Thursday, January 1, 2015

Arbutus menziesii 223 years after Menzies

Archibald Menzies was the ship naturalist on the Vancouver Expedition aboard the ship Discovery.  
After the ship anchored at the north end of what was later named Port Discovery in May 1792, Menzies was part of the crew that rowed to the south, upper end of the bay. There he landed and made numerous observations and notes, including describing trees:
"Besides a variety of Pines we here saw the Sycamore Maple (big leaf maple) - American Aldar (red alder) - a species of Crab & the Oriental Strawberry Tree (Pacific madrone), this last grows to a small Tree & was at this time (May) a peculiar ornament to the Forest by its large clusters of white flowers & ever green leaves, but its peculiar smooth bark of reddish brown colour will at all times attract Notice of the most superficial observer."
Menzies was already familiar with the tree as the "strawberry tree". Juan Crespi described the tree in his diaries during the first Spanish land exploration of what is now California in 1769. Crespi is credited with the term madrone as he called the tree a madrona and noted its similarity to the strawberry tree of his childhood in Spain. (Crespi later was aboard a Spanish Ship that sailed and explored the west coast of North America including Vancouver Island and observed and described the glacier clad slopes of Mount Olympus on the Olympic Peninsula.)
Menzies recognized the tree as an Arbutus and later the tree was named after him with its official name Arbutus menziesii.

Having recently been reading Menzies' journals it was fun to see Arbutus menziesii clinging to the bluff edges above the shores of Discovery Bay where Menzies first described it.

Arbutus menziesii on bluff edge

Arbutus menziesii on bluff edge
This is not a madrone, but it was my "tree of the day"
 A red alder clinging to scarp edge of landslide scarp
Port Discovery's location on the northwest rain shadow side of the Olympics provides an ideal habitat for Arbutus. There are a few places in the area where the tree is the dominant species in small patches of forest. The tree does well on the edges of steep slopes where it can get sun and slides have taken out the competing Douglas firs. The red alder shown above likes the some what wetter silt/clays on the bluff slopes.   


Dave Wenning said...

My favorite tree. Wherever I spot them, I feel at home.

Geoffrey Middaugh said...

So, as a result of reading this blog, I wondered were Menzies journal was, so of course I start with Google, where it immediately pops up in the Internet Archive. So I read it in search find “fire” and this amazing observation pops up on May 4, 1792:

In this days route I saw a number of the largest trees hollowd by fire into cavities fit to admit a person into, this I conjecturd might be done by the Natives either to screen them from the sight of those animals they meant to ensnare or afford them a safe retreat from others in case of being pursued, or it may be the means they have of felling large trees for making their Canoes, by which they are thus partly scoopd out.

Thanks for the find! His observation that fire in the northwest temperate rain forest was anthropogenic is an interesting observation.