Plants & Animals
From Saltery Bay to Desolation Sound, an abundance of wildlife – both on land and in the water – can be spotted. The following is a list of some notable flora and fauna found in the Powell River Area:
SOME TREE SPECIES
have very dense canopies and are common in low to middle elevations. High levels of tannin in its bark make it useful as a dying agent. Coast Salish peoples traditionally use Hemlock as a facial cosmetic and to dye textiles and baskets. The Tla’amin people in the area also used hemlock boughs to dry out oolichan and herring and to line steaming pits.
can live for 1000+ years, hence they can be found in old growth areas. These trees have thick bark that is an effective shield against fires, and many Douglas Fir can regenerate in areas disturbed by fire or logging. The tree is traditionally used as a fuel and to craft objects like salmon weirs or fishing hooks by Coast Salish peoples.
WESTERN RED CEDAR AND YELLOW CEDAR
can be found in the area. Long, fibrous strips of bark and scale-like leaves are characteristic of these trees. Cedars are immensely important to First Nation cultures on the West Coast, and are traditionally used for canoes, containers, clothing, tools, smoking fuel, shelter, and more. It is also considered a source of great strength and is believed to have spiritual powers and healing qualities.
are found in dry or rocky areas from low to middle elevations. This evergreen can be identified by the contrast between its younger, chartreuse bark, and its older, brown-red peeling bark. These trees also produce white flowers, orange-red berries and leathery leaves. The tree was used medicinally by some coastal groups for its bark and leaves. The Arbutus tree was also used as a canoe anchor during the Great Flood, a story common to many First Nations on the West Coast.
THE WESTERN FLOWERING DOGWOOD
is a deciduous tree with many branches, white blossoms (which serve as the Province’s floral emblem), clusters of red berries, and green leaves with veins that curve parallel to the leaf edge. The tree thrives at low elevations and in moist areas. Its wood was ideal for weaponry and implements used by some First Nations, and its bark as a blood purifier and stomach ailment.
SHRUBS & BERRIES
grow abundantly in coniferous forests, rocky bluffs, and the seashore, from low to middle elevations. Bushes have leathery, evergreen leaves with sharp teeth, white urn-shaped flowers, and dark blue sepals (“berries”). The edible sepals are used by many First Nations along the coast, and the branches are used for cooking and as soup flavouring.
RED HUCKLEBERRY BUSHES
grow in coniferous forests, usually near the edge or decaying-wood soils. Its branches are bright green and have red berries that are often sour, but edible. The plant was used frequently by First Nations on the coast and dried, eaten fresh or mixed with grease. Other parts of the plant were also used medicinally to treat the gums and throat.
RED ELDERBERRY BUSHES
tend to grow in moist areas from sea-level to middle elevations. They can be identified by their odour, bright red berry clusters, and whitish flowers. These plants were important food for First Nations along the coast, but have to be boiled before being eaten. The rest of the plant is highly toxic!
also grow in moist areas in a range of elevations. Their leaves are sharply-toothed, with purple flowers and orange to red-colored raspberries. These berries were often eaten with Salmon by Coast Salish groups, who also consumed Salmonberry sprouts.
HIMALAYAN BLACKBERRY BUSHES
are an introduced species from India that prevail at low elevations. This is the most common blackberry in our area, and its delicious fruit is celebrated annually at Powell River’s Blackberry Festival.
DEVIL’S CLUB SHRUBS
prevail in moist areas at a variety of elevations. Bushes have large leaves reminiscent of Maple leaves, with bright red berry clusters and small, whitish flower clusters. This plant is related to ginseng and is valued highly by many First Nations groups on B.C.'s Coast as a medicinal plant.
grow in meadows and clearings at a variety of elevations. Their flowers are bright orange with red or purple spots. Tiger Lily bulbs are traditionally used by Coast Salish peoples as flavouring in food.
occurs in open forests and rocky/grassy slopes from low to middle elevations. They can be up to 60 cm tall with whitish, bell-shaped, smelly flowers. As suggested by its name, this plant is deadly poisonous, and should not be confused with Blue Camas.
grow up to 80 cm in open environments in a variety of elevations. Their flowers are bell-shaped with blotchy with yellow-green and dark purple petals. Their bulbs were eaten by many Coast Salish groups, having been boiled or steamed.
Black Bears can be up to 110 cm tall at the shoulder and weigh 270 kg. They aregreat swimmers and tree climbers, and are omnivorous. They are common in our area, but if you are a loud hiker, they will likely avoid you. Grizzly bears are uncommon in our area, but just in case you can’t tell the difference, Grizzlies have more pronounced shoulder humps, dished profiles, smaller ears, and large, white claws.
Cougars can be up to 80 cm at the shoulder and weigh up to 90 kg. These animals are quiet, with specialized hunting teeth and claws. Cougars are less commonly seen than Black Bears in our area, but some sightings have been reported recently. If you are in the wilderness, keep children and pets nearby. If you encounter a cougar, talk to it in a loud voice, do not make any sudden movements, back away slowly, and fight back with sticks or rocks if necessary.
Bald Eagles are very common in our area, and can often be spotted along the coast. These magestic birds are an apex predator in the food chain. A Bald Eagle can have a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres, and can live up to 40 years!
Great Blue Herons are large birds commonly seen near rivers, lakes and seashores. They nest together in treetops and hunt small animals. They have a wingspan of up to 1.8 m and long, crooked necks.
Marbled Murrelets are small coastal birds that nest in old-growth and feed in the ocean, often traveling great distances. The first Marbled Murrelet nest was not found in B.C. until 1990! Due to their dependence on old-growth forest, these birds are endangered.
Harbour Seals are shy mammals that can usually be seen basking in the sun on rocky shores or islands. They weigh up to 100 kg and can hold their breath under water for up to 30 minutes.
Northern (Stellar) Sea Lions are massive seals (females up to 360 kg, males up to 1000 kg) that tend to congregate in large groups. Their ears are externally visible; this feature is useful for distinguishing them from Harbour and Elephant seals. In Powell River, these Sea Lions can often be heard barking near the Giant Hulks.
Pacific White-Sided Dolphins are frequent flyers in the area, sweeping through the strait in large schools as they chase schools of herring that they feed on. Yachters and sailboaters report they often surf in their bow waves. Look for a black back with white and dark gray striped sides and a white belly. As many as 25,000 White-sided dolphins are believed to reside in coastal waters.
Orcas, also known as killer whales, are apex predators that can sometimes be spotted in local waters. These whales are the largest animals in the dolphin family, and produce interesting vocalization patterns. Look for striking black and white markings that are distinct to each animal and help them be identified by marine biologists. This distinct patterning has led to some locals dubbing these majestic ocean beasts as Sea Pandas. Resident orcas specialize in eating salmon and are led by a matriarch, or live in matrilineal groups. Transient orcas are mammal specialists and will hunt and feast on a variety of marine life including harbour seals, sea lions, elephant seals, porpoises and whales of all kinds.