brenda Costanzo in their excellent book Native Plants in the Coastal Garden recommend woolly sunflower for shoreline plantings, use in repeated drifts, and in containers. They also note its resistance to deer.
Eriophyllum lanatum (Common woolly sunflower). Photo by Dr. Richard J. Hebda.
Woolly sunflower is grown in many native plant nurseries especially in the western United States and is known even in Europe. You can propagate it by root cuttings in late winter, seeds sown in fall and crown divisions. I multiply my woolly sunflowers by pulling out rooted stems or digging out small plugs at almost any time of the year and replanting. Once in while pull out invading grasses and other weeds from the spreading mats.
The First Nations people of the Thompson River region knew this species as either yellow flower or as “friend or relative” of the much larger and related Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In Washington State, dried flowers were used as love charms and the leaves could be rubbed on one’s face to prevent chapping.
Eriophylllum lanatum is also known as Woolly Eriophyllum and Oregon Sunshine. In Canada it is hardy to Zone 5 meaning it likely will grow in many gardens throughout the south.
Take a chance on the wild side and try growing woolly sunflower in your garden. Experiment with it as a replacement for silvery-leaved ground covers and enjoy the annual display of golden blooms.
Heathers (Calluna species) and heaths (Erica species) are popular ground cover plants worldwide. True heathers and heaths are not native to British Columbia, but many heather relatives and heather-like plants thrive in our province, some under harsh inland climates. Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) (also known as curlew-berry and crake berry) is an excellent, extremely hardy, heather substitute that fulfils the role of ground cover and produces abundant attractive black berries.
Crowberry plants consist of scrambling woody stems rising to 20 cm (8″) tall, and enveloped in wooly hairs and short evergreen leaves. Small roots anchor the stems into the soil. Often a mass of better developed roots associated with a loose crown in the middle of a patch provide a firm grip. Numerous needle-like leaves are arranged in alternate fashion or grouped in fours. These grooved leaves extend 4-8 mm (0.15-0.3”) long and have their margins rolled under.
Tiny purplish flowers appear early in spring, scattered along the stem at the base of the leaves. There are male and female flowers, which sometimes occur on separate plants. Each flower has either one tiny ovary, or three purple stamens, sometimes with up to three purplish petals, all cupped in tiny sepals and bracts.
Unlike the inconspicuous blooms, the shiny black bead-like fruits are easily visible and very attractive. These globe-shaped berries are fleshy and juicy, about half a centimeter (1/5 “) across. On loose leafy plants the berries often occur singly, spaced along the stems. On low growing plants they cluster in bunches and appear to nearly smother the plant. The berries contain large white seeds and are a favourite food of bears.
Ripe crowberry fruits growing on a dense mat of stems and leaves in the high mountains of northern British Columbia. Photo by Richard Hebda.
Crowberries are widespread plants with a most hardy constitution. You can find them almost anywhere in our province in suitable habitats except in the dry lowland climates of the southern interior. Plants have been observed to nearly 2500m (about 7750 feet) above sea-level in BC. Crowberry’s geographical range extends across all of Canada, southward on the west coast to California and around the northern hemisphere. It is largely a plant of full sun environments. At low elevations, especially on the coast, it inhabits bogs and openings in bog forests. Inland you may encounter it in conifer forest openings and almost everywhere in the alpine tundra and subalpine turf as well as on dry rocky mountain knolls. Crowberry favours acid to very acid soils usually with abundant organic debris.
This creeping shrub has great potential as a ground cover species in most BC gardens. It is especially suited to interior gardens in regions with cold harsh climates. On the coast it is better suited to open moist rock gardens or bog gardens where it will grow into a loose luxuriant mass of heather-like stems. Plants are most easily grown from root-bearing stem pieces planted in moist sandy peat soil until well rooted. Nursery material has also been grown from cuttings and fresh seeds sown in the fall. Crowberry is hardy to zone 1 in Canada.
A carpet of pure crowberry stems and leaves richly covered in berries, northern BC. Photo Richard Hebda.
Crowberries were eaten widely throughout British Columbia. Anyone who has munched a crowberry on a wilderness hike knows they tend to be somewhat watery and slightly tart, but pleasant nevertheless. On the coast crowberries were mainly eaten fresh by Haida and Tsimshian peoples in whose lands they can occur in great abundance. Haida Elders thought that eating too many of them might lead to internal bleeding. In the northern interior many First Nations people ate the berries because they are available all winter long under the snow. Some Carrier people mixed the berries with bear grease. Berries were also prepared by mashing them and cooking with heated stones in spruce bark troughs. Dried mash was soaked in water and consumed later. Mixed with sugar the berries can be used for pies and jellies.
Crowberries are an excellent heather-like ground cover for coastal and especially cool interior gardens, despite the absence of showy flowers. And unlike true heathers you can nibble tart fruit in fall and even in winter. So, enjoy this widespread native in the wild and maybe find a spot for it in your garden.
British Columbia forests are renowned for the trees they grow. Within these great forests there are other botanical treasures that live on the forest floor. Among these the bunchberries (Cornusspp.) are among the most widespread.
Bunchberries belong to the Dogwood Family (Cornaceae) along with our provincial floral emblem the western flowering or Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) and red-osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera). Bunchberries grow as low, carpeting herb-like shrubs. A root-stem system (rhizome) spreads just below the ground surface and from it arise 5-20 cm (2-8″) tall flexible stems. Each erect stem bears a pair of small highly reduced leaves about halfway up, and a whorl of 2-8 cm (0.8-3.2”) long oval leaves at the top. The leaves are usually dark green and somewhat glossy but may yellow in full sun. The veins appear to be well pressed-into the leaf surface. Tear through the leaf and you will see several thin whitish strands along the torn edges, a characteristic of dogwood leaves.
A flower head develops in late spring to early summer at the top of the stem. Four to six modified leaves called bracts surround the cluster of tiny flowers in the centre. Most people think that these white bracts are the petals but they are not. True flowers huddle cheek-to-jowl in a central clump. Each mini-bloom consists of a tiny toothed tube of greenish sepals which in turn surrounds a tiny funnel of four purplish petals. The pistil hides within the throat of the flower. Four spindly stamens poke out from the mouth. The berry-like fruits mature in late summer and early fall into a bright red bunch (hence the common name). Alaskan bunchberry differs from the common and widespread bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) which has greenish white petals and no well-developed leaves on the stem.
Alaskan bunchberry haunts moist old-growth forests and thickets of British Columbia’s coastal strip. It thrives on acid soils rich in humus, draping over rotting logs and crowding under shrubs at the edges of bogs and in the sub-alpine zone. The geographic range of the species extends both north and south along the coast into Alaska and the northwestern United States. Common bunchberry replaces Alaskan bunchberry east of the Coast Mountains.
Alaskan bunchberries were much savoured by First Nations people of the coast. The berries were eaten raw, with eulachon fish grease and with sugar. Haida occasionally steamed the fruit, mixed it with water and grease and stored it for the winter. Although the berries have a pulpy texture and a large seed, their taste is pleasantly sweet.
Bunchberries make excellent garden subjects especially in moist shaded settings under trees and on the north side of buildings. They combine well with shrubby members of the heather family (Ericaceae) such as rhododendrons or azaleas. They need moist, airy and humus-enriched soil to thrive and do not enjoy warm sunny settings. We have grown bunchberries with tall ferns under a tree in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum but they never seemed to flower the way they do in the wild.
Raise Alaskan bunchberries from seed or buy them from a garden centre or nursery where they are occasionally available. Sow the seed in the fall in a pot of peaty soil and leave over the winter. Plants with a vigorous root system raised in a pot succeed best.
The name “Cornus”, an ancient name for dogwoods, may be derived from “cornu” an old name for horn, because of the very hard wood of some of the tree dogwood species. The species name “unalaschkensis” recalls that the plant was named after Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Islands.
Northern North America is not known as a source of important of fruit crops. Most of our familiar fruits such as apples, plums, and cherries originated elsewhere. Several of our native species, such as coastal strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis) have been used in breeding programs. However, Saskatoon (also Saskatoon serviceberry), a showy shrub of the Rose Family (Rosaceae), provides wild fruit and is now grown as a commercial crop.
Saskatoon grows as a medium shrub to small many-stemmed tree reaching to 7 m (23’) high. The smooth stems are reddish brown to dark grey, and young twigs often silky. The 2.5 – 3.0 cm (1-1.2″) long leaves have an oval outline, but may be slightly pointed at the tip and heart-shaped at the base. Small teeth line part, or all the leaf’s margin. Young leaves are bright green but turn bluish green with age.
Bright white flowers occur in leafy clusters toward the ends of the branches. Somewhat hairy sepals form a base for the 1-2 cm (0.4-0.8”) long strap-shaped petals. About 20 stamens choke the throat of each flower, where they surround four to five styles.
The ovary of Saskatoon, like that of the apple or pear, is placed in an inferior position. This means that the sepals and the petals arise from the top of the ovary rather than below it, as is the case in a superior ovary.
The fruit is about 0.5 to 1.0 cm (0.2-0.4”) across, and globe shaped. Its colour ranges from purple to nearly black, often covered by a greyish blue bloom. Good quality fruit is juicy and sweet, however on the coast some of the berries dry out quickly becoming mealy or crunchy with little flavour.
Saskatoons thrive throughout British Columbia. The continental range extends along the coast from Alaska to California, eastward to New Mexico and north through the plains and prairies into Canada’s Northwest Territories. This shrub favours open to lightly shaded sites such as thickets, fence rows, clearings and edges of woods. A well-drained soil is essential.
Mid spring flowers of Saskatoon. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Saskatoons were and are widely picked by First Nations. The Nlaka’pamux (formerly the Thompson) people recognized several types of bushes. Some types were gathered and dried for winter use. Other types were cooked to a jam-like form before being dried. Edible roots of other plants were sometimes soaked in Saskatoon juice to make them more flavourful and sweeter. Dried and rehydrated berries were added to dried vegetables and cooked into soups and puddings.
Many parts of the Saskatoon plant were used. A drink was made from the bark for stomach problems. Bark and twigs were turned into a medicine for recovery after childbirth and, in combination with other plants, to make a contraceptive. The tough hard wood made excellent arrows. Other uses included digging sticks, spear shafts and handles for tools. Saskatoon sticks were used to spread out cleaned salmon for drying, and the branches to construct shelters.
Today many British Columbians eat fresh berries off the bush or bake them in tasty pies. You can buy Saskatoon bushes specially bred for the home garden. These varieties produce bigger and sweeter fruit than most wild plants. In the prairies Saskatoon plantations yield the raw material for a regional specialty, Saskatoon wine.
Growing Saskatoons is an easy matter if you have a sunny well-drained site. In the late winter or early spring, buy a bush from the garden centre or order it through the mail. Plant the sapling in a moderately rich, but not heavily-fertilized, soil and mulch around the base. You may have to water during the first year to help the young plant settle in. Saskatoon shrubs can be used in many parts of the garden; the spring flowers are stunning and the bright yellow to red fall leaves provide a cheerful accent. Plants can be grown from seed and dug up as self-sown seedlings too.
The origin of the name Amelanchier remains unclear. The species name “alnifolia” means alder-leaved.
Saskatoon is an outstanding native shrub widely adapted to B.C.’s varying climates. Not only does it yield tasty fruit, but it serves well as a showy garden subject. To see Saskatoon berries visit the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, B.C.
Figure 1. Viewfield Farm at Macaulay Point, in1854. The farm extended along the southern water front from Saxe Point in Esquimalt, to Lime Bay in Victoria West and across the peninsula to Selkirk Waters.
As Donald Macaulay with his Tsimshian wife Margaret and the first four of their six daughters Mary, Flora, Catherine and Sarah, gazed out at the beautiful ocean view and the fields draped with blue camas, he must have been reminded of his native home on the Scottish Isle of Lewis. It was 1850, and Macaulay was bailiff of the new 600-acre Viewfield Farm owned by the Puget Sound Agricultural Company.
Macaulay could hardly have known that this landscape would one day be named after him. Or that it would become a popular military camp in the late 1890’s, where Victoria’s citizens flocked to witness regimental demonstrations.
Macaulay Point was first named Sailor Point in 1847, but the Hudson’s Bay men called it Macaulay Point in 1851 and this was made official by the surveys of Captain Richards in 1859.
With the building of the military base and houses, the Macaulay Plains disappeared. But a visit to Macaulay Point reveals the large defensive structures that were still being used in the Second World War. Less visible are the three ancient archaeological sites in Fleming Bay.
Figure 2. In 1878, based on the belief of a threat from Russia, an Earthwork Battery was built at Fort Macaulay. Later, in 1887, the old earthworks were dismantled and new six-inch disappearing guns were installed. These were used during both world wars. (Robert Kidd photograph, 1959; RBCM, Archaeology Collection.).
Figure 3. Crowds of people witnessed the performances of the British Columbia Provincial Regiment of Garrison Artillery on Macaulay Plains, about 1885. (RBCM A-03131).
First Nations cultural features
Macaulay Point was known as Mukwuks by the Lekwungen First Nations on whose traditional territory it was located. Today the Lekwungen are represented by the Esquimalt and Songees Nations. In 1952, Songhees elder Jimmy Fraser indicated that Mukwuks was once the location of a salmon reef net fishing station. The stone seen here in figure 4 is a net weight or anchor stone found by divers on Macaulay reef.
Divers also found piles of larger, unmodified rocks used as anchors on the reef net. Every year the kelp rope holding these anchors would be cut, and they would be left behind. This shaped rock would have been one that was retrieved after use, but in this case was probably accidentally lost.
