101 - 1041 Richardson St
Beacon Hill Park - A Walk on the Wild Side by Agnes Lynn
I first visited Beacon Hill Park as a child in the summer of 1954.
Everything else in my life has changed since then but the park is still the
same. Thatís the appeal of Beacon Hill Park. Letís take a wildflower walk
through the part of the park most people normally overlook, the wild side. The
best time of year to take this walk is late April. Weíll start from the new
cross-walk from St. Annís Academy on the north park boundary on Southgate Street,
between Douglas and Quadra Streets. Letís scramble up the rocks and head south
into the park. There is a sidewalk running along the ridge. The purple satin
flowers (Olsynium douglasii) may be finished by this time of year
but the spring gold (Lomatia utriculatum) will appear in
splotches here and there. What I scan for are my favourite, the chocolate
lilies (Fritillaria affinis). The challenge is to spot them
hidden in the grass, generally up near the base of one of the many garry oak
trees (Quercus garryana). Many other species of wildflowers will
keep you interested as you meander along towards Goodacre Lake.
No time today to stop and feed the ducks. Cross the road towards the playground
(sorry no stopping here either). See if you can spot the plaque near the edge
of the road commemorating those mighty oaks. Today weíll quickly traverse the
Ďcivilized areaí. Head in between the services building and the ladies
washroom. Look down and to the left to see a lovely patch of easter lilies (Erythronium
oregonum). Some people call them fawn lilies due to their mottled
foliage. Although these are in a cultivated flower bed, they were probably
there before the flower bed itself existed. The area behind the washrooms is
rich in native flora. This was more by accident than on purpose. It was simply
left alone all these years. Look for evergreen yew trees (Taxus brevifolia)
and wild cherry trees (Prunus emarginata). You can recognize them
by the bark that looks just like the domestic cherry tree you might have in your
own back yard. The indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) is the
first flower in the spring so its blossoms will be finished by now. Later it
has interesting fruit but I donít think Iíd try to eat it, just look. The
hard-to-find flowering red currant bushes (Ribes sanguineum) are
not as plentiful as they should be but are easy to spot. You might even Ďhearí
one as the hummingbirds will tell you exactly where they are. Look for the arbutus
menziesii trees before you cross the roadway. The peeling red-green bark is
fascinating. It is the only broad-leaf evergreen tree we have in this area.
Wander along the rocks in behind. Your nose will tell you if your feet crush
the masses of wild onions (Allium). They do not flower very well. Cross
the road and work your way across the rocks in the direction of the petting
zoo. No stopping at the zoo today.
Walk along the edge of the field in the direction of the tallest totem. In this
giant field , you will find masses of the early camas( Camassia quamash)
as well as many shooting stars (Dodecatheon hendersonii).
Sprinkled in between are a few death camas (Zygadenus venonosus)
and a very small number of the rare yellow prairie violets (Viola praemorsa).
We pause to mourn the loss of the golden paintbrush (Castilleja levisecta)
that only disappeared a few years ago from here. Dr. Chris Brayshaw, retired
from the Royal BC Museum, has walked the park for over 25 years and has been
our mentor. Regrettably, he has told us of other species long gone from the
park. On the bright side, a few years ago, a group of Girl Guides mapped and
estimated 1 million camas on that hillside so extrapolated to estimate two
million camas in total in the park. Does anyone know of another such expanse of
blue anywhere? Watch for more details of the on-going plant mapping
project in the park. Participants includes both parks staff and volunteers from
the Friends of Beacon Hill Park.
Continue walking along the bottom of the field towards the woods behind the
tallest totem. We call this area the South East Woods. See what birds you can
spot in the high canopy of douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii).
Birds such as woodpeckers enjoy the protected habitat of this wooded area.
There are some very wet areas on the left side of the closed-off road (Loverís
Lane). It would take a whole day to explore the many trails, some almost
tunnels winding in amongst the towering black cottonwoods (Populus trichocarpa).
The original plan for the park had suggested a formal lake in that area but
that part of the plan was never implemented.
In 1990, two Friends of Beacon Hill Park, Helen Oldershaw and Anne Fletcher,
convinced the Parks Administration to allow a restoration project in this area.
They wanted to preserve the habitat for the birds and other fauna and wanted to
demonstrate to the parks workers that it could be left in a natural state
and still meet their criteria. Our goal was to eliminate the weedy plants that
had invaded the woodland such as ivy, holly, dandelions, sow thistle, and the
list goes on. We worked with my Girl Guides for over 5 years weeding and
then planting plants that would have originally grown in the area. Our
successes include trilliums (Trillium ovatum), oregon grape (Mahonia
aquifolium), sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) and others.
