This field guide has been prepared for the enjoyment of Visitors to Tofino Botanical Gardens. The numbers are not necessarily sequential, so don’t worry that you’ve missed something. I have been working on the Gardens since 1997, with much help from many talented people. Most of what may be pleasing in the gardens results from fruitful collaborations with these many other gardeners, artists, friends and neighbors. Their advice has almost always been good, but I am well known to not always recognize or act upon good advice. This is a way of saying that the failures are my own.
The major benefit of gardening is that it encourages humility. Much of the “grand scheme” I started with in 1997 has been left behind in the mud, sweat and tears. Now, I will be a happy man if the Cardiocrinum giganteum (Giant Himalayan Lily) continue to flower. Gardens have three major components: an idea, a place, and an action. The idea of this garden is that it can be both a kind of basic introduction to the natural and cultural history of Clayoquot Sound, and a place where the relationship between culture and nature can be explored.
Gardens, at their best, are places where man collaborates with nature. These Gardens are being developed on a very special twelve acre site. We are bordered on the south by an 80 acre forest reserve. Our shoreline looks onto 5000 acres of protected migratory shorebird habitat. We look across Browning Passage at Meares Island which has been declared a Tribal Park by the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations. To the north and west lie the 750 thousand acres of the Clayoquot Biosphere Reserve. This unique location provides the Tofino Botanical Gardens with enormous opportunities for education and research about our temperate coastal rainforest ecosystem.
Our main botanical collection is focused on the native plants of Clayoquot Sound. About sixty percent of these are already living here on the site. We have begun the task of identifying and labeling these. The blue ceramic markers point out plants that are native to Clayoquot Sound or other parts of Vancouver Island. The collection and acquisition of those native plants not present on site will begin next year.
The Native Plant Collection is dispersed throughout the site. Along the paths we are developing small pocket gardens that will offer some insights into comparative botany. These plantings will focus on temperate rainforest plants from Chile, New Zealand and Japan.
People play an important role in all ecosystems. In recognition of this we are developing four cultural-historical gardens that will talk about the peoples who have settled and left their mark in Clayoquot Sound: The First Nations, The European Settlers of the turn of the century, the Japanese Fishing Community, and the Hippies.
The Kitchen Garden is where it all starts. The very first “gardens” were scratches in the ground wherever the agrarian impulse was first expressing itself. These “gardens were practical, life-sustaining and created much of the basis of what we recognize as culture. To cultivate is to care for, to nurture, it is to stay in one place for a while. It is also to enter into a partnership with nature.
Kitchen gardens are usually placed on the south side of things (buildings, walls, windbreaks, rocks) in an effort to create a slightly warmer microclimate. Our decision to place our kitchen garden on the south side of the café is based on about ten thousand years of experience. This part of the garden is protected from much of the wind by a deep buffer of forest. On days when it is breezy and chilly in “downtown” Tofino, this garden can be pleasantly warm.
Having positioned the garden to capture as much sunlight and warmth as possible, we looked at the ground and said “yuck”. The native soils on the Esowista Peninsula are made up of dense clays overlaid with highly acidic organic materials made up from decomposing plant life. The thin layer of black peat between the root mat and the clay looks very rich but is not. The intense rainfall leaches most of the nutrition out of the soil.
We have had to use “made” soils in most of our cultivated areas, especially the kitchen garden. We mix sharp sand with decomposed shrimp shells (from the processing plant in Ucluelet), with composted fish parts, and with compost from our own operations here at TBG. We also harvest eel grass that blows up onto the garden shore in storms and add it to the mix. I would love to have a donkey to help with this task. Being on the coast these marine based sources of nutrition are an important ingredient. We are still experimenting and learning.
Artichokes have been a pleasant surprise. Leeks, so far, have disappointed. Tofino’s cool, often overcast weather seems to be perfect for all types of salad greens. Culinary herbs, sage, thyme, tarragon, oregano, borage, lovage and more are all producing well. Rosemary and Lavender, two plants that I associate with drier, warmer places, are doing very well.
Without a gardener, the forces of nature, the rain and the incredibly vigorous growth of the native plants, would soon overwhelm this small field. By planting and tending it each year we are not so much defying nature as we are asking it a small indulgence.
All of the produce from the kitchen garden is used by the Sobo’s
or by volunteers.
This garden was not inspired by any particular knowledge of floriculture
or dedication to a particular kind of flower. Rather, I have always admired
the way Vincent Van Gogh painted fields of flowers. The strong lines of
perspective created by the straight, orderly rows contrast with the flowing,
natural curves of the flowers. (Van Gogh’s 1889 painting, IRISES,
sold in 1985 for 39 million dollars. He was not able to sell it during
his own lifetime.). I like the contrast of the lines and rows against
the chaos of the forest and the bright hues of the Iris, Lilies, Gladiolas
and Tulips against the dark greens, too wet, really for much of what we
want to grow. The mounds tend to wash away during the winter rains and
must be built up again in the spring. The rains also leech out much of
the nutrition from the soil so we must continually be adding compost.
(If you are interested in why it rains so much here and how it affects
the people who live here, see the essay on rain at Station 23.) A winter
cap of eelgrass, harvested from the shoreline after a winter storm, offers
some protection for the soil as well as the plants. The Bearded Iris we
planted in Spring 2000 are not doing well. They flowered well the first
year but have weakened each year since. It is probably too wet. Meanwhile
the Siberian, Japanese and Louisiana Iris are thriving. Live and learn.
We do make exceptions to the rule that adults must be accompanied by a child to go into this garden. Making this garden was a lot of fun and involved much creeping and crawling. John Lore built the fort, David Chongo made the trails and boardwalks.
