Self-Guided Tour: September & October 2022

Native Plants and Their Benefits to Wildlife

Contributor: John Shinnick, VanDusen Volunteer Guide

Download a printable PDF Version here:

Please follow the directional arrows and numbers for this tour. 

VanDusen Botanical Garden has a large and diverse collection. Contained in these 55 acres are not only imported exotic plants but native varieties of shrubs, trees, grasses, and perennials.

VanDusen has three notable collections that focus on plants that naturally occur in British Columbia, where they have evolved and formed relationships with other species in the local ecosystem.  As you approached the Visitor Centre from the parking lot, you passed the first of these collections, the Cascadia Garden, a rainforest understory of plants that we share with Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California:

Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa)
Salal (Gautheria shallon)
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
Trout Lilly (Erythronium americanum)

You can look at those on the way out or on your return to the garden at a later date.

We start this tour just outside our doors on the plaza overlooking the fountain and Livingstone Lake.  To the left you will find the first stop #1 Garry oak (Quercus garryana) on a small rise at the edge of the paving tiles.

Here you will find a few plants native to Garry oak meadows, ecosystems that are rare in BC but rich in biodiversity:

Bearberry, kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)
Camas (Camassia spp.)
Wakerobin (Trillium spp.)

We are now going to stroll off the plaza to the right and follow the signs.  This will take you onto the floating bridge across R. Roy Forster Cypress Pond, through #2 coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides).  We know from fossils that redwoods were common in British Columbia millions of years ago before they were pushed south by ice age glaciation.   Redwoods survived in China and the USA and have been reintroduced to parks and gardens in BC.  Over time they may become part of our native ecosystem once again.

We are enroute to #3 The BC Habitat Garden.  You can’t miss it, these beds are located just before the large wooden owl at the fork in the paved walk a ways up ahead.  Turn right as you exit the bamboo surrounding the redwoods, then left and follow the main path that leads straight ahead past Heron Lake.  Follow the arrows to your destination.

In the BC Habitat Garden you will find:
Bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus)
Bridalwreath (Spiraea densiflora)
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)
Common woolly sunflower (Eriophyllum lanatum)
False Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
Hyacinth brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina)
Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii)
Pacific bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)
Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium)
Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)
Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
Sitka columbine (Aquilegia formosa)
Western wakerobin (Trillium ovatum)
Wild bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)

The BC Habitat Garden was planted to provide food, shelter and nesting sites for the native birds, mammals, and amphibians that use VanDusen as a refuge, wildlife corridor, foraging or breeding site.  Many animal species have evolved to use specific native plants and can’t survive without them.  Neighbourhoods with gardens that make room for native plants will have more biodiversity.

Gardens with only imported plants will have less insect diversity.  Many bird species rely on insects for food, so a native plant garden can provide food for birds that eat insects as well as seeds.

Flower cultivars will often produce less pollen than straight species, so a big patch of native wildflowers will make lots of pollen for British Columbia’s many species of bumblebee (Bombus), as well as hover bees, mason bees and other solitary bees.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Try growing some native plants in your yard or on your patio or balcony.  Join a citizen science app and add your observations to ongoing research.  Add a plant app to your phone and identify plants in the park or along your street.