Figure 4. This shaped rock was used as a net sinker to hold a reef net down between two canoes. It weighs about 4 kg or 9 lbs (RBCM. DcRu-Y:96).
Figure 5. On reefs where the salmon came close to shore, this type of net was placed in a pathway cut into the kelp beds. When the fish were above the mesh net, it was pulled up by crews in boats on each side. (Re-drawn after Hilary Stewart 1977:94).
The oldest archaeological site in Esquimalt
Between about 5000 and 11,000 years ago, all of the many archaeological sites in bays around Esquimalt, were dry land. As the sea level rose to near its present height about 4,200 years ago, we find evidence of First Nations living at Fleming Bay.
A large shellmidden stretches across the back of the bay, containing shellfish remains, bones, artifacts and other evidence of past human behaviour. It is one of two equally old Archaeological sites in the municipality of Esquimalt. It dates to the same age as a shellmidden under the Tillicum Road Bridge. Much of the site has now been destroyed, but there are still portions intact.
The location was a camp, used at least on a seasonally basis, at various times starting 4200 years ago. On both ends of this large site were two later period shellmiddens identified as aboriginal defensive locations – used in times of warfare.
Defensive sites are often located on a raised peninsula with an intentionally dug trench across the back of the peninsula. The dirt was mounded up on the inside of the trench and wooden palisades placed in the inner rim of the trench.
This peninsula, extending out from the main shellmidden site was occupied at a later time period than the older deposits of the main site. This was a defensive location where about 800 to 1000 years ago a trench was dug across the back end of the peninsula.
A second defensive site was located on the south side of Fleming Beach. Shellmidden deposits once occurred from the tip of the small peninsula that once formed the south side of Fleming Bay and extended eastward along the Bay to the ”Climbing Wall”.
Figure 6. The ancient shellmidden at Fleming Beach once extended west from the high rocks on the east side of the Esquimalt Anglers Association boat ramp. Much of it has been destroyed by the boat ramp and housing development. The “Climbing Wall” is on the far right (Grant Keddie, 2006).
Figure 7. The beach is named after the family of photographers’ Harold and Edgar Fleming, who built their house, Viewfield, here in the 1880s. This 1896 painting shows the house above what is now the boat launch, before three metres of soil and shellmidden were removed. The rocks on the right are now a popular climbing wall. (RBCM; PDP4171).
Fleming Beach shellmidden
The archaeological sites at Fleming Bay were known since the 1890s, but officially recorded by Robert Kidd for the Provincial Museum in 1959. He took a series of photographs at that time which allow us to see the recent changes that have occurred.
Figure 8. Archaeological site DcRu-20. Looking down over the boat ramp at Fleming Beach, toward Kinver Road in the background. (Robert Kidd photograph taken in 1959. RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Figure 9. The raised shellmidden bank can be seen across the back of Fleming Beach. Kinver Road is on the far left and what is now the climbing wall on the far right ( Robert Kidd photograph. 1959. RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Figure 10. The cultural debris that made up the shellmidden at Fleming Beach was once up to two metres deep. (Robert Kidd photograph 1959. RBCM, Archaeology collection).
The western defensive site
Figure 11. Looking across the aboriginal defensive site on the west side of the back of Fleming Beach, in 1901. The present day Esquimalt Angler’s Association ramp is on the distant right next to the exposed climbing Rock. (Charles Newcombe photograph; RBCM, Ethnology Collection, PN139).
Figure 12. Remnants of a defensive trench that once cut across the back of the peninsula of the site, in 1928. The climbing wall can be seen at the centre of the photograph in the far background. (William Newcombe photograph; RBCM, Ethnology Collection, PN169).
Figure 13. Looking across the south end of the defensive site seen in figures 11 and 12. Shellmidden can be seen eroding down the slope. (Robert Kidd photograph; RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Figure 14. The Aboriginal defensive site on the west side of Fleming Bay is on the peninsula at the centre of the photograph (Robert Kidd photograph 1959; RBCM Archaeology collection).
Figure 15. Looking across Fleming Bay to the Aboriginal defensive site at the left of the centre of the photograph, 2006. (Grant Keddie photograph).
The southern defensive site
Figure 16. The location of the second defensive site on the south-western side of Fleming Beach, in 1900. Part of the area in the foreground has been filled in and now forms part of Buxton Green Park. Shellmidden deposits once occurred from the far right to what is now the climbing wall on the left. The photographer is unknown, but it was likely the professional photographer Edgar Fleming who lived at the beach. (Grant Keddie Collection).
Figure 17. The southern aboriginal defensive site (DcRu-21) is seen in 1959 in relation to the peninsula before it was artificially extended in 1965. The stone wall in the foreground is part of the first salt water swimming pool built in greater Victoria. It was built by Canadian soldiers stationed at Work Point Barracks during the Second World War. It was filled in with the creation of Buxton Green Park in 1983 (Robert Kidd photograph; RBCM, Archaeology Collection).
Take a walk
Fleming Bay and Macaulay Point are home to one of the oldest First Nation habitations in the region and two types of defensive sites – one from a thousand years ago and one used from 1878 until World War II.
As you walk around the bay you will be able to observe these special features and think of the Macaulay family that walked here before you.
Taking knowledge of the community’s heritage features, the rock underneath your feet, the birds, the plants and the fish in the water below will make your stroll along the waterfront a much more enjoyable experience. It gives the community a sense of place.
Male flowers of June plum. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Spring arrives early in southwestern British Columbia, and many plants waste no time producing flowers. June or Indian Plum, known botanically as Oemleria cerasiformis or not long ago as Osmaronia cerasiformis, is one of the earliest of all shrubs to bloom.
June Plum (also called Oso berry) is a deciduous shrub in the Rose Family (Rosaceae), which grows from 2-5 m (6.5-16.5’) tall. Stems and old branches are grey, but young branches appear dark wine red. The branches form a graceful upswept pattern. Thin, bright green leaves unfold as early as February. Tapered and oblong, they are usually widest above the mid-point. The leaf margin is smooth-edged and the lower surface paler than the upper. Leaves alternate along the branch, often standing erect when young. Crushed leaves smell like cucumber or watermelon rind.
Clusters of flowers dangle from the branch tips as the first leaves appear. A fully open flower cluster may reach 10 cm (4″) long and have six to 12 blooms. Each greenish-white blossom is about 1-1.5 cm (1/4-1/2″) across. Some people describe the flowers as almond-scented, whereas others call them bad smelling! In any case, once you have smelled them, their scent will be forever recognizable.
Five small greenish sepals and five greenish-white rounded petals arise from the edges of a cup-shaped structure, called a hypanthium. The hypanthium is formed from the swollen end of the stalklet bearing the flower. Stamens or pistils reside in the cup of the flower with male and female flowers on separate plants. In the male flower, 15 stamens form three rows at the edge and just inside the cup. Five pistils crowd together in the bottom of the female flower cup.
Early March display of June plum, Saanich Peninsula, Vancouver Island. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Male plants, perhaps surprisingly, produce the most abundant and showiest flowers. Having male and female flowers on separate bushes reduces the chances of in-breeding. But a great mystery surrounds the question of pollination. At flowering time there are few if any, bees out. Possibly native beetles do the honour, but even after many hours of observation, the responsible party has yet to been seen for sure.
Small fruits appear in spring. At first these are a pleasant peach colour but soon darken to dark blue or nearly black. Like their distant relatives, the true plums, the fruits are covered in a greyish bloom. A prominent groove marks one side of the fruit. Birds especially Cedar Waxwings gobble up ripe fruit and disperse the seed.
Immature bitter fruits of June plum. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
These fully-ripe June plum fruits are far less astringent than peach coloured ones. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
The distribution of June plum, hugs the southwest coast of British Columbia, on south Vancouver Island north to about Campbell River, and on the mainland as far as Yale and Squamish. Moist thickets, open woods and stream banks are its favourite haunts. June plums occur along the Pacific Coast, west of the Cascade Mountains as far south as northern California.
Where the climate permits, June plum makes a fine early spring shrub for the wild or woodland garden. It thrives in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum where it requires little maintenance. The coloured fruits also draw much attention in early summer.
For flower and fruit display you will need one male and one female plant. This shrub is raised from suckers, twig cuttings or seeds. Seeds need a long, cold moist spell followed by a warm interval to germinate, so best plant them in the summer when fruit ripens and leave until the following spring. You may often find seedlings in fence lines and shrubs where birds perch and pass seed.
Generally, the fruit has a bitter choking taste, though I find fully ripe fruit tasty. Nevertheless, First Nations people around the southern Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound ate small quantities of fresh or dried “plums”. The fruit is not poisonous, although at the Royal BC Museum we get calls from concerned parents whose children have tried it. First Nations of the Saanich Peninsula still boil Indian plum bark (sticks) in water and drink the liquid for diarrhea. Bark is also used in a complex mixture to treat several serious ailments.
Oemlaria got its name from an obscure individual called “Oemler”. The species name cerasiformis refers to the cherry-shaped appearance of the fruits.
See June plum in the Native Plant Garden at the Royal BC Museum at any time of the year. It is at its best in the warming days of late February and March when the first flowers open to greet the sun.
Hanging flower clusters of bigleaf maple. Note the protruding stamens. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
We have long recognized the vital role of shade trees in creating a pleasant environment around our homes. Most shade tree species and varieties hail from distant regions and lands. British Columbia is home to one of the noblest, but for some reason little-used shade trees, bigleaf maple.
Bigleaf, broadleaf, common or Oregon maple grows as a tall spreading tree to 30 m (100′) high, casting filtered shade beneath. In undamaged trees, the widely spreading root system supports a short trunk 60-150 cm (2-5′) across, from which reach out great limbs. However many trees have been cut, and hence grow as groups of tall greyish sapling stems. Old branches are bedecked and festooned with colourful mosses, leafy and crusty lichens. Young twigs are coloured an attractive medium green. Fat green buds end the branches during the winter.
Leaves of bigleaf maple are the largest of any tree in British Columbia. Their form is typical for maples; three to five sharply-tipped lobes with deep indentations between them. Spring foliage emerges soft yellow green in the sun’s light and soon expands to full size, some leaves more than 30 cm (12″) across. In fall the foliage mantles each tree in a rich yellow-orange cloak, before the leaves fall to earth to be crunched underfoot.
The 10-15 cm (4-6″) long flower clusters rival any in the genus of maples. They burst forth in early spring revealing often 50 or more small greenish yellow fragrant blooms. Male and female flowers are separate, but occur in the same cluster. Each flower consists of petal-like sepals, and five petals surrounding either a group of long protruding spindly stamens or a two-parted ovary with two stigmas. The clusters magnetically attract pollinating flies until each tree hums softly like a giant machine. The large fruits have the typical form of maple keys consisting of a wing and body. The spiny hairs, which cover the surface of the body, will penetrate and irritate the skin.
Summer leaves of bigleaf maple. Photo by Dr. Ken Marr.
In British Columbia the maple’s natural range includes most of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland coast, extending well up major valleys. Bigleaf maple is reported as far north as Alaska, but the main distribution extends from BC mostly west of the Cascade Mountains south to California with an outlying population in Idaho. Bigleaf maple thrives in rich moist soils especially along rivers, streams and floodplains. Curiously you will also find it on moist rocky slopes often rooted in the rubble at the foot of cliffs. The tree grows well in disturbed settings along roads and fence rows.
Late summer paired maple keys, the fruit of bigleaf maple. Photo by Dr. Ken Marr.
Although some authors consider bigleaf maple of little horticultural value, it makes an outstanding shade tree. The airy canopy produces light, rather than oppressive shade. Once the leaves fall, weak but welcome winter sunlight can penetrate into the home. Because of its size, this maple may not suit refined urban gardens, but it cannot be beat as a huge specimen tree for a large yard, park or street planting. You can easily raise maple trees from seeds planted in ordinary soil. Often, hundreds of seedlings struggle to survive under majestic parent trees. These seedlings transplant easily in the moist coastal winter and spring. You may have a problem growing a traditional flower garden below the thirsty tree. However, native species such as salal (Gaultheria shallon), Oregon Grape (Mahonia spp.) and sword fern (Polystichum munitum) thrive beneath its umbrella.
Bigleaf maple wood found many uses among British Columbia’s coastal First Nations. From it they made dishes, spoons, rattles, bark shredders, axe handles and numerous other tools. The wood is perhaps best known for the carving of beautiful spindle whorls and canoe paddles. Many aboriginal peoples valued the wood as a fuel, for it burns hot and clean. Bigleaf maple is an excellent fuel tree today too, because it can be cut to harvest the firewood and re-sprout fresh new suckers for future wood production. Well-managed root systems and stumps yield firewood for many decades. Aboriginal people also used the bark to weave ropes and baskets. The large leaves were spread over and under food in steam pits and picking baskets.
Incidentally people have tried to make syrup from spring sap but the sugar concentrations are mostly too low and the day-night temperature changes too slight for a good flow.
The scientific name Acer derives from the classic Latin name for maple. The species name “macrophyllum” celebrates the tree’s most obvious feature, the big (macro) leaves (phyllum). This handsome arboreal giant and other maples were once happily in the Maple family (Aceraceae). Now through the wonders of DNA analysis they have been added to the Horse-chestnut family Sapindaceae.
Looking for a shade tree or an excellent permanent firewood source, try our native bigleaf maple. This under-appreciated native species deserves to be more widely grown. For more information on native species please visit our Native Plant Garden, of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
The introduction of potentially invasive species remains a global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services. The spatial distribution of introduced species can provide insight into present and historical vectors of invasion. Here, we aim to investigate the influence of environmental, demographic and vector variables on the spatial distribution of non-indigenous species (NIS) in coastal marine ecosystems.