“Unstructured learning” is a big idea in pedagogy these days.
I am not sure what I think about that but I do believe in letting kids
get away from adults and organized activities and “administration”
as much as possible. Bruno Bettleheim advised that access to secret places
during the first 5 years of childhood is critical in the development of
healthy character. Jerome Kagan was concerned about separation anxiety.
Blah blah blah. Sometimes I bore myself silly. Let’s leave it to
Plants have been used for their medicinal properties for thousands of years. The cultivation of specific plants for healing purposes Carmen Bell has been studying the cultivation and use of medicinal herbs for several years. She approached me five years ago with the idea of planting a medicinal herb garden. Carmen is our resident witch and herbalist and now has her own set of herbal products which are sold around Vancouver Island. The plants in this garden are primarily European in origin and represent the western tradition.
A narrow footpath passed by the area where the pond is now located. Even in the driest summer it remained wet, fed by rain runoff and some very slight spring activity up beyond the top parking lot. When Blois Oakes had his excavator in to do the first clearing for the gardens we began to dredge the pond. First we scraped away the logging debris and brush, then the root mat. When we reached the clay bed that actually held the water we began to scrape away about six inches at a time, not wanting to break through the clay to the rock and gravel below as this would allow water to drain out. We reached a depth of about four and a half feet, and then decided to stop.
The result is a natural pond that doesn’t require a liner. There is little or no seepage and the plants are establishing well. I am curious about the depth of the clay bed, but not enough to risk breaking through and losing what we have.
While many of the plants in and around the pond are not native, I have resisted the urge to put Koi fish in the Pond, or turtles. What I wanted were frogs. At night, their sounds remind me of the music of Phillip Glass or the German minimalist rock group called “Trio”. Their calling and croaking is both mysterious and comical. Each spring for the past five years, Gary Marks has brought his elementary school class to the gardens to release tadpoles they have reared from eggs. These eggs are collected responsibly from sites around town that are being prepared for building. They are both Pacific Tree Frogs and Western Red Legged Frogs.
Our frog population has declined over the past few years. Northwest Salamanders
abound. They are known predators of frogs. A government commission has
been struck to look into this issue.
Jan Janzen claims to be a regular guy from the interior. Most of us know
that he is a tall Hobbit. Jan has created many beautiful structures in
the area. They are basic and refined, organic and designed. Jan’s
structures range from elegant woodsheds to an absolutely amazing house
over by Chestermans Beach that he has been working on for the past decade.
Like the work of Gaudi, who would have been a great patron of this work,
Jan’s Structures, fences, sheds, outbuildings, residences, gazebos,
pergolas, are unique, handcrafted works of art. This Gazebo is a wonderful
place to spend time, doing something or doing nothing. People have been
married here, books have been read, poems written, paintings painted,
photographs taken. Some people comment that it seems Asian, other that
it is botanical, a seed pod or flowerlike. It’s just Jan Janzen.
The Story telling Hut and the often unseen sculpture of the Draiad out
near the Cardiocrinums are also Jan’s work
The West Coast is not a noted fruit producing area. It just doesn’t get warm enough. However, I love the look of the old apple trees that dot the coast, telling stories of hope and perseverance. Encrusted with lichens, broken down by the weight of mosses, struggling to hold onto a patch of light among the encroaching salal, salmonberry and alders, these old homestead apples endure and forbear, good life skills for any living thing on the coast.
There are exceptions to the poor production rule. The Quince trees we planted three years ago produced lightly in their second year. There is a ten year old plum on the driveway into the Red Crow Guest House that is, in its own way, dependable. It produces exactly one delicious, golden plum per year. I was told of a peach tree in a pot on a float house out in the Sound that provides delicious peaches year in year out. Go figure.
Berries are a different story. Strawberries are abundant and delicious, particularly a variety named Nanaimo which deserves to be served with Dom Perignon. Raspberries, loganberries, blueberries, gooseberries, and currants all do well here.
This area has been planted with a small collection of plants of Chilean origin. The climate and terrain of southern Chile is very similar to that of Clayoquot Sound. Interestingly the forests of Chile evolved in a very different way. While our northern forests evolved as coniferous ones, in Chile Broadleaf evergreens became the dominant forest trees. Naturalists and botanists have been fascinated by Chile for centuries. Darwin spent time there during the voyage of the Beagle. More recently, Harold F. Comber explored and collected, introducing many species into horticulture. Two plants that thrive in Tofino originated in Chile. Fuchsias grow larger and flower more brightly here than anywhere, and Gunnera is said to get bigger here than they do in there native habitat. Gunnera have been planted in the area for so long that many people think they are native.
The Chilean plant garden is meant to be a short course in comparative botany.
TBG’s Institute of Parallel Studies is dedicated to truth rather than fact. We agree with Federico Fellini who said that the only true realist is the fantasist. It is in this spirit that we present Gigantopithecus tofinianum, Tofino Man. The following article appeared in the April 1, 2005 edition of both the Westerly and Tofino Time. While neither of these publications are peer reviewed scientific journals, you may read them with the utmost confidence.
The Tofino Botanical Gardens (TBG) Institute of Parallel Paleontology has made a major discovery at an undisclosed site within the Tofino Mudflats Wildlife Management Area. Fragments of a large “hominid-like” skull have been excavated during a three year, highly secretive project conducted by world renowned parallel paleontologist Professor I. M. Mendacious of the University of Luridistan.
“This is tremendously exciting,” says Professor Mendacious. “We have recovered and restored approximately 70% of the fragments of the skull, more than enough for a complete forensic reconstruction. Our physical anthropologiststs are working on this reconstruction at our laboratory and feel confident it will be ready for the April 1st unveiling at Tofino Botanical Gardens.”
