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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada

The Species of the Cedar-Hemlock Forest

Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata)
Western redcedar can be found throughout the British Columbia's West coast
Western redcedar is easy to identify with its unique bark and "scaly" needles.
©Parks Canada / A. Curtis / F-10

Western redcedar was known as the tree of life to many First Nations of this coast. The wood splits easily and resists rot so it was, and still is, an excellent choice for building homes, canoes, totem poles, and many other things. In the wet climate of this park for example, our boardwalks are made from cedar to help them last longer.
Because it can grow in shade, a western redcedar seedling can grow to maturity even in a forest where other full-grown trees are already established. Western Hemlock also tolerates shade. This means that if a cedar-hemlock forest is left mostly undisturbed then other types of trees that need more sun to grow won't have much of a chance, and the forest will remain and replenish itself as a cedar-hemlock forest.The stringy bark, and the scaly needles of this tree are the best clues for identifying it.
A number of these trees have dead tops that look like the tines of a fork. Stressed by strong winds, heavy rainfall, low nutrient conditions and a high water table, these redcedars develop twisted trunks and multiple, gray-weathered crowns. Many of them are hundreds of years old, justly earning their silvered and wizened appearance.

Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla)
Western Hemlock
Look at the needles to identify this tree as they are blunt-tipped, soft, flat, and shiny.
©Parks Canada / F-11

To find a western hemlock look for a tree with needles that are blunt-tipped, soft, flat, and shiny. The needles should also be yellowish green on top, whitish underneath, and not all the same length. In young trees the bark is reddish-brown and scaly, and in older trees it is thick and furrowed. If you can see the top of a young hemlock tree, it should be drooping to one side.

This tree can crow in shade, but its branches are so thick that hardly any other plants can grow beneath it. What you often do find growing beneath this tree are other western hemlock seedling waiting for their parent tree to die so they can have their turn in the sun. Hemlocks don't grow very stong root systems so they often do get blown down by the wind. When one or more trees are blown down a small clearing is created until the next generation of trees grows to maturity.

Hemlock trees contain a substance called tannin. Tannin released from decaying hemlock trees makes the streams in the rainforest tea-colored.

Amabilis Fir (Abies amabilis)
Amabilis fir or
This is one of the few true firs (Abies) found in the Parks.
©Parks Canada / F-11

Amabilis fir is sometimes called the silver fir, or the lovely fir.

The needles of this tree are similar to the needles of western hemlock but there are some differences. Most of the needles will be notched at the tip, more closely spaced than hemlock needles, and they will form flatter bunches. The bark is a pale grey color that begins smooth with resin blisters, and becomes scaly as the tree ages.

In this park this tree is not as common as the western redcedar or western hemlock since its more choosy about where it grows. It can tolerate shade, but it doesn't like too much water. It wants moist conditions, but the soil must also be well drained and deep.

Western Yew (Taxus brevifolia)
Western yew
Western Yew produces berries that are poisonous to humans.
©Parks Canada

Mixed in with such giants as the western hemlock, the western redcedar, and the amabilis fir the western yew is easy to overlook. Straggly looking, and shrub-like, it never grows to the size of those giants, and loggers often considered it a "trash tree".

That all changed though when taxol, an anti cancer drug was found in its bark. Now the western yew is considered valuable. This sudden popularity is not necessarily good for the yew tree though, since they are slow growing trees that will probably suffer from over harvesting.

Yew trees don't produce cones, they produce individual seeds surrounded in a bright red fleshy cup. These may looks like red huckleberries, but don't eat them. Birds can eat these without harm, but they are poisonous to humans.

Old Man's Beard (Usnea longissima)
Old Man's Beard hangs from rainforest branches
Linches, such as Old man's beard, are fungi with algae growing inside of them.
©Parks Canada /M. Hobson / G-4 / 1986

Old man's beard hangs from many of the branches in this forest. This pale yellowish-green plant is a lichen, which is a combination of a fungus and an algae. The fungus gives the plant shape and a way to absorb water, while the algae provides energy through photosynthesis.

Bracket Fungus
Bracket Fungus or
Bracket Fungus recycles the dying/dead trees, returning nutrients to the soil.
©Parks Canada

Bracket fungus, also called shelf fungus, grows out of the trunks of dead or "wounded trees." The part of the fungus that you can see looks like half a frisbee stuck to the tree. The part of the fungus that you can't see is much bigger and is made up of thousands of filaments called hyphae. This network of filaments is known as the mycelium and can be spread through entire trees, fallen logs, and acres of soil.

Fungi decompose dead or dying organic matter, returning nutrients to the soil to be recycled.

Deer fern (Blechnum spicant)
Deer fern Deer fern grows on the ground and stumps and occasionally trees.
©Parks Canada / F-6

Deer ferns grow in clumps. Each clump will have two types of fronds, wide evergreen ones that spread out horizontally, and narrower brownish ones that grow up vertically each spring, then wither in the fall.

Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)
Red Huckleberry can be found on old rotting logs and stumps
The fruit of red huckleberry was traditionally harvested by the Nuu-chah-nulth.
©Parks Canada / S. Kraseman / F-99 / 1974

Red huckleberry is often found in partial shade at forest edges, or in small clearings. It prefers soils rich in decaying wood, and will grow out of old stumps and logs.
It's berries are delicious, and were eaten by the First Nations of this coast.

