At one time the Comox Valley was predominantly old growth forest, but from the time settlers appeared, trees began to disappear- slowly at first, but in the last 100+ years, at a wildfire pace, to make money for logging companies and for homesites, farming, and structures.
Thanks to individuals, groups, and the Regional District, we have several second growth forest areas protected. There are 9 provincial parks in the Comox Valley, four of these on Denman and Hornby Islands (220 hectares) – 531 hectares in total.
Trees dominate the Comox Valley because of the significant annual rainfall and relatively good nutrient supply in the soils. There was, and still is, an overwhelming dominance of coniferous trees, namely Douglas-fir, western hemlock, Sitka spruce, grand fir, and western red cedar, with some shore pine, western white pine and yew. Deciduous trees such as bigleaf maple, Douglas maple, red alder, black cottonwood, bitter cherry and trembling aspen are found in younger forests, but there is evidence of the once-predominant old growth forests when one sees the huge stumps left from early logging days, and the abundance of dead woody decomposing logs known as ‘nurse logs’ which feed the diverse understory species.
Depending on the height and density of the predominant conifers, which dictates the amount of light reaching the trees, shrubs, and other plant species, one can expect to find the following plants in our forests:
Salmonberry,red huckleberry, false azalea, baldhip rose, oceanspray, common snowberry, black twinberry, western trumpet, salal, western flowering dogwood, Pacific crab apple, trailing blackberry, cascara, dull Oregon grape, western trillium, false lily-of-the-valley, white and pink fawn lilies, evergreen violet, fairyslipper, western coralroot, rattlesnake plantain, big-leaved sandwort, foamflower, princes’ pine, Menzies’ pipsissewa, Scouler’s harebell, cleavers, broad-leaved starflower, bunchberry, wild ginger, vanilla leaf, Vancouver groundcone, Indian-pipe, and pinesap.
A few of the most common ferns found in our forests are sword fern, lady fern, bracken fern, deer fern, spiny wood fern, licorice fern and western maiden-hair fern.
Some of the most common mosses are haircap mosses (Polytrichum spp.) magnificent moss (Plagiomnium spp) , Menzies’ tree moss (Leucolepis spp) cat-tail moss (Isothecium spp), coiled-leaf moss (Hypnum spp), Oregon beaked moss (Kindbergia spp), lanky moss(Rhytidiadelphus spp) , tree moss (Climacium spp), step moss (Hylocomium spp), wavy-leaved cotton moss (Plagiothecium spp), broom moss (Dicranum spp).
Several of the most common lichens in our forest are dust lichens (Lepraria spp) pencil script (Graphis spp), bark barnacle (Thelotrema spp) lungwort (Lobaria spp), tattered rag (Platismatia herrei), and ragbag (Platismatia glauca), bone lichens (Hypogymnia spp), antlered perfume (Evernia prunastri), hooded rosette (Physcia adscendens), cladonia scales (Cladonia spp), common Christmas tree (Sphaerophorus globosus), beard lichens (Usnea spp), witch’s hair (Alectoria spp), horsehair lichens (Bryoria spp).
Some of the remaining old growth Douglas-fir can be found in Miracle Beach Provincial Park, Kitty Coleman Provincial Park and Kin Beach Provincial Park. The southeastern part of Strathcona Provincial Park, along the upper Puntledge River, contains some of the finest remaining stands of Douglas-fir on Vancouver Island, reaching heights of 250 feet or more and diameters of up to 6 feet. Access to this area is via the Comox Lake Logging road to Willemar Lake, and from there by kayak or canoe to the end of Willemar Lake and then to the end of Forbush Lake. The trailhead to the tall trees begins at the campsite.
Some of the largest Sitka spruce can be found in the Tsolum River floodplain trails in the Exhibition Grounds along the Tsolum River, and at the Hollyhock Flats at the Courtenay River estuary.
The forests are home to many species of mammals, including the Columbia blacktail deer, Roosevelt elk, black bear, marten, red squirrel, cougar, racoon, deer mice, dusky shrew, various bat species, and wolf.
Birds commonly found in the forest include Pacific Wrens, woodpeckers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Common Ravens, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Townsend’s Warblers, and Varied Thrushes.
Fungi play an essential role in the forest decay cycle, by which the chemicals of life are returned to the soil for re-use by other plants. Spores produce hyphae, which in mass, form the mycelium which is embedded in the wood and soil. Under suitable conditions of light, temperature and moisture, the spore-bearing bodies that we know as mushrooms are formed.
Insects play a role in the pollination of plants, and provide nutrients for the forest by eating the dead and decaying leaves and stems. Forests are also home to species of salamanders, frogs and toads.
© Helen Robinson, Comox Valley Naturalists Society