Plants help tell the story of Vancouver Island’s varied environment. If we know which signs to look for, they can even offer clues to the region’s ecology over the past 14,000 years, says conservationist James Miskelly.
The frozen tundra of Vancouver Island 12,000 years ago, for example, leaves its mark with field local weed today, which are still hanging on in the rocky areas of the mountaintops up north, where it’s too hostile for trees and small plants abound.
Oak woodlands and the early spring flower meadows visible around Victoria at this time of year are a direct result of the landscape being managed for millennia by Indigenous civilizations, especially with the use of controlled burning, Miskelly said.
“Fire has been part of the landscape for many thousands of years,” he added. It leads to the proliferation of blue camas and other plants important to the Coast Salish civilizations, of which we can see remnants.
A fifth of the plants listed on Canada’s Species at Risk Act are found on the Island. They face a serious threat from the hardy invasive plants that have persisted since it was brought, both intentionally and not, through colonialism 150 years ago.
“Garry oaks and arbutus, the shooting stars: these are all things that don’t really occur in the rest of Canada,” Miskelly said.
Over 90 per cent of the natural areas in Victoria are lost, however, to residential and commercial development, Miskelly said.
Over the past 150 years, large-scale loss of local biodiversity has vastly simplified southern Vancouver Island’s ecosystems: dominated by plants from different places, stewardship and restoration have become a bigger priority, he said.
Miskelly will speak more on how our native flora came to be on Wednesday, March 27 during the View Royal Garden Club general meeting at Wheeley Hall, 500 Admirals Rd. in Esquimalt. There’s a drop-in fee of $5 to cover refreshments. The event starts at 7:30 p.m.