Vancouver Island arbutus trees under stress due to fungus, climate change

The arbutus is Canada’s only broad-leaf evergreen tree and can be found along the coast from California to Campbell River. (CTV News)

Spring is usually a time when plants and forests are at their greenest but Vancouver Island’s arbutus trees are looking more brown than green these days.

Forest biologist Andy MacKinnon says a fungus is attacking the trees, causing the leaves to die off.

The parasites are native to the region and usually affect only one-quarter to one-third of each tree, rather than the whole.

MacKinnon suspects that whole trees are now being affected because the trees are stressed due to climate change. The forest biologist says the island’s average temperature is one degree warmer than 100 year ago and we are experiencing longer and drier periods of drought.

“We saw a similar effect about five years ago or so that defoliated a lot of the arbutus trees and actually killed a lot of trees in the Victoria region, MacKinnon said. “I’m afraid we might be seeing something similar again.”

The arbutus is Canada’s only broad-leaf evergreen tree and can be found along the coast from California to Campbell River.

“I think it’s a tree that an awful lot of people care deeply about,” the forest biologist said. “It’s a beautiful part of our landscapes and it’s a little distressing to see how the trees are doing.”

MacKinnon says there isn’t much that can be done to save the trees without addressing climate change. However, he encourages watering the trees during long dry spells.