Last year a new paved trail in Qualicum Beach opened up an easy and peaceful walk or ride behind The Gardens and KSS.
The Dollymount Trail is well used and well loved.
So far, I haven’t found out why the trail was so named, but perhaps it was after “a suburban area on the north coast of Dublin Bay” or “a village in the east part of Dublin.”
Whatever the origin of its moniker, my dear wheelchair-bound friend at The Gardens and I often enjoy some R & R along its first section on warm evenings.
This past week, one trail evening turned into a veritable natural history tour after I was told with an accompanying pointed finger, “Stop! Back up … a little more … there; what is that tree?” Once I had sorted out which tree among the many along the trail was in question, we determined by its leaf and shiny black berries that it was a Cascara (Rhamnus purshiana).
The common name of this rather innocuous tree always reminds me of the syrupy brown medicine sometimes urged upon me as a child for a laxative.
Do you remember the product called Castoria?
A knowledgeable B.C. plant book offers this tongue twister for the benefits of the Cascara. “The hydroxymethylanthraquinones it contains cause …” Save that one for your next Scrabble game!
The most prominent shrub leaning into the path was Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor).
It’s easy to see how it got its last name when its early creamy blooms are one of the commonest sights along Island roadsides, but … come late summer, fall, and through the winter they dangle from the branches in drab plumes of brown.
Especially in early days, the wood of Ocean Spray (sometimes called ‘ironwood’ because of its strength) had multiple uses among indigenous peoples.
Made even harder by heating, the wood was rubbed (sanded) with horsetails to be used in bows and arrows, as digging sticks, and spear and harpoon shafts.
It also came in handy for making fish hooks and even knitting needles. Before metal nails arrived on the scene, Ocean Spray pegs did a good job of holding things together. Doesn’t a stout branch sound just right for roasting weenies or toasting marshmallows over the campfire?
In opposition to the aforementioned Cascara, the browned flower clusters of Ocean Spray were used to make an infusion for the relief of diarrhea and was thought to aid in recovery from measles and chickenpox as well.
Growing abundantly in the lower storey of the trail’s woods were the thimbelberries, (Rubus parviflorus) most of their soft, bright red, cap-shaped berries now eaten by birds or beyond their prime.
While smaller and more fragile than blackberries or salmonberries and usually thought to be inferior and insipid tasting, if one has the patience to pick the easily crumbling berries, they do make a tasty jelly. Another positive attribute is that the thimbleberry goes about unarmed – i.e. it has no thorns.
The thimbleberry puts on its best show in late spring through July when its large, fuzzy, maple-shaped leaves provide a brilliant background for the long stemmed, crinkly white blossoms.
On the west coast of the Island, thimbleberries were once dried along with smoked clams, and the plant’s young shoots were collected to be eaten raw.
Other people overcame the berry’s lack of flavor by mixing the lowly thimbleberry with wild raspberries and blackberries.
Still with the Rubus family, we saw the only truly native B.C. blackberry, the trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus) snaking its lowly way from the disturbed ground it favors toward the light of the trail.
Though probably the Rubus with the most intense flavor, this plant is a booby trap of the first order.
Its stealthy vines creep along the ground, over rocks, stones, and fallen logs, just waiting to ensnare an unwary foot and hang on with its backward curving thorns.
The trailing blackberry may have tried to make amends for its grasping nature by providing potions of its autumn-red leaves and its roots to serve as an all purpose medicine.
It was believed to relieve dysentery, mouth sores, and haemorrhoids, not to mention cholera and PMS!
Our natural science discussion ended as we moved back toward the trail head and commented on those bunches of little insects whirling erratically and highlighted by the lowering sunlight — never alighting on anything, just whirring around. Said Will, “We always called those ‘middle-of-the-room’ flies.”