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Monumental arbutus another reason to appreciate the Six Mountains

Ask North Cowichan residents to name their favourite tree, and arbutus would be right up there. The Six Mountains are blessed with an abundance of them and I believe we also boast some of the biggest specimens in BC.

Maple Mountain has a couple of especially large arbutus — including the one depicted in this photograph — that are begging to be officially measured and compared against other coastal giants of the same species. So far, I’ve found nothing that compares with them in the 5,000-hectare Municipal Forest Reserve.

The BC Big Tree Registry ( is maintained by the University of BC forestry faculty and is the official word on such statistics. It specifies how to measure a tree and who is qualified to do so, such as a forester, biologist or land surveyor.

Arbutus — also known as madrone — are found in Canada on the mainland coast of southern BC as well as the Gulf Islands and southeastern Vancouver Island.

It is an oddity as a broadleaf evergreen and enjoys dry, sunny, often rocky sites, frequently with coarse-textured soils, according to Plants of Coastal BC by Andy MacKinnon and Jim Pojar. The Saanich people used medicinal preparations from arbutus bark and leaves for colds and stomach problems.

At this time of the year, large flocks of robins target arbutus berries to help get them through the winter. While hiking Mount Tzouhalem a few days ago, I stood in awe as the forests vibrated with hundreds of them.

Arbutus are just another reason why there is such strong community support for protecting the Six Mountains, located within the most endangered landscape in BC — the coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone.

The Six Mountains that define North Cowichan are Prevost, Sicker, Richards, Maple, Tzouhalem and Stoney Hill.

Read more about arbutus at

— Larry Pynn Dec. 27, 2020


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