The Arbutus tree (Arbutus menziesii), also known as the Pacific Madrone, is a striking sight along the western coast of North America. Their range stretches from from southern Vancouver Island down to Mexico, including pockets throughout the Salish Sea including Howe Sound. It can be seen clinging to rocks and cliffs, typically growing within 1.5 km of the ocean. It is the only tree-sized member of the heath family (salal and blueberries) and the only native evergreen broadleaf in Canada.
The Importance of the Arbutus
In B.C., Arbutus grows in the Georgia Depression ecoprovince, which compromises the unceded traditional territories of many First Nations; among them the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, Saanich, and Tsawwassen. The Arbutus is traditionally valued by Indigenous peoples, with the bark and leaves being used for medicines.
Arbutus is an integral part of its ecosystem: it attracts pollinators, feeds and shelters local and migratory birds, and reduces soil erosion. Arbutus grows best in undisturbed habitats where it is allowed to prosper in peace. In recent years however, the tree has been suffering the effects of fungal leaf blights, human encroachment, climate change, and drought. To help protect Arbutus trees for future generations we can take individual and systemic action to minimize climate change and reduce habitat loss.
The Georgia Depression Ecoprovince
The Georgia Depression ecoprovince comprises the southeastern Vancouver Island Mountains, the Nanaimo Lowlands, the Gulf Islands, the Fraser Lowland, and the Salish Sea. It is a large basin, sheltered to a degree from the wind and rain by the mountains on Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula. The Georgia Depression is home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna. Of note is the diversity of bird species: it is home to 90% of all species known to occur in the province, including the only resident populations of Barn Owls and Anna’s Hummingbird in British Columbia. The ecoprovince is also the near-exclusive home to species such as the Vancouver Island Marmot.
A Productive and Diverse Ecosystem
There are four distinct marine environments in the Georgia Depression, resulting in one of the most biologically productive and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. The Georgia Depression has the longest growing season in all of British Columbia, and as a result much of the lowland area has been turned over to agriculture. The Georgia Depression is home to the majority of the population of B.C. and therefore has suffered considerably from urban development and increased infrastructure, putting the habitat of beloved species like the Arbutus at risk.