The skull fragments were found in a sedimentary deposit of the late Miocene to early Pliocene epoch, exactly when the first hominids begin to appear. “The skull we have reconstructed is, shall we say, very large; larger than any hominid or ape discovered to date. The brain cavity is correspondingly large. The creature carrying this head around was two to three times our size and possibly six times more intelligent!” says Professor Mendacious.
The shape of the skull allows us to offer a few tentative speculations on the cognitive faculties of what we are calling Gigantopithecus tofinianum or “GT”, for short. Reverse mold shadowing techniques have allowed us to determine that GT’s brain is not only larger but qualitatively more advanced than our own. The cerebral cortex is proportionately larger than ours, and the area of convoluted cortex is about four times as large. This indicates tremendous capacity for complex reasoning well beyond our own and memory capacity equivalent to a Kray supercomputer. The first question that comes to mind is “If you were so smart, why are you extinct?” Additional questions might be “Are you really extinct? Did you just pack up and leave? Does high intelligence result in diminished survival capacity? Do you watch hockey?”
Professors Mendacious also adds “I do not exaggerate when I say that this is the single most important discovery in Parallel Paleontology since man began thinking about his origins. The contributions made by Leakey’s magnificent work at Olduvai Gorge in East Africa, Zalacain’s well known discoveries on the Baja Peninsula, and the Field Museum’s Chinese expeditions pale before what has been found here. Piltdown Man is “kleine pataten” compared to this! The existence of this skull will change the way we Homo sapiens see ourselves”.
“While we recognize that there are possible connections between this discovery and the kind of large hominid referred to locally as Sasquatch, the Institute is doing all that it can to avoid sensationalizing this find. We are concerned that Sasquatch “researchers” will immediately jump to conclusions that our discovery in some way lends credence to some of their more spurious claims” says Professor Mendacious.
It is TBG’s policy to neither confirm nor deny that several large hominid-like creatures were sighted by credible, trained biologists during the Mudflats Expedition of 2004-2005. “This is Tofino. It is very likely that what the observers really saw was a man dressed in shaggy fur, on stilts, playing a didgideroo, cross-country skiing across the mudflats in the fog,” says Elvin Whitewash of the Supernatural BC Ministry of Prevarication.
TBG’s Director, George Patterson, concluded with a few cautionary remarks. “ These are some remarkable discoveries but it must be understood that mainstream Science has always had difficulties with the work of Parallel Science. I urge the community to be calm. Report any sightings of large hominids to the By-Law Enforcement Officer, but first confirm you are not looking at Chris Taylor or Adam Buskard. Do not approach the creature under any circumstances. The Raincoast Education Society is preparing a set of workshops on “Living With Other Hominids in Clayoquot Sound”. Above all, remember that most of these sightings of Gigantapithecus tofinianum, which we neither confirm nor deny, have been recorded from the Bird Blind right here at TBG.
Note: These skulls are the work of Vancouver artist and Teacher, George Rammel. A reception for the artist will take place in August, 2005.
Hishuk ish ts'awalk *
Think for a moment about the immigrant settlers arriving on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the late 1800's -- how they must have looked at this forest and how it must have seemed self-evident that any soil supporting such enormous trees must be extraordinarily fertile. They came ashore, took up their pre-emptions, and discovered in due course that the ground is mostly sand, gravel or clay. There's no humus. Any soluble nutrients are quickly washed away by the heavy rainfall. It's awful soil.
So, what accounts for the luxuriant growth of this forest? Turns out that the tremendous accumulation of dead wood in old growth temperate rainforest -- admirably illustrated by the log in front of you -- is not the waste it might seem. The dead wood serves as a savings account of organic material, nutrients stored in an insoluble form. But how do living plants get access to those stores? Answer: With a little help from their friends.
This log is a world in miniature. It may be home to billions of organisms --- microbes, plants, and animals -- most of them devoted to the business of decay, helping to process the dead wood into a form that living plants can use. If you look around, you'll see that nearly every living tree is rooted in the decaying remains of a fallen log, sometimes called a nurse log. Older trees often show a space among their roots, once occupied by an ancient nurse log, now long gone.
The living tree, in return, provides shade, humidity, shelter from the wind -- in short, the very climate that the decay crew requires. It nicely illustrates once of the principles of rainforest ecology -- that any living community is shaped by interactions between species and individuals. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. More poetically, that there is a web of life linking everything here to everything else. Remove one of the species and you alter the whole character of the community.
For further reading please see the article, Journeys, by Frank Harper, in the Tofino Botanical Gardens Sourcebook.
DAVID PITT-BROOKE*Nuu-chah-nulth expression embodying the concept “Everything is One”
The world of Rhododendrons and Rhododendron growers and aficionados is a huge one. We have a modest goal of building up a collection of species (not hybrids) with interesting foliage. The initial collection was donated in 2000 by Terry Chapman of Port Alberni.
One of the most outstanding collections of Rhododendrons in the world is right here in Tofino, but not here at TBG. Ken Gibson was born in Tofino and has spent his life here. And much of his life has been dedicated to studying and growing these spectacular Asian plants. Ken’s garden, on the left side of Fourth Street going up the hill, has more than 1500 species and cultivars and includes several hybrids that have only flowered here in Tofino. The cool temperatures, the many overcast days and Ken Gibson’s persistence and patience have combined to create an amazing place.
