Seeing the trees for the forest

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With temperatures in Banff plummeting down to minus 20, I’m away in sunny Greece enjoying the sunshine of +20!  The dry arid surroundings are making me miss home (yes, even those cold temperatures!), and the various flora and fauna that are now laying dormant until spring rolls around.  By the time I get back it’ll be fully fledged ski season, all resorts are now open and people are hitting the backcountry.  Can’t wait to get on skis!

One of the things I most commonly hear from people that are visiting is “there are so many trees!”, or, “It’s so green!”.  Over the years I’ve begun to scratch the surface of which tree, or which plant that is, and I take a huge amount of pleasure in sharing this knowledge with visitors, whether they particularly care or not.  One of my best hiking buddies is a bigger nature nerd than I am, I always laugh when she stops and apologises, and then notices I’m right there along side her peering at whatever’s caught her eye.

So, without further ado, may I present the nature nerd’s 6 “things I love about Canada”, up to 96 of my #150for150…


91 – ASPEN

I have to start with the Trembling Aspen, as it’s something I became fascinated by when driving the boat tours out on Lake Minnewanka.  These trees are actually all one living organism, with intertwined branches and roots.  This makes them incredibly durable and quick to recover after a forest fire; the grove on the shores on Lake Minnewanka are reportedly the second largest grove in the world (the largest being down in Fish Lake, Utah)

The first nations people will use the chalky substance found beneath the bark as a topical pain reliever on physical wounds, and in a drink to relieve headaches (it is also where the name asprin comes from).  Asides from all of this, they are stunning trees and make an incredible noise as the wind blows through them.  I love mountain biking through groves in the autumn as the leaves fall around me.

92 – Lodgepole Pine

In great part thanks to the lengthy suppression of forest fire in the national parks, which prevented the natural removal of these trees, the Lodgepole Pine is one of the pine family to provide these great blankets of green that carpet the valley bottoms.  With exceptionally straight, tall, slender trunks, they get their name from being preferred by first nations to build their tipis.

These pine often grow close together, and therefore the branches only grow on the top third of the tree leaving a dark, empty, barren forest floor below.  Often the only thing that can survive in these conditions is a particularly yellow and toxic moss.



As mentioned in a previous post, these trees cause some amount of madness in the autumn as they are a coniferous tree that loses its needles in the autumn.  The are one of the few autumn colours that we get in the mountains, and the only one up in the alpine to provide contrast against the gorgeous alpine lakes.  Every September, the larch march begins and people come from far and wide to photograph this spectacular transformation in popular areas like Larch Valley.  I generally avoid this area at that time as there are plenty of larches to be found elsewhere that are just as beautiful!


Grandfathers of the forest; we don’t boast too many in this part of the rockies but other parts of Western Canada have them in abundance.

Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island is a must-see for any tree lover.  Some of the trees in this grove are over 800 years old, 9m in circumference and 75m high!



Occupying this prestigious grove on Vancouver Island along with the giant Douglas Fir trees are Ancient Cedars, and these thrive throughout the Pacific Northwest.   As you make the journey from Banff to Vancouver you pass through so many varied ecosystems it’s hard to keep count!  From alpine forests and valleys, to barren desert lands, you are never short of something amazing to see.  The Cedars you pass in the interior of BC form part of a vast rainforest, thriving in the cool, damp weather that blows in off the Pacific ocean.

The Giant Red Cedar is actually British Columbia’s provincial tree, and there are boardwalks throughout the province where you can get up close to these ancient giants.


I love gin, which is more than enough reason for this little shrub to make the list!  However, over and above any alcoholic preferences I may have (and the fact that there are now TWO distilleries in the Bow Valley with their own delicious gins) this tree is found alllll over the Bow Valley.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen into it whilst mountain biking – it’s surprisingly soft for a prickly looking fellow.  Springy, anyway, which cushions the fall.  In my mind it is synonymous with the trails around the area that I know and love.


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