This Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) stands on the beach – below the highwater mark – in Montague Harbour Marine Park on Galiano Island. It’s an unusual setting for a large tree: Bigleaf maples often grow alongside streams, but that’s fresh water. This one must endure having its roots bathed in salt water with every day’s high tide.
I don’t usually think of trees as inhabitants of the intertidal zone – that’s the niche for sea asparagus, barnacles, starfish and clams. But this individual seems to have managed quite nicely. Like many Bigleaf maples, it has developed multiple trunks and a rather chaotic look, but judging by its canopy it seems healthy enough.
The beach it`s growing on is white, but neither sandy nor tropical. Montague was the site of a huge Coast Salish village for about 3000 years, with the residents and their visitors relying on clams and other shellfish as the mainstay of their diet. All those clams made for a lot of debris, and thus the beach is a part of a large, deep midden, made from the fragments of thousands of years of dumped shells. (I suppose this gives the maple a plentiful supply of calcium.)
I couldn`t resist photographing the maple last fall, when we pulled our dinghy up onto the beach to take a walk in the park. I was drawn by the intense colour of the leafy canopy against the bleached-out tones of the shells, drift logs, tree trunks and lichen – along with the surprise of finding such an improbable giant on a salt-soaked west coast beach.
With the publication of this article I’m celebrating a personal milestone of sorts: this is my 100th blog post! A heartfelt thank you to all readers and commenters for your visits and kind words since I launched this site in the fall of 2011.