Orchids at Little Qualicum Falls

Last week my afternoon destination with the kids was Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, just outside of Qualicum Beach, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The falls are truly spectacular, there’s nothing “little” about them! However, I also searched for late spring blooming plants and wasn’t disappointed with the orchids. The habitat here is fairly open with Douglas-firs and mossy areas underneath. Near the falls you get a micro-climate that is more moist.

Little Qualicum Falls
The Upper Falls at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Calypso Orchid

One of the first plants that caught my eye was the beautiful Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa). Also appropriately called the Fairyslipper, it has a truly delicate look to it with a single showy rose/purple flower. The lower lip of the orchid is spotted and fine hairs line the edge of the lip. These orchids are very sensitive to trampling and disturbance. Picking them usually kills the plant. The flowers were difficult to photograph due to the low light and the presence of a toddler hanging onto my back. Ideally, a tripod and some patience is required!

Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa)
The delicate flower of the Calypso Orchid (Calypso bulbosa) is a delight to find in the forests of Vancouver Island.

Heart-leaved Twayblade

A second orchid that I found on the trail that loops between the Upper and Lower Falls was the Heart-leaved Twayblade (Listera cordata). The pale-green to brown flowers of this orchid have a forked bottom lobe that is a usefull diagnostic feature to separate it from Northwestern Twayblade (L. caurina). Unlike C. bulbosa, L. cordata has an unpleasant smell that is attractive to flies and fungus gnats. The diminutive size and position of the flowers of this orchid make it challenging to photograph well. Again, low light and plant movement due to the proximity of the Upper Falls made it difficult to get an image that was both in focus and with sufficient depth of field. An image that captures the flowers generally doesn’t show the pair leaves further down the stem.

Heart-leaved Twayblade (Listera cordata)
The forked lower lobe of Heart-leaved Twayblade (Listera cordata) is distinctive.


The final orchid that I found during my walk was a Coralroot (Corallorhiza sp.). I’m not sure of the species of this parasitic orchid but because the flowers weren’t quite out yet. I didn’t take any photographs of the Coralroot at Little Qualicum Provincial Park but I have found some at Miracle Beach Provincial Park further north on Vancouver Island and am waiting for them to bloom. I’ll save that for a future post!

Little Qualicum Provincial Park is definitely worth a stop on the way out to the west coast or when heading up-Island from Nanaimo to the Comox Valley and beyond. Allow about 2 hours for the loop, more if you’re taking the time to photograph the falls and forest flowers. This BC Park also has a campsite and is a quieter alternative to nearby Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park (which is always much busier). Note for those bringing young children that even with an “off road” stroller this trail is challenging with many steps. A better option is to pack the kids in a backpack. Day use parking fees are $3.00/day.