Vancouver Groundcone at Little Qualicum Falls

Don’t let the “little” part of the name of Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park fool you—these waterfalls are definitely a worthy of a stop on the way out to the West Coast of Vancouver Island or as an easy day trip from Courtenay or Nanaimo. In addition to the dramatic falls, the narrow canyons also make for good photography. And if you look closely, you’re likely to find some very cool and interesting plants.

Little Qualicum Falls
The main drop of Little Qualicum Falls.

I’ve found calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) at Little Qualicum on a previous visit with the kids and was looking for it this weekend when Clara, Alden and I stopped in on our way back to Courtenay. While we didn’t find any orchids, what we did find was just as interesting. At the edge of the trail mixed in with some kinnickinnick and salal was an odd plant that looked a little like a fir cone. We all got down to take a closer look at this strange little thing poking up through the moss.

Vancouver Groundcone (Boschniakia hookeri)
The first Vancouver Groundcone (Boschniakia hookeri) we found alongside the trail was pale yellow in colour. It was growing in association with kinnickinnick.

Vancouver groundcone (Boschniakia hookeri) is a plant that is parasitic on members of the heather family. In this case both the kinnickinnick and salal were likely hosts. The groundcone connects to the roots of the nearby plants and takes up nutrients from them. Like the name suggests, it does resemble the cone of a conifer. The flowers peek out over bracts that look like the scales of the cone.

Vancouver Groundcones (Boschniakia hookeri)
These purple Vancouver Groundcones (Boschniakia hookeri) stood out against the pale green moss and the darker green of salal and kinnickinnick.

Once we found the first cone, Alden and Clara were soon pointing out others. In all we spotted close to a dozen on our walk—most were pale pink-yellow in colour, but a few were a rich, royal purple. Clara, just three, decided that the smaller ones were the baby ones. Technically incorrect, but at three she’s entitled to her own opinions. Since a single groundcone can produce more than a third of a million seeds, you could definitely say that they are prolific.

We spent about an hour at the falls searching for plants and watching the river from the safety of fenced viewing platforms. BC Parks has done a good job of making this area safe for families with little children and it’s an easy walk from the parking lot to the upper falls and back.

Little Qualicum Falls
Trails follow the edges of the Little Qualicum River, providing great viewpoints of the waterfall and river canyon.

We took the upper path out to the falls and then followed the lower path back on the same side of the river rather than completing the loop on the alternate side. If I remember correctly, there are more stairs on the far side of the river, which can be challenging if you’re walking to the falls with a stroller. Even with the fencing, it is a good idea to keep your kids close as you view the falls and canyon. That way you can keep an eye on them and they can share what they discover with you!

More pictures of Little Qualicum Falls and the Little Qualicum River on my Tumblr blog. More on the Vancouver Groundcone at A Cone that is Not a Cone.

Getting There:

On Highway 4 between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni, watch for the signs for Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park.