If there is a single ecosystem that defines Richmond and its largest island, Lulu Island, it would be the extensive swaths of peat bog that once covered more than one quarter of the land base. Unlike other wetland communities, such as shoreline marshes, that receive extensive attention because of the high concentrations of waterfowl found in them or because of their role in fish ecology, bogs have historically been overlooked. Yet, as the defenders of Burns Bog in Delta have shown, bogs are important ecosystems and they play a vital role in the Fraser River delta. They provide refugia for northern species of plants and animals that require colder conditions, and add significantly to the biodiversity of the region.
In the delta, bogs were once extensive and formed a patchwork of habitats in Richmond, Delta, Surrey, Burnaby and Coquitlam. Today, most of our bogs, including the Lulu Island Bog, are remants and the area they cover is much reduced. They are disturbed by historical peat mining, by drainage alterations, by direct removal for cranberry and blueberry farms, and by invasions by opportunistic plant invaders. In spite of this, they are still significant ecosystems. They remain a major part of the hydrology of our region, and they continue to support extensive numbers of significant species.
The relic bogs that exist in the lower mainland today include Burns Bog, the largest bog in our region, as well as numerous smaller but still important bog systems: Lulu Island Bog (Richmond Nature Park Bog and the adjacent Department of National Defence property), the Richmond Northeast Bog Forest, Surrey Bend Bog, Langley Bog, Blaney Bog and others. These bogs--described by plant ecologists as raised or domed bogs--overlap in their composition and habitat representation, yet each remains distinct, a direct result of their differential histories. Bogs in our region were once extensively used by aboriginal groups, and fires were frequently used as a way of maintaining essential crops of wild cranberries and blueberries. European settlers in the region reported continuous fires in the peatlands of Richmond. This differential fire history helped maintain successional stages of the bogs and resulted in some of the variation we see today. When peat mining is added to the picture, and layers of centuries old peat were strippped away, the result is a gradient of plant community structure and composition that add to the diversity of bog and fen communities in the region. In an ironic twist, this degradation of our significant bogs habitats has resulted in a peek into the past, a look at early bog communities before they evolved into the bog habitat we think of today (e.g. Langley Bog). Many bog communities have been returned to the early successional stages of hundreds of years ago. In our lifetime, they will not regain the structure and composition that existed prior to mining.
Today, it is interesting to study how this history and geography of place has resulted in a colourful weave of lower mainland bog habitats. Our bogs are refugia for many plant species which reach the southern limits of their range in Canada, and for plant species which are restricted in occurrence globally to the cold acidic conditions generated by the Sphagnum peat mat. In Richmond, the remnant Lulu Island bog represents only a small portion of the bogs that once extended across Lulu Island from the north arm of the Fraser to the south arm, just across the river from Burns Bog. Centuries ago, these two bogs were probably one large bog that was divided when the river changed its path. The old river path can still be detected on aerial photographs.
Although one third of the Lulu Island Bog has restricted access (the DND boglands), the remainder, represented by the Richmond Nature Park, is readily accessible. Both sections of the nature park are heavily disturbed, with significant drying due to drainage, and resulting plant invasions by European birch hybrids (Betula pendula) and cultivated blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). However, they allow some insight into the ecosystem that once dominated our landscape, particularly where park staff have carried out some removal on the non-bog species.
The best example of the Lulu Island Bog, however, is located in the DND boglands, where sporadic fires, past removal of the tree and shrub cover, and wetter site conditions have maintained this bog ecosystem. Although invasive birch and cultivated blueberry are present on this site, they occur in much small numbers. It is here, an island in the midst of the urban sea, that we can find extensive populations of the bog species which are less abundant in the Nature Park: cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), velvet-leaf blueberry(Vaccinium myrtilloides), round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). Small fen-like associations support extensive growth of white bog sedge (Rhyncospora alba).
HISTORICAL BOGS OF THE LOWER MAINLAND
Map by Rachel Wiersma (June 2003)
Source: After Hebda, R.J., K. Gustavson, K. Golinski and A.M. Calder, 2000. Burns Bog Ecosystem Review Synthesis Report for
Burns Bog, Fraser River Delta, South-western British Columbia, Canada. Environmental Assessment Office,
Victoria, BC. Location of Peatlands in the Fraser Lowland.
Lulu Island Bog Inventory
Lulu Island Bog (Richmond Nature Park & DND Boglands)
Northeast Richmond Bog Forest
Boggie, R., 1977. Water-table depth and oxygen content of deep peat in relation to root growth of Pinus contorta. Plant
and Soil, 48.
Grenier, Louise, and Lia Bijsterveld, 1982. Northeast Bog Study. Richmond: Corporation of the Township of Richmond.
Larsen, J. A., 1969. Ecology of northern lowland bogs and conifer forests. Academic Press.
Martin, A.P. 1999. Effects of wildfire on avian and plant communities of a raised peat bog. B.Sc. thesis (Conservation
Biology). University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. (UBC)
Osvald, H. 1933. Vegetation of the Pacific Coast Bogs of North America. Acta Phytogeographica Suecica V. Uppsala.
Rigg, George B. and Carl T. Richardson. 1938. Profiles of some Sphagnum bogs of the Pacific coast of North America.
Ecology. 19 (3): 409-434.
A detailed bibliography of bog literature has been compiled by Karen Golinksi and is available.
Return to the Natural History of Richmond home page Page updated January 2009.