DISCOVERING THE FABULOUS FLORA OF WESTERN CANADA
© 2017 ROCKY MOUNTAINEER, NOEL HENDRICKSON SPONSORED CONTENT
If you’re travelling across Western Canada this year during the spring, summer or autumn, you’re in for a treat as the forests, mountains and lakesides burst with life and colour. Seasons vary greatly out west, with distinct microclimates in the Interior, along the Coast and in the Rockies. The city of Kamloops along the Thompson Valley, for instance, often has hot, desert-like summers while Vancouver and the Lower Mainland typically enjoys milder weather. Up in the mountains and throughout the Rockies, where the warmer seasons tend to start later, you can experience the beauty of an alpine spring.
B.C. and Alberta are brimming with beauty and there are many ways to enjoy nature’s best show. Watch the world go by through panoramic windows on a slow-paced Rocky Mountaineer train, add a self-drive option to your rail journey and literally stop to smell the flowers, or add on a few days to get up close to nature in Vancouver, Whistler, Banff, Jasper or Lake Louise. Here’s some of the fabulous flora you’ll discover in Western Canada:
Vancouver and the Lower Mainland
British Columbia has a temperate, rainy climate along the Pacific coastline, and this creates ideal conditions for an array of flora in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. Come spring, the city’s trees are in full bloom and you’ll find dogwood, B.C.’s provincial flower, coming to life with white blossoms. If you’re travelling in early April, catch the end of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in Vancouver, which celebrates the return of the city’s most breathtaking pink flowers. Make a stop at VanDusen Botanical Garden and see gorgeous roses, rhododendron, magnolia and laburnum. Summer finds popular Stanley Park as verdant as ever across its 400 hectares (nearly 1,000 acres) of west coast forest. Vancouver has an incredibly long growing season compared to the rest of Canada, which accounts for the ample produce and cut flowers available at local farmers’ markets.
Spring and summer bring alpine meadows to life along the Coast Mountains starting in June, as bright purple Fireweed and robust, red Indian Paintbrush begin flowering. The colours create quite a palette when combined with the region’s green forests and azure lakes. Whistler Mountain’s colourful spring and summer contrasts greatly with its white snow of winter. Wildflowers are best seen in their natural environment, and Rocky Mountaineer travels this way, too. The train’s breathtaking Rainforest to Gold Rush route travels through the area, allowing you to see these seasonal marvels in all their glory. In the fall,
Whistler’s trees change to gold and brown, providing a
stunning backdrop to a laid-back stroll.
You’ll find the city of Kamloops in British Columbia’s Interior Plateau, along the Thompson Valley. This area has a semi-arid climate, much like you would find in parts of B.C.’s Okanagan region. While there are Ponderosa Pine and Prickly Pear cactus here, you’re more likely to see flowers from the road or tracks. These start early in the Thompson Valley, beginning to bloom in spring with Yellow Bells and Sagebrush Buttercup. If you’re passing from the Fraser Canyon into the Thompson Plateau and see a bunch of yellow flowers that look like daisies, that’s Arrowleaf balsamroot – its roots can be mashed and eaten like potatoes. As the seasons change, you may catch glimpses of Bluebells, Chocolate Lily, pink Monkey Flower, purple Wild Bergamot and rusty Pickleweed. Some grow in forests and on trails, while others live near streams or grasslands, so keep your eyes peeled!
The Rocky Mountains have three distinct vegetation regions: Montane, Subalpine and Alpine Zones. If you’re exploring Banff National Park by trail or by tour, you’re most likely to experience the flora of the low-elevation Montane Zone. There, you have the chance to see the kind of wildflowers one would expect in the Prairies. Look out for purple Prairie Crocus and Common Harebell, bright orange Wood Lily, sunny yellow Brown-eyed Susan and Lady’s Slipper, or the delicate white Star-flowered Solomon’s Seal. The peak flowering season in the Rockies is the summer months of July and August, but autumn is the best time to view the larch trees turn gold around Lake Louise. This unique species looks like an evergreen but changes colour, because it’s actually a deciduous tree.
The Cariboo plateau sits on an ancient volcanic plateau that encompasses the town of Quesnel and was the site of British Columbia’s legendary Cariboo Gold Rush. The forest in this region is mainly made up of Pine, Spruce and Douglas fir, but if you look closely, you’ll see bright yellowish-green tufts of Wolf Lichen growing on the bare wood of dead branches. As Rocky Mountaineer passes slowly through the Cariboo, you may even see lichen growing on rocks or the ground. Reindeer Lichen is an important winter food for the herds of caribou that this plateau is named after. That’s the thing about Western Canada’s fabulous flora, it’s full of surprises just waiting to be discovered – so come see for yourself how colourful the west can be.