Herein lies a tale. The newly released book, The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness and Greed by Vancouver author John Vaillant features this plant photographed last Friday. Well, not exactly this plant, although it is genetically identical – this is a propagation from the original. How did the original compel “myth, madness and greed”?
From the book publisher’s release:
When a kayak and camping gear are found on an uninhabited Alaskan island just north of the Canadian border, they re-ignite a mystery surrounding a shocking act of protest that made international news. On a winter night in 1997, a logger-turned-activist named Grant Hadwin plunged into the frigid waters of the Yakoun River in the Queen Charlotte Islands, towing a chainsaw behind him. When he was done, a unique spruce tree–50 meters tall and covered with luminous golden needles–was teetering on its massive stump.
The tree, which baffled scientists, was sacred to the Haida on whose land it had stood for over 300 years. It was also beloved by local loggers who singled it out for protection in the midst of vast clear cuts. Since the 1970s, the mist-shrouded archipelago–one of the continent’s most pristine and vibrant ecosystems–has been a battleground with government officials and logging companies squaring off against the Haida and environmental groups. The loss of the mythic golden spruce united loggers, natives and environmentalists in sorrow and outrage. But while heroic efforts were made to revive the tree, Grant Hadwin, the tree’s confessed killer, disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
So where does this plant in UBC Botanical Garden fit into the story? In the 1970s, then-director Dr. Roy Taylor participated in an expedition to the Queen Charlotte Islands, where cuttings were taken of the golden spruce. Two of the cuttings that were grafted survived (although there is now only the one plant in the BC Rainforest Garden). When the event occurred in 1997, Bruce Macdonald, the director of the garden after Dr. Taylor, offered one of the plants at UBC to the Haida nation, but unfortunately that plant died while waiting to be shipped. As it turns out, though, propagations had been made from the felled tree, and one of those now resides in a place of honour in Port Clements. I have read reports that the colour is not the same, although I don’t recall where. Interestingly, I thought the golden spruce at UBC was looking the most golden that I’ve seen in the five years I’ve been here when I photographed it Friday.
There’s plenty more online about the story. The original article from 2002 that was the springboard for John Vaillant’s writing of the book is here at The New Yorker: The Golden Bough. Coenosium Nursery had an article (since removed) about the golden spruce from a horticultural and horticultural history perspective. The Coenosium article suggested to me that the plant should not actually be named Picea sitchensis ‘Aurea’, because it is not the same plant as those originally propagated under that name, which I allude to on this thread in the garden’s discussion forums.
The plant in the garden is only a small part of the story, however. If, like me, you are intrigued by the rest of the story–the maelstrom of personalities and policies that erupted into the murder of the golden spruce, the reaction of the communities and the mystery of Hadwin’s fate–I recommend listening to the author of the book discuss this story on NPR – Killing the Golden Spruce.