Pine Mushroom    Non-timber Forests Products: Historical and Current Use

Early Commercial Development of Non-Timber Forest Products

 1 | FN Historical
 2 | FN Current
 3 | Early Commercial
 4 | Current Commercial


Although the history of the non-timber forest products industry in British Columbia is not well known, we do know that potential commercial opportunities in these resources began to be recognized in the first part of the twentieth century. One of the first commercially developed resources was the bark of the cascara (Rhamnus purshiana) tree. “Extract of cascara sagrada” from cascara bark has been recognized as a tonic laxative and prescribed by doctors since about 1877.

Heavily exploited in Washington and Oregon at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, cascara resources south of the border were in decline by about 1915. American drug companies soon turned their attention to cascara resources in BC. By the mid-1940s, demand for the bark had reached such a level that cascara plantations were under serious consideration. In 1942, the British Columbia Government wrote what is likely the first set of recommendations for proper harvesting techniquesc for a non-timber forest product in the province. The Cascara Bark Regulation was created in 1958 to control the activities of harvesters and buyers and ensure the long-term conservation of cascara trees.

By the 1950s, in addition to cascara, markets — albeit much smaller than for cascara — existed for traditional medicinal herbs such as pipsissewa, Oregon grape root, wild ginger, and others.

The development of synthetic laxatives significantly reduced demand for cascara bark starting in the 1960s, although there is evidence that the demand for natural products has sparked a renewed interest in cascara in more recent years.

As the cascara harvest was reaching its peak, other commercial markets developed for non-timber forest products. These markets — for floral greens and wild mushrooms — soon surpassed medicinal herb markets to generate the most revenue and dominate the non-timber forest products industry in British Columbia.

Cascara Bottles Stripping Cascara Bark

Cascara Bottles
BC Archives I-51825

Stripping Cascara Bark
BC Archives I-51827

Floral Greens

The market for native floral greenery began to develop in earnest during the 1930s. Western swordfern (Polystichum munitum) and evergreen huckleberry were the products most in demand during the first phase of industry development. In the 1950s, salal was making an appearance as a ‘florists green’, likely due to its durable, long-lasting nature. By 1972, BC exports of salal had captured one-third of the total worldwide salal market (12).

As salal grew in importance, the demand for swordfern began a long, slow decline caused in part by an inability to compete with cheaper ferns harvested in Florida, Mexico, and Guatemala (13).

Although swordfern is still harvested for the market, demand for the product is a mere fraction of what it once was, and the demand for salal has exploded into an industry worth tens of millions of dollars. The history of the development of the floral greens industry illustrates the highly dynamic nature of the non-timber forest products industry as a whole.

Click on the bracketed number above or the image below to view the corresponding video.

12 View the Market History Video 13 View the Ferns and Salal Video

[Video Transcript]
  Ferns & Salal
[Video Transcript]


Although a relative latecomer, the wild mushroom industry in BC is now number one or two in terms of value for the various sectors of the non-timber forest products industry. In the last half of the twentieth century people like industry pioneer Betty Shore came to recognize that a strong demand for wild-harvested mushrooms existed (14).

In British Columbia the demand came from several international markets; pioneers in the industry worked to develop this profitable commercial market (15). One of the earliest big commercial mushroom harvests in the province took place in 1978 at the site of the Canal Flats fire (16).

As the commercial business grew, the mushroom industry evolved from localized community involvement to the involvement of increasing numbers of transient harvesters (17).

The future of a sustainable mushroom industry will depend on a variety of factors not the least of which is the task of balancing the needs and wishes of communities with the demands of existing and new markets.

Click on the bracketed number above or the image below to view the corresponding video.

14 View the Developing a Commercial Market Video 15 View the Early International Interest Video 16 View the Canal Flats Harvest Video 17 View the Community Involvement Video
  Developing a Commercial Market
[Video Transcript]
  Early Int’l Interest
[Video Transcript]
  Canal Flats Harvest
[Video Transcript]
  Community Involvement
[Video Transcript]

c For further information see Davidson, John. The Cascara Tree in British Columbia, Bulletin No. A108, Ministry of Agriculture, Victoria, BC, 1942.