Plants of Pipers Lagoon Park

Last Friday I had a chance to take a walk around Pipers Lagoon Park in Nanaimo, British Columbia. This small park includes a mixed Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) and Arbutus (Arbutus menziesii) meadow with associated plants. It looks like it could be a fascinating place to spend some time botanizing a little later in the spring.

Garry Oak (Quercus garryana)
The twisted branches of Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) make it a tree worth meditating on.

At this time of year there wasn’t anything in bloom, but there was plenty of interesting plants to look at. Most noticeable is the Garry Oak. The twisted branches and gnarled trunks make for complex patterns against the sky. Even the bark has an apealling texture that makes you want to reach out and touch the tree. Garry Oak is a signature species of tree that is common in the dry grassy meadows and rocky outcrops of the southern Gulf Islands and coastal Vancouver Island. It’s a beautiful tree.

Two other native plants were noticeable in the park at this time of year and appear to be widespread: Pacific Sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis) and Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium).

Pacific Sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis)
The three-lobed leaves of Pacific Sanicle (Sanicula crassicaulis) cover the ground underneath the Garry Oaks at Pipers Lagoon.

Pacific Sanicle is a coastal plant that prefers the same type of habitat as the Garry Oak so it is logical that it grows in such profusion here. The three-lobed, toothed leaves are visible among last year’s fallen oak leaves and form a carpet-like covering on the ground. A member of the Carrot family, it produces a small umbel of yellow flowers in the spring.

Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium)
Broad-leaved Stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) covers the east facing rocky bluffs in Pipers Lagoon Park – in bloom it should be spectacular.

Broad-leaved Stonecrop is another common plant in this park but it seems to prefer the exposed rocky coastal bluffs that are east facing so, unless you’re looking for it, you might miss it. Stonecrop forms a spreading mat of succulent leaves that range in colour from gray to green to red. It blooms a little later in the summer (June/July) and produces a cluster of brilliant five-petaled yellow flowers on a stalk above the mat of basal leaves.

Spurge-laural (Daphne laureola)
Introduced Spurge-laural (Daphne laureola) is fairly common in the denser areas underneath the Garry Oaks.

A third plant that is can be seen easily in the park is Spurge-laurel (Daphne laureola). An invasive garden escapee, this shrub forms dense clusters of plants that are difficult to remove and crowd out native plants. The leathery leaves are green year round. This plant should be avoided – the berries, bark and leaves are toxic when touched and can irritate the skin. The berries are poisonous.

Garry Oak, Arbutus, Pacific Sanicle, and Broad-leaved Stonecrop – four great reasons to visit Pipers Lagoon Park. When spring finally rolls around, I’m sure that there will be many more plants putting up leaves and coming into flower. I’m definitely going to return to find out what other botanical delights await!

Read more about Garry Oak ecosystems at the Garry Oak Ecosystem Recovery Team (GOERT) website.