Victoria, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, offers strong support to the growth of coastal native plants. Temperate hardiness zones 7 and 8 and abundant rainfall offer growing conditions suitable to a wide variety of trees and plants. Plants abound in great diversity, and are fostered by local plant societies as they flourish in natural habitats.
Interesting Coastal Native Trees
Although growing zones 7 and 8 can be classified as near-Mediterranean, the iconic British Columbia tree is the evergreen Douglas fir. The variety of Douglas fir growing closest to the coast can reach heights of 50 feet; the inland variety contributes heavily to the forests still carpeting parts of British Columbia. Other trees of particular interest include the Lodgepole Pine (its cones open only in the intense heat caused by forest fires); the American Larch, which looks like an evergreen but loses all its needles in the fall; and the Garry, or Oregon white oak, which grows only from the coast of British Columbia down into coastal Oregon.
Edible Shrubs and Bushes
One distinguishing characteristic of native British Columbia shrubs is the amount of food they provide for animals and humans. While animals seek out snow-, hawthorne- and choke-cherry berries, the number of native fruits available for human consumption suggested a reliable supply of nutrition for the First Americans and early settlers. Sources of fresh fruit include thimbleberry, salmon berry, red-flowering currant and blackberry. Indian plum, Pacific crabapple and both bog and highbush cranberry added further sources of dried or cooked fruit.
An Example of Diversity
The E-Flora Atlas of Native Plants, a developing project, provides insights into the variety of microclimates which plants occupy even in the small town of Victoria and over the province as a whole. Situated on a salt-water island coast, Victoria offers salt air and windy, rocky areas, rich soil with evergreen and heavy shade plantings, sub-alpine meadows and domesticated formal and cottage gardens. The diversity of climatic conditions is echoed in the diversity of even simple wildflowers. Of the 42 varieties of buttercups cited as BC natives by E-Flora, over 20 of them are reported growing in Victoria and its near vicinity.
Additional Local Resources
The Native Plant Society of British Columbia maintains a South Coast district branch, website and newsletter. Based in Vancouver, it sponsors the Victoria Native Plant Study Group and welcomes visitors and members to other activities. Contact the Society to learn about native plants from a slightly less academic point of view than the University of British Columbia and the Royal College of British Columbia at Victoria, both of which maintain extensive information and research facilities for native plants.