Monday, May 23, 2016

Rock garden

In the late 1800s, a local sheep herder rowed his stock over to Mitlenatch Island every spring. The island is small, with an area of 35 hectares (one third of a square kilometre), mostly bare rock, reached only by water. It's 13 kilometres from Manson's Landing on Cortes Island; imagine ferrying a herd of sheep and a few calves over this stretch in a rowboat!

In the fall, the sheep, now fatter, were rowed back to Cortes, or over to Comox (30 km) to be sold. The cows, too large for the rowboats now, had to be butchered on the island.

The effort was worth it; back on Cortes, wolves had decimated Mike Manson's herd. There are no wolves on Mitlenatch, no cougars, no coyotes. The herds thrived.

Mitlenatch Island. Google map with colour enhanced and background replaced for visibility.

The sheep and cattle are long gone, but the grasses they browsed on remain. A few trees have recently taken root, and Saskatoon berry bushes and wild roses grow in crevices, but the rest of the vegetation is low and small, suited to thin soil and dry weather.

View over Camp Bay, on the Northeast end of the island.

The park receives less than 75 cm (30 inches) of rain each year – about half the Campbell River average. Rain-bearing clouds pass eastward from the Pacific Ocean and drop much of their moisture on Vancouver Island. As they descend across the Strait of Georgia, they warm and pick up new moisture, which will be dropped on the Coast Mountains of mainland British Columbia. (BC Gov. brochure)

An information kiosk above Northwest Bay shows some of the plants we could expect to find here.

Of these, I saw only the blue camas. Someone else saw the tiger lily, but I missed it.

I saw all of these, except the harebells and the brodiaea.

Blue camas chocolate lily, gone to seed.

Death camas.

The blue camas is edible, and was an important food crop for BC's native peoples. The death camas is extremely poisonous. In the spring, while they are flowering, they are easily distinguished; once they've gone to seed, they're almost identical.

Though the bulbs were traditionally gathered after the flowers had withered, weeding was done during flowering. The primary objective was to remove death camas (Zygadenus venenosus), which often grows mixed with blue camas. (North American Native Plant Society)

Most of the blues were already forming seeds last week on Mitlenatch; the whites, or death camas, were still flowering.

Above our heads (we had to stay on the trail) clumps of prickly pear cling to the rocks. The pimples on the rock are lichens.

Stonecrop, Sedum acre

Fence detail, with stonecrop

Typical mix; stonecrop, Hooker's onion, grass, lichen, gumweed (not flowering yet), and the woolly sunflower. Plants that grow both here and in Campbell River, like the gumweed, are generally smaller here.

Salal flowers. These generally like a wetter climate, but this one was growing in a deep crack between the rocks.

More plants tomorrow.

(4th in a series of 9 Mitlenatch Island posts. #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8)


  1. It's such a small place . . . are there often groups there or are visits rationed?

  2. What's rationed is access. Landing is not permitted except in the two bays. Visitors are not allowed off a few narrow trails. Offshore, no fishing is allowed within 300 metres. No fires are allowed. No pets. No noise. Nothing can be removed, nothing left behind. The two outhouses are a good distance up the trail, not easily found, so people are motivated to return to their boats asap.

    Volunteer naturalists take turns staying in the ramshackle cabin from early spring until fall. They watch out for boats arriving, and make sure people don't go beyond the public access areas.

    The Misty Isles makes two trips per year; a couple of other tour boats, from the mainland, also come a couple of times. While we were there, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, three other boats showed up. They didn't stay long.

  3. Must be a very interesting place.

    1. Wait till I get to the cliff dwellers!

  4. I'm really enjoying all the details of your visit to Mitlenatch. Amazing there are so many flowers, despite the dryness. I think the seed pod though is from the fritillary, not the camas.

    1. I think you're right. So I did see the chocolate lily, after all!

  5. I'm really enjoying all the details of your visit to Mitlenatch. Amazing there are so many flowers, despite the dryness. I think the seed pod though is from the fritillary, not the camas.


If your comment is on a post older than a week, it will be held for moderation. Sorry about that, but spammers seem to love old posts!

Also, I have word verification on, because I found out that not only do I get spam without it, but it gets passed on to anyone commenting in that thread. Not cool!