Step Moss (Hylocomium splendens)
Step Moss
Step Moss grows a new "step" every year!
©Parks Canada

Step moss grows a new step each year. New growth buds up out of the middle of the previous year's branches. This way the new growth "steps" over the old growth, over other mosses, over twigs, and over anything else that gets in its way. This aggressive tactic keeps it at least one step ahead of any competition.

Common Raven (Corvus corax)
Common raven
Ravens mimic many sounds and are known for their intelligence.
©Parks Canada

You will probably hear a raven before you see one. Their most common call is a low and croaking, but they can make many other sounds including: gurgling noises, a sharp "tock", and near imitations of the wind, a cat's meow, and the human voice.

Besides their skill with sound they are also extraordinary flyers. They love dives, somersaults, upside-down flying and other tricks.

Ravens are considered among the most intelligent of all birds, and the First Nations had many stories of Raven the trickster.

Though ravens and crows are both colored all black, ravens are significantly larger than crows and their throat and forehead feathers are more tousled.

Banana Slug (Ariolimax columbianus)
A banana slug slimes its way up a mossy slope
Banana slug can reach up to 25cm (10 inches)!
©Parks Canada

If you saw something about 12-25 cm (4-10 inches) long, colored bright yellow with black spots, that was squishing along through the forest, wouldn't you think it was an escaped banana? Well, you'd be wrong. In this park it would more likely be a banana slug. Not all banana slugs grow as big as 25 cm, but they can; they are the second largest slug in the world.

Slugs are famous for their slime. To a slug, slime is very useful stuff.

  • It keeps their skin moist so the slug can breathe through it.
  • It makes the slug taste awful so that other creatures will leave it alone.
  • It also helps a slug to move by coating leaves and twigs so that the slug can glide easily over them.
    Banana Slugs live in moist forests along the Pacific Coast of North America from California to Alaska. They are decomposers, which means they chew up leaves, animal droppings and dead plant material; recycling it into soil.
Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
A Marbled Murrelet floating on the ocean
Marbled murrelet nest inland in old growth rainforest but feed in the ocean.
©Parks Canada / W. McIntyre / B-12 / 1975

These seabirds are small and chunky, about the size of a starling. They have webbed feed, sharp black bills, and pointed wings. With these small wings the marbled murrelet can fly, but what it does best is swim. It dives and swims using its wings for power and its feet to steer, as it chases and catches fish. Like most diving seabirds, marbled murrelets live at sea, spending their days feeding close to shore and then moving several kilometers offshore at night. Diving seabirds usually nest in colonies along seacoasts, but not the marbled murrelet. It flies inland to nest in the canopy of old-growth forests.

Because it requires old growth to nest, the marbled murrelet is in a precarious situation. The disappearance of old growth forest on the pacific coast due to logging and development has helped to push this species toward extinction. It is also threatened at sea by oil spills, pollution, gill-netting, seining, and loss of its feeding area by recreational boating and near-shore development.

Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
A young black bear crossing the highway
Help wildlife by using binoculars and staying a distance of 100m (100 yards) away.
©Parks Canada / A-13

First, if you see any bear in this park, it's a black bear. Even if it is looks brown, chocolate-brown, or perhaps cinnamon, it is a black bear. There are no grizzly bears on Vancouver island.Second, if you do see a bear, don't run from it, but don't get any closer to it either. It's important to remember that the park is not a zoo, and there are no fences between you and the wild animals. Back away from any black bears that you see and leave them in peace. These are creatures you don't want to bother. Black bears are often seen crossing the highway, or beside it, at dawn and dusk. If you are driving the highway at that time, watch for a chance to see them, and watch that you don't hit them.

Pacific Tree Frog (Hyla regilla)
Pacific tree frog clinging to a rail
Pacific tree frog can be heard throughout the cedar-hemlock forest with its distinct song.
©Parks Canada / C. Fysh / C-2 / 1984

The most commonly heard frog in this park is the Pacific Tree Frog. In the spring its repeated two note call "kreck-ek kreck-ek" carries throughout the forest. Though they only grow to approximately 5 cm long their call can be heard from at least a kilometer away. Hollywood also uses the Pacific Tree Frog's call in movies to give that "authentic outdoor nighttime sound."

This frog has adhesive pads on its toes that help it climb. With these little suction cups it can cling to almost any surface.

Frogs and other amphibians are very sensitive to changes in water quality and so are considered "indicator species." The health of amphibian populations directly reflects the health of their environment. All over the world populations of amphibians are declining; scientists suspect this is because of acid rain falling into ponds and lakes.

Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Winter Wren
This tiny bird searches for insects around the forest floor.
©Parks Canada / B-24

Winter wrens look like little brown Ping-Pong balls with jaunty upward pointing tails, but when they open their beaks and sing, out comes an incredible song. For such a small bird, their song is surprisingly loud and long. Rapidly rising and falling through many complex notes and trills, their song can last more than seven seconds.

If you do hear their song don't look up in the tree branches for this bird; look down. This bird flits from bush to bush, and runs along the ground like a mouse with wings.