Coastal British Columbia, Canada.
We used subtidal settlement plates to sample NIS richness at 81 sites. Spatial patterns for seventeen environmental, population, and vector variables were created using a Geographic Information System (GIS). We used multiple regression with model selection and spatial autocorrelation to define a statistical model that best explained the spatial distribution of NIS.
Four variables, salinity, human population density, port arrivals and marina propulsiveness (probability of boater travel from home marina), best explained the observed spatial distribution of subtidal NIS. Aquaculture, an original global introduction pathway, did not significantly explain the contemporary distribution of NIS. Results suggest that recreational boating is the most probable pathway of fouling NIS spread in this region, driving their current distribution. Spatial autocorrelation was significant for environmental, demographic, and aquaculture variables. However, marina propulsiveness and attractiveness were not autocorrelated, suggesting that boater behaviour varies on a finer scale.
A simple model using a combination of vector, demographic, and environmental characteristics can explain 43.6% of the variation in the spatial distribution of NIS. Our study provides further evidence that recreational boating is a significant pathway for the contemporary spread of NIS in marine environments. With projected increases in human population, we expect a continued rise in introduction rates and spread in this region and elsewhere in the world.
Here, we report the first records of the non-native amphipod Caprella mutica along the coast of British Columbia, Canada. Between 2006 and 2009, we surveyed marine fouling communities across 81 subtidal sites, and sampled hulls and sea-chests from 18 domestically operated commercial vessels. Caprella mutica was present at 33% of the sites and on 22% of the vessels, sometimes at remarkably high densities (>10,000 individuals m-2). Our findings confirm an extensive distribution of C. mutica along the coast of the northeast Pacific, and offer additional evidence in support of hull fouling as an important vector for secondary spread. Key words: caprellid, introduced, northeast Pacific, biofouling, sea-chest, vector, museum records
Marine fouling communities on artificial structures are invasion hotspots for non-indigenous species (NIS). Yet, little is known about NIS in fouling communities of British Columbia (BC), Canada. To determine NIS identity and richness in BC fouling communities, we deployed settlement plates at 108 sites along the coast of BC between 2006 and 2012. Of the 295 invertebrate taxa identified to species, 20 were NIS while an additional 14 were cryptogenic, including several global invaders. This study documents the range expansion of tunicates Botrylloides violaceus Oka, 1927 and Botryllus schlosseri (Pallas, 1766), including the first known records on Haida Gwaii. NIS were detected within each of the six distinct geographic regions with the southern, more populated regions of BC (Straits of Georgia and Juan De Fuca) having the highest NIS richness and frequency of occurrence compared to the less populated northern regions. This study provides a contemporary baseline of invertebrate NIS identity and richness in fouling communities that will allow comparisons through time and a means to focus research and prioritize management efforts. Key words: non-native species, introduced species, invasion, Northeast Pacific, West Coast, North America, biofouling
Part 1. Introduction and Spindle Whorls in the Archaeology Collection of the Royal BC Museum
In order to provide a broader understanding of the earlier history and origins of both historic and pre-contact spindle whorls used in British Columbia, I will provide a description with images of all the spindle whorls in the Archaeology and Ethnology collection of the Royal B.C. Museum.
Figure 1. Examples of small sea mammal bone spindle whorls in the Royal BC Museum ethnology collection.
This will be presented in three Parts: (1) Introduction and Spindle Whorls in the Archaeology Collection of the Royal BC Museum. (2) Small Spindle Whorls in the Ethnology Collection of the Royal BC Museum. (3)Large Spindle whorls from speakers of the Salish language family in the Ethnology Collection of the Royal BC Museum.
The archaeological record suggests that significant differences existed in the past. This project will look at the larger picture of all uses of spindle whorls in British Columbia, their age and distribution in earlier and more recent times.
Most of the discussion on this topic to date involves reference to the making of woven capes and blankets of mountain goat, dog hair and other materials using large spindle whorls. However, the majority of small spindle whorls in Museum ethnological collections that derive from the coast of British Columbia are related mainly to the production of fibers, such as stinging nettle, for the production of fishing nets. An overview for understanding this broader topic is presented here.
The Significance of Spindle Whorls in British Columbia
The weaving technology of First Nations of British Columbia is a popular topic. Designs on historic Salish Spindle whorls have had the greatest influence on what is termed modern Salish Art. Over recent decades Salish Artists have copied designs from Spindle whorls in Museum collections and have developed from these a wonderful array of new and creative designs that are a reflection of those early patterns.
The word Salish is, of course, a term used by linguists to refer to a number of different human populations that speak different languages that have a common origin. The common language origin indicates that these groups have interacted with each other to varying degrees at various times in the past, but each has their own history. The history of the use and expression of weaving technology will be different for some of these groups. We know, for example, in the historic period that some Salish speaking groups did not decorate their spindle whorls with designs.
The Interests of Archaeology
There is a desire to know the history and origins of the weaving of clothing, but the role of spindle whorls for other purposes is generally not understood. This project will put the broader role of spindle whorls in the public domain.
For Archaeologists, artifact typologies and where they fit into defined cultural phases play an important role in developing hypothesis about cultural development on the northwest coast.
What artifacts to include and exclude from trait lists defining cultural phases can be a very subjective exercise. Interpreting what the artifact represents in terms of cultural behavior can also be a subjective exercise.
Determining which spindle whorls were used for the production of different products and determining when this behavior began in the past would be crucial in making time specific statements about past human behavior.
Did the spinning of nettle for making nets precede the spinning of materials for clothing or were they both produced at the time of the introduction of spindle whorls?
Spindle whorls are a type of artifact that is not likely to have been independently developed, but rather introduced into the region. This seems to be the more typical pattern in other parts of the world. Knowing the function and timing of the introduction and/or local development of specific types of spindle whorls may help us better understanding the process by which it was introduced into this region and the source of its introduction.
Both internal and external cultural catalysts may underlie the explanation for the introduction of this new form of behavior. Does the introduction of the spindle whorl reflect a change in economy or a new technology for an existing economy? Is it a result of new trade and exchange with, or a borrowed idea from some outside culture?
In comparing the ethnographic record with the archaeological it is important to understand the nature of both. Archaeologists and ethnologists can make incorrect assumptions about the others data when they are not familiar with it. Knowing the specifics of when and where both the ethnographic and archaeological examples of spindles whorls were collected is important in making comparisons between them.
When comparing ethnographic spindle whorls with archaeological examples we need to ask if the ethnographic examples were actually used – or ones made for sale or made as models for collectors or museums. Are the whorls made in the early 20th century the same as those made in the early 19th century?
The biggest factor in the comparison of modern and ancient whorls will be in the nature of the raw materials. Wooden examples will be lost from the archaeological record except in the case of those found in extremely wet or dry conditions.
However, since almost all of the ethnographic examples of small whorls are made of sea mammal bone and stone, these should be found in archaeological sites.
Spindle Whorls in the Archaeology Collection of the Royal BC Museum
Figure 2. Examples of the size range of archaeological stone spindle whorls in the Royal BC Museum collection.
Figure 3. Example of size differences in sea mammal bone spindle whorls in the Archaeology collection of the Royal BC Museum.
Identifying archaeological spindle whorls is not something that can always be done with certainty. Some archaeological examples are similar enough to known ethnographic examples. They are often finely made with a lenticular or flat cross-section. The hole for inserting the whorl on the spindle is usually well defined and in proportion to the size of the diameter of the whorl. The hole is usually well centered.
There are other bone and stone objects that seem to be more likely to be spindles whorls than anything else. These come in a variety of sizes. Spindle whorls in other parts of the world show considerable variation in size depending of what kind of material is being spun. A few of the 27 specimens described here deviate from the known historic examples, but are being considered as possible whorls until further research can substantiate or reject them as whorls. There may be some elements of the spinning and weaving industry that are found in earlier times that do not have an historic equivalent. For example, the presence of spinning bowls (Keddie 2003).
In some cases sea mammal bone whorls have a smoother side that is the outer portion of the original bone and a rougher side with a more porous surface. Where this is clear, the smoother side will be considered the upper portion or top against which the fibre being spun accumulates.
The whorls will be described here in regional clusters of my own invention for comparative purposes. This is based on general geographic areas and in part reflects the current state of the collection.
South East End Vancouver Island. Pedder Bay to Nanaimo. (Total 11)
DcRt-Y:41 Cadboro Bay. Flat, rounded, but slightly rectangular, whale vertebrae epiphysis. The smoother top is nearly flat, while the bottom is convex only along a thicker middle portion. 155mm – 123 mm dia. Hole dia. 17mm. It varies in thickness from 12mm near the center to 5-6mm around the outer rim. Records show that this is from the Cadboro Bay archaeological site DcRt-15 [old accession 1932-1]. The porous bottom surface has an incised face on one half composed of two eyes and a mouth. On the top surface is a star-like pattern composed of two rings encircling the center hole with four triangular extensions that have long thin triangles in them, and two thinner arm-
like extensions between the larger triangles extending to each side. Weight: 102 grams (portion missing – estimated original weight 120 grams). Surface collected by T.W.S. Parsons, 1932.
Figure 4. The only large bone whorl with a design. DcRu-25:1555.
DcRt-15:1289. Cadboro Bay, Victoria. Bone whorl blank. Whale vertebrae epiphysis. This was shaped by chopping around the circumference with an adze. Flat with original smooth bone top surface and porous bottom surface. Maximum dia 15.5cm; Max. th. 1.5cm. Weight: 179 grams. (Old number 12650].
Figure 5. Unfinished whalebone whorl.
DcRu-25:1555. Victoria Harbour. Old Songhees Reserve. Portion (about 40%) of round to slightly rectangular whale vertebrae epiphysis. Flat smooth ground top surface and porous, ground, slightly convex bottom surface. Only slight remnant of center hole exists. The outer rim is flat sided with rounded edges. Maximum diameter present (144mm). Estimated original diameter based on continuance of outer rim is about 160mm. The radius from the hole remnant edge is 68mm. If the hole was the same size as the similar DcRt16:158 specimen, the diameter across this portion would be a minimum of 154mm. This whorl is larger from the hole to the edge than DcRt-16:158, and seems to have been slightly rectangular – suggesting that an original diameter of about 160mm is accurate. Thickness ranges from 9.5mm at hole to 6-7mm on the outer edge. Weight:(32.8 grams). Estimate of original weight is about 135 grams. Excavated form disturbed historic debris. This site was occupied from 1844-1911. It is likely that this whorl dates to the earlier period of the mid-19th century.
Figure 6. DcRu-25:1555.
DcRt-16:158. McNeil Bay, Victoria. Whale vertebrae epiphysis. Nearly flat on the ground top – which is the original bone surface. The ground porous bottom is slightly convex. Diameter: 144mm by 132mm. Thickness varies from 4mm-5mm around the edges to 7mm near the centre. Hole diameter: 18mm. No raised area near the spindle hole. Outer bone cortex side more polished with wear patterns. Weight: 123.5 grams. This site has two bottom dates of around 500 years. The oldest (WAT1627, RH86-10; 560-+65) dates the base of the midden to the period around 1390 A.D. to 1455 A.D. A second date covers the period from A.D. 1445 – A.D. 1680.
Oral history refers to this site being occupied by the Chikawich people. It may have been last used in the early 1800s as a more permanent village, but used on a more temporary basis after this. The spindle whorl, therefore dates to a maximum of 500 years, but may be closer to a date of 200 years ago.
Figure 7. Large spindle whorl, Both sides. DcRt-16:158.
DcRt-16:335. McNeil Bay, Victoria. Whale vertebrae epiphysis bone. This small fragment is flat on the original ground bone top surface and convex on the bottom ground porous surface. There is no central whole present but the ground contours are the same as the outer edge of the whorl DcRu-12:1555. Diameter: (51mm). Width: (28mm). Thickness: 6mm on edge to (11mm) inward. Weight: (6.9 grams).
Figure 8. Fragment of large spindle whorl, DcRt-16:335. Obverse and reverse sides.
DcRv-1:733 Pedder Bay. Oval shaped, sea mammal bone vertebral epiphysis. Flat on both surfaces and flattened sides. Diameter: 73mm – 64mm; Thickness varies from 3mm to 5mm; Hole diameter is 7.5mm. Weight: 12 grams.
Figure 9. Obverse and reverse of spindle whorl, DcRv-1:733
DcRu-Y:63. Esquimalt Lagoon area. Small grey siltstone whorl fragment (about 22% present). One side is flat and the other slightly convex. It tappers from a thickness of 4.8mm at the hole to 3mm at the rim. Maximum diameter present (67mm). Original estimated diameter is about (78mm). Original hole diameter about 7mm. Old accession 75-57. Written on artifact: “Seashore Belmont, A. N. Marrion”. Marrion was known to have collected other material from site DcRu2. This is likely the site that it came from. A series of radio-carbon dates places most of this site after 1000 B.P. Weight: 13.9 grams.
Figure 10. Small Siltstone spindle whorl, DcRu-Y:63
DcRu-Y:266. (DcRu-23). Finlayson Point, Victoria. Ground sea mammal bone. Nearly flat on both surfaces. Fragment only. Includes portion of central hole and portion that includes a section of original outer rim. Distance from hole edge to outer rim 55mm. Hole diameter 16mm. Thickness varies from 3.8mm on the outer rim to 5.5mm near the central hole. Original diameter estimated at 126mm. Collected by William A. Newcombe at a shell mound in Beacon Hill Park in 1902. The only site this description would fit at that time is the Finlayson Point site, DcRu-23. Weight: [23.4] grams. Original weight would be about (70 grams). This site dates within the last 1000 years and was likely last occupied in the mid-1700s.
