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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada

Spruce Fringe

Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis)
Sitka Spruce dominate the coastline
These trees can reach the towering height of 70 metres! ©Parks Canada / K-6

Three clues will help you identify this tree.

1. Where it grows: Is it right beside the ocean? This tree can survive the salt wind off the ocean much better than other trees. Because of that, it dominates the coastline.

2. Its size: Is it big, really big? The Sitka spruce commonly grows to 70 metres tall and 2 metres in diameter and may live 800 years. The tallest recorded Sitka spruce is also Canada's tallest recorded tree! It's in Vancouver Island's Carmanah Valley (which backs onto the West Coast Trail), and it's 95 metres tall! However, right behind the beach the spruce are frequently dwarfed and pruned by the impacts of salt spray and high winds.

3. The feel of it when you touch it. Is it prickly? Remember the words: "Spiky spruce." The needles of this tree are stiff and sharp. Grabbing a branch with your bare hand hurts.

Sitka spruce provides high quality wood. It has been used to build ship's masts and airplanes. The Second World War Mosquito bomber was made from Sitka spruce.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
Salal is found throughout the rainforest
Salal can often be found in commercial floral arrangements ©Parks Canada / F-99

Salal grows everywhere in this park. It's a wiry evergreen shrub with thick, leathery leaves. Older leaves are dark green; the younger leaves are light green. In full sun, it forms dense, low thickets. Where light is harder to come by, it grows in dense, high thickets. In many places the salal is so thick you can't even push your arm through it!

Stunted by wind and salt spray on the open coast, salal and Sitka spruce form a living windbreak of contorted, pruned branches called krummholz. Behind this dense buffer, the inner forest is protected from the full force of the Pacific Ocean and its storms, winds, and salt spray.

Seaside Centipede Lichen (Heterodermia sitchensis)
Seaside Centipede Lichen
Seaside centipede lichen clings to the branch of Sitka Spruce
©Parks Canada

One of the very tiny and very rare species of the spruce fringe is the seaside centipede lichen. In the mid-1980s when it was discovered and named, it was considered to be among the rarest of western North American lichens. On this coast, it was found in just two places: near the village of Ucluelet and inside the National Park at Schooner Cove. In each location it was only a single branch of Sitka spruce that hosted the lichen.

This lichen's requirements for habitat are so complex (continuous high humidity, good air circulation, moderate temperatures, nitrogen enrichment, shelter from open exposure&) that it will only grow in a very few places.

In fact, it's so rare, and so small (about the size of a fingernail), finding it is a painstaking procedure. Appropriate branches must be studied closely twig by twig. In 2001 however, fieldwork in this Park found nineteen sites where the seaside centipede lichen was growing.

Leather Fern (Polypodium scouleri)
Leather fern
This species of fern has adapted to withstand the salt spray by growing thick leaves ©Parks Canada / B. Campbell, F-6 / 1971

This plant is an outer coast species with leathery leaves. Adapted to withstand the salt spray, its leaves are thicker than are those of most other ferns in Pacific Rim National Park of Canada. Sometimes this fern will grow on trees as an epiphyte. An epiphyte is a plant that is not parasitic (doesn't steal any nutrients) but grows on another plant instead of in the soil. It makes its own food by photosynthesis, gathering trace nutrients from the surface of the supporting plant, and getting its moisture from the air.

Evergreen Huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum)
Evergreen huckleberries ripen late in the summer
The berries of evergreen huckleberry can be either covered in a blue blue or be black and shiny
©Parks Canada / S. Kraseman / F-99 / 1983

This attractive shrub bears green, red and even purple leaves. The dark berries ripen in late summer or early fall. Historically, it provided the Nuu-chah-nuulth First Nations with fruit long after most other types had disappeared for the season.

Like many of the other plants found in the spruce fringe, this plant has a competitive advantage on the coast since it tolerates salt spray.

False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum)
False lily of the valley often carpets the spruce fringe floor
False lily of the valley with its unique leaves, makes it easy to identify
©Parks Canada / M. Hobson / F-30 / 1987

The broad, shiny, heart-shaped leaves make this plant easy to identify, but it does go through several changes in a year. In spring it begins as a rolled-up spike before unfurling its leaves and producing a cluster of white blossoms for summer. Its berries begin as a mottled green but become red by the time the leaves begin to wither in the fall.

This plant is often the dominant ground cover in the spruce fringe.

Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)
Black twinberry is a common shrub found in the spruce fringe forest
When the twinned black berries are present this plant is easy to identify
©Parks Canada / W. Lynch / F-120

Sometimes called bearberry honeysuckle, this is a common shrub of the northwestern forest. It's also planted in ornamental gardens.

As its name suggests, it bears pairs of deep purple black berries. Though the berries might look tasty, they shouldn't be eaten.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Bunchberry is a member of the same family as the Dogwood trees also known as dwarf dogwood
Bunchberry can be found on live trees and rotting logs
©Parks Canada / B. Campbell, 1972

Bunchberry, also called dwarf dogwood, has an unusually explosive method of releasing pollen. All parts of its unopened flowers are synchronized to explode in a split second. The slightest touch to the tip of the flower will cause it to burst open and catapult pollen outward faster than the eye can see. Look for this plant on the ground, on rotting stumps and growing on live trees.

Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
An immature bald eagle finding a meal on the beach
Barkley Sound has one of the highest concentration of bald eagles in the world
©Parks Canada

Bald eagles aren't bald; they were named for the white feathers on their head, neck, and tail. A young, (immature) eagle won't have those white feathers though. It will remain mostly brown until it is 4 to 5 years old.

These birds are big, and the females are even bigger than the males. On average, a male's wingspan reaches 2 metres (6.5 feet), and a female's reaches 2.5 metres (8 feet).

In the wild, bald eagles are believed to live 30 years or longer.

Look for these eagles perched in the high, bare branches of trees along the coast and rivers. You might also spot their nests, huge collections of twigs and branches that they add to year after year. Every 3 years, in mid-June, Park wardens conduct an eagle nest survey of this park and update maps of active nests.

Vancouver Groundcone (Boschniakia hookeri )
Vancouver groundcone
This plant parasitizes salal and other members of the heather family
©Parks Canada / L. Ivanisko / F-116 / 1997

Vancouver groundcone is a parasite. It connects to the roots of salal and steals nutrients from it.

Despite its small size, one plant can produce more than a third of a million seeds.