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Note on the distribution of some of the more important trees of British Columbia Dawson, George Mercer, 1849-1901 1880

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   (From the Canadian Naturalist, Vol. IX. No. 6.)
(Printed in advance of the Beport of Progress of the Geological Survey
of Canada for 1879-80.)
By Gborge M. Dawson, D.S., A.E.S.M., F.G.S.
British Columbia forming a portion of the Cordillera region
of the west coast of America, with diversified and bold physical
features, the lines indicating the geographical range ofthe various
species of plants do not assume in it the broad rounded forms
found in less mountainous districts. The peculiarities in distribution while adding interest to the study, renders an intimate
knowledge of the topography of the country an essential prerequisite to its prosecution. As large tracts of the province are
as yet geographically unknown owing to their remoteness and
singular impenetrability, we are far from possessing complete information on the distribution of many of even the more important
species. The following notes and map are presented as a contribution towards our knowledge of the range of some of the trees
of British Columbia, based on uotes aud observations made by
myself while engaged in the work of the Geological Survey from
1875 to 1879. I am indebted to Mr. H. J. Cambie of the
Canadian Pacific Railway for valuable notes on the extension of
certain trees from the coast up the valleys of the Homathco and
Dean or Salmon Rivers, and in a few cases have availed myself
of facts published in Prof. Macoun's reports. I have also to
thank Dr. Engelmann for notes furnished in regard to specimens
collected in various parts of the province. It is not intended to give a description of the orography of the
province, though as above indicated this is closely connected with
the extension of the various species of plants. The following
general statement made by me in a note on agriculture and stock
raising and extent of cultivable land in the province,* may, with
little alteration, be repeated here, as outlining the conditions to
be found within its area:—The flora of British Columbia as a
whole may be broadly divided into four great groups, indicating
as many varieties of climate, which may be named as follows :—
the West Coast, the Western Interior, the Canadian, and the
Arctic. The first, with an equable climate and heavy rainfall,
is characterized by a correspondent luxuriance of vegetation,
and especially of forest growth. This region is that west of the
Coast Range, and is well marked by the peculiarity of its plants.
In a few spots only—and these depending on the dryness of
several of the summer months owing to local circumstances—does
a scanty representation of the drought-loving flora of the Californian coast occur. The second is that of the southern part of
the interior table-land of the province, and presents as its most
striking feature a tendency to resemble in its flora the interior
basin of Utah and Nevada to the south and the drier plains east
of the Rocky Mountains. It may be said to extend northward
to about the 51st parallel, while isolated patches of a somewhat
similar flora occur on warm hill-sides and the northern banks of
rivers to beyond the Blackwater. In the northern part of the
interior of the province, just such an assemblage of plants is
found as may be seen in many parts of eastern Canada, though
mingled with unfamiliar stragglers. This flora appears to run
completely across the continent north of the great plains, and
characterizes a region with moderately abundant rainfall, summers
not excessively warm, and cold winters. The arctic or alpine
flora is that of the higher summits of the Coast, Selkirk, Rocky
and other mountain ranges, where snow lies late in the summer.
Here plants lurk which deploy on the low grounds only on the
shores of Hudson Bay, the Icy Sea and Behring's Strait.
In the following notes the Coniferse are placed first as having
the greatest importance both from an economic point of view, and
from the vast extent of country which they cover almost to the
exclusion of other trees.
* Beport Can. Pacific Bailway, 1877.    Appendix S. Pseudotsuga Douglasii, Lindl. Douglas spruce, Douglas
fir, sometimes commercially named Oregon pine. This is the
most important timber tree of British Columbia, and the only
one of which the wood has yet become an article of export on a
large scale. It is found in all parts of Vancouver Island with
the exception of the exposed western coast, but does not occur
in the Queen Charlotte Islands or coast archipelago to the north
of Vancouver. On the mainland, near the forty-ninth parallel,
it extends from the sea to the Rocky Mountains, growing at a
height of 6000 feet in a stunted form, and occurring even on the
eastern slopes of the Roeky Mountains. In the dry southern
portion of the interior of British Columbia it is confined to the
higher uplands between the various river valleys. Northward it
comes down to the general level of the country. It does not
extend into the mountainous and comparatively humid region of
Cariboo, and is probably absent from the higher portions of the
Selkirk and Gold Ranges generally. Its northern line is singularly
irregular. It is found about Fort George, and north-eastward as
far as McLeod's Lake, but does not occur on the Parsnip. It
extends about half-way up Tacla Lake, and on Babine Lake to
the bend or knee. A few specimens occur on the Skeena River.