Figure 11. Portion of whalebone spindle whorl, DcRu-23. Obverse and reverse sides.
DeRu-1:2611. Sidney area. Whalebone whorl fragment (about 7/12 present). Flat on more porous bottom surface and slightly convex on top surface. Tapers from 9mm thick at hole to 4mm at rounded outer rim. Original hole dia. c.8mm. 50–52mm from hole edge to outer rim. Original diameter c. 114-118mm. Slightly rectangular. (Old accession 5489; From collection of A. and Francis J. Barrow – #358, from Barrow property). Weight:  grams. Original weight about 120 grams.
Figure 12. Fragment of large spindle whorl, DeRu-1:2611.
DeRv-Y:56. Cowichan region. Possible whorl? Oval shaped siltstone. Slightly bi-conical in cross-section. Bi-conically drilled central hole. Edges ground flat with portions slightly rounded. Diameter ranges from 76mm – 89mm. Outer hole diameter 15mm; Inner hole 9mm. Thickness: 10mm – 13.5mm toward centre. Weight: 148.1 grams. Old accession # 275, donated by E.M. Skinner) On label “Cowichan. Mrs. Skinner, May 1890”. Smooth surface. This may also be a small net weight, but there are no other net weights like it in the region.
Figure 13. Small Stone Spindle whorl, DeRv-Y:56.
DgRx-Y:14. Nanaimo District. Large disc shaped stone with slight 2mm collar (raised rim around the hole edge). Bi-convex cross-section. Diameter: 144mm-164mm. Thickness varies from 25mm at the inner hole to 6mm on the outer edge. Hole diameter: 33mm. Raw material: Andesite. Weight: 623.3 grams. (Originally from the D. Steveson Collection, that became part of the Charles Newcombe Collection. Old accession #10946).
Figure 14. Large Stone spindle Whorl, DgRx-Y:14
Gulf Islands (Total 4)
DfRu-24:749. Galiano Island. Active Pass. Georgeson Bay. Whorl fragment of whale vertebrae centrum epiphysis. Nearly flat top surface and slightly convex bottom surface. Weight :(30.8) grams. This has the characteristics of a whorl but is missing the portion where the central hole would be. Minimum diameter estimated at about 160mm-180mm.
Figure 15. Fragment of large spindle whorl, DfRu-24:749.
DfRu-24:1287. Galiano Island. Possible whorl? Very small round, flat stone with central hole. Edges ground flat. This is much smaller than any known ethnographic examples or any information provided in ethnological accounts in British Columbia, but does fit the size range of whorls in other parts of the world. It could be a decorative button or some other object? Diameter: 25.5mm; Thickness: 3mm; Hole size: 4mm. Weight: 2 grams. Accession 68-19.
Figure 16. Possible small stone spindle whorl?. DfRu-24:1287.
DgRw-4:2740. Gabriola Island. Flat slate whorl. Diameter: 56.8mm to 59mm. Thickness: Varies from 2.5mm to 3.0mm. Hole diameter: 6.5mm. Bi-conically drilled. Weight: 16 grams. Accession 1967.27. Excavation. David Burley 1988. False Narrows III component. Gulf of Georgia Cultural type (“with an approximate age between A.D. 1200 and the historic period”).
Figure 17. Small siltstone spindle whorl, DgRw-4:2740.
DeRt-1:103. Pender Island. Small flat sandstone whorl. Diameter 38-42mm. Even thickness of 7mm with well defined, steep edges. Hole diameter: Inner 6mm; outer cut area 10-12mm. (#94 of Herbert A. Spalding collection). Weight:16.1 grams.
Figure 18. Small stone whorl. DeRt-1:103
Lower Fraser River. (Total 3)
DjRi-Y:134. Yale area. Small disc shaped siltstone whorl. Bi-convex in cross-section. Weight: 31 grams. Diameter: 5.4cm. Thickness: 9.4mm at center and tapering to edges. Hole diameter: 9mm. [old #3134; Accession 1917.27].
Figure 19. Both sides of stone spindle whorl DjRi-Y:134.
DjR1-3:14. North of Yale. Unfinished round whorl. Flat on bottom and nearly flat on top surface. Schist-like material. Unfinished 4mm deep hole drilled at center on one side. Diameter: 45mm by 43mm. Thickness: 4.8mm at center tapering to an average of 4.5mm at outer edges. Weight: 15.9 grams. [Old accession # 12625; 65-48].
Figure 20. Both sides of stone spindle whorl DjR1-3:14
Figure 21. Small stone spindle whorl, DhRlm-Y:1832
North end Vancouver Island/Mainland region (Total 2)
EdSo-Y:1. Lagoon Cove, Cracroft Island. Flat sea mammal vertebral epiphysis bone. Flat ground edges. Diameter: 72.5mm Thickness: 5.5cm. Hole diameter: 11mm; [old #5556; 425]. Surface collected by M. Miles. Became part of collection of A. and F.W. Barrow – #425. Weight: 22 grams.
Figure 22. Obverse and reverse sides of bone spindle whorl EdSo-Y:1.
EaSe-Y:23. Prideaux Haven. Siltstone whorl. Near flat to slightly bi-convex in cross-section. Ground around edges and high area on surfaces. Rough, unground portions on both sides. Diameter: 49mm to 49.9mm. Thickness: 4.7mm near centre and tapering to 3mm at edges. (old accession “5625”; Found by Phil Lavigne in 1938 and given to Francis Barrow. Part (#494) of A. and F.W. Barrow collection donation in 1944). Weight:16.1 grams.
Figure 23. West Coast Vancouver Island. (Total 1)
EdSv-6:20 Quatsino Sound. Sea mammal bone whorl. Bi-convex in cross-section. Diameter: 61.5–64.1mm. Hole diameter: 10.5mm. Thickness varies from 4mm at edge to 10.8mm at hole. Transferred from Ethnology. John Stephenson Collection. A-1985-10. Weight: 37 grams.
Figure 24. Both sides of bone spindle whorl EdSv-6:20
Interior (Total 2)
EbRj-Y:39 Lytton area. Flat circular siltstone. Flattened to rounded edge. Bi-conically drilled hole. Diameter: 100–102mm. Thickness: 8cm. Hole diameter: 9mm [13mm hole depression area].[old catalogue #455, lists this as from “S.Thompson” [South Thompson River] 1892.3, from the collection of F.M. Stevenson of Lytton]. Weight: 147 grams.
Figure 25. Both sides of stone spindle whorl EbRj-Y:39
ER-Y:836. Southern Interior. Flat schist whorl fragment. Radius of piece from edge of hole to rim 41mm. Estimated diameter based on hole at center 90mm. Thickness: 9.3mm; Hole diameter estimate c. 9mm. Design pattern – A groove 3mm in from and around the edge separates a slightly lower area extending to the edge. Inside the grooved circle there is a star-like pattern formed by three 13mm high triangle patterns on the inside of the circular groove. Fire burn marks on one portion. “Interior Salish”. [old acc.66-6] Surface collected by H. Cowden. Weight:  grams (original estimated weight – c.120 grams)
Figure 26. Obverse and reverse sides of stone spindle whorl ER-Y:836.
Central Coast (Total 3)
FcTe-4:458. Price Island. Sea mammal vertebrae epiphysis bone whorl fragment. Diameter: 77mm. Oval shape; only half present; Thickness: 4mm; Diameter of hole: 6mm. [accession #72-362] Weight: 11.2 grams.
Figure 27.Obverse and reverse side of bone spindle whorl FcTe-4:458.
EkSp-13:5293. Owikeno. Sea Mammal bone whorl. Flat. Diameter: 61mm by 60mm. Thickness 6mm. 5.5mm on edges. Hole diameter: 11mm. Weight: 25.8. Excavations 24.7.75. N.E. Quadrant. Likely date 18th to early 19th century.
EkSp-13:5542. Owikeno. Sea Mammal bone whorl. Flat. Diameter: 52mm by 50.5mm. Thickness 8mm. 7.5mm on edges. Hole diameter: 11mm. Weight: 24.8. Excavations 24.7.75. S.W. Quadrant. Likely date 18th to early 19th century.
Figure 28. Obverse and reverse views of bone spindle whorls EkSp-13:5293 and EkSp-13:5542.
B.C. Unknown Location (Total 1)
Y:1879. Stone. Flat surfaces, but with 7mm wide angled facetting around edges on both sides. Edges ground flat. Weight: 67 grams. 6.4-6.5cm dia.; .5-.6cm flat edge; 1cm max. th.; hole .9cm (1.9cm hole depression area).
Figure 29. Both sides of stone spindle whorl from unknown B.C. location.
DhSb-11:31. There is no evidence of a central hole, but other dimensions suggest that this is a whorl.
Figure 30. DhSb-11:31. Possible bone whorl
DdRu-5:85a&b. Unidentified object. This item was originally described as a possible whorl but I matched another piece, DdRu-5:159, which showed that the placing of the ground edges meant this could not be a whorl.
Figure 31. Ground whale bone that is not a whorl.
Dating and context of spindles from other collections
Haida Gwai. A spindle whorl was found on the floor of a habitation rock shelter, FaTt-36:2. The site is located on the south shore of Djitkan Ankun near Cape Freeman, S.W. Coast of Moresby Island (Acheson 1998:188&202). (Dia. 78.2mm; Th. 6.9mm; hole dia. 12mm. Weight not given). Date unknown.
Queen Charlotte Strait. Two sea mammal bone spindle whorls were found at Davies Island Fort site, EeSp-95a, off Fife Sound (Mitchell, 1981:118; Fig. 37p&q) (Dia. abt. 37mm & abt. 63mm (Mitchell, 1981:118 and Mitchell 1988:251, fig.4).
These are only associated with the deposits of a general time period containing what is called the Queen Charlotte Strait Culture Type assemblage which dates from after AD 300 to near the historic period. (Mitchell 1988:251; figure 4i). (Dia. 32mm; Dia. of hole 5.5mm).
A “bone spindle whorl” was found in a shell midden at the head of Echo Bay, site EeSo-1, on the northwest shore of Gilford Island. Known as an historic period Kwicksutaineuk village (Mitchell, 1981:109; fig. 33m).
South-eastern Vancouver Island
DcRw-14:303. 135mm by 125mm; thick 18mm. Private collection of Gordon Crowe. Lower Fraser River
Lower Fraser River
Charles Borden describes a fragment of a spindle whorl from the old Musqueam village of Stselax, site DhRt-2, as a: “Marginal fragment of an elaborately and bifacially engraved spindle whorl fashioned from the epiphysis of a whale vertebra”. This site dates from 1250 AD to late contact times, but Borden suggests that the spindle whorl fragment was among artifacts that were “probably carved and engraved with steel cutting tools during the Historic Period” (Borden 1983:165;Figure 8:34c).
Fraser River Canyon
Charles Borden excavated a small “brown steatite” spindle whorl (DjRi-3L11.142) from the Milliken site in the Fraser River canyon (Diameter: 11.45cm). It has Snake motifs engraving on one side and multiple snake eyes on the other. Borden placed it in the Esilao Phase dating to after 1380 A.D., but then suggested that it is “more likely” to date to the “Historic Period”. He stated that: “On the available evidence it is perhaps best to consider this steatite whorl more of less contemporary with the carefully designed compositions on some of the elaborately carved spindle whorls of the nineteenth century, bearing in mind, however, that future data and deeper insight may eventually justify placing this remarkable artifact into an earlier period” (Borden 1983:161).
Sanger reports two stone spindle whorls from the Texas Creek site. “Steatite spindle whorls are known from the Mile 28 Ranch Site, but to date they have not been found around Kamloops. The proximity of these site (the Texas Creek and the Mile 28 Ranch) to the Coast, where the spinning of mountain goat hair was practiced, may offer a partial explanation for the presence of these artifacts in the western periphery of the Interior plateau” (Sanger 1968:13).
Acheson, Steven. 1998. In the Wake of the ya’aats’xaatgaay [‘Iron People’]: A study of changing settlement strategies among the Kungit Haida. BAR International Series 711.
Barber, Elizabeth J.W. 1991. Prehistoric Textiles. The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with Special References to the Aegean. Princeton University Press.
Borden, Charles. 1983. Prehistoric Art of the Lower Fraser River Region. Pages 131-165. In: Indian Art Traditions of the Northwest Coast. Edited by Roy Carlson.
Keddie, Grant. 2003. A New Look at Northwest Coast Stone Bowls. In: Archaeology of Coastal British Columbia. Essays in Honour of Professor Phillip M. Hobler, pp. 165-174. Edited by Roy L. Carlson. Publication Number 30, Archaeology Press, Simon Fraser University.
Mitchell, Donald. 1988. Changing Patterns of Resource Use in the Prehistory of Queen Charlotte Strait, British Columbia, Pages 245-290. In: Research in Economic Anthropology. Edited by Barry L. Isaac, Supplement 3. Prehistoric Economies of The Pacific Northwest Coast.
Loughran-Delahunt, Isa. 1996. A Functional Analysis of Northwest Coast Spindle Whorls. Master of Arts. Western Washington University.
Mitchell, Donald. 1981. Test Excavations at Randomly Selected Sites in Eastern Queen Charlotte Strait. Pp. 103-123. In: B.C. Studies. Fragments of the Past: British Columbia Archaeology in the 1970s. No. 48, Winter, 1980-81.
Sanger, David. 1968. The Texas Creek Burial Site Assemblage, British Columbia. Anthropological Papers National Museum of Canada, Number 17, Ottawa.
