By Kerri Scott
Special to The Record
For the first time in the history of the Comox Valley Naturalists Society, the annual “Tree of the Year” has been chosen by public vote instead of by committee.
The contest, inspired by European tradition and now in its fourth year, fosters a strong connection with nature by highlighting local trees that are cherished by the residents of the Comox Valley.
This year’s winning tree, nominated by Ted Grainger, is a western yew, located in the Cumberland Community Forest. Coming in a close second is a bigleaf maple, found in Morrison Creek Park. Praised for its size and the swing in its branches, the maple was put forward for nomination by Marion Dulude’s Grade 6 class at École Puntledge Park.
“Both are iconic trees for this area and have great but different stories attached to them,” sayid Karen Cummins, one of the organizers of the event.
The western yew (Latin name, Taxus brevifolia or Nuxalk name, kuts’ulhkwis) is a species of tree in the yew family Taxaceae and is native to the Pacific Northwest. Taxus is the Latin word for “bow”; because yew wood is strong and stiff, it has been an important resource for coastal First Nations for millennia.
Nominated for its poetic beauty, this western yew symbolizes how community efforts, like fundraising and raising awareness, can protect and preserve threatened forests. Growing on a northwest-facing slope, just past the information kiosk, it is surrounded by artifacts from the former inhabitants of the historic Cumberland Chinatown.
“When you first see this tree, the smooth bark looks like a gnarly, twisted arbutus, but the outer foliage reveals it to be a yew tree. Its shape suggests a life of struggle and tenacity, but it is beautiful nonetheless,” said ed Grainger, winner of this year’s gift basket and a painting by Sharon Niscak.
As conifers that produce berries, yew trees are unusual; this year’s winning yew is even more unique because of its expanse of exposed roots and wide branches. Approximately nine metres wide and almost as tall, the squat and multiple leader form indicates that the yew has grown in the shady understory and been shaped by the succession of the 80- to 100-year-old forest. This spectacular tree has grown with and around a cherry tree and is extremely slow-growing. The papery, red bark – peeling and shredding on the tree’s many stems – while typical of this medicinal tree when it is not covered in moss, nonetheless sets it apart from the neighbouring trees.
Thanks to the passion and perseverance of Cumberland Community Forest Society, this western yew is one of the thousands of trees in over 500 acres of mature forests that have been protected. CVN encourages everybody to go out and experience these beautiful and important trees firsthand.
“The list and location map will remain on the CVN website so the community can still tour and honour all the trees,” said Suzanne Gravelle.
The 2021 contest is dedicated to Cathy Storey. Her legacy is a testament to the CNV motto “to know nature and keep it worth knowing.”
For more information go to comoxvalleynaturalist.bc.ca/