It is common about Fraser and Francois Lakes. It is found
from the Fraser to the coast mountains on the Jine of the Chilcotin and its tributaries, and occurs on the Nazco and up the
Blackwater to the mouth of the Iscultaesli, but is absent from
an extensive tract of country bounded by the last-named localities
to the south and east and extending northward to Francois Lake.
It occurs abundantly on the coast of the mainland as far north
as the north end of Vancouver Island, but beyond that point is
found only on the shores of the inlets at some distance from the
sea. It is found on the upper part of Dean Inlet and on the
Salmon River which runs into it, but about forty-five miles from.
the salt water becomes small and stunted, and as above stated,
is not seen in that part of the interior lying to the eastward.
The extent of its range to the north-eastward, in the Rocky
Mountain range, though broadly indicated on the map, is still
The best grown specimens are found near the coast in proximity to the waters of the many bays and inlets which indent it.
Here the tree frequently surpasses eight feet in diameter, at a
considerable height above the ground, and reaches a height of from 200 to over 300 feet, forming prodigious and dark forests.
The wood varies considerably in appearance and strength according to its locality of growth and other circumstances. It is
admirably adapted for all ordinary purposes of construction, and
of late has obtained favourable notice in ship-building, remaining
sound in water for a long time. For spars and masts it is unsurpassed both as to strength, straightness and length. Masts for
export are usually hewn to octagonal shape from 20 to 32 inches
in diameter and 60 to 120 feet in length. On special orders they
have been shipped as large as 42 inches in diameter by 120 feet
long. Yards are generally hewn out from 12 to 24 inches in
diameter and 50 to 102 feet long.
Masts and spars are generally sent to Great Britain; other
forms of lumber to South America, Australia, India, China and
the Sandwich Islands.
Tsuga -Mertensiana, Lindl. Western hemlock. The hemlock occurs everywhere in the vicinity of the coast, and extends
up the Fraser and other rivers to the boundary of the region of
abundant rainfall. It reappears in the Selkirk and Gold Ranges,
where sufficient moisture for its growth is again found. The
tree attains a large size on the coast, reaching a height of
200 feet, and yields a good wood, but has not yet been much
used. The bark is employed successfully in tanning. Tsuga
Mertensiana closely resembles the eastern hemlock (T. Canadensis) but attains a larger size than that tree ever does.
In the Queen Charlotte Islands it is particularly abundant
and large. On the Salmon River, running into Dean Inlet, it is
not found in abundance beyond eighteen miles from the sea at
an elevation of 600 feet. It occurs again, however, sparingly on
the lower part of the Utasyouco River, a tributary to the last,
and within the Coast Range. On the Homathco River, flowing
into Bute Inlet, it ceases at fifty-three miles from the sea at an
elevation of 2320 feet. On the Uz-tli-hoos it extends to a point
six or ten miles east of the Fraser, on the Coquihalla to the
summit between that river and the Coldwater.
Thuja gigantea, Nutt. Western arbor vitas, giant cedar, red
cedar. This tree in its distribution nearly follows that of the
hemlock, abounding along the coast and lower parts of the rivers
ofthe Coast Range, being unknown in the dry central plateau, but
reappearing abundantly on the slopes of the Selkirk and Gold Ranges. On the Salmon River the cedar ceases at forty-five
miles from the head of Dean Inlet at an elevation of 2400 feet,
though like the hemlock it is again found sparingly and in a
stunted form in the lower part of the Utasyouco Valley. On the
Homathco it ceases at a distance of sixty-three miles from the
coast at an elevation of 2720 feet. On the Uz-tli-hoos it ends
with the hemlock at about six miles east of Boston Bar, on the
Coquihalla, just south ofthe summit between that river and the
Coldwater. Cedars are also found sparingly on the Skaist River
or east branch of the Skagit, and a few were observed on the
banks of the Similkameen, about thirteen miles below Vermilion
Forks. It extends westward from the flanks of the Gold Range
in the Coldstream Valley sparingly to within eight miles of the
head of Okanagan Lake. It abounds round the shores of the
north-eastern part of Shuswap Lake, and on the North Thompson
Valley to about twenty miles below the mouth otthe Clearwater.
It is said that there is also a small grove of these trees on the
Fraser below Fort George.