George Fraser (died 1944, fifty years ago this year) was another local rhododendron grower. Originally from Scotland, he moved to Ucluelet in 1894 and purchased 236 acres of land for $1/acre. He was an eternal optimist, as most plant hybridizers are, experimenting with rhododendron hybrids such as the one eventually named after him. Rhododendron ‘George Fraser’ is a cross of the native Rhododendron macrophyllum and the east coast native R. maximum, seeds of which were mailed to him by a friend in Pennsylvania. He also created Rhododendron ‘Mrs. Jamie Fraser’, after his sister-in-law (R. arboretum x R. macrophyllum x R. arboretum), as well as many other varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, honeysuckle, gooseberries, cranberries, and roses. In 1924, he planted a Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’ by the St. Columbus Church in Tofino, which is now taller than the church! George Fraser’s legacy has inspired the District of Ucluelet to celebrate his life every May, with a 10 kilometer “Rhodo Run,” a “Rhodo Tea,” and a rhododendron interpretive walk and drive.
The gardens of Clayoquot Island Preserve, originally designed by Betty Farmer and Jo White, have been restored and expanded by Sharon Whelan and Chris Taylor. Mary MacLeod’s garden just off Olsen Road at the Mini Motel, Ruth White’s classic cottage garden opposite Weigh West. Arlene McGinnis and Ruby Bernard have made lovely waterfront gardens on the inlet. And there are many more. Bill Vernon, Yvonne Bond, Beverly Arnet, and Phoebe Jensen.
George Patterson and Josie Osborne
These Giant Himalayan Lilies (Cardiocrinum giganteum) really are George’s pride and joy. “Discovered” in 1821 by world-renowned Danish plant hunter Nathaniel Wallich in the eastern Himalayas, many adventurous gardeners have taken the financial plunge (about $35 CAN per bulb) in this amazing plant, hoping to reap its rewards. The stout leafy stemmed bulb spends anywhere from two to seven years, depending on geographical location, gathering the gumption to put out an 8 – 10’ spike with creamy white 6-12” long trumpet shaped flowers. After two or three weeks blooming, the petals fall to the ground and the swelling ovary lengthens and fattens, turning from its formerly drooping aspect to an upright, bright green seed pod. The flower stalks age beautifully in the fall, and if the weather remains dry, the seed pods will split open to send shimmering drifts of seeds to float to the ground. Well, that’s the idea.
The plants before you were planted in early 2001, putting out several small leaves that were promptly attacked by slugs. We had no idea whether the bulbs would make it through our winter, but they did and in 2002, the leaves were large, glossy and obviously photosynthesizing away to store more energy in the bulbs. In 2003, the bulbs produced the much anticipated flower spikes, and by July 2003 we had nine blooming lilies, the tallest at 13’, with 15 “scentsational” creamy white flowers. Locals and visitors alike were not too shy to pose in front of the flowers for cameras!
Alas, the fall weather was too wet to produce “shimmering drifts of seeds,” so we dried the seed pods indoors and scattered the seeds throughout the Gardens. After the bulb flowers, it dies (like salmon that die after spawning), but rather than having to plant a brand new set of bulbs, the old bulbs produce offsets, which are what you see before you.
2004 revealed one, much shorter stalk (three weeks earlier than last
year). Disappointing in one way, but at least something came out. It will
probably be several years before the bulbs are repeatedly fertile –
issuing forth many stalks every year!
Vancouver landscape designer and nurseryman, Thomas Hobbes, coined the phrase “zonal denial” for those gardeners that are always pushing the envelope with regards to what can be planted where. My own experience has so far been that plants will always surprise with their tenacity. Cougar Annie’s Garden is filled with perennials that had “disappeared” for 30 years, choked out by salal and salmonberry. Peter Buckland’s chainsaw-gardening gave them some light and they are back in bull strength after a long hibernation.
I have done some traveling around Central and South America, and lived in Costa Rica for some time. Walking among banana plants in a light breeze is, for me, one of the best landscape/garden experiences one can have. Of course, lying in a hammock hung between two coconut palms is not bad either. Both experiences bring out my true indolent nature.
Tofino is considered to be in Zone 9 for gardening purposes!!! The problem is that even though it never gets very cold here and rarely freezes, neither does it get very warm. Tofino has the warmest winter temperatures in Canada and the coolest summer temperatures. It is the very definition of temperate. (We do, however get an immoderate amount of rain, about 135 inches per year.)
Before you are several tropical species, including the Japanese fibre banana Musa basjoo. This is not a fruit producing banana, in fact producing the tiny fruits that it does tires the plant out so much that it dies (like the Himalayan Lily). Fortunately, the banana produces offshoots, as several of our bananas have done. Other banana relatives around the Gardens (such as the red leafed Abyssinian banana Encete ventricosum, near the frog pond) are simply buried in pots and pulled out for storage in the greenhouse over winter.
We have several varieties of ginger (Hedychium), which dies back completely
in the winter and flourishes again in the late spring. We had some doubts
about the rice-paper plant Tetrapanix papyrifer over its first winter,
but not only did it come back it is now producing offsets like the fibre
bananas. Unfortunately only a few of the taro root (Colocasia esculenta)
made it past their first winter in 2001, so we’re not sure about
its long term viability in Tofino. Come back in 20 years.
I lived in Tofino for nearly five years before I learned that there has been a vibrant community of Japanese families living here from 1915 to 1942. During the 1920s and 1930s there were more Japanese settlers here than European. Both Tofino and Ucluelet had Japanese schools. Japanese fishermen, called Nikkei fishermen meaning “of Japanese descent,” were responsible for developing many of the innovative fishing techniques still used by fishermen today. For example, Nikkei fishermen modified the traditional hook and line gear used on trollers so that sockeye salmon could be caught. The first fishing cooperatives were also Japanese. Nikkei fishermen modified vessel designs with higher and wider sides so that waves could be traversed more easily. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Canadian government ordered Japanese people to internment camps in the interior of British Columbia and in Ontario. Most of their belongings were confiscated and many Nikkei fishermen never came back to the coast. A few Japanese families do remain though, in Ucluelet. Doug Kimoto, from Ucluelet, is still fishing.
