British Columbia

Botanical bounty of 2,400 plant species discovered in B.C. rainforest

A team of scientists found the trove of species — some it believes may be previously undiscovered — in the Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh Provincial Park, a rarely studied inland rainforest 115 kilometres east of Prince George, B.C.

Trove of species believed to include some that are new to science

A student from the research team collects samples in the Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh Provincial Park. (UNBC)

After trudging through swamps and bushwhacking through sub-alpine thicket, a team of scientists has found around 2,400 species of plants — some it believes may be previously undiscovered — in the Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh Whudujut Provincial Park, a rarely studied inland rainforest 115 kilometres east of Prince George.

The three-year-long field study by scientists and students at the University of Northern B.C., alongside UBC botanists Trevor Goward and Curtis Björk, found species that weren't known to grow in this part of the province — or anywhere in Canada.

Physostegia ledinghamii, found in the Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh Provincial Park. (UNBC)

UNBC ecosystem science and management professor Darwyn Coxson remembers when the team first reported seeing a part of the forest near Tree Beard Waterfalls.

"It was a moment to knock [Björk's] socks off, not literally but almost," Coxson told CBC Radio West host Sarah Penton.

"The spray zone around the waterfall had such a richness of species I think in that first afternoon he described 400 species."

Anastrepta orcadensis, found in the Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh Provincial Park. (UNBC)

According to B.C. Parks, Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh protects a portion of the only inland temperate rainforest in the world.

'We're lucky to have such rich biodiversity'

Coxson says the team has conducted more than 100 surveys around the Ancient Forest, documenting the different species of plants.

He adds that among the discoveries are new species of alpine dandelion and sedum. 

UBC botanist Curtis Björk was one of the team that found species in the park that weren't known to grow in that part of B.C. — or anywhere in Canada. (UNBC)

After the field study, Goward and Björk studied the new collections at the UBC herbarium to determine what they were. For the unidentifiable new finds, the plants will be sent for genetic analysis to confirm whether they are new species.

Coxson believes it's important to document B.C.'s botanical diversity in order to fully appreciate it.

"We're very lucky to have such a rich biodiversity heritage in British Columbia and I think it's important we pass that on to future generations," said Coxson.  

Listen to the full interview below:

UNBC ecosystem science and management professor Darwyn Coxson in the Ancient Forest/Chun T'oh Provincial Park. 'We're very lucky to have such a rich biodiversity heritage in British Columbia,' he says. (UNBC)

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