British Columbia has long been renowned for the quality and size of its trees, and the Lower Mainland once had some of the greatest.
The tallest conifer ever measured by a B.C. forester was a 1,100-year-old Douglas-fir felled in 1881 near Hall’s Prairie; its fallen trunk was 109.1 metres long and the stump was 3.5 metres across.
Although the early days of logging soon cleared most of the upland forests, an old-growth stump at Surrey Centre, measured in 1947, was three metres in diameter.
Forests grow quickly in our moist, coastal climate, and even as second growth, the remaining cedars, hemlocks and Douglas firs are magnificent trees, enormously tall by global standards. They will need to be allowed to grow for a few hundred years more to approach the maturity and richness of the forest they replaced. Some beautiful trees can still be found locally, although many are still cut down to make way for developments.
Summer is a good time to explore our cool, dark forests, and thanks to the efforts of early conservationists, many local parks have magnificent trees, including Elgin, Tynehead, Redwood, and Green Timbers Park and Urban Forest. Efforts were made to protect Green Timbers as early as 1860, yet despite the fame of its giant trees and their attraction to tourists, the last virgin stand of timber was felled by 1930. How short-sighted that was. The park was replanted with native conifers and the work of restoration continues today with the work of the Green Timbers Heritage Society.
Besides native conifers, Surrey has a rich selection of heritage trees from around the world. A heritage tree can be defined as one that is old, large and/or has important cultural significance. Redwood Park has the largest stand of Giant Sequoias north of the international border, as well as English Walnut, Sweet Chestnut, English Oak, Golden Elm and other unusual trees planted by the Brown Brothers from 1893 onwards.
Darts Hill Garden is a designated Heritage Tree Site with fine specimens of many interesting trees, including Antarctic Beech, Bigleaf Magnolia and White Mulberry. It is open to group tours, by arrangement.
A great source of information on local heritage trees is “Our Sylvan Heritage ~ A Guide to the Magnificent Trees of the South Fraser”, by Susan Murray (no relation). Susan is a third-generation horticulturist and founder of the Fraser Valley Heritage Tree Society.
Anne Murray is a local naturalist and author of A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past ~ A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, see www.natureguidesbc.com.