A rare old-growth deciduous forest on Vancouver Island.
When most of us think of British Columbia’s old-growth forest we imagine towering ancient cedars, spruces, and firs. But along a salmon-bearing creek southwest of Vancouver Island’s Lake Cowichan there’s an enchanting rainforest of an entirely different sort—featuring centuries-old deciduous bigleaf maples.
Ken Wu, executive director of the Ancient Forest Alliance, came across the rare grove, which extends in a corridor at least four kilometres long, on a scouting mission two years ago and is advocating for its protection. This is Canada’s mossiest rainforest, he says. The trees are enveloped by hanging gardens of mosses, ferns, and lichens that thrive on the calcium-rich bark of the trees. The maples are an estimated 300 years old and are “exceptionally large,” with diameters up to two metres.
“This is the most photogenic ecosystem in the entire country,” says Wu. “I’ve been through so many types of forest and landscapes and this one takes the cake. Hollywood couldn’t have created a more rainforesty rainforest.”
Bigleaf maples are native to southwestern B.C. but old-growth stands are scarce—the aged wood of the species has high commercial value and is sometimes targeted by wood poachers. Wu suspects that these particular trees—a few dozen giants mixed with some second growth and other species—have been spared because they have hollowed out with age.
The Mossy Maple Grove (also nicknamed Fangorn Forest after J.R.R Tolkien’s forest of animated tree-like beings) is primarily on Crown land. AFA runs occasional public hikes there but discourages independent visitation to avoid damaging the delicate understory and spooking the elk that rely on this riparian area. (The grove is also frequented by deer, cougars, black bears, and sometimes wolves.)