Metchosin ecologist Andy MacKinnon is raising alarm bells for arbutus trees, as many are falling victim to a fungus called leaf blights. The leaves and branches of the trees are turning brown or black and then dropping off, eventually killing them. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)

Metchosin ecologist Andy MacKinnon is raising alarm bells for arbutus trees, as many are falling victim to a fungus called leaf blights. The leaves and branches of the trees are turning brown or black and then dropping off, eventually killing them. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)

Vancouver Island arbutus trees fighting for survival against parasites

Many trees weakened, turning black or brown and dying, says local ecologist

A beloved native tree species is in trouble throughout the south Island.

Metchosin ecologist Andy MacKinnon is raising alarm bells for arbutus trees, as many are falling victim to a fungus called leaf blights. The leaf blights are a parasite to arbutuses, which have likely lived with the arbutus trees for a millennium, said MacKinnon.

“In a proper host-parasite relationship, the parasite doesn’t kill the host, it’s not a good strategy,” said MacKinnon. “But for whatever reason, these leaf blights are now having a rather severe effect on the arbutus trees. We are seeing their leaves and branches turn brown or black and then drop.”

MacKinnon said the parasites are affecting arbutus trees all over the area, and that a similar phenomena happened about five years ago, but not to this degree.

“It’s an unfortunate thing, because this is such a severe event, it is likely to kill a lot of the trees,” said MacKinnon. “Arbutus trees are a beloved tree to many people. They have magnificent, sweet-scented flowers and bright orange berries, and the magical, multi-coloured bark. They are a treasure.”

READ ALSO: Bee supply threatened this year by wasps, COVID

Arbutus is the only broad-leaf evergreen tree in Canada, and their populations here only reach the southeast regions of Vancouver Island, some Gulf Islands, as well as bits of the Lower Mainland.

“This area is the very northern end of the range for the arbutus. It is a wonderful and beautiful plant, with such a limited extent in Canada, so it is tragic to see all of these problems with it,” said MacKinnon. “They are a very different sort of tree for our forests in this area, which tend to be dominated by conifers such as Douglas fir and red cedars.”

Through his studies, MacKinnon attributes the issue to climate change, as the hotter, dryer, extended summers could be leaving arbutus trees in a weakened state, unable to ward off the fungus.

“The summer droughts are longer and more severe than in historical record, and this has put strain on arbutus trees. Some are in deep soils but many root in shallow soil over bedrock, in my observation these are the ones that are most severely affected,” said MacKinnon.

“There are leaf blights every single year, and most years, the trees sustain a little damage and carry on, so the question is why isn’t that happening this year? My interpretation is that we are dealing with some really stressed arbutus trees.”

Arbutus provide nectar flowers for a number of insect species, and the trees’ berries are an important food source for a variety of birds and other animals.

MacKinnon added that if you have an arbutus tree in your yard, offering it a little extra water and attention may help it gain some strength against parasites.

“I am interested and concerned about the fate of our native plants and fungi here,” said MacKinnon. “This is a good reminder that climate change isn’t something that’s going to happen. It’s been happening for a while, and has some important effects. It is a reminder that at some time or other, our governments will have to look seriously at the issue of dealing with climate change. There are bigger forces at play here.”

READ ALSO: Rare bird spotted visiting a backyard feeder in Sidney


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Metchosin

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Metchosin ecologist Andy MacKinnon is raising alarm bells for arbutus trees, as many are falling victim to a fungus called leaf blights. The leaves and branches of the trees are turning brown or black and then dropping off, eventually killing them. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)

Metchosin ecologist Andy MacKinnon is raising alarm bells for arbutus trees, as many are falling victim to a fungus called leaf blights. The leaves and branches of the trees are turning brown or black and then dropping off, eventually killing them. (Dawn Gibson/News Staff)

Just Posted

A family of ducks that lives near Saanich Municipal Hall recently welcomed 11 ducklings and took them for a swim in the koi pond outside the offices. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Pair of ducks make Saanich Municipal Hall a nursery for 11 hatchlings

Family of ducks spent time in koi pond before heading down to Swan Lake

Habitat Acquisition Trust has received provincial funding to help restore Garry oak ecosystems on southern Vancouver Island. (Photo by Jeremy da Silva)
Central Saanich park among sites for local Garry oak restoration projects

Habitat Acquisition Trust received $140,000 in funding for 12 projects

Architect’s rendering of the 7 Erskine Lane development, showing the view from the east and south. (VDA Architecture Ltd. image)
View Royal green-lights residential development on Erskine Lane

First of two developments near Victoria General Hospital will provide 71 housing units

Andrew Swanson was arrested Wednesday after he was wanted for an alleged choking assault and for obstructing police. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police arrest Andrew Swanson on warrants for alleged choking assault, obstruction

A member of the public spotted Swanson and called 911 before police came and made the arrest

(Black Press Media file photo)
Youth sustains minor injuries in stabbing at Saanich Plaza

Suspect under age of 16 taken into custody, no risk to the public, police say

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

People line up for COVID-19 vaccination at a drop-in clinic at Cloverdale Recreation Centre on Wednesday, April 27, 2021. Public health officials have focused efforts on the Fraser Health region. (Aaron Hinks/Peace Arch News)
B.C. reports 1st vaccine-induced blood clot; 684 new COVID cases Thursday

Two million vaccine doses reached, hospital cases down

More than 6,000 camping reservations in British Columbia were cancelled as a result of a provincial order limiting travel between health regions. (Unsplash)
1 in 4 camping reservations cancelled in B.C. amid COVID-19 travel restrictions

More than 6,500 BC Parks campsite reservations for between April 19 and May 25 have been revoked

Most Read