British Columbia is full of rocks, and rocks are not hospitable places to make a living. One group of plants, the stonecrops (Sedum spp.), have adapted superbly to this often harsh setting. Broad-leaved (also broadleaf) stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) is an exceptionally attractive and abundant stonecrop reveling in the stony outcrops on the coast of our province.
Broad-leaved stonecrop of the Stonecrop Family (Crassulaceae), forms low, spreading mats in patches of densely-packed rosettes of flattened leaves. These leaf rosettes arise along a creeping stem called a stolon. Clusters of fibrous roots from the stem cling tenaciously to rocks and shallow soil spreading from crevice to crevice. About 15 leaves form the rosettes which typically reach 2-4 cm (0.8-1.6″) across. The fleshy, greyish-green leaf blades sit almost directly on the stem. Each leaf broadens out wider than the base to a broad tip, hence the common name. Like many plants which survive in harsh dry places, this herb stores water in its thick leaves.
Brilliant yellow flower heads adorn stiff stalks which stand about 10-15 cm (4-6″) tall. Small five-petalled star-like flowers crowd the flower head. The narrow pointed petals surround a cluster of 10 yellow stamens 5 pistils. In British Columbia, the flowers appear mostly from May to July.
Broad-leaved stonecrop grows abundantly on coastal cliffs and dry sites on Vancouver Island and adjacent Gulf Islands but less frequently on the nearby mainland. The range extends southward as far as California. Look for stonecrop along the shore and even well up mountain slopes in dry forest openings.
Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
This stonecrop excels as a garden plant for dry sites. Simply plant a small piece of rooted stem in a little bit of soil. Try it in a rock garden, on a stone wall or next to a stone or gravel path. Even tuck it into a roadside rock face. Can you image what our rocky roadsides might look like covered in brilliant yellow? Once this plant takes hold, it will spread in a most attractive manner plugging cracks between rocks and blanketing rough spots. This species tolerates some shade too, although its form becomes generally looser. Stonecrop needs little attention once established; remove dead stems after flowering if you wish, and keep grasses from rooting in the mat. As the patch expands you will be rewarded with plenty of offsets for new plantings. I have watched a small piece double in size after a month and quadruple after a season. Broad-leaved stonecrop is one of the easier native plants to get because it is occasionally available through garden centres. Indeed, several forms, including some with reddish or purplish leaves, others with a bluish hue, are being sold. A grey-white variety called ‘Cape Blanco’ seems to be widely available. You could create a rock garden of varying hue by planting several different colour forms. Broad-leaved stonecrop is hardy to zones 5-6 in Canada.
First Peoples put stonecrop to some interesting uses. Nlaka’pamux (previously Thompson) People of the Fraser River Canyon boiled the whole plant and used the liquid to soothe cross babies and relieve constipation. Stonecrops, in general, were used to make poultices for treating piles.
The scientific name Sedum apparently was used for stonecrops in ancient times, possibly derived from the Latin “sedeo” which means “I sit” as indeed it does on its favoured stony substrates. Come and see broadleaf stonecrop sitting around on the rocks in the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
British Columbia is home to a diverse collection of gorgeous native shrubs. Many of them produce edible wild fruit too. Few are as versatile and adaptable to the home garden as the Oregon-grapes (Mahonia spp.) and of these Tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) has the highest profile.
Tall Oregon-grape forms handsome shrubby clumps of few to many upright greyish canes. Wild clumps normally grow half to one and a half metres (20-60″) tall, but straggly individuals can reach 2.5 m (100″). The inside of the stems and roots is coloured brightly yellow. Shiny, compound evergreen leaves, with 5-9 leaflets crowd toward the ends of stems. Spiny teeth line leaflet edges giving rise to the species name “aquifolium” which is a classical name for holly (Ilex spp). Hollyleaved barberry is another name for the plant and as is the case with the holly the leaves can be painful. In the summer, leaves shine lustrous green, but in the winter they turn an attractive bronze or even red. Delicate new spring growth emerges reddish too.
On the coast many-flowered clusters of brilliant yellow blossoms appear as early as late February and persist into April. Often several clusters throng the end of a stem creating a colourful display. In the blooms of this plant, the petals and sepals are both coloured so that each delicately scented flower has three whorls of three petal-like segments. Glands at the base of the segments produce clear drops of nectar. Inside a ring of seven yellowish stamens, each with peculiar projecting “ears”, squats a greenish pistil. Grape-like bunches of small blue berries replace the flowers in late spring and summer. The stunning display of abundant fruits is so appealing that you might be tempted to stuff them into your mouth. Avoid that temptation because the berries are mouth-pucker sour and contain large seeds.
Mahonia aquifolium fruit. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
In British Columbia this shrub occurs from Prince George southward in the interior and to the north end of Vancouver Island on the coast. The range extends southward into Oregon and eastward to Idaho. The natural habitat includes open woodland, edges of meadows and, in the interior, sagebrush covered hills.
Tall Oregon-grape was introduced to European gardens in the early 1800s. Generally it is a co-operative horticultural shrub especially for partly-shaded to open well-drained sites. Once planted it may need occasional pruning immediately after flowering to keep a neat form. Cold, drying winter winds kill exposed foliage. Try tall Oregon-grape in a shrub border, hedge, or naturalized thickets along with Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) and snowberries (Symphoricarpos spp.). Landscapers use it widely around institutional buildings on south Vancouver Island. A dense hedge of it may keep out nosy intruders.
Tall Oregon-grape plants are easily obtained from garden centres and nurseries on the west coast. They can be grown from seed too. Sow ripe seed in the fall and transplant young seedlings the following fall into nursery beds. At the Native Plant Garden of the Royal British Columbia Museum tall Oregon-grape spreads widely by seed into adjacent herbaceous beds. Thickets spread outward underground so prepare to keep them in check.
First Peoples knew tall Oregon-grape well. They ate the fresh berries and, on south Vancouver Island, used them as an antidote to shellfish poisoning. Nlaka’pamux (previously Thompson) People of the Fraser River Canyon boiled the outer bark of the roots to make a bright yellow dye for baskets. Liquid from the bark of boiled woody stems helped treat red itchy eyes.
The blue berries make an excellent wild jelly. Use lots of sugar to moderate the tartness, and screen out the large and bitter seeds.
Our Oregon-grapes have been known botanically by two names: Mahonia and Berberis. Mahonia, honours an 18-19th century American horticulturalist Bernard M’Mahon. The name Berberis (barberry in English) originates in a similar Arabic name for barberry fruit.
Tall Oregon-grape is a wonderful coastal landscape shrub. It is attractive all year round and produces edible berries. Look for it and its berries in the wild and come and see masses of it at the Native Plant Garden of the Museum in Victoria.
There isn’t a month of the year where European Wall Lizards are completely torpid here on Vancouver Island. We are nearing the solstice, and lizards are still out and about.
I went out with my wife and daughter to Crumsby’s this weekend, and later, we had plans to do some shopping – and groceries – the usual weekend activities.
But the weather was nice – 7 degrees Celsius and sunny – so I suggested we divert to the Moss Rocks area for a few minutes and see if we could find a European Wall Lizard. My wife now accepts such requests as normal – we may be talking about christmas shopping and trying to entertain our daughter, but she knows I am looking for lizards if it is sunny. At least lizards in a cup, tub, or zip-lock bag don’t smell as bad as some of the road-kill we have collected.
I saw – or more accurately heard – the first lizard just as I stepped out of the car. Within seconds I had evidence of lizards active in December. They were high up on the bedrock wall along May Street. A patient wait of a few more minutes was rewarded by sight of three lizards which crawled out of a cold crevice, and lined up to absorb as much heat as possible from the sun.
Farther along the street was a concrete wall covered in roots – an easy place to ambush a lizard. There were at least 8 lizards on that small concrete wall – I caught these three in two minutes. They now are preserved a cataloged as 2127 in the Royal BC Museum’s herpetology collection as evidence of the winter activity of an invasive lizard.
Interesting tidbit of information was that the lizards were warm to the touch – they must find really effective basking sites to warm themselves that much above the ambient air temperature. The rocks themselves were not that warm.
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Kendrick L. Marr1, Geraldine A. Allen and Richard J. Hebda
Aim Late Pleistocene ice sheets are thought to have covered most of western Canada, including all of British Columbia (BC). We examine patterns of genetic variation in an Arctic–alpine plant to evaluate the possibility of full glacial refugia within the area covered by the Cordilleran ice sheet (CIS) and to uncover post-glacial migration routes.
Location Western North America.
Methods We sampled 1030 individuals of the Arctic–alpine plant Oxyria digyna from 117 populations distributed over much of its range in western and northern North America. DNA haplotypes were identified using restriction site analysis of two chloroplast DNA intergene spacer regions, psbA-trnH and trnT-L. We examined the geographical distribution of haplotype diversity in relation to latitude, and also compared various indices of diversity in putatively glaciated and unglaciated regions. Patterns of migration were inferred using nested clade analysis.
Results We detected a total of 20 haplotypes. High haplotype diversity was found in Beringia, in unglaciated western USA, and in northern BC at 57–59° N, well within the accepted limits of the CIS. Ancestral haplotypes were also centred in northern BC.
Main conclusions High genetic diversity of Oxyria digyna is expected in unglaciated regions, but unexpected in northern BC if British Columbia was entirely covered by ice during the late Pleistocene. Our observations suggest the presence of unglaciated areas providing late Pleistocene refugia in northern BC. Such refugia would have important implications for the origins and migrations of many plant and animal species in north-western North America.
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Allen, GA, Marr, KL, McCormick LJ, Hebda RJ
The ranges of arctic-alpine species have shifted extensively with Pleistocene climate changes and glaciations. Using sequence data from the trnH-psbA and trnT-trnL chloroplast DNA spacer regions, we investigated the phylogeography of the widespread, ancient (>3 million years) arctic-alpine plant Oxyria digyna (Polygonaceae). We identified 45 haplotypes and six highly divergent major lineages; estimated ages of these lineages (time to most recent common ancestor, T(MRCA)) ranged from ∼0.5 to 2.5 million years. One lineage is widespread in the arctic, a second is restricted to the southern Rocky Mountains of the western United States, and a third was found only in the Himalayan and Altai regions of Asia. Three other lineages are widespread in western North America, where they overlap extensively. The high genetic diversity and the presence of divergent major cpDNA lineages within Oxyria digyna reflect its age and suggest that it was widespread during much of its history. The distributions of individual lineages indicate repeated spread of Oxyria digyna through North America over multiple glacial cycles. During the Last Glacial Maximum it persisted in multiple refugia in western North America, including Beringia, south of the continental ice, and within the northern limits of the Cordilleran ice sheet. Our data contribute to a growing body of evidence that arctic-alpine species have migrated from different source regions over multiple glacial cycles and that cryptic refugia contributed to persistence through the Last Glacial Maximum.
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Wang, Q, Liu J, Allen GA, Ma Y, Yue W, Marr KL, Abbott RJ
Many plant species comprising the present-day Arctic flora are thought to have originated in the high mountains of North America and Eurasia, migrated northwards as global temperatures fell during the late Tertiary period, and thereafter attained a circumarctic distribution. However, supporting evidence for this hypothesis that provides a temporal framework for the origin, spread and initial attainment of a circumarctic distribution by an arctic plant is currently lacking. Here we examined the origin and initial formation of a circumarctic distribution of the arctic mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) by conducting a phylogeographic analysis of plastid and nuclear gene DNA variation. We provide evidence for an origin of this species in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of southwestern China, followed by migration into Russia c. 11 million yr ago (Ma), eastwards into North America by c. 4 Ma, and westwards into Western Europe by c. 1.96 Ma. Thereafter, the species attained a circumarctic distribution by colonizing Greenland from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Following the arrival of the species in North America and Europe, population sizes appear to have increased and then stabilized there over the last 1 million yr. However, in Greenland a marked reduction followed by an expansion in population size is indicated to have occurred during the Pleistocene.
ancestral location; arctic flora; circumarctic distribution; migration; species origin
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Kendrick L. Marr, Geraldine Allen, Richard J. Hebda and L. J. McCormick
We investigated genetic variation in Bistorta vivipara, a widespread Northern Hemisphere tundra species, to infer patterns of migration and where it may have survived during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).
Samples came primarily from western North America, with a few from the Arctic and Eurasia.
We sequenced two chloroplast DNA spacer regions, trnH–psbA and trnS–G, in individuals from 199 populations and mapped haplotype distributions and their relationships using a haplotype network. We calculated genetic and molecular diversity statistics for the seven geographical regions from which we obtained samples.
Fifteen haplotypes were detected, with very little divergence among them. The haplotypes are separated into two main groups by the presence or absence of a 22 bp tandem duplication. Four haplotypes are common, widespread and with substantial range overlap; 11 are rare and mostly unique to one region. Two rare haplotypes were found only in British Columbia (BC). Western North America and Asia have the highest levels of genetic and molecular diversity. Northern and southern BC have different haplotype complements.
Bistorta vivipara has relatively low genetic diversity, with much less genetic structure than we expected for such a widespread species. We expected significant geographical structure due to the combined effects of genetic drift and geographical isolation. The asexual reproductive mode of B. vivipara may facilitate relatively rapid population establishment and spread compared with sexual reproduction by seed. Bistorta vivipara probably originated in Asia and spread to North America and Europe prior to the LGM. In western North America it spread to its modern distribution from Beringia and the western USA following the LGM. Populations in northern and southern BC may have different histories, possibly related to the timing and extent of glaciation. The occurrence of two unique haplotypes within BC suggests that some individuals may have survived in full glacial refugia within BC.