The Japanese Garden is a project I hope to begin soon.
A forest is more than a collection of trees. To understand this ecosystem, it's important to think of the whole community. Our fascination with very large, very old trees distracts us from the complex web of life in a temperate rainforest -- we cannot see the forest for the trees. Still, it's hard to ignore the charismatic megaflora -- nor would we want to.
For one thing, the presence of very old, very large trees distinguishes mature, old growth temperate rainforest from immature, second growth forest. Temperate rainforest takes centuries to mature, as rapidly developing second growth gradually settles into stable patterns.
The presence of very large, very old trees also distinguishes temperate rainforest from tropical rainforest. Tropical rainforests certainly support some very large trees, but tropical species tend to be short-lived and individuals never achieve the mass of these temperate giants.
Biologists measuring the mass of mature tropical rain forest come up with a figure around 400 metric tons per hectare. A young Sitka spruce/ western hemlock forest yields about 1200 metric tons per hectare. Mature Douglas fir/ western hemlock forest can go over 1600 metric tons per hectare. The coastal redwood groves of California are estimated to tip the scales at over 4000 metric tons per hectare --- almost ten times the mass found in a similarly sized patch of jungle.
Tropical rainforests and temperate rainforests might both be described as ancient ecosystems, though in very different senses. Even though the trees in tropical rainforests are short lived, those ecosystems have been in place for many millions of years. This temperate rainforest, in contrast, has been in place for only a few thousand years -- since the last ice age -- but the trees themselves are ancient. The very organisms you see have been living with one another for centuries. It's the difference between an ancient city, constantly rebuilt so that all structures are relatively new, and a relatively young city with many well-preserved ancient buildings.
Notice the tiny seedlings growing in the shadow of the old trees. That's
another defining characteristic of old growth forest. Second growth forest
supports a relatively uniform population of young trees. Old growth has
an enormous range of age classes growing at one time -- from tiny seedlings
to enormous ancient trees.
In late May and June, the weather turns wet and stormy again. Nature, it seems, has decided to forgo summer, slipping directly back into winter. Deborah at the Bakeshop calls it Junuary. But if you can keep the rain out of your eyes, you'll find it a most vivid season. All the deciduous trees and shrubs are clothed in perfect foliage, freshly washed and bejewelled, without the wear and tear that summer will bring.
At this time of the year you might want to scan the forest canopy with particular care and interest. This is nesting season for marbled murrelets. Marbled murrelets are smallish seabirds -- bigger than a robin, smaller than a pigeon. Like most auklets, they feed on invertebrates and tiny fish, diving for their prey. They use their wings for propulsion -- flying along underwater like tiny penguins. Winter plumage is a formal black and white. Summer plumage is camouflage brown.
Until about ten years ago, marbled murrelets were an ornithological enigma. They are by no means uncommon along the coast of British Columbia, but ornithologists couldn't find a single nest. Then, in the Carmanah Valley, not far south of Clayoquot Sound some tree climbing biologists solved the mystery. Way back in the forest, high in the canopy, nestled into a mossy pad, were the eggs of a marbled murrelet. No-one had imagined the little seabirds travelling so far from the ocean. Adults come and go in the dark of night. Their secretiveness -- and hidden nests high in the canopy -- seem to keep predators from taking too high a toll. Numbers of nests have been found since that time, all on moss pads in massive old trees. Marbled murrelets, then, are one of those species which have an absolute requirement for old growth rainforest.
This elevated viewpoint offers a fine view of the canopy. Look for a level branch on one of the older trees. Invariably it has accumulated a hanging garden of mosses, ferns, flowering plants, shrubs, and even some smaller trees. Epiphytes, ecologists would call them, plants growing on other plants.
Whole populations of plants, insects, vertebrates spend entire lives
up there, never going anywhere near the ground. Indeed, much of the life
in this rainforest community is found in the canopy. Explorer Alexander
von Humbolt, writing about tropical rainforests, called the canopy "a
forest above a forest". William Beebe called it "another continent
In the dark days of December and January when the southeast wind howls across the treetops, the air down here is oddly still -- at least until the rain begins. The forest comes awake in the rain, alive with the sound of water dripping from the trees, splashing onto the moss and earth below.
Even when it rains, the hollow in this western red cedar stays remarkably dry. Most big cedars have some rot at the base, many are quite hollow. That doesn't seem to be a problem for the tree. It's simply in the nature of the plant. Old cedars also display a good collection of dead leaders, like battle trophies. Western red cedars are extremely long-lived (barring accidents) and tenacious. When one leader dies, they simply put up another. As long as the plant has some healthy bark running up the trunk and some living foliage in its crown, it can survive for centuries. But these cozy, dry hollows are a Godsend for any animal looking to get out of the rain. Black bears especially seem drawn to them as winter dens.
This is wonderful country for black bears, incidentally. Food is plentiful, a riot of fresh salad in spring, berries in summer, salmon in fall. In between times, there's always the intertidal, a banquet by itself. Winters are easy with little snow or ice. Even so, it's rare to see a bear in December or January. Evidently, they still enjoy a little snooze in the winter -- force of habit, I suppose. And why not, especially when western red cedars provide such dry and tempting shelter.
Western red cedars also provide for many human needs. This species was critically important to the first nations in Clayoquot Sound. Bark became fabric and rope. Roots and withes became baskets. Planks provided shelter. Cedar traps caught salmon. Canoes sculpted from cedar logs went out in pursuit of whales.
