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Trees of Vancouver

Natural Cover

HIS NEW PRODUCT PROVED TO BE A GREAT SUCCESS AND SOON, ‘DOUGLAS’ FIRS – MORE A BRAND NAME THAN A BOTANICAL CLASSIFICATION – WERE IN DEMAND THE WORLD OVER.

There is an undeniable greenish tinge to the city of Vancouver. Few vistas of its soaring towers do not also take in soaring mountains behind them, and you are just as likely to see water bubbling from tributaries into rivers as you are cars and trucks flowing from sliproads onto rivers of tarmac. The urban sprawl edging its way ever further up the flood plain of the Fraser River might be as grey as any other, but the hills that climb quickly to peaks around it seem a good deal greener than average. Even in the greyest, most furred up artery leading to Vancouver’s heart, trees (the heroes of this story) are never far away. They fringe the city’s beaches, throng its parkland, haunt its busy junctions, and crowd along its expressways. Pressing in on it from all sides, their whispering presence is insistent and even unnerving; this is very much land on loan from Mother Nature. Fir, yew, cedar, maple, birch, alder, hemlock, spruce, pine; the names of Vancouver’s oldest and most watchful inhabitants wash over it and through it like poetry. Each tree has its own history and folklore, inextricably interwoven with the story of the region.

No visit to Vancouver would be complete without an understanding of its most charismatic citizens, so here is a guide to those with the biggest personalities. As any seasoned traveller knows, it just doesn’t cut it to be a cool observer. To really get under the skin of a place, you have to walk like a local, talk like a local, shake your foliage like a local.

Sitka Spruce – Picea sitchensis

Feel like a sitka spruce by; placing one foot in front of the other, knees slightly bent. Think light and springy. Hold your arms out out at 45o, fingers pointing jauntily to the ceiling in the style of a Balinese dancer. Breathe in, broad smile, and poised for action!

Height: maximum 100 metres
Lifespan: up to 700 years

The sitka spruce is one of the Pacific coast’s best known citizens, and also one of its most travelled. As well as being found in its native home – a narrow strip of forest in the fog belt along the north west Pacific coast – it may also be encountered in great swathes of the British Isles and continental northern Europe. This beautiful tree with its blue green needles is fast growing, so its wood serves the needs of a hungry building industry. Light, strong, and flexible, it also carries sound waves well. It is not only shipped across the world in the form of plywood for construction and shipbuilding, but also finds its way into musical instruments, from pianos to violins. Its name comes from the Lingit term shee at’iká, meaning ‘people from the coasts of Baranof Island’, located in the Alaskan panhandle. Like other indigenous people of the region, the shee at’iká used the roots of this tree to fashion watertight hats and baskets as protection against the inevitable rain. In a wonderful example of etymological circularity, Baranof Island is now more commonly known as Sitka Island.

Yellow Cedar – Thuja occidentalis

Put on your best yellow cedar smile by; standing with your ankles together and your toes pointing outward, for a slender silhouette. That’s third position, for the ballerinas amongst you. Hold your arms loosely, with the elbows slightly bent and the fingers floppy. Breathe in and relaaax. A conical hat or hairdo, if available, adds authenticity.

Height: 10 – 25 metres
Lifespan: Up to 4,000 years

The leaves of this most laid back and louche of the cedar clan are blueish green, and its bark is greyish brown and scaly. All of which begs the question, what makes the yellow cedar yellow? The golden hued wood of this particularly long lived and slow growing species is straight-grained, and surprisingly expensive. It finds its way into bridges and timber framed houses for its strength, and into window frames and doors for its attractiveness. Longevity is a key feature of its personality, and the wood is highly resistant to decay. It is traditionally used for items intended to be passed on from one generation to the next, such as masks and bows, or those which come into contact with water, such as cooking vessels, paddles, and boats. Its bark (which, incidentally, smells of potato skins) can be woven into cloth for bedding, and its leaves, which have an aroma of apples when crushed, may be used for incense. Its oil is used in traditional medicine to treat complaints from gout to venereal disease. The occidentalis in the yellow cedar’s Latin name means ‘western’, and true to form, this tree is only found west of the Coast Mountains.

Bigleaf Maple – Acer macrophyllum

Make out you’re a bigleaf maple by; standing with your feet shoulder width apart, and jutting your hips suggestively. Hold your hands up, fingers splayed, elbows bent at 90o, monster style. Back-comb your mane out, and practice your best rockstar snarl. Think Mick Jagger.

Height: Up to 36 metres
Lifespan: 180 – 200 years

Trees of Vancouver
Trees of Vancouver
Trees of Vancouver
Trees of Vancouver
Trees of Vancouver

Further reading