The easter lilies which we planted were rescued from a Broadmead wild flower
meadow which was being made into a condominium project. We also tried to
re-establish douglas fir and grand fir (Abies grandis) in an area
where a lot of burning had been done in the past. This was only partly
successful as there was little nourishment in the soil. Parks workers are
trained to keep the park tidy so they raked the leaves off the ground every
year. We have now convinced them to let nature enrich the soil when the leaves
fall. The selective weeding allowed the false lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum
dilatatum), fairy bells (Disporum hookeri), tall fringe
cup (Tellima grandiflora) and large-leaf avens (Geum macrophyllum),
all of which were already there, to spread to cover wide areas. Itís actually
hard to tell where our work was done as it was intended to look like the plants
had always been there but watch for the trilliums and easter lilies at this
time of year. Large shrubs in the area include the fragrant mock orange (Philadelphus
lewisii), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) thriving in
a moist hollow, red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa),
and ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor). You might also spend
time wandering through some more of the paths nearer Dallas Road before checking
out the wild bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) near the base of
the tallest totem.
Itís time to carry on. Cross the road back to the camas fields. Youíll
find several paths leading up the hill. As you get nearer the top, youíll find
more easter lilies and watch for more chocolate lilies along the path. Notice
that the parks workers have left bushy patches around the garry oaks. As well
as the pesky introduced broom, youíll find snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
and the native rose (Rosa nutkana) that blooms in June. We are trying to get more seedling garry oaks in the open areas. The park
nursery staff has been helping to raise the trees as well as grow on other
seeds for us. The top of the hill is covered with fields of camas, intermingled
with western buttercups (Ranunculus occidentalis). There are more
of the taller great camas (Camassia leichtlinii) up here as well.
The annual Camas Day wildflower walks start from this area every year. The
Friends of Beacon Hill Park have worked hard along with the Victoria Natural
History Society to make this event a growing success. It is generally held near the end of April each year. We always have dedicated botanists such as Dr. Adolf
Ceska leading the walks. One day we hope to undertake a
grasslands restoration project on the field on the front side of the hill
leading down towards Dallas Road and the water.
We could spend a whole day if we diverted down to the beach-front area. There
are many wild flowers unique to the area on or near the cliffs. I always enjoy
the ladiesí tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) near there and the
Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria) in the long grass at the
road edge. These bloom later on. Itís these late bloomers that give rise to
complaints of messiness as we have asked the parks workers to hold off mowing
these areas until the plants have gone to seed. Mowing too early weakens the
population and gradually they decline. Hopefully now we have a schedule which
is a compromise between what the plants need and what the fire department wants
as they worry that the dry fields are a fire hazard. There are interesting plants
all along the waterís edge, as far down as the yacht pond.
But weíve diverted, so letís get back to the top of ĎBeacon Hillí.
Walk down the hill near the road to enjoy the fantastic view. Cross the roadway
by where the old Chinese Bell has been replaced by a hanging basket. You can
see some big old black cottonwoods near Douglas Street but, otherwise, youíre
into the civilized section of the park for a stretch. Wander in behind the Cameron Bandshell, another forgotten corner
which holds secret treasures in the woodsy areas. I hesitate to reveal this
location but we will put a curse on anyone removing native plants from the
park. Cross over Emily Carrís little stone bridge nearby. We always feel the spirit of Emily Carr with us in the park. She is our incentive to work at keeping the wild areas she so loved.
The herons use to nest
high in the Douglas fir trees near Douglas Street but the eagles scared them off. You can still see the remains of the old nests. Now itís getting late
and itís time to head back. Re-cross the little stone bridge and head for the
big stone bridge. An eagleís nest is in one of the Douglas fir near the roadway
just before you cross the bridge. Unfortunately they havenít nested for the
last couple of years. Cross the big stone bridge and then turn right,
continuing along the lake edge until you reach the roadway leading north out of
the park. As you walk along the road, admire the bed of shooting stars on
the left side of the Vancouver Rock & Alpine Garden Societyís garden. They
were rescued from a construction site. Farther along, itís good to see the parks
workers have been clearing away some of the broom to open up more areas for the
wildflowers. As you walk along the roadway, notice there is a double row of
arbutus trees, one at the edge of the road, one farther in the lawn, probably
remnants of a much wider roadway in the past. It must have been very
difficult to get these temperamental trees to grow to maturity in rows like
that. As you head out of the park, see if you can figure out where the old
quarry was in the rocky area. Fortunately all the old scars have been covered
with rich green moss on the rocks.
The wild areas of Beacon Hill Park are very precious as it is one of the few
native vegetation areas easily accessible to the public in Victoria. Letís not
forget this wild side when we next come to the park.