May and June are peak times to visit Harewood Plains to view wildflowers. In May, common camas (Camassia quamash), sea blush (Plectritis congesta), and yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus) fill the open meadows of the plains with a beautiful wash of blue, pink, and yellow. The bloom begins in late April and continues through the month of May and into June. Now is an ideal time to visit the meadows in order to experience the full beauty of the bloom!
Harewood Plains is located in Nanaimo, British Columbia. A rough road runs underneath power lines and through the meadows providing access and viewing opportunities without damaging sensitive habitat. In the early spring after heavy rainfall, parts of this road become a temporary stream as water seeks the easiest path down the gentle slope.
The soil at Harewood Plains is thin and overlays an impermeable layer of rock. Rainwater saturates the soil and moss, creating a unique ecosystem with shallow runnels of seepage running through rich wildflower meadows. However, these same conditions make the meadows vulnerable to human activity. ATV and motorbike damage is evident in many places where vehicles left the main road and created long-lasting ruts in the shallow soil. Even walking through the wildflowers can create noticeable damage. In order to minimize impact, visitors should keep to the main roads and trails.
Many different types of wildflowers are found at Harewood Plains. Some are widespread and easily identified. Others are less common plants like bog birds-foot trefoil (Lotus pinnatus) that require more effort and specific timing. Many are small and more challenging to find. The following yellow listed wildflowers are currently in bloom and hard to miss.
Common Camas (Camassia quamash)
One of the three widespread flowers at Harewood Plains is common camas (Camassia quamash), a member of the lily family. It grows in mesic to vernally moist meadows and grasslands on Vancouver Island. Common camas is yellow listed in British Columbia.
Camas bulbs were traditionally cultivated and harvested by First Nations. The bulbs are edible, however, the carbohydrate takes the form of inulin which is hard to digest. Cooking the bulbs in steam pits for twenty-four hours or more breaks down the inulin. The steamed bulbs are apparently sweet and easier to digest.
Without the flower as an identifying feature, it is hard to tell the bulbs of common camas from the bulbs of death camas (Zigadenus venenosus) which grows in the same habitat. Like the name suggests, death camas bulbs are highly toxic and potentially fatal. As a result, camas bulbs were typically harvested while the flowers were still visible. Harvesting camas bulbs can do significant damage to this sensitive ecological area and is not encouraged. Take only photographs.
Sea Blush (Plectritis congesta)
It is difficult to miss sea blush (Plectritis congesta). This yellow listed flower is also typical of mesic and vernally moist meadows and is prolific at Harewood Plains. In May, pink sea blush covers the gentle slopes of Harewood Plains and along the wet mossy runnels. The bloom at Harewood Plains is always spectacular.
Sea blush also grows close to the ocean. The colour of the flower and location where it grows is the origin of its common name. The Latin name describes the appearance of the flower. The Greek plectros refers to the plaited flower petals, while the Greek congesta refers to the crowded nature of the inflorescence.
Yellow Monkey-flower (Erythranthe guttata)
In the wetter seepage areas of Harewood Plains, Yellow monkey-flower (Erythranthe guttata) grows abundantly. The bright yellow flowers are distinctive and contrast visually with the pink sea blush and blue camas. Since it prefers to keep its roots damp, yellow monkey-flower is prolific alongside the wet seeps and in depressions where water tends to collect. This wildflower is also yellow listed in British Columbia.
Accessing Harewood Plains can be a little bit tricky. If you want to park on the main access road you exit the Nanaimo Parkway at Cedar Road and then make your way through some subdivisions to an access road that runs parallel to the bypass. However, there is another simple and quicker way to get to the beginning of the meadows.
Travelling south on the Nanaimo Parkway, watch for the 5th Street exit and drive through that intersection. Continue driving south towards the Cedar Road exit. Pull over and park your vehicle on the side of the parkway when you see power lines crossing the highway. There is a short, rough trail on the other side of the ditch (there are boards/logs here to help cross) that leads up to the paved access road. The main gate into Harewood Plains is on the other side of the paved road.
Visitors to Harewood Plains should work to minimize their impact on this sensitive ecosystem. Stay on the main trails and roads and enjoy the spring bloom from there.