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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada

Discover Rainforests

Find the Rainforest Habitats

Rainforest is everywhere in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada! However, the type of rainforest you find depends on the soil's nutrients and ability to drain water, how close you are to the ocean, wind blown sand, and the activity of humans. From the spruce fringe to the cedar-hemlock forest, this is a rainforest composed of a wide variety of habitats or biological communities.

Where Can I Find Them?

Wickaninnish Trail
The Wickaninnish trail winds through a variety of rain forest habitats
©Parks Canada / B. Campbell, P-2 / 1983

The Wickaninnish Trail provides an excellent opportunity to see spruce fringe, cedar-hemlock, bog and disturbed forests side by side. Noticing that you've moved from one habitat to the next can be difficult as they blend gradually from one to another without sharply defined boundaries.Some plants and animals are found in only one biological community, but others you can find almost anywhere in the forest. Many of the animals such as the black bear and the north western crow depend on more than one community. Plants like salal and western redcedar can be found throughout the communities, but watch how they change depending on their environment. Other organisms, like the seaside centipede lichen, are found only within very specific areas of one community type.


The Spruce Fringe

The spruce fringe forest is moulded by ocean winds
The spruce fringe forest grows within reach of the ocean's salt spray
©Parks Canada / S. Suddes / K-6 / 1980

The spruce fringe forest grows within reach of the ocean's salt spray. Sitka spruce can tolerate high levels of ocean spray and abrasive wind-blown sand so this tree dominates the edge of the coastline. Notice how it is bushy and small closest to the ocean, gradually becoming bigger and taller as the less exposed trees grow closer to the forest, creating the "fringe" effect. Except for the banks of some coastal rivers, the Sitka spruce is rarely found inland where it loses its salt-tolerant advantage. Salal is another hardy species that can withstand the coastal conditions. Together with the Sitka spruce, salal forms the windpruned and twisted forest known as krummholz that protects the inner forest from the full force of Pacific weather systems.


The Cedar-hemlock Forest

Cedar-hemlock forests contains some of Canada's largest trees
Ferns and mosses hang from the branches of the cedar-hemlock forests
©Parks Canada / M. Hobson / K-8 / 1986

The cedar-hemlock forest (composed of western redcedar and western hemlock trees) is found where the soil is relatively well drained, the air is protected from the ocean's salt wind, and humans have not caused significant disturbance.This is the forest that people most often picture when they think of Canada's temperate rainforest: ferns and moss hanging from branches, a jumbled understory of plants reaching for precious light, and the distinctive candelabra-like tops of western redcedar crowning the forest.


The Bog

A blanket of fog shrouds the shorepine bog
Still water and sphagnum moss characterize the poorly-drained soils of the bog
©Parks Canada / G. Osborne / K-9 / 1987

Standing (unmoving) water and sphagnum moss characterize the poorly-drained soils of the bog.
Over time, sphagnum moss increases the acidity of its environment. Only specially adapted species can survive in the sphagnum bogs. Look at the shape of the shorepine tree and you will see the effects of acidic environmental conditions.
Although muskeg is usually thought of as a more northern habitat, about 45% of the Long Beach unit of the park is muskeg. In some ways our muskeg is a blend of the cedar-hemlock forest and the bog. It's not quite as open, wet, and acidic as the bog, but it's not quite as dense, dry, or productive as the cedar-hemlock forest either.


Disturbed areas

About 1/4 of the land area in the Long Beach unit of the park was commercially logged prior to the Park's establishment.
©Parks Canada / S. Suddes / S-2 / 1982

Any area significantly changed by human action or by a relatively recent natural occurrence is considered a "disturbed" area.
When streams change course, hillsides slump or high winds blow down multiple trees, we say an area has been naturally disturbed. Human disturbance can be seen where there are logged areas, forest plantations, trails, parking lots, campgrounds, First Nations village sites, harvesting areas, past homesteads and roads. For example, about 1/4 of the land area in the Long Beach unit of the park was commercially logged prior to the its establishment.
Disturbed sites are often sites where introduced species (species not from the area) can get a foothold in a community. Sometimes the species are accidentally brought in, such as the Scotch broom seeds that are spread along roads and trails by cars or people, but other times the introduction is deliberate, such as when Douglas fir and rhododendrons are planted, or house cats are abandoned.

Regardless of how they arrive, introduced species can impact native populations and significantly change a biological community.

Sand dunes

Coastal sand dunes can be found behind Wickaninnish Beach
Coastal sand dunes act as a boundary between the beach and the forest
©Parks Canada

Coastal sand dunes form where relatively low-lying land extends inland behind beaches subject to strong onshore winds.
Behind Wickaninnish Beach the land is low enough for the wind to pick up sand and blow it onshore, forming the most extensive sand dune complex on Vancouver Island.
Coastal sand dunes are a shifting boundary between the forest and the beach. As the wind continues to push the dunes further into the forest, even the growth of a single plant such as Kinnikinnick may tip the balance, as the forest tries to establish plants that anchor the shifting sands.