Rhododendron Lake

Rhododendron Lake

Rhododendron Lake lies in the Englishman River drainage about 20 kilometres (12 miles) west of Nanaimo at an elevation of 450 metres (1475 feet). 

On the right is an image from Google Earth showing Rhododendron Lake and the west end of Nanoose Bay at the top [click on the image for an enlarged view].  If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, then click on the Rhododendron Lake Placemark.

Rhododendron Lake below Okay Mountain - [Click photo to enlarge]   Rhododendron Lake (covered with ice) is located in the lower right of this picture taken in January.  Looking over the ridge of Okay Mountain in the foreground toward Mount Benson, Mount Baker can be seen in the distance 185 kilometres (116 miles) to the southeast. The right of way for the Cheekeye-Dunsmuir power line runs east of the lake toward the north fork of the Nanaimo River.

Aerial view in late May looking west across Rhododendron Lake in the foreground toward Mt Moriarity on  the left and  Mt Arrowsmith on the right.  The main feature of the area is a small grove of Pacific Rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), a rare plant in British Columbia. The rhododendrons are located adjacent to the far shore of the lake in the picture on the right and extend up the hill into the trees. The peak flowering season is in early June.   This small grove of about 2 hectares (5 acres) is one of only two localities on Vancouver Island.

Rhododendron Lake is located in the Northwest Bay Division private forest land owned by Mosaic’s Northwest Bay.  [For  information about access times and road conditions, telephone the North West Bay regional office at 250 468-6810.]    From the parking lot, there are trails into the rhododendrons with interpretative signs.

There is another small grove about 70 km south of Rhododendron Lake and 18.5 km west of Shawnigan Lake on the road to Port Renfrew at an elevation of 520 m.  It is also on private forest land owned by Island Timberlands LP.

View toward the lake through the grove - [Click photo to enlarge]On the mainland of British Columbia, the Pacific Rhododendron is most prevalent in the Skagit Valley on the western slope of the Cascade Mountain Range and is readily seen from the highway near the western entrance to EC Manning Provincial Park. Recently, another small grove has been discovered 47 km to the northeast on the slopes of  Mt. Elphinstone, Sechelt peninsula.  Ron Knight has a description on his website  (also see his article in JARS  vol62 N2).

The Pacific Rhododendron is much more common in the state of Washington where it was adopted as the state flower.  It is most prevalent in Oregon and occurs in several locations in California (see maps and descriptions in the Western North American Rhododendron Species Project).  Only the Skagit River population has protection in British Columbia under the ecological reserves act (see article by Dean Goard of the Victoria Rhododendron Society).

Pacific Rhododendron PlantOther wildflowers of interest include bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), bog kalmia (Kalmia polifolia) and Labrador tea (Rhododendron groenlandicum).  [ See article by the late Lillian Hodgson. 1985 ARS Journal vol 39, No. 4, pp. 206-208.]

The Englishman River watershed is part of the Mount Arrowsmith Biopshere Reserve that was designated in November 2000 by the Man and Biosphere Program of the United Nations’ Education, Science, and Cultural Organization.

The Pacific Rhododendron has a vigorous root system and is more drought tolerant than many of the hybrids available from commercial nurseries.  There are selected forms which have been introduced into cultivation that have a range of flower colours from white to darker red than the native form.

Dr. Ben Hall and his associates at the University of Washington have studied DNA variation within the Pacific Coast Rhododendron (see the article in the winter 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Rhododendron Society Volume 60, number 1, page 37).  They found that DNA samples collected from plants in BC, Washington, Oregon and California could be grouped into four categories.  These categories are thought to share a common ancestor and are called clades.

Clade 1 is generally found near the ocean.  Clades 2 and 4 are the principal forms at mountainous sites in British Columbia and southern Oregon.  Clade 3 is the main type found in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon.   The Mt Elphinstone and Weeks Lake (Shawnigan) populations contain clade 1, as do the plants around Puget Sound.  However, the plants at Rhododendron Lake have clades 2 and 4, indicating that they are closely related to those in Manning Provincial Park.  Click here for article on Dr Hall’s faculty webpage.

Clive Justice and the late Harold Johnston of the Vancouver Rhododendron Society arranged for the signs which were donated by MacMillan Bloedel Ltd.

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