Garry oak trees

My relationship with the Garry oak (Quercus garryana), British Columbia’s only oak species, goes way back. I grew up near a large Garry oak meadow, an undeveloped park with a maze of trails just wide enough for our bikes. The twisting oak trunks called out for climbing, and the tall, dry grasses and wildflowers provided a wonderful playground into which we could disappear all day. (This was, of course, back in the days of free range children.)

Well before my time, Garry oak (also known as Oregon white oak) used to grow profusely throughout southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, in meadows that were important habitat for songbirds, butterflies, snakes, insects and larger animals. Grazing by black-tailed deer thinned out enough of the newly sprouting trees to keep the canopy open, allowing the remaining trees to flourish, and aboriginal people harvested the camas and other edible bulbs that grew among the grasses.

By the time I came along, urban development had reduced Garry oak stands to isolated patches like the park in my neighbourhood. Today, these Garry oak meadows are among BC’s most endangered habitats, and many of the plant, birds and insect species that these ecosystems support are themselves at risk.

The photo above was shot at Uplands Park in Victoria, a large (at least by today’s standards) Garry oak meadow. We have small patches of these trees on Gabriola Island as well, most notably at Drumbeg Park.

A small Garry oak tree grows in our yard on Gabriola, protected from the deer by a wire enclosure. A friend started it from an acorn and, 10 years ago, brought it to us in a one-gallon pot as a housewarming gift. It’s now about six feet tall and doing well. To my surprise, it turns out Garry oak is fairly easy to grow. So if you have a well-drained, sunny, relatively open spot – south or west-facing preferred – and a little bit of space in your yard, you may like to give it a try. You’ll be helping to preserve an important piece of our region’s natural heritage.

A few more Garry oak photos (click for larger view & info):

Garry oak tree limbs Garry oak leaves in fall Garry oak with other trees

About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer and writer focusing on nature and the environment

6 responses »

  1. Wonderful post, my friend! Sadly, Oregon has lost 97-98% of its oak savanna habitat. What oak stands we have left are being restored/preserved. It is a magnificent tree that inspires me beyond words at times. Such a slow grower (3 feet in 10 years), but a hardy specimen that can tolerate flooding & drought. Keep up the excellent work on your blog & best wishes in 2014!
    Cheers,
    Tyler 🙂

  2. ehpem says:

    Hi Laurie, I really like this photo, and the article is interesting. I should go to Uplands Park more often – it is only a short bike ride from me and a great place to visit. There has been a University research project underway there for a few years now documenting the ancient burial cairns that are in many parts of the park. Another, often unrecognised, part of the garry oak ecosystem – some parts of it were used as cemeteries with cairns and mounds covering the graves by the indigenous occupants in a time period of about 2500 to 1500 years ago, and maybe a few hundred years more recently too.

    • Hi Ehpem, and thanks for this fascinating info. I had no idea that my childhood playground had such a history! It’s amusing to ponder on what difference it might have made to us as kids, playing there, had we known there were burial cairns to be found. Most likely, it would have added a whole new and appealing dimension! Growing up in Victoria in those days had a fun sort “spookiness” about it – ghost stories were everywhere, and very intriguing for young folks!

  3. Chris Junck says:

    I enjoyed the article and the photos Laurie. I like your style!
    Chris Junck
    Species at Risk Outreach Specialist
    Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team

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