On the coast it not unfrequently surpasses fifteen feet in diameter with a height of 100 to 150 feet, but sueh large trees are
.. invariably hollow. The wood is good, pale yellowish or reddish,
and very durable, but it is not yet extensively used except for
the manufacture of shingles. Prom this tree the Indians split
out the planks which they use in the construction of their lodges
along the coast, and in the north make the carved posts which
ornament their villages. They also hollow their large and elegant
canoes in it, and use the fibre of the inner bark for rope making
and other purposes.
Picea Engelmanni, Parry. Engelmann's spruce. This tree
resembles the black spruce ofthe east, but reaches a larger size,
frequently surpassing three feet in diameter, and running up tall
and straight. It appears to characterise the interior plateau and
eastern part of the province, with the exception of the dry southern portion of the former, and forms dense forests in the mountains. Varieties occur, which, according to Dr. Bngelmann, who
has examined my specimens, are almost indistinguishable from
Picea alba, and to the north-eastward these varieties preponderate. Specimens collected on ehe Peace River plateau (lat. 55°
46' 54", long. 120° 20', altitude 2600 feet) are still referable to
* P. Engelmanni,  but trees on the Athabasca   (lat. 54° 7' 34", long. 118° 48') belong to P. alba. The northern and northr
eastern range of Engelmann's spruce is therefore undeterminate.
It borders nearly all the streams and swamps in the northern
portion of British Columbia between about 2500 and 3500 feet
in elevation. It is probably this tree which forms dense groves
in the upper alpine valleys ofthe Rocky Mountains in the vicinity
of the forty-ninth parallel. The wood has not yet been extensively
employed, but it is excellent, and in some cases very durable.
Picea Menziesii, Lindl. Menzie's spruce. This tree seems to
be confined chiefly to the immediate vicinity of the coast, where
it attains a large size, and is to some extent used for lumber. It
was, however, observed on the summit between the Coldwater and
Coquihalla Rivers (3280 feet) ; also on the Nicolume a few miles
beyond the summit between that stream and the Sumallow, and
on the west side of the Spioos valley near the trail crossing. It
was noted (doubtfully) on the summit between the Forks of
Skeena and Babeen Lake, and may probably occur in the humid
region of the Gold and Selkirk Ranges. The wood is white and
Abies grandis, Lindl. Confined to the vicinity of the coast,
where its range is even more strictly limited than that of the
cedar or hemlock. The wood is said to be white and soft, but
too brittle for most purposes, and moreover liable to decay rapidly.
Grows to a large size.
• Abies subalpina, Bngelm. (= A. lasiocarpa Hook.) Balsam
spruce. Appears to take the place of Abies grandis in the region
east of the Coast Ranges. It is not found in the southern dry
portion of the interior plateau, but occurs abundantly in the
Gold and Selkirk' Ranges in the Rocky mountain region east of
McLeod's Lake. Elsewhere it occurs in scattered groves, in the
northern portion of the interior plateau, generally in localities
nearly reaching or surpassing 4000 feet, but even in low valleys
in the eastern portion of the Coast Ranges. It crosses the
Rocky mountains in the Peace River district and occurs in cold
damp situations in the county between Lesser Slave Lake and the
Athabasca River. The tree often exceeds two feet in diameter,
but the wood is said to be almost worthless.
Pinus ponderosa, Dougl. Yellow pine, red pine, pitch pine.
A remarkably handsome tree,  which grows only in the central dry region of British Columbia, occurring between the Coast
Ranges and Selkirk and Gold Ranges northward from the forty-
ninth parallel to latitude 51° 30' and probably also to about latitude 51° in the valley of the upper portion of the Columbia.
Found also I believe sparingly on the east side of the Rocky
Mountains near Waterton Lake on the forty-ninth parallel. On
the Similkameen this tree is seen furthest east three miles above
Nine-mile Creek. On the Coldwater it reaches to eighteen or
twenty miles from the Nicola ; down the Fraser to thirty miles
above Yale, and northward on the main waggon road to " the
Chasm " beyond Clinton. It extends about forty miles up the
North Thompson, is found on the northern slopes of the Southwestern Arm of Great Shuswap Lake, and also sparingly on the
southern part of the Salmon Arm, west of Okanagan Lake towards
Cherry Creek nearly to the Camel's Hump Mountain.
