Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve

There is nothing at the parking area just beyond the dam at Comox Lake to suggest that a spectacular ecological reserve is a short 20 minute hike away. Beyond the burned rubbish and twisted metal and broken glass is a wide gravel trail that leads through an old cut block. The trail at this point has been “deactivated” in an attempt to prevent 4x4s, ATVs and motorbikes from driving down the old road to the lake. In addition to being one of the starting points for the walk to the Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve, this trailhead is also popular with mountain bikers.

Things were pretty quiet this weekend when Jocie and I hiked out to the bluffs to do a little spring botanizing and we had the place to ourselves. After cutting through the Pacific dogwood, cottonwood, red alder and other second growth re-colonizing the old cut block, the trail follows closely the edge line of Douglas fir as it makes its way along the lake. Eventually it connects with another deactivated logging road (which might lead to another parking area—we’ve never followed it to the end) and climbs up onto the bluffs.

Comox Lake Bluffs
The south facing Comox Lake Bluffs are spectacular for early spring plants.

The Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve is a wonderful place to search for interesting plants, but visitors need to be mindful to reduce their impact on this very sensitive ecosystem. The slopes are steep and the the moss covering the rock is thin and easy to damage. If you plan to visit, make sure to watch underfoot as many of the flowers are small and easy to miss.

The sinewy manzanita and arbutus are the most immediately noticeable plants in this place and their beautifully contorted limbs stand out against the open mossy bluffs. You have to look a little closer to see the flowers, but the splashes of colour are dead give aways.

Yellow Monkey-flower (Mimulus guttatus)
A patch of Yellow Monkey-flower (Mimulus guttatus) carpets the mossy ground at Comox Lake Bluffs.

Both yelllow monkey-flower (Mimulus guttatus) and sea blush (Plectritis congesta) were in bloom and created patches of bright yellow and pink.

Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)
Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta) creates a wash of pink colour along the south facing bluffs.

One other species of monkey-flower was also in flower, but a bit easier to miss. The diminutive chickweed-monkey flower (Mimulus alsinoides) does well on these mossy outcrops and thrives in the moist, shady places. It sort of looks like a smaller version of the yellow monkey-flower, but the reddish-brown “heart” on the lower lip of the flower is distinctive.

Chickweed Monkey-flower (Mimulus alsinoides)
Chickweed Monkey-flower (Mimulus alsinoides) is smaller than its showier “cousin.”

The bright pink of the sea blush and the brilliant yellow monkey-flowers were a highlight of our visit to the Comox Lake Bluffs. We found several other very beautiful and delicate flowers, but I’ll save those for my next post!