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Geraldine A. Allen, Kendrick L. Marr, Laurie J. McCormick and Richard J. Hebda
Many plants, especially at high latitudes, have both widespread and highly discontinuous geographical distributions. To increase understanding of how such patterns originate, we examine genetic patterns in the arctic–alpine plant Sibbaldia procumbens. We evaluate the contributions of refugia and the role of long-distance dispersal in shaping the current range of this species.
Northern Hemisphere, especially North America.
We sampled Sibbaldia from 176 localities, including 168 for S. pro-cumbens. We analysed sequence variation in three plastid DNA non-coding regions (the atpI–atpH and trnL–trnF intergenic spacers and the trnL intron), performed Bayesian phylogenetic analyses and statistical parsimony analyses on the combined sequences, and analysed the geographical patterns of haplotype distribution and genetic diversity using data from all populations.
Sibbaldia procumbens probably originated in the mountains of South and East Asia. We identified highly distinct clades in Europe and North America, which overlapped on oceanic islands of the North Atlantic indicating long-distance dispersal capability. The North American clade included two lineages, one in California and the other widely distributed across the continent and North Atlantic. Haplotype diversity in the latter lineage was markedly higher to the south, suggesting mid–late Pleistocene southward displacement of North American populations with subsequent migration northwards into previously glaciated regions. In Europe, disjunct geographical regions generally harboured distinct haplotypes.
Multiple Pleistocene refugia for S. procumbens occurred in both North America and Europe. North American refugia existed in California and in the southern Rocky Mountains, but in contrast with most widespread arctic–alpine species we found no evidence for a Beringian refugium. Cryptic refugia may have existed within the Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Episodes of range expansion and contraction and long-distance dispersal have all contributed to the genetic structure and widespread but fragmented distribution of this species.
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Galina Gussarova, Geraldine A. Allen, Yulia Mikhaylova, Laurie J. McCormick, Virginia Mirré, Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda and Christian Brochmann
PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Many arctic-alpine species have vast geographic ranges, but these may encompass substantial gaps whose origins are poorly understood. Here we address the phylogeographic history of Silene acaulis, a perennial cushion plant with a circumpolar distribution except for a large gap in Siberia.
METHODS: We assessed genetic variation in a range-wide sample of 103 populations using plastid DNA (pDNA) sequences and AFLPs (amplified fragment length polymorphisms). We constructed a haplotype network and performed Bayesian phylogenetic analyses based on plastid sequences. We visualized AFLP patterns using principal coordinate analysis, identified genetic groups using the program structure, and estimated genetic diversity and rarity indices by geographic region.
KEY RESULTS: The history of the main pDNA lineages was estimated to span several glaciations. AFLP data revealed a distinct division between Beringia/North America and Europe/East Greenland. These two regions shared only one of 17 pDNA haplotypes. Populations on opposite sides of the Siberian range gap (Ural Mountains and Chukotka) were genetically distinct and appear to have resulted from postglacial leading-edge colonizations. We inferred two refugia in North America (Beringia and the southern Rocky Mountains) and two in Europe (central-southern Europe and northern Europe/East Greenland). Patterns in the East Atlantic region suggested transoceanic long-distance dispersal events.
CONCLUSIONS: Silene acaulis has a highly dynamic history characterized by vicariance, regional extinction, and recolonization, with persistence in at least four refugia. Long-distance dispersal explains patterns across the Atlantic Ocean, but we found no evidence of dispersal across the Siberian range gap.
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Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda
We used PCA of morphological characters to confirm the presence of an undescribed Calamagrostis species in Washington and Oregon that has historically been attributed to Calamagrostis vaseyi. We propose to name this grass Calamagrostis tacomensis. It is most similar to C. foliosa although it has often been confused with C. purpurascens and C. sesquiflora all of which have similar lemma awn characteristics (i.e., the awn relatively long, exserted, and bent). Calamagrostis tacomensis has been collected at high elevations (490–2170 m) in the Washington Cascades, the Olympic Peninsula and the Steens Mountains of Oregon. The name C. vaseyi has been misapplied to our new species. The description of C. vaseyi is similar to C. rubescens. We have studied the specimen that has been attributed to be the type of C. vaseyi and it is C. purpurascens. We lectotypify C. vaseyi.
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Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda, and Elizabeth Anne Zamluk
The taxonomically difficult and ecologically and phytogeographically important genus, Calamagrostis, was examined for British Columbia (BC). Morphological characters were analyzed by Principal Components Analysis (PCA) to characterize taxa and to aid in the development of a new key. Eight native species (Calamagrostis canadensis, C. lapponica, C. montanensis, C. nutkaensis, C. purpurascens, C. rubescens, C. sesquiflora, and C. stricta) are confirmed to occur in British Columbia, of which C. montanensis, C. nutkaensis, C. purpurascens, C. rubescens, and C. sesquiflora are reliably distinguishable. Comparison of species distribution to regional climatic and vegetation history suggests that Calamagrostis nutkaensis and C. sesquiflora likely survived in coastal refugia during late Wisconsin glaciations. Calamagrostis purpurascens likely persisted beyond the glacial limits or within nunataks and then spread into previously glaciated sites. Two interior continental species, C. montanensis and C. rubescens, probably spread north and west from the unglaciated zone south of the Cordilleran and Laurentide ice sheets. Calamagrostis lapponica likely persisted north of the ice sheets, and then spread southward into high-elevation sites in northern and eastern BC. Calamagrostis canadensis and C. stricta probably survived south and north of the ice sheets, and then spread into the previously glaciated terrain.
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KENDRICK L. MARR, RICHARD J. HEBDA, and WILLIAM H. MACKENZIE
Between 2002 and 2011, we collected vascular plants from alpine areas of northern British Columbia (B.C.). We have found one species that has not previously been collected in the province: Phippsia algida. Collections of an additional three species represent significant range extensions of species already known to occur in the province: Aphragmus eschscholtzianus, Papaver alboroseum, and Montia bostockii. Our collections of Delphinium brachycentrum initially appeared to be the first records for the province; however, examination of herbarium specimens at the Royal British Columbia Museum herbarium indicated that this species had been collected prior to our field work but had been misidentified. We indicate the distribution of this species in B.C. for the first time, and we present a corrected distribution map for Tephroseris yukonensis that includes our
Key Words: alpine vascular plants, new records, range extensions, Tephroseris yukonensis, Phippsia algida, Delphinium brachycentrum, Aphragmus eschscholtzianus, Papaver alboroseum, Montia bostockii, British Columbia.
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Kendrick L. Marr, Richard J. Hebda, William H. MacKenzie
The distribution of northern British Columbia alpine plants is poorly documented. To improve our understanding of the flora of this vast, remote region, we collected more than 11 000 specimens from 65 mountains during 2002–2011. Most of these locations had not been visited by botanists. Of the more than 400 species we have collected, two are new to the province, others represent significant range extensions. Twelve species share elements of a disjunct distribution that has apparently not been previously recognized and consists of three regions: (1) northwestern North America; (2) Beartooth Plateau; and (3) northern Colorado. These 12 species appear to be absent from the extensive areas of suitable habitat that occur in the intervening areas. The most reasonable explanation for this pattern is that these species, adapted to arctic–alpine tundra conditions, migrated throughout western North America during the Pleistocene, a time when suitable habitat was much more widespread than now, and subsequently went extinct in many areas as the climate warmed during the Holocene.
British Columbia’s moist and mild coastal climate provides ideal conditions for ferns to thrive, so much so that several fern species are obvious and characteristic features of the conifer forest floor. Most abundant of all these ferns is the stately and lush sword fern of the Wood Fern Family (Dryopteridaceae).
Sword ferns grow into a large perennial clump of leaves spreading out from a massive crown. This crown consists of a woody mass of rhizomes (root-stems) buried in reddish brown scales and dead leaf bases. Roots explore the soil outward from the rhizome. In a mature well-established clump the crown may stretch half a meter (20”) or more in diameter.
Dark evergreen fronds stand stiffly from the crown. Fronds reach as tall as 1.5 metres (60”) and up to 25 cm (10″) wide. The lower third of the frond consists of a densely scaly brown stalk, called a stipe by botanists. The upper two-thirds of the frond have numerous narrow, pointed and toothed leaflets. Near the tip of the frond the leaflets become progressively shorter. Young unfolding leaves are at first curled like a shepherd’s crook or crozier, then gradually unfurl and expand.
Ferns are not flowering plants; they reproduce by spores which are microscopic pollen-grain like bits of plant tissue. Spores form inside tiny thin-walled sacs called sporangia. The sporangia of sword fern cluster in brown dot-like structures called “sori” (singular “soros”), which line the back of each leaflet of the frond. These many (= “polys” in Greek) lines (= “stichos” in Greek) of sori give rise to the scientific name Polystichum. The species name munitum (“armed”) derives from the numerous pointed teeth along the leaflets.
Lower surface of sword fern leaf showing lines of spore-bearing sori. Photo by Dr. Richard Hebda.
Sporangia split open and the spores drift to the ground where they germinate only if it’s moist. The spores grow into small delicate mini-plants called gametophytes with only one set of chromosomes, half of the double set of the much larger and robust parent. Male and female structures develop on the gametophytes and male sperm swim to fertilize the female egg. Once fertilized, the egg develops into a proper leafy fern plant.
In British Columbia sword fern is dominantly a coastal species, occurring more than two-thirds of the way to the Yukon border. The range extends across extreme southern B.C. and adjacent Washington and Idaho in moist climates in the southeast part of the province. The North American range extends along the coast from Alaska almost to the Mexican border. Generally sword fern thrives in the shaded humus of the damp to moist conifer forest floor. In very wet forests you may see it perched on a shady rock face. Sword fern forms a distinctive association with western redcedar (Thuja plicata) on nutrient rich seepage sites. Fern clumps completely cover the forest floor, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a lush tropical jungle. A stiffer narrow-leaved species of sword fern, called imbricate sword fern (Polvstichun imbricans) grows among boulders and in rock crevices in dry, usually open settings.
Aboriginal British Columbians used sword fern for various purposes. In spring rhizomes were dug, cleaned and roasted in open fires or earth pits. Cooked rhizomes were then peeled and eaten usually with grease or salmon eggs. The fronds were used to line pits for cooking root foods and to line boxes and baskets. Fern fronds also provided a decorative motif for basket designs.
Sword fern is among the easiest ferns to grow in the garden. Since this fern is so ubiquitous in coastal lowland sites, many suburban building lots come with their own supply. If possible it’s best to leave the clump where it sits, making sure there is shade. However the plants transplant readily and many can be easily rescued from development projects. Sword fern is one of the more widely available of our native species. So ask the owner of your local garden centre or nursery to order it in if you cannot get it from a friend or rescue site. Spores spread about a moist and shaded site will yield even more fern plants in a few years.
For best results, choose a shaded to partly open damp setting. In the Native Plant Garden at the Royal BC Museum we have used it in a mass planting under trees between two buildings where it suits the poorly lit situation much better than a high care lawn. Sword fern is ideal for a woodland garden, providing a lush verdant framework for the garden’s further development. Once established, the only care the fern needs is the removal of unsightly dry fronds in winter.
Try ferns in your garden: many are well suited for those difficult shaded sites. Ferns also illustrate how less-advanced plants reproduce without flowers. Visit the Native Plant Garden at the museum and see luxuriant clumps of sword fern and other fern species.
The Heather Family (Ericaceae) is well known in Canada for its many shrubby species such as blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), salal (Gaultheria shallon) and Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum; previously Ledum groenlandicum). We in British Columbia are fortunate to have the only tree-sized member of the Heather Family in Canada, the distinctive and handsome arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) also known as Pacific madrone, madrona and strawberry tree.
Arbutus grows into a multi-stemmed shrub or tree with crooked trunks sometimes twisting their way up to 35 m (approximately 120′) tall. The smooth reddish bark stands out from that of all other trees in our province. It flakes off in the late fall, being replaced by young greenish yellow bark from beneath as the trees begin to swell and grow with fall moisture.
Arbutus Bark. Image courtesy of Dr. Richard Hebda.
Leathery, oval evergreen leaves cluster toward the ends of the branches. Above they are shiny green, but below they are pale. Typical leaves range from 5-15 cm (2-6”) long, Young shoots bear finely toothed leaves whereas those of mature shoots have no teeth.
Like bunches of grapes, great clusters of creamy or pinkish white, honey-scented flowers adorn the ends of the branches. Each small flower resembles a tiny white bell, pinched in at the mouth. The tips of the petals form five little teeth, a feature common to many flowers of the Heather Family. Within the flower nestle 10 stamens and a single five-parted pistil.
Brick-red berries form in the late fall and persist well into winter. Each fruit in the cluster is about a centimeter (0.4″) across and covered by tiny little bumps. Birds, especially grouse, feast on these attractive fruits.
The geographic range of arbutus hugs the Pacific Coast of North America from southern British Columbia to California. In our province, arbutus occurs on the southern two-thirds of Vancouver Island, especially the east side, and the adjacent Mainland almost to Knight Inlet. Rocky knolls and cliffs provide the classic hang-out for the species. The tree appears to wrest nutrients from the bare rock itself. Arbutus grows extremely well in open dry Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) woodland and forest, where the soils are deeper. On these sites, trees can reach great girth and height at times forming “magical” groves. In Victoria arbutus trees and shrubs appear in boulevards and on roadside banks “inoculated” so to speak, by perching birds
Once established, arbutus makes a superb, undemanding garden and landscape plant. Evergreen leaves, exquisitely attractive bark, beautiful flowers and brilliant berries are outstanding features. The only drawbacks may be the cleanup of the leaves, particularly in the late summer, and the lack of frost tolerance. There is also a stem canker present in the region which can kill branches.
