Every time we drive to Lillooet and back it is impossible to not notice the hundreds of thousands of pine trees that are dead or dying (the pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae) between Lillooet and Lytton. What makes the trees that more obvious is their beautiful bark made up of rough, rich reddish brown plates with wide dark brown or black grooves. This last Sunday I decided to stop and photograph Rebecca with my Noblex panoramic camera which shoots a 7 inch long negative. It is most unfortunate that this blog will not show pictures that are longer than 5 inches but if you click on the image it will get larger.
Before we left we pulled a bunch of needles so we could indentify the pine with our books at home. We called our daughter Ale in Lillooet that evening and she told us the pines were Pinus contorta (Lodge Pine and Lodgepole Pine). She could not confirm it to us as she had never stopped to check on the needles but this is what the city sages had told her.
My wife Rosemary knew differently. Both of us had met the gentle and erudite Gerald Bane Straley (he died in 1997) who was the Research Scientist and Curator of Collections at the UBC Botanical Garden. I had even taken a course on propagation with him and found his enthusiasm catching.
Rosemary had been taught by Straley that the only definitive way of identifying a pine tree was to count how many needles grew from one bunch. A Pinus contorta has only two needles per bunch and the pines between Lillooet and Lytton had three. Our books showed the telltale bark but said nothing of the needles.
But then I remembered Straley's book. It is one of the most useful books in our botanical book collection (a splendid thing to say in an age of looking up stuff on Google). It is called Trees of Vancouver - A Guide to the Common and Unusual Trees of the City. On the conifer section he confirmed (the three needles) what Rosemary has suspected. Our beautiful dying pines were and are Pinus ponderosa.
This book, which should still be in print is one of the finest books to be had. The diagram and explanation of every tree in the Shaughnessy Crescent is worth the price of the book. Best of all every varity of tree in our city is given a location within Vancouver where one can find a good specimen.
When I photographed Dr. Straley at the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre of Plant Research (that's the new name of the garden) I asked him what was his favourite plant at the time. It was Kirengeshoma koreana.
Thanks to Straley's little book we know all about the Pinus ponderosa but we will have to stop again and check out another detail we did not know about. You see he says:
There is a definite fragrance of vanilla when the cracks of the bark are smelled...the name comes from ponderous, that is, having great weight or mass, referring to the size of the trees.
If you cannot buy the book new used copies can be found on the web. And for info on all things botanical, one of the best (some say the best) web pages in the world is UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research
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