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NatureSpeak Articles

A Whistler Safari

Let me guide you on a journey through Whistler’s spring savanna: a place where delicate combos of colourful foliage and old-growth forests form an ecosystem unlike any other in the world.

The land between the low elevation watersheds and snow-capped mountaintops of B.C. is home to 2,500 vascular plants. That’s not to mention 464 mammals, 10,000 fungi, and 35,000 insects!

You can imagine why walking through Whistler’s temperate rainforest can be so spectacular: It’s alive!

Allow me to show you an assortment of common spring bloomers….

We start our tour by swimming towards the marshy shores of Alta Lake, were you will begin to experience the sweet, sickish smell of skunk cabbage; the first bloomer to poke its head through the snow early in January. The yellowish-green leaves, a delicacy for hungry bears (and a laxative), can reach 1.5 metres long by 0.5 metres wide. Surprisingly, this widespread wetland plant derives enough heat to melt the snow around it!

Swimming towards the mouth of the River of Golden Dreams, you will notice a variety of aquatic plants situated on the outskirts of the wetland. Consider these plants employed – their job is to buffer waves before they hit the shore, preventing erosion from damaging important soils of the riparian zone. Common shore-side plants include cattail, floating-leaved pondweed, scouring rush, and yellow pond lily.

Although fragile, wetland plants remain extremely adaptable to the conditions they withstand. The yellow pond lily, blooming mid-May, has been noted for its unique flexibility, enabling delicate roots to move freely with currents and waves. The pond lily is identified by its green floating leaves and large yellow flowers. Well used by the First Nations in B.C., this miracle plant is renowned for its ability to treat colds, tuberculosis, ulcers, heart conditions, even cancers.

Let’s jump in a kayak and paddle down the serene channel of the River of Golden Dreams. Water levels are exceptionally high due to the turmoil of spring run off, originating from heavy snow melt and glacial recession in the high alpine. Although this poses significant risks of flooding certain areas of the valley, most wetland plants contain sponge-like spores that can absorb great amounts of water. Not only does this prevent flooding, the plants are able to retain extra water for drought season.

As the river narrows, be sure to duck forward to avoid being struck by the overhanging branches of the willow tree. In late April, the white fluffy "pussy willows" become very abundant alongside rivers and streams. This widespread shrub contains salicylic acid in its leaves and bark, a natural ingredient to the ever-popular aspirin.

We are reaching the faster flowing sections of the river, and it may be tempting to grab the branches on the riverside. Be sure to keep you hands in the boat, or you may encounter the prickly wrath of the Salmonberry. It’s pinkish-purple flowers bloom mid-April and mature to yellowish-red berries just in time for groggy bears ending their hibernation in May. They are also a tasty snack for hungry caners.

We are approaching the end of our tour along the shores of Green Lake, another fragile wetland area. Please respect this area as you exit the boat, as you’ve learned on this trip, every plant and tree plays an important role in sustaining Whistler’s eco-community.

Nightfall is upon us as the wind begins to howl, and blizzards of cotton balls twirl gracefully through the sky. The pleasant fragrance released from the sticky buds of the Black Cottonwood tree is a true sign of the arrival of spring.

Upcoming Events:

April 5: Monthly Bird Count- Meet at the bottom of Lorimer Road at 8 a.m.

April 5: The Whistler Astronomy Club presents GALAXY QUEST Star Party! All night at Cal Chek Campground. The best time to view the Virgo Cluster of galaxies and the planets Jupiter and Saturn. E-mail for more info.

Written by: Monica Dupas


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