It's the snow and not the amount of rainfall which sustains forests over the year.
Rainwater falls to the ground and quickly drains into rocky soil, quickly weaving its way to our streams and rivers. But snow melts from higher elevations and trickles down through the forest floor, retaining moisture in the soil over longer periods of time. Snow also insulates the soil from below-freezing air temperatures.
The annual snow pack melt carries organic nutrients to support the endless decomposition and growth cycles so characteristic of British Columbia’s coastal forests. Soil bacteria and fungi thrive in the dampness left by snow to create vast underground networks of mycelium (fruiting as mushrooms) which in turn produces enzymes to break down fallen and rotting logs. The gradual release of snow water into the forest floor every spring is critical to the well-being of our trees, young and ancient.
Conversely, a warming climate leaves less snow pack for this annual process, exposing the ground to lower temperatures and more frequent freeze-thaw occasions. That’s why it’s not uncommon to see very dry forests in the late summer, despite a having a rain-soaked winter. The stress on cedar trees from recent droughts is obvious when we see their scale-like leaves turn reddish brown.
The BC government now has a Drought Information Portal which provides up-to-date information on the drought conditions in the province. Locally, the Regional District of Nanaimo has watering restrictions which vary depending upon the local reservoirs and aquifers.
Fungi and Mushrooms
The word “fungi” conjures images we’d rather not find in our kitchens and bathrooms. However, we couldn’t live without the sprawling mass of fungi which quietly inhabits our forests.
Fungi were the first organisms to come to land from earth’s violent seas, 1.3 billion years ago. Mycelium is a network of fungi cells, and mushrooms are their visible “fruit”.
Despite their tiny size, fungi can break through asphalt and concrete for the benefit of other living creatures. In its micro-cavities, mycelium can hold 30,000 times its weight in wet soil. It prevents soil erosion by honey-combing the earth where water collects where it can be released over time. It has a critical role in sustaining plant life by collecting, storing and releasing nutrients and water to forest life.
Fungi cannot manufacture food through photosynthesis like plants do. Mycelium grows by producing enzymes which digest their surroundings, such as fallen and rotting logs. Over the years, mycelium breaks down organic material which helps form the forest floor. Fungi reproduce by releasing tiny seed spores.
The role of mycelium to a living forest cannot be understated. Mycelia draw nutrients from the soil and in a mutualistic relationship, receive needed proteins created by trees’ photosynthetic activities. Without this cooperative relationship, our forests would diminish or die.
Can mushrooms be eaten?
Any mushroom can be eaten – once! There are many poisonous mushrooms in British Columbia, some of which can secret poisons through the skin. Care must be taken in handling wild mushrooms.
One poisonous mushroom in BC’s forests is the Amanita pantherina. You can see what this group of mushrooms look like on the E-Flora website. A colourful but potentially deadly mushroom sometimes seen in the Morrell Nature Sanctuary is the Amanita muscaria, a bright red and white spotted variety. These mushrooms are also harmful to dogs!
Volunteers are the wonderful folks who sustain the Morrell Nature Sanctuary (MNS). Like thousands of other non-profit societies in Canada, the MNS depends upon the dedication and good will of volunteers to do many things, such as
It might sound like science fiction, but it's been shown that trees communicate with each other in a forest. The world-renowned researcher who studies this phenomena is Dr. Susan Simard at the University of British Columbia's Department of Forest & Conservation Sciences.
Her studies have uncovered an underground web of fungi which connect the trees and plants in an ecosystem. This mutual relationship or symbiosis shares the forests' resources, allowing the entire system of trees and plants to flourish.
Dr. Simard found that webs of mycorrhizal fungi have a mutually beneficial relationship with trees through their roots. Her microscopic experimentation shows that these fungi move carbon, water and nutrients between trees, depending upon their needs.
The saying, "not being able to see the forest for the trees" has some relevance in our experience in the wonderful stands of cedar, fir and hemlock in BC's coastal forests. Visit the Morrell Nature Sanctuary to walk in the forest.
To see and hear more about Dr. Simard's fascinating research, see the YouTube video, How Trees Talk to Each Other.
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The volunteers at the Morrell Nature Sanctuary have produced a richly illustrated Guidebook. It is now available and can be purchased for $10 from the main office at the Sanctuary. Proceeds will go to support the wonderful life and learning opportunities which this forest and lake provide to the public.
It's what most of us know, sense or intuitively feel when we're in the forest:
In British Columbia, we are fortunate to have access to numerous forests, some with ancient, towering cedar and fir trees. In Nanaimo, the Morrell Nature Sanctuary is an easily accessible, urban forest on land which was purchased by Bill Morrell and donated to Nature Trust for all to enjoy. It is rich with biodiversity and ever-shifting light, depending on the time of day or season. In rain or shine, this Sanctuary is good for your health!
We are excited to create a new website and blog for the Morrell Nature Sanctuary.
We're hoping this blog will stimulate others to write about their impressions of the park, and perhaps some suggestions for making this wonderful sanctuary even better. Thank you for visiting us!