Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden
The Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden is a new feature in the Botanical Garden. It is an ecological garden, designed to be a sustainable landscape feature, maintained with a minimum of inputs. Most of the plants are summer drought adapted, so irrigation is kept to a minimum. The native range of Garry oak in Canada represents a threatened ecosystem that features significant herbaceous plant biodiversity and historical First Nations influence. The Garry Oak Meadow and Woodland Garden serves as a demonstration space where aspects of ethnobotany, biogeography, local biodiversity, conservation, climate change and horticulture are on view to students, researchers and the visiting public.
Most Garry oak meadow species are spring blooming. Plectritis (sea blush), a winter annual, is generally the first to flower, starting in February and continuing throughout the season as long as it remains cool. Dodecatheon (shooting stars) and Erythronium (fawn lily) are generally next, with Camassia (camas), Fritillaria (chocolate lily), Trillium, Allium (onion), Triteleia (triplet lilies), Lilium (lily) and Mimulus (monkey flower) following the earlier bulbs and forbs.
Flowers on native shrubs and climbers are also prominent and generally spring borne. Arctostaphylos (kinnikinnick and manzanita) are early bloomers, with Philadelphus (mock orange), Sambucus (elderberry), Berberis (Oregon grape), Symphoricarpos (snowberry) and Lonicera (honeysuckle) producing their flowers into late spring. Finally, grasses are often early summer flowering, leaving their brittle seed heads to ripen and shatter along with the rest of the meadow species as the summer drought settles in and all but the toughest plants enter dormancy.
Although Garry oak is not native to Point Grey, many of its associates grow naturally (or grew historically) on the site, and Garry oak itself thrives here. Only about 5% of the original Garry oak ecosystem (GOE) survives in British Columbia, making it one of the most endangered habitats in Canada. The ecosystem is home to a variety of rare and endangered plants and animals; some 100 GOE species (including ca. 50 vascular plant species) are considered “at risk,” according to BC’s Conservation Data Centre. However, the shifting of temperature and precipitation patterns appears to be creating ideal conditions for GOE plants on Point Grey, where UBC Botanical Garden is located. According to Richard Hebda (BC Provincial Museum), “Warming temperatures and long dry summers will likely increase the area suitable to Garry oaks especially at its northern limits of range.”
Historically, Garry oak was highly valued by west coast First Nations people, who consumed acorns and traded them over large distances. Local native peoples also regularly burned over meadows associated with Garry oaks to prevent establishment of woody plants, and manage the production of camas bulbs, an important winter food.
The garden was begun in 2006, following the completion of the main pathway regrading and realignment project. Construction of the new pathway created a number of stepped boulder walls and open areas. Native soil (from construction on South Campus) was applied to all the re-graded areas and plants, exclusively from seed collected in Garry oak ecosystem areas, were installed. Further phases of the meadows and woodland are planned and will be installed over the next few years as plant material and funding becomes available.
Garry oak is native along the extreme southwest coast in rainshadow areas, but there are at least three disjunct populations to the east (outside of the rainshadow) in the Fraser River Valley, including one at Yale, another at Sumas and one (now gone) in the Musqueum First Nation's traditional territory in what is now south Vancouver. These populations are thought to be anthropogenic—i.e., derived from First Nations activities—rather than naturally occurring stands.