This image contains a dead plank of wood that has different moss on it and lichens, two of which are Pixie Cups and Lipstick Cladonia. Lipstick Cladonia looks similar to a matchstick, with a long slender green "stick" and red tip. Pixie Cups look like a fuzzy green funnel or a chalice that a pixie might drink out of.

Pixie Cups and Lipstick Cladonia / Image via Sabrina Mudryk

My New Year’s resolution, like many people’s, was to start going to the gym more come January. With the restrictions keeping gyms closed for the first few weeks of January, however, I decided to come up with another resolution—plant identification. 

Last year for Christmas I was given a book about plants in Canada and how to identify them called Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada by Andrew MacKinnon.

For most of 2021, this book gathered dust on my shelf.

This year, I was given another book on plants, this time specifically on identifying those found on the B.C. coast called Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Paul Alaback I got the revised version, which was edited by Jim Pojar and Andrew MacKinnon.

I made it my mission to go on a hike and use these books at least once every two weeks. 

I recently took a hike around both Morrell Sanctuary and Westwood Lake. I had a blast discovering the many interesting and humorously named plants there. The world felt so much more full after learning the names of all the little green things around me. It went from a wall of bushes and trees to an intricate ecosystem that is very much alive, species either waging slow war with each other or peacefully co-existing together.

Here are some plants I found the most interesting that I recommend keeping an eye out for on your next hike:

Hairy Manzanita (Arctostaphylos Columbiana)

I always thought that this bush was just a baby arbutus tree, as they both have reddish-brown bark that peels and tends to grow in rocky, open areas. To make it a little more difficult, Hairy Manzanita may grow as a low lying shrub that spreads or as an upright shrub that grows up to ten feet tall.

However, hairy manzanita can be easily distinguished by its “hairy” greyish-green leaves and orange-brown berries. If you venture to the more rocky areas on your hikes, you’ll be more likely to spot one. 

Sword Ferns

I have seen these ferns before, but I’ve just never known the name for them. Sword ferns tend to grow in long blades from a base, known as a crown, and can reach up to five feet tall. 

The name sword fern comes from the alternating leaflets growing along the stem, which are toothed, and have a distinctive base that juts out from the bottom and gradually comes to a point at the top. Give them a better inspection next time you are out hiking and you’ll begin to see them everywhere on the island!

Pixie Cups (Cladonia Pyxidata)

I find lichens, such as Pixie Cups, fascinating as they are a combination of two organisms—fungi and algae living together in a symbiotic relationship. This lichen in particular is really cool as they look like tiny, tiny chalices that can capture water that a little pixie might drink out of. 

They tend to be gray-green in hue, with a little sprinkle of pink near the top. You’ll have to look closely on dead wood, near the base of trees, and on rocks for these cute little cups.

Cladonia Lipstick (Cladonia Macilenta)

I took a likin’ to these little lichens as well. These little lipsticks are distinguished by their slender green, powdered base and their round red tips, looking fairly similar to a miniature matchstick or a lipstick. 

You’re most likely to find them growing on dead wood, on rocks, and near the bottom of trees. They are similar to Pixie Cups in that they are very tiny, so you have to keep a close, watchful eye to spot them.

If you don’t want to purchase a book on identifying plants on the island, the Biodiversity of the Central Coast and Go Hiking have websites to help search and identify the names of different plants you may find on Vancouver Island. You can also scroll through the plants first and do a little scavenger hunt for them on your next hike!


Sabrina is a fifth-year Psychology and Creative Writing student. Her poem "They Are Waiting" won last year's Portent Prize and was featured in Portal's 2021 Magazine. She loves exploring Vancouver Island, telling people about the UFO Landing Pad in her hometown, and is a wannabe free diver. In her last year of schooling she has realized just how much potential there is in being a student at VIU.

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