Trees of Great Bear Rainforest

Great Bear Rainforest’s ancient forests are nothing if not everything

Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountain Range of British Columbia, is Great Bear Rainforest. Home to some of the most ancient and towering trees on the planet. This massive rainforest, the size of Ireland, comprises the largest tract of remaining temperate rainforest cover in the entire world.


Importance Of The Trees To The Ecosystem

These trees are a foundational link between the rainforest ecosystem and the cultural identity of First Nations. They are both a resource and a source of spirituality and legend. 

Over the past 2 centuries, 60% of the world’s known temperate rainforest has been harvested. Leaving the remaining trees of Great Bear Rainforest increasingly important to our natural history and our planet’s future. They play a vital role in the ecosystem, providing shelter to wildlife, playing roles in food chains, and helping mitigate the effects of climate change.

Best known as home to the iconic Spirit Bear, Great Bear Rainforest is also host to a unique variety of local and migratory birds. Bald Eagles, Stellar jays and White Pelicans to name a few. They provide shelter to wildlife and help mitigate the effects of climate change through carbon capture.

Importance Of The Trees To The First Nation’s People

For the First Nation’s peoples, trees are of utmost importance. Not only do they provide food and shelter, but they also play a vital role in the spiritual and cultural life of the community and are seen as spiritual beings. 

Many Nations believe that each tree has its own spirit, and some even believe that the spirits of their ancestors inhabit certain trees. Many trees are seen as guardian spirits, and it is not uncommon for people to ask for permission from a tree before harvesting.

Types Of Trees Found In The Great Bear Rainforest

Great Bear Rainforest is home to a diverse array of trees. But the 4 most significant tree species include the Western red cedar, Western hemlock, Douglas fir, and Sitka spruce. Each of these tree species has its own unique characteristics, helping to create the rich tapestry of the rainforest. Red cedars, for example, are tall and stately, with reddish-brown bark and long needles. Western hemlocks are shorter and more compact, with dark green foliage and a fragrant scent. Douglas firs are tall and cone-shaped, with deep green needles and a strong wood smell. Sitka spruce, the tallest of all, has pale blue-green needles and a commanding presence. Together, these four tree types form the backbone of the Great Bear Rainforest ecosystem.


Western Red Cedar

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Few trees are as iconic to the Pacific Northwest as the Western Red Cedar. Also known as the Pacific Red Cedar or the Giant Red cedar, this massive evergreen can grow up to 250 feet tall and live for over 1,000 years. The tallest recorded Western Red Cedar was nearly 350 feet tall and is thought to have been over 2,000 years old. Not surprisingly, these trees are an important part of the ecosystem of coastal British Columbia, providing homes for many different species of animals and helping to stabilize the soil. 

In addition, the wood of the Western Red Cedar is prized for its strength, beauty, and resistance to rot. As a result, it is often used in construction, furniture making, and other applications. Whether you’re admiring their towering height or using their wood to build your dream home, Western Red Cedars are sure to leave a lasting impression.

Western Hemlock

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Western hemlock is a species of fir tree native to the coastal regions of British Columbia. It is the largest member of the hemlock tree family and can grow up to 70 meters tall. Western hemlock has a broad, conical crown and densely packed leaves that are dark green in colour. The bark is reddish-brown in colour and scaly. Western hemlock is an important tree species in British Columbia due to its many uses. The wood is strong and durable, making it ideal for construction, furniture-making, and the paper industry. Lastly, Western hemlock plays an important role in the forest ecosystem by providing habitat for animals and protecting against soil erosion.

Douglas Fir

The Douglas fir is one of the most popular trees throughout much of North America. It gets its name from the Scottish botanist David Douglas, who introduced the tree to Europe in the early 19th century. The Douglas fir is an evergreen conifer that, in ideal growing conditions, like Coastal British Columbia, can grow to a height of over 200 feet. It has a stout trunk and horizontal branches that are covered with dark green needles. 

The tree produces small cones that are 3-4 inches long and have three blunt scales. Douglas firs are found throughout North America, from Alaska to Central America. Douglas firs are also grown commercially for their wood, which is strong and durable and used for construction, flooring, and furniture.

Sitka Spruce

Photo credit: Vankathryn, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sitka spruce is a large evergreen tree that grows in coastal areas of British Columbia. It can reach heights of up to 100 feet and has a trunk diameter of up to 4 feet. The spruce has a conical shape and smooth, scaly bark. The needles are dark green and arranged in whorls of five.  The cones are cylindrical and hang down from the branches. 

Like many other trees of coastal BC, the Sitka spruce is an important tree for the forestry industry, as it is used for lumber, pulp, and paper production. The trees are also an important part of the ecosystem, providing habitat for wildlife and helping to prevent soil erosion. In addition, the Sitka spruce is a popular Christmas tree, due to its strong branches and dense needles.

Use Of Trees In The Great Bear Rainforest Over Time

The First Peoples of Canada’s West Coast have long been known for their expert use of the region’s trees. The Douglas Fir, in particular, was used for everything from canoes to longhouses, and the cedar tree was especially valued for its strength and resistance to rot. 

Trees also played an important role in the First Peoples’ cosmology, and many stories and traditions revolve around these towering giants. In addition to their practical and cultural significance, trees play a vital role in the ecosystem, providing habitat for other plants and animals. Consequently, First Peoples’ traditional relationship with trees is both complex and deeply intertwined with every aspect of life in the Great Bear Rainforest.

If you are a visitor to the region, be sure to take a minute and look skyward in admiration of the towering trees in the Great Bear Rainforest. Then look down in awe of the roots that have held this land together for millennia. It truly is something to behold. 

Featured Image Credit: Province of British Columbia 

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