Culturally modified trees (CMT's) are still a feature of the landscape. Women took long (up to 60 ft.) strips of bark from younger trees, leaving scars that can be seen hundreds of years later. Men split boards from living trees by cutting two horizontal grooves on the trunk, high and low, starting a split between them, inserting wedges and allowing wind and the swaying of the tree to do the rest. Donor trees usually survived and can still be identified. Look for CMT tags throughout the gardens.
Western red cedars are shade tolerant, moisture loving, insect resistant,
and very long-lived -- just the characteristics they need to thrive in
this environment. Thousand year old western red cedars are common in Clayoquot
Sound. Wild-fire is rare on this side of the mountains and long-lived
plants have a competitive advantage. Once a cedar becomes well established
on a particular spot, it can hold that piece of ground for over a millennium,
shutting out shorter -lived species.
Summer is a good time to visit the Tofino Mudflats. Try to catch the low tide on a nice day in August. It's likely that Chesterman Beach -- a little further south on the outside of the Peninsula -- will be shrouded in fog. But the warmth radiating from the forest is enough to evaporate the mist. Over here, the air will be clear, the sun bright and hot.
The dark expanse of mudflat acts as an enormous solar trap. The temperature here can be many degrees higher than at Chesterman Beach. As the tide rises, seawater flowing across the warm mud becomes almost tepid -- irresistible for children. It's a fascinating place to explore, full of bizarre life forms hidden beneath rocks and buried in the mud. But be warned. Playing on the flats is a messy business. That mud is every bit as gooey as it looks.
The space of seashore over which the tide rises and falls is called the intertidal zone. It's a remarkable environment, rich with the resources that marine organisms require, but fraught with severe challenges as well -- exposure to air and desiccation, predation and competition, the crushing and shearing force of the surf.
These mudflats are a particular type of intertidal environment -- the estuary. Estuaries develop wherever significant amounts of sediment-laden fresh water mix with salty, nutrient-rich seawater, usually around the sheltered mouths of rivers and streams. Chemical and physical interactions cause minute particles to precipitate, hence the mud. Estuaries take many forms -- mud flats, salt marshes, sloughs, and eelgrass meadows. They comprise some of earth's most productive and useful environments.
More sheltered than most intertidal environments and rich with nutrients, estuaries support a luxuriant growth of vegetation. They provide food and shelter to a wide range of animal species, notably the detritus feeders.
Decomposition of organic material releases soluble nutrients and breaks the insoluble material into minute particles. Drifting about, these particles of detritus become coated with organic molecules and bacteria. The coated particles serve as food for filter-feeding animals -- clams, for example -- and substrate ingestors like annelid worms. These animals digest what they can, and excrete the insoluble particles to begin the cycle anew.
Life isn't all a bowl of cherries for estuarine animals and plants. Organisms
must cope with tremendous fluctuations in salinity, temperature and oxygenation.
Never the less, a great many marine and terrestrial animal species depend
upon estuaries at some point in their life-cycle, often as juveniles.
And others -- well, others just collect some fun and nice memories.
These are Western Red Cedars, Thuja plicata, long lived forest giants, rich in economic and cultural significance. Our cedars are actually in the cypress Family, Cupressaceae, and are not related to the “true” cedars which are in the Pine Family. The three cedar species are native to Lebanon and Israel, the Atlas Mountains and the Himalyas.
But Western Red Cedars we call them and Western Red Cedars they are. And what a tree it is! Shade tolerant, moisture loving, insect resistant and structurally sound, they often live for more than 1,000 years. These ancient trees develop a huge girth and gradually come to support vast communities of other plants and animals. Walking through the gardens you will see Large Western Red Cedars hosting big Sitka Spruce, Hemlock, clumps of salal and cynamocka, colonies of ferns, mosses and lichens. Across Browning Passage on Meares Island is the famous and beloved Hanging Garden Cedar, The Wailing Wall of wilderness lovers.
In the mid-1980s Russ Mittermeier, primatologist and President of Conservation International coined the phrase “Charismatic Megavertabrates” to describe the large, dramatic, well known, easily loved, species that had become the trademark species of the environmental movement. Complex environmental issues were easier to explain by saying “Save the Whales”, or “Save the Grizzlies”. Elephants, Pandas, Dolphins were symbols that large numbers of people could rally behind.
Gradually this focus on single species conservation has yielded to the ecosystem approach. You will not save the Grizzly Bear without protecting its habitat. It is a way of thinking that should be expanded into many issues. Our government makes a big commitment to “eradicating childhood poverty” as if the suffering of childhood poverty can be dealt with as a separate issue from Family poverty, or, indeed, Canadian poverty.
Back to the Western Red Cedar, the charismatic mega-conifer of Clayoquot Sound. The culture of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest developed the way it did because of the Cedar. Salmon was caught with cedar traps, whales hunted from cedar dugout canoes, goods stored in cedar boxes, shelter, clothing, art, cosmology all grew out of cedar. There are so many excellent books on this subject that I will leave it.
Almost. Culturally Modified Trees, CMT’s are trees that have been
utilized in some way by the First Nations people. Long strips of cedar
were traditionally pulled from living trees for material to make rope
and fabric. These were usually younger trees from which long (up to 60
feet), uninterrupted strips could be had. The scars can be seen hundreds
of years later. Another “modification” was to take wide boards
for use in long house construction, using a system of wedges. The trees
usually survived and evidence of this technique can be seen on them for
hundreds of years.
In late April or early May, whenever the weather clears along the outer coast of Vancouver Island and the wind comes round to the northwest, thousands of shorebirds settle onto the Tofino mudflats to wait for the next southeasterly gale.
