Two colors invariably jump to mind when you say “British Columbia”: green and blue. Just about everywhere you travel in British Columbia you see trees, trees, and more trees—around two-thirds of the province is forested. But the types of trees differ in each geographic and climatic region.
Coastal regions are dominated by temperate rainforest, which requires at least 1,000 millimeters (40 inches) of rain annually and is predominantly evergreens. This biome is extremely rare: at the end of the last ice age it is estimated that 0.2 percent of the world’s land area was temperate rainforest. Only 10 percent of these forests remain, 25 percent in British Columbia. This forest is mostly hemlock, western red cedar, and Sitka spruce.
Arbutus (known as Pacific madrone in the United States) is an evergreen hardwood distinctive for its red bark and glossy oval-shaped leaves. It grows near saltwater at the southern end of Vancouver Island and on the Southern Gulf Islands. Forests of Douglas fir thrive in drier areas of the coast. Engelmann spruce is common throughout the interior at subalpine elevations. The interior also supports a mixture of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine in the south; interior western hemlock in the southeast; aspen and lodgepole pine in the central reaches; subboreal spruce, birch, and willow in the north; Sitka spruce in the west; and white spruce and black spruce in the northeast.
The Queen Charlottes’ rainforest is thickly covered in spongy pale green moss, which grows alongside coastal Douglas fir. In the region’s subalpine areas you’ll find mountain hemlock.
The official provincial floral emblem is the Pacific dogwood, a small tree sporting huge clusters of cream-colored flowers in spring and bright foliage and red berries in autumn. The tree is a protected plant in British Columbia; it’s a punishable offense to pick from it or destroy it.
In summer, British Columbia turns on a really magnificent floral display. Wildflowers every color of the rainbow pop up on the roadsides: white and yellow daisies, purple lupines, pale pink and dark pink wild roses, bloodred Indian paintbrush, orange and black lilies, red and white clover, yellow buttercups, to name but a handful. And if you venture off the beaten track and up into the alpine meadows, the floral beauty is hard to believe. You can pick up a wildflower guide at most any local bookshop, and most of the national park visitor centers stock brochures on wildflower identification.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition