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Big Leaf Maple Profile, the gentlest of the Tree Folk

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

From the deep shade of the Big Leaf Maples, I gaze upon the jewelled river bank, studded with ancient trees, crowns of super canopy Douglas Firs rise above the rest, their jagged complex tops are beautifully displayed against the blue sky.

The tallest Maple tree I have ever seen grows a few meters back from the water loving willows, in a floodplain rainforest on Vancouver Island. Covered in a bright green dress of moss and leaves from head to toe, this gentle, beautiful being radiates a peaceful presence and is perhaps best appreciated from the opposite bank of the River.

Today is such a sunny day in the rainforest, the huge Maple leaves soak up all the rays, leaves that create such shade cover that the forest floor is dark beneath them. These trees are completely covered in thick moss, even in their topmost branches, which adds immensely to their splendour and uniqueness. Layers of moss also create the perfect conditions for ferns and other epiphytes to grow above the ground in nooks and crannies of trunk and branch. These maples seem like the characters in the rainforest who would be the gentlest, calmest of the tree folk. They conjure up memories of the Ents, Tolkien’s old growth tree people in Lord of the Rings.

A luxurious, very diverse understory, Moss covered Maples with ferns growing from them, and a dynamic mix between Deciduous (alder and maple) and Coniferous (spruce and cedar) trees, are some of the outstanding characteristics of Vancouver Islands rare ancient Floodplain forests.

All trees have their own unique expressions, these giants centuries of growth has been an organic dance, the shapes that the branches take on are totally unpredictable and exciting. Each individual oozes with character that sets them apart from their siblings. The contrast in the floodplain between the monumental straight trunks of the Spruce and these crooked sprawling maples is lovely. The succession of the maples here is perfect, the children of the eldest mother trees live in the shade, no doubt supported by their parents through their underground fungal connections, patiently the younger trees wait their turn, until the elder Maple and Sitka Spruce of the floodplain fall, opening the sky for the youth.

This is a forest that has never been logged, containing both nutrient rich riparian forests in the floodplain, and lowland Red Cedar, Douglas Fir groves on the steep Karst slopes of the valley, the river bank is of the highest quality, Willows and grasses grow out of the smooth rock bed. The biodiversity of this Earth Temple is layered and complex.

Sandy alluvial deposits and old fingers of the river are embraced by the slender Red Alders, who begin the succesional cycle of the ancient floodplain forest all over again as the river shifts its flow over decades and millennia. Red Alder gets associated with second growth forests because of its love to grow on recently disturbed sites, but here in the ancient riverbank on southwestern Vancouver Island the tree is beautifully filling its niche role within the intact ecosystem, though the Alders are the smallest trees in this forest, they are no less impressive to me, as the entire ecosystem here is awe inspiring.

Ferns and Red Alder in the Riparian Rainforest, in the second picture, you can see a Red Cedar sapling growing to the right of the Alder cluster, this is the successional cycle of the forest on display. One day hundreds of years from now this Red Cedar may be an ancient giant

A younger Alder grows out from under the shade of a monumental Spruce, bordered by leaves of Maple Saplings

Ancient floodplain rainforests like this are exceptionally rare on Vancouver Island today. Almost every watershed has been extensively clearcut, many areas are now home to rows of Spruce plantations, other areas have been left to reseed naturally and are somewhere in the succesional cycle of returning to an Old growth State. The kinds of trees that grow in this forest are highly sought after by the timber industry, Spruce, Doug Fir, Red Cedar and Maple. To experience one of these remaining pristine patches full of ancestor trees is such a blessing. Lowland Old Growth forests are some of the most endangered ecosystems in the world, and today we are resisting this old growth logging in the nearby Fairy Creek Rainforest.

Dwarfed by the rootball of a fallen Spruce in the river, Spruce and Maple come together in striking contrast to one another to become of the most magnificent forests in the world.

Another perspective of the forest, gazing through a gap between the huge Spruce and Maple to see the complex crown of a Fir emerging from the canopy on the other side of the river.

One of the ancient Douglas firs on the hillside, I hope you enjoyed this profile of the Lowland Rainforest and the eccentric Big Leaf Maple tree, I will be continuing to share reflections from the heart of the Forest, so please do visit me here again if you enjoyed this sharing

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