It is used pretty extensively in the region which it characterizes, yielding sawn lumber of good appearance, but rather brittle
and not very durable when exposed to the weather. It grows in
open groves in the valleys, where it often occurs almost to the
exclusion of other trees; and stretches up the slopes of the mountains and plateaux to a height of over 3000 feet, where it is
replaced by the Douglas fir and Pinus contorta. Its diameter
in British Columbia does not seem to exceed four feet, though
further south it is said to reach a diameter of twelve to fifteen
Pinus contorta, Dougl. Western scrub pine, also called the
bull or black pine. Occurs throughout British Columbia from
the sea-coast to the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, and
from the forty-ninth parallel northward. It is the characteristic
tree over the northern part of the interior plateau, and densely
covers great areas. In the southern part of the province it is
found on those parts of the plateau and hills which rise above
about 3500 feet, where the rainfall becomes too great for the
healthy growth of P. ponderosa. It grows also abundantly on
sandy benches and river flats at less elevations. On the coast it
occurs rather sparingly on sandy dunes and the most exposed rocky
points, becoming gnarled and stunted. In the Queen Charlotte
Islands it is scarcely seen 'except on the western coast, and does
not occur near the water level for a considerable distance up the
Skeena.    In the interior it often forms dense groves, the trees being 60 to even 100 feet in height, but seldom exceeding a
diameter of two feet. It does not extend upward to the timber
limit in tne higher, mountains. The tree characteristic of the
interior is var. latifolia of Engelmann, and differs considerably
in appearance and character of wood from that of the coast to
which the name contorta may appropriately be applied. Dall
states the northern limit of this tree in Alaska to be on the
Youkon at Fort Selkirk, latitude 63°. In the Peace River
region it crosses the Rocky Mountain range, and occurs more or
less abundantly over a great area generally on the higher parts
ofithe plateau with poor soil. It is replaced by the Banksian
pine at the watershed between the Athabasca and Saskatchewan.
- The wood is seldom used as lumber on account of its small
size, but is white and fairly durable. The cambium layer, containing much sugar, is eaten by the Indians in the spring, and
in some instances large quantities of it are collected and dried
for winter use.
Pinus flexilis, James var. albicaulis, Engelm. White pine,
white-barked pine. Wood not employed as lumber; the trees
being in general small and in inaccessible situations. Observed
in the Coast or Cascade Ranges as far north as the Utasyouco
River (lat. 53°), occurs in the mountains south of the upper part
of the Dean or Salmon River, in the vicinity of Lillooet and
at Yale, and on the summit of Iron Mountain at the mouth of
the Coldwater. The seeds are collected and used as food by the
; 'Pinus monticola, Dougl. White pine. This tree is abundant
in certain" districts of the interior of Vancouver Island, and is
also found in all parts of the southern portion of the Coast Range
where there is an abundant rainfall. It is found on the Hope-
Similkameen trail, some miles beyond the summit on the Sum-
ollow, about the summit between the Coquihalla and Coldwater
on the H'ope-Nicola trail; and to the west bank of the Spioos at
the trail crossing. On the Homathco River it disappears at fifty-one
miles from the sea at an elevation of 2235 feet. It reappears in
the region of heavy rainfall of the Gold Range, being abundant
about Cherry Creek and on the shores of Great Shuswap and
Adam's Lakes. It has not been observed in the Queen Charlotte Islands, though it may exist there. It appears to flourish
Best in the higher mountain regions.    The tree attains sixty to eighty feet in height with a diameter of two to three feet, but is
generally most abundant in situations inaccessible to the lumberer.
The wood is coming into use for some purposes. It is not considered equal to that of the eastern white pine (P. strobus) which
it resembles.    The Indians collect and eat the seeds of this tree.
Chamaecyparis Nutkaensis, Lamb. Yellow cypress. Commonly
known as the yellow cedar. This tree is confined to the vicinity
of the coast and adjacent islands. It is found in the vicinity of
Burrard Inlet on the slopes of the mountains, several hundred
feet above the sea level. Further north it descends to the coast.
It occurs in the interior of Vancouver Island, and is abundant
in some parts on the Queen Charlotte Islands, particularly on
the west coast. Jt often exceeds six feet in diameter. This wood
is as yet comparatively unknown in commerce, but is strong, free
and of fine grain, with a pale golden yellow tint and a slight
peculiar resinous smell. It is very durable and has been used to
a limited extent in boat-building and for various ornamental
Larix occidentalis, L. Western larch. Is found in the Rocky
mountains and in the valleys of the Selkirk and Gold Ranges, its
limit there being co-extensive with that of abundant rainfall.
Stretches westward nearly to the head of Okanagan Lake. Not
found on the coast. The timber is said to be strong and durable
but coarse.
