Restoration plantings of whitebark pine require high quality seeds collected from healthy parent trees that show no sign of blister rust infection or evidence of a past infection that failed to spread, despite being surrounded by blister rust infected trees.
The Bulkley Valley Research Centre has now located, tagged and mapped more than 100 apparently blister rust resistant parent trees at 7 locations across northern BC, including:
- Kidprice Lake in Nenikȅkh/Nanika-Kidprice Provincial Park (24 trees, 2011, 2013)
- Mount Sweeney near Tahtsa Lake (10 trees, 2013)
- Smoke Mountain north of Tahtsa Lake (10 trees 2013)
- Hunter Basin (11 trees, 2013)
- Hudson Bay Mtn ( 16 trees – not all blister-rust free, 2011, 2013)
- Jonas Creek, Telkwa Mountains (12 trees in 2011, trees now dead from other causes 2013)
- Eagle Pass in Babine Mountains Provincial Park (10 trees)
- McKendrick Pass on Babine Lake Road (1 tree)
- Mount Davidson near Vanderhoof (25 trees)
In July, 2011, Don Pigott of Yellowpoint Propagation, a provincial cone collecting contractor, gave a 1-day cone caging and seed collecting training course that was attended by 10 volunteers and 2 workers.
John Kelson, a professional tree climber, lives in Smithers and has done most of our caging in 2011 and 2013. Having a professional climber available has made the project much safer and more efficient than if newly trained volunteers had to climb the tallest trees in exposed conditions. Jodie Krakowski, a forest geneticist, volunteered her holiday time to assist us in selecting and caging trees and collecting and processing cones. Her expertise was invaluable in making highly technical decisions regarding tree selection, record keeping and cone processing.
Cone cage on whitebark pine tree Hudson Bay Ski Hill Area May 2011
Seed Allocation Table
We stratified (an artificial overwinter chilling process ) 6900 seeds over the winter of 2011 and these were sown in April 2012 at Woodmere Nursery in Telkwa, BC. These are the first whitebark seedlings ever grown in northwest BC and were outplanted in spring 2014 at sites in Nenikȅkh/Nanika-Kidprice and Morice Lake Provincial Parks and on Hudson Bay Mountain.
Seed drying and extractions has taken place in a large, heated, well-ventilated, rodent-proof space provided by BV Research Centre director Brian Edmison (Edmison Mehr CA) for cone drying and storage. Cones are dried for 6 weeks or more. Seed extraction is a very labour intensive process, typically taking up to 1 month and involving volunteers from the Bulkley Valley Research Centre, BV Naturalists and BV Backpackers, and local workers as budgets permit.
Representative seedlots were x-rayed by the BC Tree Seed Centre in Surrey. Good seeds (left) are large with a high percentage of filled cavities with mature embryos; moderate seeds (middle) often have immature embryos and unfilled cavities; poor seeds (right) are small and mostly empty. In both 2011 and 2013 we found that the most southerly seed sources from Mount Sweeney to Kidprice Lake produced the largest and best seeds while those from northern locations near Smithers have consistently produced, smaller, poor quality seeds. We don’t know whether this is due to unfavorable weather, poor pollination or lack of outcrossing at the northern range limits where trees are scattered, or to a combination of several factors. Alberta researchers have had similar problems obtaining high quality seeds at the northern limits of whitebark pine distribution, but excellent quality seeds were obtained from northern limit populations near Fort St. James in 2007.
This blister rust resistant pine, growing at McKendrick Pass, near the northern limit of whitebark pine, has not produced any comes since 2007.
To date ( 2011-2015) we have collected ~260,000 seeds from 124 parent trees. We regularily monitor cone crops on accessible trees near Smithers and are hoping for another sizeable seed collection in 2016.