Arbutus Berries. Image courtesy of Dr. Richard Hebda.
The easiest way to have arbutus on your property is to leave and encourage already established plants. You can raise arbutus with relative ease from seed sown in the fall and covered lightly in a peat-potting soil-sand mixture. If you have a very dry south, or west-facing site, simply spread fruits collected in the fall, and you will be surprised at the rate of successful germination in places where you could never expect to plant a seedling. Arbutus plants larger than 20 cm (8″) tall are almost impossible to transplant and should never be dug up. Move only seedlings from waste sites with loose soils in the wettest part of the winter. Be sure to dig up the entire root and keep as much of the soil attached as possible. Occasionally, potted seedlings are available at garden centres and native plant sales.
Aboriginal peoples put arbutus to assorted uses in technology and medicine. Saanich people used the wood for spoons and gambling sticks. The Sechelt made keels and sterns for small boats from the hard wood. Dye from bark was used to color wooden utensils and camas bulbs in cooking pits. On the Saanich Peninsula, leaves and bark yielded medicines for colds, stomach problems, tuberculosis and birth control.
The dense hard wood is widely used for artistic carving, taking polish very well. It also provides hot slow-burning firewood.
The scientific name Arbutus is the same name as Romans used for a similar and closely-related tree known as the Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo) The species name, menziesii, honours Archibald Menzies, Royal Navy botanist and surgeon, who collected many plants in our area in the 1780’s and 1790’s.
You can see and learn more about arbutus and many other members of the Heather Family at the Native Plant Garden of The Royal British Columbia Museum, 675 Belleville Street, in Victoria, B.C.
The search for strong growing, attractive ground-cover plants is a major focus in the low-care gardening of the modern day. Many widely used ground cover plants are not native to British Columbia region and have the bad habitat of being aggressive invaders into our natural environment. Periwinkle (Vinca) and English ivy (Hedera helix) are good examples, and are now the target of removal efforts.
These non-native garden plants often do not thrive in the drier colder climates of inland British Columbia. Many native species spread widely and establish attractive and tough natural ground covers but are not nearly so invasive grow more vigorously in our inland climates. Rosy pussytoes (Antennaria rosea) is a widespread BC native species of the Aster Family that offers an alternative ground cover choice.
The pussytoes genus (Antennaria) is not well known to gardeners, yet there are as many as 15 species growing in open and even lightly shaded situations in BC from the hot valley bottoms to the alpine heights. Typically these are low growing plants that hug the ground surface and spread by densely spaced rooting stems called stolons. Rosy pussytoes is typical of this form. It forms a dense interwoven mat with numerous fibrous roots firmly anchoring it to the soil. Numerous spoon-shaped to broadly elongate leaves cover the horizontal stems and persist through the winter. Their gray green hue provides a pleasing textural effect.
Leafy branching stems rise from the matted surface to a height of about 5-40 cm (2-16”) tall. Densely packed wooly hairs cover the stems. Stem leaves are mostly narrow, ranging from 0.5-3.5 cm long and end in a sharp tip.
Half centimeter tall flowerheads occur in tight rounded clusters at the tips of the stems, each flower head soft and firm like a kitten’s toe. The flower head consists of modified leaves called bracts that surround a mass of tightly packed individual flowers. The bracts are very hairy at the base hence the softness. They also provide the colour, in the case of Antennaria rosea varying shades of pink. The whitish, true flowers emerge somewhat from the surrounding bracts in an attractive effect. A close relative and sometimes considered the same species, white pussytoes (Antennaria microphylla) has mostly greenish to white bracts and is also a good garden plant. Males and females are on separate plants and flowers appear from June to August.
Rosy pussytoes is a widely adapted plant growing throughout most of our province except the wet climates of Haida Gwaii and the central and north coast. The geographic range also extends to Alaska, Yukon and eastward to Quebec and southward to New Mexico and California. The natural habitat includes moderately moist to dry slopes, terraces along rivers, openings in forests, grasslands and dry sub-alpine meadows. It grows across a wide range of climates extending from lowland to high mountain elevations. We see rosy pussytoes occasionally during our expeditions to document the plants of BC’s northern mountains, where it appears on south-facing slopes just into the upper part of the subalpine zone.
Antennaria microphylla. Image courtesy of Matt Lavin.
The species is widely adaptable to uses in open garden settings. In the book by Wendy Mee and other authors Waterwise: Native Plants for Intermountain Landscapes (Utah State University Press 2003) rosy pussytoes is recommended for rock gardens, small spaces and borders. To this I would add small eroding banks with poor soils and in and around paving stones. It tolerates a modest level of foot traffic. Make sure the soil has good drainage. Plants can be propagated like strawberries from rooted horizontal stems, best in the early spring or fall. Plant on loose gravelly soil to get them started. Propagation from fresh fall sown seed is easy, with seedlings ready to plant out in 4 months after germination. Rosy Pussytoes is hardy to zone 2 and can be grown in most gardens in BC.
BC First Nations people of the southern interior had several uses for the plant. Dried roots were powdered, put into hot coals at winter dances and the smoke was believed to drive away bad spirits and revive passed out dancers. The leaves could also be chewed and swallowed to increase male virility.
Expand your choice of ground covers beyond the common and sometimes invasive foreigners. Try rosy pussy toes as a native alternative.
A Unique photograph in the Collection of the Royal B.C. Museum
19th century photographic images in the Victoria region that show Lekwungen (Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations) undertaking traditional food gathering practices are rare. The only example of fishing is a photograph, taken in 1868, by Frederick Dally in Esquimalt harbour at the south entrance to Lang Cove (RBCM PN905). Lang Cove is located south of Skinner’s Cove, both of which are within the larger Constance Cove. This is the location of an ancient shellmidden as demonstrated by the scattered white clam shells seen in the image and later observed by the author at this location.
Figure 1. Herring Fishing Station at Wood’s Landing in Esquimalt Harbour. RBCM PN905.
This image (fig. 1 and close-up fig.2) of a man and woman at a herring fishing site is listed in Frederick Dally’s Miscellaneous Papers, (File 17), as #5 “Indian at Esquimalt, canoes, fish etc.”. A copy of the photograph in the RBCM Archives Dally Album #5 has information along the bottom of the image noting what is in the photograph “herrings drying – rush mat- fish spears – Indian woman cooking – Chinook canoes – Esquimalt Harbour V. Island”.
A copy of this photograph was also in the original photo album of Lieutenant J.C. Eastcott, the surgeon on the ship H.M.S. Reindeer that was on duty at the Esquimalt Royal Naval Dockyard station from 1868-75 (now the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt).
Figure 2. Close-up of Herring fishing camp (RBCM PN905).
Dating and Location of the Photograph
The album, in the possession of A.R. Eastcott, was temporarily loaned to the City of Vancouver Archives in 1958 where the information written on it was recorded by archivist Major James Mattews. This album was also loaned to the Provincial Archives in 1978, and the information copied down by Dan Savard of the RBCM ethnology division on November 23, 1978. They recorded the caption on this image as “Woods Landing, Constance Cove, Esquimalt 1868”. The reference to “Woods Landing” likely refers to the place that Sir Charles Wood, the First Lord of the Admiralty came ashore in 1856. It could also refer to a landing place used by Lieutenant James Wood who surveyed Esquimalt Harbour in 1846 under the supervision of Captain Henry Kellet, but James Wood’s name was not officially given to this location.
Dates placed on photographs long after the image was taken, and by someone other than the photographer, are often subject to error. In this case the date of 1868, is likely correct, and it would have been taken in late February to April of that year during the herring runs. Dally was away from Victoria in the Interior from June of that year and did not return to Victoria until to February 25, 1869.
I was able to identify the location where this photograph was taken by observing the same fishing site location in another photograph of Dally’s (RBCM F-08522), that was undated, but one that must have been taken in 1867 (figure 3). There are five ships in this image. The times they were on duty at the Esquimalt naval station allows us to be specific about the time the image was taken. The ships include the Egmont, Sparrowhawk, Alexandra, Malacca, Shearwater and Grappler. As the Shearwater was only on duty in 1867 the photo must date to that year. The vegetation in this image shows similar growth to that in photograph PN905, suggesting the time separation of a year or less is most probable.
Figure 3. This photograph taken in 1867, by Frederick Dally shows the herring fishing camp in left foreground (RBCM F-08522).
Figure 4. Close-up of photograph (RBCM F-08522) showing the same fishing camp area as seen in figures 1 and 2.
In figure 4, the remnants of many fish drying racks can be seen. Note the large number of upright short posts to the left of the photo and the large framework poles just to the right of centre of the photo at the edge of the bank. The fence-like rails in the background are related to Wood’s Landing and the historic naval wooden buildings to the far left of the photo.
Wooden planks that are held by pegs can be seen at the centre. The planks hold back the midden and create a flat platform for a mat lodge location. Barrels can be seen on both sides of this platform. The large pole framework can be seen in the middle against the back in the same location in image PN905 to the right of the tuli mat shelter.
Note the tiny little Island just on the other side of this point. This is part of what was called “Village Rocks” – as seen in figures 5 and 6.
By knowing what naval construction features were in the adjacent areas and by observing the angle of the two above images and what is in their background, the location can be identified as a small hooked piece of land extending into Lang Cove at its southern entrance.
Image PN905 is looking north-east to the North entrance to Lang Cove. Figure 3 (RBCM F-08522) is looking north, with the Officers Club House on Munroe Head visible on the far right and Ashe Head beyond it. Another image, RBCM F-08538, taken in 1866-67 (based on dates of the presence of the boats) and from higher up shows more of the Bay between Munroe Head and Ashe Head.
The small rock Islet (part of “Village rocks”) off the herring fishing site seen in Figure 3 (RBCM F-08522) can be seen on the far left in RBCM Archives image E-01844 – which also shows the rock formation on the north side of the entrance to Lang Cove as seen in the herring fishing camp image.
Adjacent to Wood’s Landing (on the west side of the hooked piece of land in photograph PN905) is a group of rocks in the harbour called “Village Rocks”. This hooked piece of land with the small bay of the campsite photograph can be seen in the detailed map of Esquimalt Harbour produced by Captain Richards in 1859 (see close-up figure 5). Over the years this area has been drastically altered and is no longer visible. The fact that it was named village Rocks suggests that the survey crew mapping Esquimalt harbour may have observe a group of First Nations camped there – even if it was just a seasonal camp site at the time and not what might be called a more permanent winter village site.
Figure 5. Map showing the small hook of land at Wood’s Landing and Village Rocks. H.M.S. Plumper survey of 1859. Note the larger area called Constance Cove.
The Origin of the name “Village Bay” and “Village Rocks”.
The names of some of the bays and coves changed over time. Several maps produced from 1851 to 1855 show “Village Bay” in Lang Cove or where later maps show Constance Cove.
Figure 6. Small Portion of 1854 “District of Victoria and Esquimalt, Vancouver Island” showing Village Bay at the same location later referred to as Constance Cove. Village Rocks is noted and remains on later maps (Canadian national Archives g.3/96 (N9301).
Figure 7. The name Village Bay is shown here in what later became Lang Cove. Small Portion of Hudson’s Bay Company Archives map T16019 entitled: Peninsula Occupied by the Puget Sound Company. The red marks are naval storage buildings on Thetis Island.
Observations on Photograph Content
Photograph PN905 shows herring fish on wooden drying racks to the left side of the image. A First Nations man, in European style clothes, is standing in front of a tuli (bulrush) mat summer lodge which is located on a built-in flat platform area faced with a board in front. This is the left of the two board faced platforms that can be seen in photograph F-08522. This is an interesting example of the human modification of a shellmidden.
Note the pathway near the right centre that can be seen in both photos. On the right of the mat lodge are poles for fish drying racks. Some of the long ones may be herring rakes (see figures 1 & 2), but the image is not clear enough to identify these. If Dally observed these, his reference to “spears” in his photograph description may have resulted from him seeing the long herring rakes at the site?
Of the three canoes seen in figure 1, the closest one is of a west coast Vancouver Island style, while the outer two canoes with the long pointed bows and sterns are made of the style most common among Salish speaking peoples of the southern Coast of B.C. and northern Washington State. The term “Chinook canoe” used in one caption is now referred to as the “West Coast” style.
Figure 8. Tuli mat temporary lodges. An early 1900, Black and white photograph (private collection) of a Paul Kane painting that was produced during Kane’s visit to the Victoria region between April 8th and June 9th, 1847. The original colour painting is now in the Stark Museum of Art, Orange Texas (cat. 31.78.4).
The Rediscovery of the Shellmidden
In the 1980s, Ernie Colwood of CFB Esquimalt took me to the Wood’s Landing location during construction activities. Here I observed tons of historic debri from previous projects on top of and mixed in with shellmidden.
Figure 9. Buried dense concentrations of Shellmidden. Grant Keddie Photograph.
Figure 10. Ernie Colwood with construction foreman at location of mostly destroyed Herring Fishing camp. Looking N.N.E.
Figure 11. Area of buried shellmidden. Looking North.
A Second herring fishing site in Lang Cove.
In 1851, naval surgeon John Palmer Linton, while visiting on board the HMS Portland, drew a view from the back of Lang Cove (Driver 2013; Driver and Jones 2009). In this image (Figure 12) we can observe, on the far right, a tuli mat shelter with fish drying racks like that in figure 1. This fits the general descriptions of the time about temporary shelters around the edges of Esquimalt Harbour, but no specific mention of this location is in Linton’s writings. We cannot be certain that this imagery was not simply added to enhance the drawing as was a common practice at the time. The added-in drawing of First Nations in canoes near European ships was a common practice among artists.
