Impressions of a preserve

BC Garry Oak (Photo by Tim Ennis NCC)

BC Garry Oak (Photo by Tim Ennis NCC)

April 28, 2014 | by Lesley Marian Neilson | 0 Comments

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC's) Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve personifies old. The gnarled Garry oak trees stand staunchly in a fading fall meadow, resolute in their sense of place. A 120-year-old farmhouse sits among the oaks like a great aunt who still carries the grandeur of her youth despite her sagging lines and weathered skin.

Garry oak, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Garry oak, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

It’s impossible not to be charmed by the Preserve. The first time I visited was in the spring, when the meadows were ablaze with wildflowers. The trees, with leaves still curled tightly in on themselves, loomed above the blooms just waiting for their own moment to unfurl. The setting was verging on an impressionist painting that felt both singular and deeply familiar.

Back when the farmhouse was first built, Garry oak meadows would have been common and plentiful in the Cowichan Valley. The ecosystem was able to flourish at that time thanks to prescribed burning done by the local Coast Salish people, who harvested the carbohydrate-rich camas bulbs as a staple food. Periodic burning of the meadows prevented trees and shrubs from overtaking the meadows in which the camas thrives. This is an ecosystem that needs some intervention in order to remain in its natural state.

But over the past century, much of the valley was developed into farm fields, housing developments and urban centres, all at the expense of Garry oak meadows. Today less than five percent of this ecosystem remains in Canada, and the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve in Maple Bay stands as one of the best examples of a Garry oak meadow anywhere in the world.

Female western bluebird (Photo by Bill Pennell)

Female western bluebird (Photo by Bill Pennell)

When an ecosystem becomes endangered, so too do many of the plants and animals that make their home there. Today, more than 100 species at risk are linked to Garry oak ecosystems. Barn owls, propertius dusky-wing butterflies, and wildflowers such as the yellow montane violet, white-top aster and Howell’s triteleia, are all on the list, and all can be found on the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.

In Bloom Wildflower Festival 

Majestic at any time of year, Garry oak meadows are truly  spectacular in the spring when a profusion of pink, purple, blue and yellow bursts open across the meadows. The In Bloom Wildflower Festival celebrates this springtime splendour, welcoming the community to the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve.

In Bloom Wildflower Festival, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by NCC)

In Bloom Wildflower Festival, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by NCC)

The festival is a free, family friendly event that offers guests a chance to walk around the preserve, which is normally closed to the public. Visitors are invited to wander among displays, storytellers and hands-on discovery stations that bring to life the world of our iconic Garry oak ecosystems.

This year’s In Bloom Wildflower Festival  will be held on Saturday May 3, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. A special nature photography workshop will be held from 8-10 a.m.

For more information about the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve and In Bloom, contact the Nature Conservancy of Canada at bcoffice@natureconservancy.ca or 250-888-404-8428. Or visit www.natureconservancy.ca/bc.


About the Author

Lesley Marian Neilson is the communications manager for the BC Region of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

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