A species of larch, which from imperfect specimens submitted
to him Dr. Engelmann supposes to be L. America, occurs abundantly in swampy spots on the Peace River plateau and on the
Taxus brevifolia, Nutt. Yew. Occurs on Vancouver Island,
ond on the shores of the mainland adjacent, attaining sometimes,
a diameter of two feet. Not found, or very sparingly in the
Queen Charlotte Islands. A very tough hard wood of beautiful
rose color, employed for various ornamental purposes. Formerly
used by the Indians in making bows, spear handles, fish-hooks &c.
Juniperus virginiana, L. Juniper, red cedar, savin. Has
been observed assuming an arboreal form along the shores of
Kamloops, Francois and other lakes, and elsewhere, with a diameter of about a foot.    Commonly known as pencil cedar. 10
Acer macrophyllum, Pursh. Maple. Found on Vancouver and
adjacent Islands, and on the mainland in the immediate vicinity
of the coast northward sparingly to latitude 55°, and in the
Queen Charlotte Islands. Never found inland. Occasionally
attains a diameter of four feet. A valuable hard wood, sometimes
well adapted for cabinet-making, and also used as fuel.
Acer circinatum, Pursh. Vine maple. Like the last strictly
•confined to the vicinity of the coast, but does not appear to go
far north. A small tree, seldom over a foot in diameter, but
yielding a very tough and strong white wood, which is used, in
the absence of ash, for the manufacture of helves, &c.
Pyrus rivularis, Dougl. Crab-apple. Occurs along the coast
of Vancouver and the Queen Charlotte Islands and the whole
coast of the mainland of British Columbia. On the Skeena
abundant to the mouth of the Lakelse and a few trees seen at
ninety miles from the sea. A small tree or shrub. Wood very
hard, susceptible of a good polish, and especially valuable in those
parts of mill machinery intended to withstand great wear. Fruit
prized by the Indians as food.
Pyrus sambucifolia, Cham, and Schlect. Mountain ash.
Sparingly in various parts of the interior of the Province. A
small tree or bush.
Amqlanchier alnifolia, Watson. Service-berry, ' la poire.'
Occurs on Vancouver Island and very rarely and in a stunted
form in the Queen Charlotte Islands. Abundant in some parts
of the interior plateau and beyond the Rocky mountains to the
north eastward in the Peace River country. Generally a shrub.
Under favourable circumstances a small tree. The wood is very
hard and is used for various purposes by the Indians. The
berries are dried and stored away in large quantities for winter
Quercus Garryana, Dougl. Oak. Grows only in the southeastern portion of Vancouver Island, though Mr. A. C. Anderson
mentions the existence of a few trees near Yale, on the Fraser
River, which have probably now disappeared. Reaches a diameter of three feet and a height of about seventy feet. Used
for flooring and other purposes in building, and also in the manufacture of barrels and kegs.    A hard wood but not very tough. 11
Alnus rubra, Bongard. Alder. Attains the dimensions of a
small tree, on Vancouver and Queen Charlotte Islands and the
coast of the mainland. Wood sometimes employed for making
Betula occidentalis, Hook. Birch. Occurs sparingly over
almost the entire area of the province. Well grown trees
are found in the northern part of the Fraser basin and in the
Peace River country.
Populus tremuloides, Michx. Aspen poplar. Abounds over
the whole interior of the province, growing everywhere in the
north and characterizing some of the most fertile lands. In the
southern dry portions of the interior found usually along the
borders of streams, and on the higher plateaux. First noticed in
abundance on the Skeena at about 110 miles from the sea. It
forms the usual second growth after fires in the Peace River
country.    Attains frequently a diameter of two feet.
Populus trichocarpa, T. & G. Cottonwood. Grows chiefly
in the valleys of streams and on the banks of rivers, throughout
the province, and north-eastward in the Peace River district.
Frequently four to five feet in diameter. Used by the Indians
of the interior for the manufacture of canoes. Populus balsam-
ifera & P. monilifera may also occur in some parts of the region,
all going under the general name of Cottonwood.
Arbutus Menziesii, Pursh. Arbutus, madrona. Occurs on
Vancouver and the neighbouring islands, but never far from the
sea. It is sparingly represented as far north as Seymour Narrows. A very handsome evergreen yielding a white close-grained
heavy wood, resembling box. Attains a diameter of from eighteen
inches to two feet, and a height of fifty feet.
Cornus Nuttallii, Aud. Dogwood. On Vancouver Island and
the coast of the mainland adjacent, attaining the dimensions of
a small tree.    Wood close-grained and hard.
Montreal, June 1880.   


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