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Why BC's Provincial Flower Doesn't Grow Here


It’s a strange kind of local’s pride, seeing how long you can go without a trip down to Vancouver. This past weekend we broke our winter-long streak and went to the Big Smoke.

This is a great time for some drive-by botanizing from your car. As you descend from Whistler to sea level in Squamish, a drop of 670 metres, you also advance in seasons. Whistler was still between seasons last week, covered in its drab post-winter brown. The first hint of spring showed up around Pinecrest where the alders were leafing out. By Squamish, everything was green.

One reason I love this time of year is that our flowering trees all of a sudden pop out of the woodwork. The pinkish flowers you see on small trees beside the highway are native cherries. The hanging greenish-white pendants are the flowers of broadleaf maple. The bright white clusters framed by shiny green leaves are arbutus flowers (there’s lots of them south of Furry Creek).

But the flowering tree that really signals spring to me is Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), our Provincial Flower. (BC’s official tree is western redcedar. You’ll have to ask someone else why Pacific dogwood is classed as a flower.)

Whistlerites have no shortage of dogwoods, but not the same one. We have bunchberry (C. canadensis), a small understory plant in many of our forests. And we have red-osier dogwood (C. stolonifera), the red-stemmed shrub common to many riversides and horticultural plantings. But no Pacific dogwood.

You’ll find Pacific dogwood on either side of the Whistler divide. South of here, you’ll start seeing them — always in sunny spots — around Daisy Lake. North to Pemberton, there’s a great display each spring across from the entrance to Nairn Falls. So why don’t they grow here? Because they need more heat and longer growing seasons than Whistler can offer.

Whistler’s not alone in its lack of representation of our Provincial Flower (I love capitalizing that!). The dogwood tree is actually a really bad choice for a Provincial Symbol — it only grows in the southwestern corner of BC, in an area probably less than 10 percent of the province. If we wanted a better choice for a Provincial Flower, why not bunchberry? It grows throughout BC. Plus, it’s not a tree.

Continuing on the same theme, isn’t it time Whistler adopted its own Official Symbols? Here are some early nominations (Oscars-style).

Flower: Skunk Cabbage.

Tree: Whistler Spruce.

Mammal: Hoary Marmot.

Fish: Dolly Varden or Cutthroat Trout (nominated by Paul Beswetherick).

Bird: Common Merganser (nominated by Heather Beresford), or maybe Green Heron.

Amphibian: Tailed Frog.

Gastropod: Banana Slug.

Insect: Mosquito.

If you have a nomination, please get it to me (932-8900; The Whistler Naturalists are going to lobby Council to adopt official symbols for our town. That way, we can make sure our symbols actually live here.

Written by: Bob Brett


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