The Garry Oak
ecosystem occupies certain drier parts of the Coastal Douglas-fir
Zone. With its unique association of plants, it is one of the rarest
ecosystems in Canada, with only about one percent still left intact.
Oaks in Beacon Hill Park, Victoria
In a healthy Garry Oak habitat (and there are a few left) April
brings a breathtaking display of wildflowers. White Fawn Lilies
(Erythronium oregonum) are among the first to brighten the meadow.
Blue camas (Camassia quamash and C. leichtlinii) was at one time an
important food source for First Nations people. Magenta Shooting Stars
(Dodecatheon hendersonii) and Chocolate Lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata)
add colourful accents. Dozens of other species are found, too, with
some of them blooming when all the others have browned in the summer
It is now believed
that fire played an important role in the Garry Oak ecosystem. Natural
fires scorched the grass and shrub layer, but were not hot enough
to kill the trees. The process pushed back the natural succession
of the shrubs and Douglas-firs, allowing the meadow plants to thrive.
First Nations people used fire, too, as they managed the meadows
to maintain a steady supply of the camas bulbs to sustain them through
species found in this habitat include Spotted Towhee (Pipilo sp.)
and Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii). The Bushtit (Psaltriparus
minimus) suspends its amazing sock-like nest from a convenient branch
of Ocean Spray (Holdiscus discolor). In spring, Black-Throated Gray
(Dendroica nigrescens) and Orange-crowned Warblers (Vermivora celata)
arrive to breed.
In the summer,
the birds are quiet, and the sun dries everything to brown. The
plants go dormant again, to wait for the rains of the following
winter, and the acorns begin to ripen.