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subalpine larch, Mt Frosty, BC

British Columbia’s trees are truly remarkable. Sitka spruce can grow as tall as a 32-storey sky scraper; yellow cedars can live for over 1,600 years, witnessing more than 584,000 sunrises. Inside the largest western redcedar – the provincial tree – you can comfortably fit two blue whales, the largest living animal on Earth.

British Columbia’s trees are also an integral part of regulating the natural water cycle. Fresh water is the life-blood of planet Earth and, is the most important precious natural resource on the globe.

Many trees live in rainforests. In fact, there is so much rainfall on the outer coast of Haida Gwaii or the Queen Charlotte Islands that the trees receive in excess of 12 feet of rainfall a year. These rainforest trees have had to develop special cells in their roots to help them breath, as tree roots need oxygen too.

The trees of  British Columbia have also been providing potent medicines for the First Peoples of that province for thousands of years.

The bark of the cascara tree is an excellent laxative, so much so that during World War II the British Columbian government had to protect the trees from being over-harvested.

Resin from white birch contains a natural chemical “zylitol” that effectively prevents tooth decay.

The sticky resin from the buds of black cottonwood successfully fight throat infections. Bees use that resin to make propolis a renown water-proof, antibacterial and antiviral compound used throughout beeshives, worldide.

Willow bark has the basic ingredients that make up the pain medicine known as aspirin. Moose rely on the pain medicine from willow twigs during the winter to help stave off hunger pains.

And Pacific yew – so dubbed the billion dollar pharmaceutical tree – has medicines so strong — taxol — that it’s currently being used to treat breast, ovarian and lung cancers, heart disease and AIDS.

Native British Columbian trees also produce amazing foods for both humans and forest animals.

For instance, whitebark pine grows the largest seeds in British Columbia – an crucial food for the Clark’s nutcrackers, also an important food for ground squirrels, black and grizzly bears.

Subalpine larch twigs make great soup – very high in vitamin C – and have been a favorite for back-country walkers and used by the First Peoples for thousands of years (pictured above in the autumn).

On a hot summer day, from branch stubs or fire scars, interior Douglas-fir produces an exquisite crunchy sugary treat.

Rocky Mountain juniper gives us the berry for the alcohol called gin – all we need to do is add ice and the tonic.

Pacific crab apples are a westcoast delicacy.

And you haven’t lived until you have tasted the sweet honey from flowers of the largest-leafed tree in all of Canada: The big-leafed maple.

The magnificent diminutive dogwood is the provincial flower of British Columbia. It reminds us that even an innocuous tree can stand tall, proud and showy in the springtime.

The resplendent golden of the autumn displayed for a couple weeks by subalpine larch needles are further testament to the fact that trees particularly in British Columbia are its living, breathing gold.

Reese Halter and Nancy Turner – Native Trees of British Columbia

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Earth Dr Reese Halter is an award-winning broadcaster and distinguished biologist. His latest books are The Insatiable Bark Beetle and The Incomparable Honeybee

Contact Earth Dr Reese Halter

Text © by Dr Reese Halter 2013. All rights reserved.


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