British Columbia Rainforest Garden
The BC Rainforest Garden is a signature feature of the Botanical Garden, as it displays plants that are locally native to the area and region. The collections represent elements of the coastal rainforest of southwestern British Columbia and the Southern Interior Wet-belt. The garden area boasts a mild microclimate from its proximity to the ocean, considerable overhead cover from the tall, second-growth conifers, and effective cold-air drainage. Nearly all plants in the garden are derived from plants in the wild or naturally present on the site.
The BC Rainforest Garden is topographicaly diverse, centred around a large, shallow pond. There are boggy spots around the pond margins, as well as extensive upland forested areas. All parts of the garden are accessible by a network of mulch covered trails and wooden bridges. The collections include a wide variety of woody and non-woody, terrestrial, marginal, and aquatic plants, and plants of First Nations ethnobotanical importance. Because of the diversity of habitats and food sources, animal biodiversity is significant. Amphibians, reptiles, insects and especially birds can be seen, and the pond is regularly surveyed by student researchers for its invertebrate populations.
Herbaceous plants in the BC Rainforest Garden spring to action very early in the year, often when frost lingers in the morning. Leading off is swamp lantern with its huge yellow spathes and heat generating spadixes. As temperatures begin to climb, trilliums, false Solomon's seal, fawn lilies and variety of other woodlanders join the floral chorus, just as many shrubs and trees begin to flower. Hummingbirds are regular visitors to red-flowering currant and salmonberry, and in summer, to the Indian paintbrush, red flowered honeysuckle, Cooley's hedge nettle and western columbine. In summer, the pond teems with a huge variety of insects and other invertebrates, including a large number of dragonfly species. Birds and dragonflies, and in the evening, bats, effectively keep mosquitoes under control all summer long.
One of the most iconic plants in the BC Rainforest Garden is a grafted plant, a propagation of the original, celebrated “Golden Spruce” that grew for many years near Port Clements on Haida Gwaii. The tree is slow growing and since the original shoot from which the plant has grown was a side branch, the tree is still somewhat plagiotropic (having the leading shoot inclined away from the vertical).
In the BC Rainforest Garden collection:
- all three Acer (maple) species native to British Columbia: vine maple, Rocky Mountain maple and big-leaf maple
- ten Vaccinium species: Alaska blueberry, dwarf blueberry, thinleaf huckleberry, velvet-leaf blueberrry, oval-leaf blueberry, evergreen huckleberry, cranberry, red huckleberry, bog bilberry and lingonberry
The 2-hectare BC Rainforest Garden (originally, the BC Native Garden) is one of the longest established features of the Botanical Garden. It was was started in 1971 and dedicated to the garden's first director, John Davidson, in 1978. The garden was originally intended to accommodate a substantial and regionally representative collection of the BC flora and the curator made many trips to the far corners of BC to collect plants. In the intervening years, however, the garden's staff was reduced and many of the plants from areas outside of the southwest coast in this garden were lost. Recently, the Garden's name was changed to the BC Rainforest Garden and its mandate was narrowed to represent elements of the coastal and interior rainforests of British Columbia; in other words, plants associated with the Coastal Western Hemlock and the Interior Western Hemlock biogeoclimatic zones. The BC Rainforest Garden is one of four garden features that represent British Columbia's flora. The others are the Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden, the Pacific Slope Garden and the E. H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden.
Thuja plicata (western red cedar) provided First Nations peoples with a variety of uses: bark for clothing and baskets, wood for buildings, boats, fishing equipment, totem and mortuary poles, and green shoots for medicine. Western red cedar is adaptable and long-lived, tolerating conditions from peninsular Alaska south to California, its curtain-like drooping branchlets and foliage well adapted to shade and high rainfall.
Rotting “nurse” logs and old stumps are important for temperate rainforest ecosystems and are common in the BC Rainforest Garden. Essentially, they provide good growing conditions for tree seedlings. Tree and shrub seedlings germinating on the rapidly decaying timber acquire water and nutrients and develop mycorrhizal associations.
Trunks and larger stems of Acer macrophyllum (big-leaf maple) are the licorice fern’s favoured habitat in the BC Rainforest Garden. The rhizomes of licorice fern contain ostadin, a steroidal compound 3000 times sweeter than sucrose. Coastal native peoples used the rhizomes as a sweetener and for treating throat ailments.