Weeds to Wildflowers
On Vancouver Island we typically expect to see the classic temperate rainforest ecosystem that has become so emblematic of the west coast. There is another unique ecosystem that is beginning to gain more notoriety and awareness for its biodiversity, beauty, and unfortunately its shrinking distribution. This ecosystem includes the only native Canadian oak west of Manitoba, the Garry oak (Quercus garryana). The Garry oak is a key species in this system, and so it is called a Garry oak ecosystem or sometimes a Garry oak meadow. These meadows used to be widespread throughout southwestern BC and were both culturally and biologically important. Now less than 5% of functional Garry oak ecosystems remain, and many of those left are isolated in pockets far away from one another.
To be functional an ecosystem must include all its elements, and to create a real Garry oak ecosystem it must include more species than just the Garry oak trees. A complete Garry oak ecosystem is one of the most biodiverse in Canada, and when the meadows are in full bloom they are certainly one of the most beautiful. With the decline in their distribution, and the increasingly patchy distribution that is left, many people have begun to take notice and look for ways to bring back this ecosystem and the over 100 at risk species that call it home.
Incorporting Garry oaks and other associated plant species in lawns and other green spaces is one way that we can have a large impact on the survival of Garry oak ecosystems. This can not only increase the total distribution of these ecosystems but also create better connectivity and corridors between areas. This connectivity allows each individual area to rely on each other and builds an overall healthier system. The meadow that these species create is adapted to the local conditions on Vancouver Island and once established will support hundreds of other species. In open areas, whether they be deep or shallow soil, a Garry oak meadow can often thrive. The native wildflowers create beautiful scenery and can be a replacement for open spaces often filled with grass, weeds, or invasive species.
If you are interested in learning more about Garry oak ecosystems the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team (GOERT) is a great local resource. If you are interested in how you can incorporate a Garry oak ecosystem sustainably and functionally into your space visit our sustainable landscape design page or contact us with any questions or ideas. Together we can create beautiful, bountiful, and valuable outdoor spaces.