Falsebox (Pachistima myrsinites)
The sunny days this past week have certainly accelerated the arrival of spring. For the most part, though, the promise of greening grass and new buds has yet to be translated into many flowers.
The only conspicuous flowers so far are on skunk cabbages and willows (Salix). The willows are attracting more activity than a single woman in Garfinkel’s at closing time, with almost every flowering catkin occupied by a bee, wasp, fly, or butterfly. Falsebox is also flowering now but, due to its modest appearance, is easily overlooked.
Falsebox is one of many unobtrusive evergreen plants best seen before they’re hidden by the foliage and flowers of other plants. Falsebox grows on acidic soils, often under coniferous trees, and occupies an ecological niche here similar to that of salal (Gaultheria shallon) on the coast. The leathery leaves of both species are prized by florists as a backdrop for showier plants.
While it’s true the glossy, toothed leaves of falsebox are beautiful, now’s the time to look closer and also enjoy the delicate flowers. Almost hidden in the greenery, the flowers look like tiny Maltese crosses with their four maroon petals offset by striking yellow stamens. And, as hinted in the scientific name, the flowers emit a tantalizing (apparently myrrh-like) scent.
Falsebox is found in Whistler on dry to moist sites from valleybottom to subalpine elevations. To find falsebox now, look for a bushy low shrub (less than one metre tall) in drier parts of the Valley Trail. Those already flowering will be most common on sunny, south-facing sites.
Nature rewards those willing to investigate its smaller creations, and bending down to see and smell falsebox flowers is well worth the effort.
Written by: Bob Brett