If you live near Campbell River on Vancouver Island you don’t have to take a ferry over to the mainland and drive all the way to the Okanagan to see some gorgeous wild sunflowers. In fact, the deltoid balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) that grows on Tyee Spit is much rarer than its cousin the arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) that covers the hillsides in the interior. It is only found in a few places on Vancouver Island—Tyee Spit, Mount Tzuhalem Ecological Reserve, and a number of locations around Victoria. That being the case, one could make the argument that it might be worth making a trip from the Lower Mainland to Vancouver Island simply to see this red listed aster in bloom.
The key difference between these two plants is the shape of the leaves. Like the name suggests, the arrowleaf balsamroot has somewhat long, arrowhead shaped leaves. In contrast, the deltoid balsamroot has leaves that are more triangular in shape. The leaves of the deltoid balsamroot are quite fuzzy to the touch and not quite as blue green (to my eye) as the arrowleaf.
At Tyee Spit, the area where these plants grow is quite small, not much more than a “postage stamp” in size. It is bounded on one side by Spit Road and on the other by a gravel parking area. Despite being close to the road, it is very easy to miss this location while driving out to the spit. The flowers are difficult to see because of the thick growth of scotch broom and saskatoon bushes. You really have to get out of your vehicle and take a closer look in order to find them. Look for the Seabreeze Cafe set up in the parking lot as good landmark (and they’ve got great food!).
In addition to the spectacular deltoid balsamroot a number of other interesting plants can also be found underneath the Douglas-fir that grow here. Meadow death-camas (Zygadenus venenosus) and seashore lupin (Lupinus littoralis) are the most noticeable, but you can also find bare-stem desert-parsley (Lomatium nudicale).
Now is the time to see the deltoid balsamroot in bloom—choose a sunny day when it is more likely that the flowers will be fully open. Note that these rare sunflowers are located on the land of the Campbell River First Nation so make sure to ask permission before taking a closer look. Be mindful when you visit and don’t pick the flowers.
Read Jocie’s 2006 article about this unique plant community at Deltoid Balsamroot: A Rare Flower in Campbell River. You might also be interested in comparing this flower with the arrowleaf balsamroot found in the interior of British Columbia.
Spit Road is accessed from the old Island Highway that runs past the Canadian Tire/Superstore/Zellers mall complex on the waterfront in Campbell River. Follow Spit Road past the back side of the mall and look for a small fenced area on the right hand side just past the Campbell River First Nations’ cemetery. There is a gravel parking area where the Seabreeze Cafe is set up.