There are whimbrels and godwits. There are dunlins and black bellied plovers. There are dowitchers, sanderlings and tiny western sandpipers. Every single one of them is in the midst of an incredible journey northward from South America, Central America, the Caribbean. Some will travel as far as the high Arctic to breed.
The distances are so immense that they dare not battle a headwind -- they haven't sufficient metabolic fuel. When conditions are favourable, they can stay aloft for days at a time, covering hundreds of miles at a stretch. But when the wind blows contrary, they must get down out of the sky to rest, eat, and wait for the next ride.
There are precious few good stopping places along the coast of British Columbia. Mountainous, glacier carved slopes, heavily forested, drop straight into the ocean. The number of really substantial estuaries can be counted on the fingers of one hand and few of those remain pristine.
Fortunately, this one has some protection. Approximately 2000 hectares of mudflats, estuary and forested upland have been designated as a Wildlife Management Area by the Province of British Columbia.
The shorebirds can be seen most easily at high tide, when rising water forces them off the mudflats, where they've been foraging, and concentrates them along the shore. In places the ground is carpeted with a packed mass of little birds, preening, stretching, constantly chattering to one another -- seasoned travellers taking a break from their long journey.
These mudflats are critical habitat for wintering waterfowl too. January and February are the best months for viewing, but spring and fall migration are also good. Summer is relatively quiet for bird watching until the shorebirds return, headed south. They start coming through in July -- first mature females, then mature males, and finally the young of that year making that first epic journey, all on their own.
For further information on the birds of Clayoquot Sound, please see the
Tofino Botanical Gardens Sourcebook and the article by Adrian Dorst.
This seventeen foot canoe was made by Joe and Carl Martin of the Tla-o-qui-aht
First Nations in 1991. The canoe is hewn from a single log with only the
carved bow and stern pieces added. Over the past decade there has been
a renaissance of canoe building among First Nations peoples of the Pacific
Northwest. Sea Journeys from Alaska to Oregon have been completed in canoes
with ten to twenty paddlers. These canoes are the embodiment of the profound
cultural connections First Nations people feel between the forest and
The Evian is a 37’ classic double ender West Coast salmon troller. She was built in 1946, and fished the waters of Clayoquot Sound for more than 50 years. Originally named “Stevanger,” she was bought by Bob Foster in 1952 who renamed her “Evian” and went on to land about a million pounds of salmon before donating her to Tofino Botanical Gardens in October 2000. With the assistance of Mike Wright (local shipwright) and a team of six local youth, we have permanently dry-docked her (Bob’s condition of the gift!), restored the hull, deck, and wheelhouse and allowed visitors to step aboard (we also added the black safety railing, that would have impeded the fishermen!).
Our plan is to collect authentic fishing gear and create an exhibit that provides visitors with knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of salmon fishing on the West Coast of Vancouver Island during the latter half of the 20th century. Photographs, interpretive panels, and hands-on materials will be presented outside the shelter and in the boat. Our emphasis will be the everyday working life of the salmon troller and her crew, from sipping tea as the left the dock in the early morning to dock talk with other crews after a day reading the weather, finding fish, baiting hooks, hauling catches , and repairing gear.
The Evian represents a class of boat that is rapidly disappearing from
the west coast. Thirty years ago, there were hundreds of these type of
fishing boat working the waters of the coast. Collectively, the salmon
trollers were called the Mosquito Fleet, a fleet of small, independently
owned and operated boats that provided families with a decent living.
As the salmon fishery declined and seine boats (which catch and hold more
fish than trollers) became more common, these boats have ended up sunk,
burnt, abandoned, or permanently tied to the dock. A few have been converted
to liveaboards, yachts that people live on year round or cruise during
A Novel Garden
An amazing discovery!
Early in December 2000, David Chongo (who has worked with me on the gardens from the start) and I uncovered a pile of boulders that seemed out of place. I dread using the expression “Imagine our surprise”, but imagine our surprise. This was not particularly notable at first, given that the site has been logged and moved over with heavy equipment. Gradually, however, it became clear that some of the stones had been stacked and arranged, some appeared to have been roughly cut to shape. Further clearing showed they had once formed a rectangle approximately four feet by six feet. With all apologies to government’s “Heritage Branch” (which should have been notified immediately), I began a survey of the site. The survey has revealed (or, begun to reveal) the presence of a simple residence with a complex of outbuildings, sheds and structures, that is, a homestead!
The discovery of this homestead site is tremendously exciting in itself. More important, however has been the discovery of two metal boxes, buried in what had been the foundation of a chimney, filled with remarkably well preserved correspondence, drawings, photos, maps and various papers. An international effort to restore and translate these documents has begun. Many are in Spanish, some in English, a few in French and German. Writings in a fifth language utterly perplexed me until David, who is a Shuar native of Ecuador identified it as an Andean dialect of Quechua, the lingua franca of the pre-Columbian Inca Empire.
The portrait of a man emerges…
A portrait of a remarkable man who settled here before the turn of the
century is emerging. We believe he was named Bernardo O’Higgins.
Many Chileans and Peruvians moved to California during the gold rush of 1849 (see Isabel Allende’s book Hija de la Fortuna (Daughter of Fortune)) and it now seems likely that the son or grandson of the first O’Higgins (Don Bernardo) was one of these fortune seekers and followed in the wake of the original Spanish explorers to Clayoquot Sound. A small pouch of coins found in one of the metal boxes indicates that our O’Higgins made several trips between Chile, Peru, Mexico and Canada. Some tattered payslips suggest that our O’Higgins worked at the Dunsmuir coal mines in Nanaimo for a time and was involved in the labor unrest there in the 1880’s. A search of public records throughout Vancouver Island has turned up no mention of a Bernard O’Higgins. This is a mystery. We have, in our minds, a voluminous correspondence. We know that he was here in Tofino building, working, and carving out a life, yet there is no bureaucratic record of his existence.
