Our May cover subject, the arbutus . . . they’re real and they are spectacular! Not only are they real and spectacular, but more importantly, on Pender we got ‘em!
You know the arbutus: the gnarly, twisty tree with the bright reddish orange bark . . . sorry, that is incorrect. Arbutus is the gnarly tree with the bright green bark. Oops, the research department just informed me that the smooth bark of an arbutus tree can be bright reddish or bright green, depending on the season. The reddish orange bark of spring is shed like curled up paper in autumn, revealing a smooth, bright green bark underneath, and so a new cycle begins. As if the changing colour of its bark wasn’t enough, the arbutus also declines to drop all its leaves in autumn. The arbutus, native to our Pacific coast area, is Canada’s only native broad-leafed evergreen.
Arbutus and Douglas fir trees have similar soil and climate preferences, so they often share the same habitat. Being neighbours in the woods does not mean that the two species agree on the direction that growth should take. A Douglas fir tree follows a no-nonsense strategy and just heads for the sky . . . up, up and up. Arbutus seem to enjoy checking out every direction including every angle imaginable: up, plus horizontal with a good measure of twisting and turning downward as well. Recently, while hiking on an obscure South Pender trail, we observed a stately Douglas fir doing its up and up thing and ten or fifteen feet away was a mature arbutus happily pursuing its random directional growth pattern. While several of the arbutus branches were actually growing downward, two very large branches had reached out horizontally to span the distance and literally embrace the neighbouring Douglas fir. Before the Research Department challenges the previous statement, I will admit that the term “embrace” may lack scientific accuracy and I may be guilty of attributing human characteristics to situations where they clearly do not exist, but I can confirm that the Douglas fir did not look comfortable and clearly was not a hugger.
If you were born and raised on the west coast, the sight of the twisting, turning tree with bright reddish- coloured bark that eventually turns green, probably seems normal. To an easterner, and almost everyone in Canada is an easterner to Penderites, the arbutus is a head turner. We are fortunate to have many kinds of beauty on the Penders and clearly the arbutus is among the most unique. Those of us who can access the various Pender trails are indeed fortunate.
It would be wonderful if more of our trails and sights could be made to provide easier access for not just the handicapped, but also for all those with mobility issues, including moms and dads with strollers.