Figure 12. Drawing by John Palmer Linton in 1851. Constance Cove. Esquimalt Harbour, Vancouver Island. Royal Geographical Society.
Herring and Anchovy Fishing 1843-1878.
In the 19th century, there were both spring and fall runs of herring and anchovy in the Gorge waterway and Esquimalt Harbour. Anchovy bones are common in archaeological sites but overfishing caused their extirpation from this region around the First World War.
In 1865, Frederick Dally described the spring herring fishery in Esquimalt Harbour. During the fishing season: “lodges spring up like mushrooms along the edges of the bays and harbours …When thoroughly dried the fish are packed in bales made of rush mats, each bale weighing about fifty pounds, the bales being tightly lashed with bark-ropes” and carried by horses back to the “winter quarters”. Some of the fish were used “as lamps for lighting their lodges”. The 6 to 8-foot herring rakes had barbs “usually” of bone but “preferably” of nails. They sometimes catch two to three herring on each tooth. (Dally 1865).
Figure 13. This drawing shows the use of the herring rake by Tlingit people near the mouth of the Stikine River in the 1880s (From Elliott 1886:57).
Figure 14. Model of a herring rake in the Ethnology collection of the Royal B.C. Museum.
The first written observation of the Pacific herring in this region was by James Douglas in 1843. He notes that they arrive in April and are “taken in great abundance” in Victoria harbour. In April of 1847, the visiting artist Paul Kane observed:
“The Indians are extremely fond of herring-roe, …Cedar branches are sunk to the bottom of the river in shallow places by placing upon them a few heavy stones, taking care not to cover the green foliage, as the fish prefer spawning on everything green. The branches are all covered by the next morning with the spawn, which is washed off into their waterproof baskets, to the bottom of which it sinks; it is then squeezed by the hand into small balls and dried, and is very palatable.” (Kane 1925:148). A similar description is given by Bayley in 1878. He notes the “immense amount” of herring eggs preserved for winter use. The spawn is deposited on Cedar boughs placed “at low water”, then gathered and taken to camp and “stripped after being dried and put into boxes”.
In 1848, James Wood notes that the most common fish taken in the general area of the Strait of Juan de Fuca were “halibut, flounders, skate, rockcod, sardine [anchovy], salmon, trout, and several varieties of the herring.” Sole and flounder were plentiful in the Royal Roads area off Esquimalt Lagoon where the Songhees “would expose flounders on spits to the sun in order to roast them.” Halibut were once very plentiful on the shallow offshore banks from Victoria harbour to Discovery Island.
The Lekwungen increasingly began gathering resources for others. James Bell described the situation in 1858:
“we are indebted to the Indians for a supply of everything in season …at very reasonable rates; They collect great quantities of Berries,…For a back load of Potatoes they charge one shilling; these they cultivate by simply burying the seed under the green turf; A fine salmon can also be purchased for one shilling; …Cod, Herrings, Flounders &c are always to be had cheap; A large Basket of Oysters one shilling; The market is also supplied with plenty of venison, Deer are quite plentiful, until the arrival of the American Hunters”.
A second seasonal herring run was observed by Captain Wilson in 1858-1859. He noted that during October, and November, “herrings and a species of anchovy appear in great numbers”. In 1867, Edward Bogg describes the fishing technique with the “Herrings and whiting [anchovy]”. A pole (14′ X 3″ X 3/4″) has one edge with “very sharp spikes, made of hard wood, and about two inches long”. The fisherman paddles quickly into a shoal of fish “drops his paddle, picks up his rake”, and “makes a sweep through the shoal” impaling 5 or 6 fish which are dropped into the canoe “by striking the rake forcibly on the gunwale”.
Rev. Owens, after mentioning on September 30, 1869 that the Reserve had been nearly deserted over the past three months, due to the Songhees being away fishing, noted: “The abundance of salmon & anchovies (the latter generally but incorrectly named Sardines) has been extraordinary & unless actually seen would appear incredible”.
The B.C. Guide for 1877-78 says that during the autumn the anchovy “abounds in the harbours and inlets” and is easily taken. Recent studies indicate that the Anchovy may have only been in this area for the last two thousand years. Deep sea drilling in Saanich inlet revealed yearly layers with herring remains over the last 10,000 years, but anchovies only appear in the last 2000 years. Weather this is a pattern that pertains to the larger region, will require further research.
Paul Kane, in 1847, observed many of the temporary tuli mat shelters seen if figure 8. He referred to this image as “Clallum travelling lodges”. Although there were Klallam people from the Port Angeles area visiting the Victoria region during Kane’s stay, he sometimes referred to the local Songhees people in the new village across from Fort Victoria as “Clallum”. Kane may have drawn these tuli reed shelters in Esquimalt harbour, but we cannot be certain if he drew this image at that time of his stay here or later during his stay in what became Washington State. Kane noted in his Landscape log # 74, that “These are only used when they go fishing for a short time” (Harper 1971:314; also see Lister 2010:284-285).It is unfortunate that both Harper (1971) and Lister (2010) miss-identify images of the Village on the Old Songhees Reserve in Victoria Harbour as being in Esquimalt harbour. This was a result of Kane ans others referring to the Victoria West area of Victoria’s inner harbour as being “on the Esquimalt” which was in reference to the Esquimalt Peninsula and not Esquimalt harbour.
Bayley, Charles 1878. Early Life on Vancouver Island. Manuscript prepared for H.H. Bancroft, pp. 28-31. BCARS, E/B/B34.2.
Ireland, Willard (ed). 1948. A Letter from James Bell. In: British Columbia Historical Quarterly, Vol. XII, No.3, July.
Bogg, Edward B. The Fishing Indians of Vancouver’s Island. Memoirs of the Anthropological Society of London, Vol. 3, 1867-8-9, pp. 260-265. Paper Read April 30, 1867.
Douglas, James. 1843. Diary of a Trip to Victoria, March 1 – 2, 1843. RBCM Archives, Ms A/B/40/D75.4.
Driver, Felix 2013, ‘Hidden histories made visible? Reflections on a geographical exhibition’, Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 38: 420–435.
Driver, Felix and Lowri Jones. 2009. Hidden Histories of Exploration: Researching Geographical Collections, Royal Holloway, University of London, and Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), London.
Elliott, Henry W. 1886. An Artic Province. Alaska and the Seal Islands. London. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Riverington.
Harper, J. Russell. 1971. Paul Kane’s Frontier. Including Wanderings of an Artist among the Indians of North America by Paul Kane. Edited with a Bibliographical Introduction and a Catalogue Raisonne by J. Russel Harper. Published for the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, by the University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Kane, Paul 1925. Wanderings of An Artist Amoung the Indians of North America. From Canada to Vancouver’s Island and Oregon Throught the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Territory and Back Again. The Radisson society of Canada Limited.
Lewis, Adolphus Lee. 1842. Ground Plan of Portion of Vancouvers Island Selected For New Establishment. Taken by James Douglas Esqr. Drawn by A. Lee Lewes L.S. Hudson’s Bay Company archives, Provincial Archives of Manitoba G.2/25 (8359).
Lister, Kenneth R. 2010. Paul Kane/The Artist/Wilderness to Studio. Royal Ontario Press.
Owen, H. B. 1868-69. Reports of Rev. H. B. Owen, Missionary at the Indian Reserve, Victoria, to the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 1868 and April 1 to June 30th, 1869, Vol. E26a, pp.833-849 and pp. 851 – 859, Rhodes House Library, Oxford.
Wilson, Captain. 1866. Report on the Indian Tribes Inhabiting the Country in the Vicinity of the Forty-Ninth Parallel of North Latitude. Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London, New Series 4:275-332, London.
Wood, James. 1851. Description of Juan de Fuca Strait. The Nautical Magazine and Naval Chronicle. A Journal of Papers on Subjects Connected with Maritime Affairs, January, London.
It’s a sunny November 14th, 2016. Halloween is a distant memory. Remembrance Day is still fresh in my mind. And now comes the season where shops compete with dreary songs to get us into the shopping, I mean christmas spirit. I used to hate this time of year – the rustle of dry cattails in my favorite swamps, heavy frost, the puddles with their morning skim of ice, the crisp air, Canada Geese flying off like bomber squadrons over the English Channel… It all meant one thing – snow and cold.
Ah what am I saying, I live in Victoria now, we haven’t had snow in my neighborhood for two years now. Winter here is cool and wet, and on warm, sunny winter days you can still find lizards. Yes, the European Wall Lizard is active in winter as long as it is sunny. On November 14th, there were almost as many Wall Lizards crawling around as in summer. They were intent on basking, and given how warm the bedrock was in the sunlight, thigmothermy must play heavily into their winter behavior. Homeowners along May Street in Victoria say that Wall Lizards poke their heads out of rock walls as soon as the sun comes out in January. Other reptiles here emerge by late February to early March; the amphibians of southwestern BC are active all winter. Elsewhere in Canada amphibians and reptiles hibernate until mid-April at the earliest.
As far as I know, the only month where we haven’t seen wall Lizards is December. Guess what my mission is this year?
Wall Lizards from Moss Rocks Park, collected about 12:40 – November 14, 2016. Cataloged # 2125 in the RBCM Herpetology collection
You guessed it – I am on the hunt for the elusive lézard d’hiver. I hope the solstice is sunny and warm… It’d be really fun to find lizards on the shortest day of the year.
Who doesn’t love Lego™? Lego™ is one of the greatest toys ever imagined by the human brain. Kits range from fantastically complicated, to incredibly simplistic. But the underlying element of completeness is the same. The kit must be complete to be built as the instructions suggest, but that doesn’t mean a Lego™ kit stays in its original configuration.
Sometimes pieces vanish – but you can easily find substitutes. The more changes you make, the more obvious those changes become.
It’s the same with nature. Ecosystems are incredibly complicated (such as the Amazon jungle) while others seem simple (the dune sea of the Sahara). Swat one gnat and you won’t see change in an Amazonian forest, remove a gnat species and you still may not see a change. Each missing species is far more obvious in relatively simple ecosystems. Fortunately, nature is resilient and has recovered from repeated perturbation and mass extinctions (the loss of many pieces (I mean species)) all the way to the present epoch (the Plasticcene ?).
When you replace missing parts in a Lego™ kit, the final product will not be exactly the same, but will look reasonable and will hold together. You can look at the instructions to know what’s missing. You can swap parts from other kits (part 302126 is common to many Lego™ models). You can order replacement parts.
In nature there is no list of parts to identify exactly what’s missing, and once things are lost, there is no mail-order replacement. Once something biological is gone, it is irreplaceable. Given enough time though, nature will fill an ecological void and restructure an ecosystem, but the ecosystem will never be the same. A restructured ecosystem may look unchanged to our eyes, but it is different in both function and species composition. Fortunately for us, change is the only constant in nature. Our origin (and subsequent invention of plastic – and Lego™) and our continued existence on this plastic-polluted-planet, is a direct result of nature’s resilience.
The loss of a Keystone Specieschanges the ecology of a region significantly. There are parts in each Lego™ kit which are critical to the model’s integrity, and in this sense, they parallel Keystone Species. Lose one keystone piece and your model won’t be as structurally sound, but will still hold together if there is built-in redundancy – in nature, this could represent the death of one cell in a phytoplankton bloom. You’ll never notice its absence. Organisms die every day and populations muddle on as nature permits.
In this Lego™ model, there are several hinge parts per wing which keep the entire model together – the model has built in resilience. Imagine how the model changes as one by one, more of these hinge pieces go missing? Bit by bit, the wing joint weakens. Hinges have to interact with other pieces of the model to maintain the integrity of the entire population of Lego™ pieces. If the population of hinge parts is depleted, the wings will fall off.
In recent years, large numbers of dead alcids are not an uncommon sight in the eastern North Pacific Ocean. The warm north Pacific conditions from 2012-2015 have correlated with mass mortalities all along the North American west coast. Rhinoceros Auklets and Common Murres have washed up right here in the Victoria region – this is not someone else’s problem. This Common Murre was found this summer and was photographed by Allan Eppler. Wings have fallen from our skies.
The fishes that our alcids eat still exist along our coast – so why are marine birds starving? What piece of the ecolegological model is missing? The recent and rapid decline of plankton communities may be to blame. Phytoplankton feeds zooplankton, zooplankton feeds small fishes, and small fishes feed our alcids.These stumpy birds rely on small fishes like sandlance and herring, and in this way, are indirectly connected to phytoplankton (and so are we). Is the decline in phytoplankton populations having a trickle-down effect? Are local zooplankton and fish populations declining in concert with phytoplankton? Perhaps fishes have moved elsewhere (deeper? offshore?) to track phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms? Fishes may only be out of the range of diving birds at an energetically critical time in the bird’s year? Perhaps fishes are now less nutritious with changes in plankton communities? Is this a temporary change? What will be the feedback effect on the marine community if our alcids disappear? And is this the latest ratchet in our environment – a long-term trend in our coastal community creating the “new normal” for our grandchildren? All questions worthy of study.
Temporary and permanent absence of a species has its effect in nature. The long term decline in oceanic phytoplankton communities has gone largely unnoticed by the majority of people – until its impacts rippled up the food chain and hundreds of emaciated birds washed ashore. Dead plankton sinks into the abyss every day – no one raises an eyebrow. But when a beach is littered with dead birds, we sit up and take notice. Each organism, microscopic or not, is a piece in the ecological integrity of our region, and the loss of each piece changes BC forever. Perhaps a Lego™ model is a poor analogy of the complexity of nature, but we failed to notice the loss of countless smaller parts, and only reacted when a continuing number of larger pieces washed up dead on our shores. I have to wonder what BC’s model will look like in 50 years. Have we already become unhinged?