Who was this mystery man?
Really, we know very little about this man, if, in fact, he existed. The letters we have been able to translate from the original Spanish present a perplexing chronology. Some are dated as early as 1851, others as late as 1927. Handwriting changes could indicate a man growing old, or there could be two men - O’Higgins Sr. and O’Higgins Jr.? One fabulous, the other fantastic. Some of these issues may be clarified when we begin work on the documents written in Quechua. David Chongo has sent for a Quechua-Spanish dictionary originally published in the early 17th century by a Jesuit missionary in Peru. I am reminded that during World War II, US military cryptographers used the language of the Navajo Indians of the American Southwest to send top-secret messages. Possibly these letters were written in Quechua to assure O’Higgins that certain information or ideas remained private. Political intrigue, buried treasure? Again, we do not know.
Why is there no mention of him in the village records, why no affectionate tales among today’s old timers such as we have for Fred Tibbs or Cougar Annie? Perhaps “settler” is not the word we should be using. Perhaps he was hiding, plotting a restoration of family political power in South America? Recovering from a broken heart? Perhaps Bernardo O’Higgins exists only as the alligator in the pond exists, or as Don Quixote de la Mancha exists...or even Kurtz. Perhaps at the turn of the century in Tofino, Bernard O’Higgins had not found paradise, but instead had lost it. Perhaps Clayoquot Sound was, for him, as it has been for many who come here, a temperate coastal Heart of Darkness.
There are many people I must thank for guidance and inspiration, and for opening my mind to thinking about gardening as an act of myth-making, and gardens as a place to exercise the individual and collective imagination. Just a few are:
Juan Marichal, Professor of Hispanic Literature at Harvard University
Luis Diego Gomez, Director of the Wilson Botanical Garden, San Vito, Costa Rica
Michael Dennis, Sculptor, Denman Island, British Columbia
Patricia Patterson, Painter, Sister, Leucadia, California
George Patterson, September 2001
You are standing on the Esowista Peninsula at the southern end of Clayoquot Sound, one of the rainiest places on earth. In Tofino the average Rainfall is 135 inches per year, more than ten feet! I capitalize the R in rainfall out of respect, awe and a bit of fear. Dallas, Texas gets 36 inches/yr, Paris, France 23.9 inches, Hamburg enjoys 29.7 inches of rain.
The TBG has the highest Rainfall of any botanical garden in the temperate zones of the world, which creates an interesting set of challenges and opportunities. Precipitation, fog, mist and cloud cover are some of the dominant characteristics of this place, and it makes sense that we understand why it is so wet here.
Polar air masses migrate south in the autumn. Traveling for days across relatively warm ocean, it warms and moistens. The Vancouver Island Mountain Range acts as a rainmaking device. As the air mass moves from the ocean towards the continent, the mountains force it up. As it rises it cools. Colder air can carry less water than warmer air, it condenses forming clouds or fog and perhaps (usually in our case) precipitation. The east side of Vancouver Island gets less than half the rain as the “Wet Coast”.
Most of our Rainfall comes during the Winter, but Spring can be damp, the Fall is also moist and the Summer is not dry. The expression” I’m bailing out of here” may have originated in Tofino, as many residents develop a desperate need for dry, sunny weather by late February.
A great part of Clayoquot Sound’s mysterious beauty come from the layers of fog that settle among the ridges, along the shores of islands, above the inlet and on the peaks of mountains. Rowing or paddling into a think bank of fog incites an adrenalin rush filled with fear, joy and awe. The relief and exhilaration of coming out of the fog where you can barely see the bow of a sixteen foot kayak into brilliant sun and distant views of islands and coastal mountains will never be experienced in an IMAX theatre seat.
The volume of water that falls upon the land is the prime ingredient
in the extremely high biomass of our forests. The weight of living things,
the trees, shrubs, mosses, insects, birds etc. in the temperate coastal
rainforest you are standing in is higher than any other type of forest
in the world. Yes, even higher than tropical rainforests.
Georgia O’Keefe’s career was based on her paintings of Calla lilies. Our North American Skunk Cabbage is from the same family of plants, the Araceae. In March, April and May the cadmium yellow flowers thrust up from the wettest places in the forest. The name implies a noxious smell but I think it rich, musky and not unpleasant. It is hard to avoid remarking on the frankly sexual look of the flower, and much poetry and painting has celebrated its voluptuous unfolding.
The yellow flowering Skunk Cabbage, Lysichitum americanum, is native to Clayoquot Sound, and appears in wet spots throughout the gardens. Look around the pond for some close relatives we have planted. L. camchatchensis, an Alaska native is almost identical, but with white flowers. Some Calla Lilly hybrids have been planted to show how much variety ambitious hybridizers have introduced.
Skunk Cabbage is appreciated in Europe as an ornamental garden plant,
having been introduced into horticulture there in the early 1800’s.
Charles Darwin may have known the plant, and would have been fascinated
by the subtle strategies the Family has developed to attract pollinators.
The European species, Symplocarpus, evolved a putrid smell to attract
caprophagal flies and beetles (dung eaters). The true callas have a sweet
smell that attracts sugar-loving pollinators such as bees. Lysichitum
seeks out the middle way with its complexly rich odors that attract both
bees and beetles. The odors released change with the temperature throughout
the day, corresponding to the kind of pollinator most likely to be roaming
about at that time. This adaptation increases the likelihood of reproduction
and makes our skunk cabbage a hardy competitor for a place on the forest
Thank you to the Vancouver Foundation for their support in the development of this Field Guide.
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