Flowers, Plants, and Trees on Vancouver Island
As you cruise around Vancouver Island and the neighbouring Gulf Islands of Canada’s west coast, you won’t be able to ignore the beautiful array of plant life surrounding you. Vancouver Island is a naturalist’s dream, with so many different types of flowers, plants, and trees growing from the rugged coastal shorelines to the deepest, lushest rainforests.
Here is a quick look at some of the flora you’re likely to spot while boating in the Pacific Northwest around Vancouver Island.
Trees on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island is home to some of the largest trees and most impressive old-growth forests in the world—well worth a day trip inland. Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park features some of the world’s largest and oldest Spruce and Cedar trees. Easier to access, though much busier — is Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park with towering Douglas
Firs that reach up to 9 metres in circumference.
Sitka Spruce: An iconic image on the West Coast, the Sitka Spruce is an evergreen coniferous tree with thin, scaly bark. It can be identified by its flat, sharp needles and 5-9 cm long cones that range from yellowish brown to reddish brown.
Western Red Cedar: The Provincial tree of BC, the Western Red Cedar is another evergreen coniferous tree. For many years, the Native groups of Vancouver Island have used the lumber and pliable bark for making everything from clothing to dugout canoes. This tree prefers a cool, coastal climate and can live up to 1,000 years.
Douglas Fir: Actually a type of pine, the Douglas Fir has bright yellowish-green needles, and can be identified by the spiral pattern of needles on the twigs. The cones are typically a purplish-brown colour, with an interesting pattern of rounded scales and three-pronged “bracts” which look almost like the back legs and tails of little mice.
Arbutus: The eye-catching Arbutus is a broadleaf evergreen which can be easily identified by its crooked stature, reddish, peeling bark and smooth leaves. Arbutus prefer sun and dry soil and grow along rocky bluffs and outcrops. White bell-shaped flowers bloom in late spring, and an orange, waxy fruit appears in the fall.
Garry Oak: The only native oak species in the province, it’s quite rare and found only along the Pacific Northwest and in California. Like the Arbutus, it prefers dry, rocky hillsides and plenty of sun. Also like the Arbutus, it has a twisted, dramatic looking trunk and branches. In the fall, the tree produces small acorns, and its shiny green leaves turn yellow.
Flowers on Vancouver Island
Wild ginger: This groundcover has shiny green heart-shaped leaves. One flower, ranging in colour from deep red to light green, grows between two of these leaves. This plant is commonly found in forested areas and is named for the strong gingery taste of its roots.
Oceanspray: Typically about 3-10 feet high, Oceanspray is a dramatic shrub with cascades of white/cream coloured blossoms. It can grow just about anywhere—from dry rocky soil to the moist rainforest. Its wood is known as ironwood since it becomes stronger when heated in fire.
Nootka Rose: A perennial beauty, this plant grows 2-10 feet high and can be very invasive. It produces plenty of pink flowers that fill the air with a delicate floral scent, as well as rosehips that can be used to make teas, jams, or jellies.
Western Trillium: Trilliums on the West Coast take up to 10 years to bloom and flourish in the spring. The older the plant gets, the deeper the three-petaled blossom becomes, changing from white to pink to a deep burgundy.
Pacific Bleeding Heart: With fern-like leaves and heart-shaped flowers, this plant typically grows 10-20 inches tall and can be found blooming in late spring, surrounded by ferns. A great source of food for hummingbirds and butterflies, it grows at sea level and midway up mountains.
Plants on Vancouver Island
Salal: An evergreen shrub and traditional food plant, salal is found near the coast all the way into the deepest rainforests. The edible dark berries can be eaten fresh or used to make jams and jellies. It’s also a top pick for florists, with a thick, waxy green leaf that retains its colour long after cutting.
Sword Fern: Invasive but beautiful, this evergreen grows up to 5 feet tall and each plant spreads to about 4 feet wide. Its textured green fronds grow in a triangular shape and cover the shaded forest floor.
Sea Asparagus: Found on calm shorelines growing between rocks, this perennial has fleshy stems that reach up to 30 cm long. Like many plant species found in the Pacific Northwest, it can also be used in all kinds of recipes, and is typically pickled and paired with seafood.
Kinnikinnik (Bear Berry): A low evergreen shrub with rounded leaves, this plant is found in dryer areas and grows up to a maximum of 15 cm high. It produces white/pink flowers in the spring and red berries in the winter, but these dry, mealy berries are best left to the birds and bears.
Coastal Strawberry: Native to the Pacific Northwest, this plant looks like a typical garden strawberry plant, but the small, juicy berries are a lot sweeter, making them a great treat if you’re out for a hike in the woods. For a true Coastal Strawberry, look for white blossoms and red fruit with yellow seeds.
Tall Oregon Grape: Up to 8 feet tall, these plants resemble holly, with their shiny, spiked leaves, but the resemblance ends there. The leaves change to a bronze or purple colour in the winter, and it produces clusters of bright yellow flowers as well as sour dark blue berries in the spring and summer months.
These are just a few of the hundreds of species that can be spotted on the coast and surrounding woodlands. Though many are edible, please use caution and be sure you can identify the plant first. To learn more, there are plenty of great guides both in print and online that list the many native plants on the West Coast.
At Van Isle Marina, we have decades of experience out on the water and have spotted plenty of the plants listed above, both from shoreline excursions, and from the decks of our motor boats and yachts.
Come and see us – we are your Pacific Northwest boating experts and will be happy to show you around our docks!